A Peek Inside Flagship

  By Shamus   Jun 11, 2008   16 comments

In the comments on yesterday’s post on Hellgate, Gahaz posted a link to this, which is a post from one of the last remaining programmers working on Hellgate. It is, as others have said, a depressing read.

The worst part is that he’s obviously painfully aware of the problems with Hellgate, but powerless to fix them. There would be hope for the project if it were still fully staffed, and they just needed a nudge from the fans to focus their efforts in the right place. But as it stands, it looks like the project is now on a skeleton crew and everyone else has jumped to other projects. They say that success has a thousand fathers, and failure is an orphan. That seems to be the case here.

It’s a shame because the more I look at things, the more it looks like Hellgate could have gone on to have some degree of success. People like the idea. They like the people behind it. They want to love the game. Lots of MMO games (which Hellgate sort of is) had rough releases and went on to fix the bugs and do well in the end. Hellgate isn’t getting that chance. When the game failed to become a cash cow, the staff was cut and the thing has been left to limp along until it drops dead.

It has to be rough for the people that left. They originally made an incredibly successful game. (Diablo II) Then their company (Blizzard) was bought out. I’ve never learned why, but something about the buyout made them unhappy enough to jump ship and form their own company. They started with a big vision, and worked away at it until they went broke. They were then forced to sell all of their efforts so far to EA in order to secure the backing to finish the thing. They avoided working for Vivendi Games, but in the end wound up working for a corporate monolith anyway, and this time it owned five years of their work. The game was released before it was ready – either because they were too slow or EA was too impatient, I’m not going to judge that one – and earned a quiet “meh” from fans. The staff was cut, many quit, and the dream ended.

I’m going to post the rest of my series of Hellgate, although it feels like beating a dead horse now.


1624 comments. (That's 10 in Hexadecimal.)


  1. Nathan says:

    Please do finish the series because I find it interesting. I would also ask that you don’t hold any thing back either. Besides you said you would end on a positive note any way.

    On Flagship I have been looking into the whole thing just out of curiosity and found an entire site that hates the company. It’s Flagshipped.com. Kind of interesting that some many people would put time into a game they hate, but I think it show that people really do love the idea but found the execution lacking. Not only that but with a PR rep like this who wouldn’t get a bit hacked off?

    http://www.flagshipped.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=174

    This person was rude and apparently kicked a person who has one of the biggest HGL fan sites. Sad to see this even if it’s only half true.

  2. JKjoker says:

    Shamus, im sorry man but i think you are being too naive, they turned the game into the abomination it is now because all they cared about was hooking up ppl on their monthly pay service (i remember the hype, you know, i was really interested in the game at the time), they didnt give a damn about fans then and they dont give a damn about them now, and if they left blizzard because they didnt like something they should have made something unique instead of a sad, useless wow clone

  3. Derek K says:

    @JKJoker: Yes, that’s precisely it. They aren’t talented game designers that fell prey to the industry. They are evil overlords who are out to get your ongoing subscription dollars, by making a bad game.

    Because devoting 5 years to making a bad game is certainly the best way to rake in the cash.

    And really, I’ve heard HG:L called a lot of things, but I think WoW-Clone may be the least accurate description yet.

    Flagship seems to be squarely in SOE territory now, where people will spew bile and hate at them no matter what they do.

  4. Joshua says:

    Actually, the more clearly Hellgate is a failure even by the company’s standards (enough subscribers to keep working on it), the more valuable any insight you might have as to what they did wrong. At least they can serve as a warning to future MMO creators. It’s not the successful operations that need post-mortems.

  5. Picador says:

    They say that success has a thousand fathers, and failure is an orphan. That seems to be the case here.

    I think this is usually employed to convey the idea that many people will attempt to retroactively take credit for a success, but nobody will admit to responsibility for a failure. The implication is that, of course, each of them actually has the same number of “fathers”, but the number of people who will acknowledge paternity is proportional to the success of the “child”.

    CORRECTION: Having read the linked post, I realize that’s exactly how you were using it. I misunderstood.

  6. Mordaedil says:

    Wow… I was liking to read your view on Hellgate, because you picked up on the flaws I saw as well, but this… Kinda makes it worse than beating a dead horse.

    After reading that letter, a better analogy would be that you just saw someone get raped on the street, beaten, robbed and left naked in the streets, unconscious and then you feel “It wouldn’t be so bad to pee on her after all that, right?”

    I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it and I will read it, but I am not sure I could morally abide by it. I’m not saying you’d have to feel like you are taking the piss on them, it’s just how I feel about it and its different for everyone. As JKJoker showed.

  7. Ryan Speck says:

    You have to feel bad for the people. It must be hard to work for that many years on such a creative effort… You’re talking about putting in at least 10,000 hours of their time on making something in the hopes that people will like it and have fun. And then they get berated and pissed on like they’d invented the new bubonic plague instead of a mediocre computer game.

    I mean, people have no sense of proportion, but it’s always disappointing when you create something that you know is mediocre without being reminded of it constantly. Unfortunately when you’re talking about something like game design, you’re talking about a time and monetary investment that can’t be tossed out and forgotten.

    In the end, the game will surely not go down in history as one of the worst things to ever happen to gaming, but people’s expectations are more often than not too high and their disappointment too quick to turn to a nasty backlash.

  8. Someone recently stated in Hellgate:London chat that Flagship Studios has outsourced the development team. The people who are currently working on the game are not the people who originally created it. I was not able to verify this.

    According to Wikipedia, Comerica Bank has been funding the game since March 2008, using the game itself as collateral. Not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing?

    The poor dialog, weird humor and lack of an interesting storyline are what have turned me off from the game more than anything. It IS fun to mow down zombies every now and then, but the game just isn’t compelling to me for the above reasons.

  9. Mari says:

    Wow, that was just depressing. But don’t let your pity hold you back from doing something useful, Shamus. I believe we learn more from our failures than our successes. A post-mortem of what went wrong and why is the only way to do that. I assume that Flagship has done that within their own studio but since they (understandably) aren’t in a position to share their answers with the general public, I feel like what you’re doing here still has benefit for gamers and game designers alike.

    So long as you keep the analysis focused on what’s wrong with the game and how it can be fixed, it’s not sado-necro-bestiality, it’s useful insight into what went wrong with one game and how others can avoid the same mistakes. IMO, the line is crossed when we turn it into “This game sucks and if you like it you suck and the people who made it suck.”

  10. Stranger says:

    . . . yeah, why IS it a crime worthy of destroying people in absentia and as effigies for failing to make the next big thing?

    I mean, when did it become a cardinal sin to have a game submitted to the hype machine and cranked to 11? Worthy of shattering careers of people YOU NEVER MET just because the game wasn’t the second coming . . . worthy of people being exiled to the tenth circle of Hell to burn for all eternity?

    What the heck people . . . so it’s a mediocre game . . . I’ve had those before. I own console games where they’re resoundingly “MEH” in design and execution. I wouldn’t recommend other people buy them, but I wouldn’t say the discs all deserve to be shredded and the pieces sent back to the office . . .

    What’s WITH people these days?

  11. Gahaz says:

    When Vivendi Bought Blizzard the team left because they wanted to work on a new IP. They went into obscurity after that until they revealed this game to the public.

    The problem I saw from the start was the fact that they left to start a new IP but when their new game was shown they billed it as Diablo3 *wink wink*. They pushed it and pushed it, and not just the hype machine was guilty. The core developers that had left Blizz were in the community, on the boards, pushing this as a “spiritual sequel” to Diablo2.

    Then the game hit people and it was a huge let down. From the bugs to the bland design. Its a lesson for gamers everywhere. No matter the awesome company, no matter the awesome people, a turd can be crapped out at anytime.

  12. qrter says:

    I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it and I will read it, but I am not sure I could morally abide by it.

    That’s really seeing the whole thing completely out off proportion (well, actually, the rape analogy takes the cake..) – Shamus is criticising the game, not the people who have made it. There is a big distinction between the art that is produced and the artist, however much the romantic ideal of art wants us to believe otherwise (although “art” is too big a word to be used here, but you catch my drift).

  13. Solka says:

    Meh..

    Ok, the developper who is left aside,
    the people who might have lost a lot of their material goods too,
    the ones who have lost their jobs also,

    It was their decision to leave Blizzard. They took upon themselves to take all the risks for themselves. They also refused to go back to Blizzard, who has a repution for being a company that take care of that very same reputation.

    I can’t really feel sorry for whatever ill fallen upon them. It was their call, they blew it. If I myself take into a risky venture, I won’t expect everybody to feel bad if I fail.

    Too bad HG:L was crappy. I am sure even Davy Crocket shot himself in the foot once. You can’t expect a genius team to produce only good things.

  14. Kordos says:

    Hellgate is a very disappointing game, it was fun and interesting for a bit but got boring quickly and the sub system didn’t help at all as i wasn’t going to pay a monthly fee for (at the time) NOTHING of substance extra and now that they are actually releasing some interesting sub content in my case it is too little too late – I had problems activating my account, logging in, patching and playing the game and tech support was no help.
    What is funny is that FSS has released an offical statement http://www.flagshipped.com/2008/06/11/official-statement-on-recent-news-flagship-studios-fully-staffed-guy-just-had-a-bad-day
    that Guy Somberg was just having a ‘bad day’ but to me atleast his statements have a distinct ring of truth around them

  15. Noumenon says:

    I’m surprised that guy didn’t get fired.

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