I went on quite the little tirade early this year about my poor experience with the PC game Hellgate: London by Flagship Studios, and its support staff.Â This game really broke my heart – I expected so much from it, and so many compelling features were promised, but the final product didn’t live up to its own hype.Â Its inauspicious launch last Halloween was one of the worst in PC gaming history due to bugs, server downtime, and broken content.
The weight of this poor launch was too much for Flagship to bear.Â This little startup, fronted by Blizzard North veteran Bill Roper, was forced to lay off its entire staff and liquidate its assets.Â There’s a great, genuinely heartwrenching interview with Roper on 1UP.com which is well worth a read.
So why am I bringing this up now, after writing the game off fourscore and seven hellgates ago?Â Because I feel really bad for Flagship and its staff, and especially for Roper, who had to jeopardize his family’s financial security in order to get his people paid for their last shifts.
The real reason why I care so much, though, is that I actually like this game now.Â I reinstalled it in May and got a good couple of months of online gameplay out of it.Â The kinks haven’t all been worked out – online play can be laggy and it’s not long before you’ve seen all the assets repeat themselves – but to be perfectly honest this is the game I’d hoped for all along.
It took 7 months for it to reach this state, and 10 months for the company to go under.Â Just imagine if Flagship had just half a year of extra funding and could have delayed the launch.Â I bet it would have been a real summer blockbuster, even for a modest underdog of a game.
I don’t feel I can retract my criticisms or comments from my previous post about this game, since I’m a paying customer and deserved better than what I was handed in that huge foam-filled box.Â Still, I am saddened that it had to end this way, so soon.
Let this be a lesson to any and all who are tempted by a lifetime founders’ subscription – $150 bought those poor saps only a few expensive months of sparse subscription content that was promised but only fractionally delivered.
Most of all, let this be a lesson to startup companies on the importance of image.Â When your userbase is screaming from the rafters that something foul is afoot with your product, the WRONG way to handle this feedback is to ignore it and pretend that everything is fine.Â Flagship insisted on playing their cards very close to their chest, which unfortunately meant that they let the pessimists and naysayers do all the talking for them.Â I imagine this was a conscious choice by Flagship’s senior staff to hide their tenuous financial situation from prospective investors, but unfortunately this made damage control impossible, forcing frustrated customers and would-be subscribers to get their news from more vocal sources like Flagshipped (a site with the subheading “MMO Fail as Daily News”).
It takes a good captain to send his staff out with all the life preservers and go down with his ship.Â My condolences to you, Bill.Â You put up a hell of a fight.Â I’d have empathized with you from day one if only you’d given us a glimpse of your tribulations much earlier on.