Flagship Studios CEO Bill Roper has finally come out of hiding to grant an interview to 1up.com regarding the immenent closure of the aforementioned company, and a breakdown of the events that transpired during all these recent months, from the rumors that the company was in trouble, the fiasco over the Hellgate: London IP, and to the mass layoffs that took place most recently.
Roper was up-front about the problems with Hellgate: London, beginning with their failed revenue model:
“…when we originally came up with the concept of doing the game, the whole idea of continuing content was pretty amorphous. How that was going to happen, who pays for that — we all kind of assumed that would come out of the revenue. The subscription money we did get, we all poured directly into keeping the game online, keeping it up and running. But the development demands far outstripped the revenues. There just wasn’t a good contemplation early on of how that would work.”
Roper goes on to blame the ‘PC market’, among other things, for the failure of Hellgate: London, despite repeated press releases about the game’s supposed success in Korea. Never mind the fact that Blizzard and Valve managed to move several million in sales of their respective titles through traditional boxes as well as digital distribution (like Steam and Direct2Drive) in that year alone.
“Some of them were just bad timing in the PC market. The PC market was lousy last year. Some of it was the fact that we were an independent studio. We didn’t have unlimited money, and we had to ship when we had to ship. Part of it was because we overreached, and that was a design problem that was totally our fault. We tried to do too much. We tried to be a standalone game and a free-play game and an MMO and an RPG and a shooter. We were trying to be something for everybody and ended up really not pleasing many people at all….”
It’s true Hellgate: London saw over a million sign ups for its open beta in South Korea, but it’s readily apparent that only a small margin of these sign ups ever subscribed to the game, most of whom stopped playing the game. Hellgate sits at an abysmal 69th place with a less than 0.1% market share, according to the Korean game chart tracker.
Bill goes further in depth about the company’s failings as well as his personal reaction to the entire fiasco.
“I think that’s a thing that the general world never sees. They just assume, “These guys make games. They have this business. They did it. It didn’t work out. They move on.” It’s amazingly difficult from an emotional standpoint. You don’t start a company, two companies, and pour five years into doing something and not become emotionally attached. It’s impossible. For me, personally, it’s been incredibly difficult, because this is the first company I’ve ever started, you know, and been a part of. I kind of always lived and died by the games. As anybody could tell you, during the last days of Flagship, I was pretty much a wreck.”
“It’s pretty disappointing. I understand that, unfortunately, the Internet seems to be a haven for people who like to just get out there and throw out the most vitriolic and aggressive stance they can. But there’re no secret piles of money that the company’s somehow magically making. I haven’t been paid in almost two months, and I’ve been putting money out to try and get people taken care of. That’s the flip side. When people think, “Oh, wow, these guys are starting their own company. They’re gonna sell it. They’re multibillionaires!” They don’t really see the other side of it, that when that doesn’t happen, you continue to invest your lifeblood into it because that’s why you started it in the first place. When we started Flagship and the first nine of us were there working at Tyler [Thompson]‘s house, we had to pay the guys minimum wage so they could legally be employees. None of us were sitting on tons of cash. We were burning through savings to get the company started up. The unfortunate ending on the other side is not that we made a good-but-not-great amount of money, so we let everybody go and kept that good amount of money. I think that we, again, were probably thinking more with our hearts than our heads, and any money that came into the company at all was turned around into chasing Hellgate — trying to make it better, doing the patches. We didn’t get a lot of support financially. We poured pretty much every penny the company had into doing that.”
In the great words of TF2′s Heavy:
Much, much more of the debacle can be read here for those with interest. It’s an eight page interview, so brace yourself!