6/23/03 Star Wars Galaxies: Beta in a Box

SWG pt.2 6/23/03

Vivendi 6/23/03

Midway 6/23/03
 

Game Pirates 4/11/03
 

SWG 3/10/03

Sega 3/10/03

Motor City 3/10/03
 

Westwood 2/13/03

G4 TV 2/13/03

Shadowbane 2/13/03

Sims Online 2/13/03
 

UO Lawsuit 1/29/03

EVE Beta 1/29/03
 

Infogrames 1/8/03

Bam 1/8/03

Vivendi 1/8/03

Vaporware 1/8/03

Capcom 1/8/03
 

Star Wars Beta 12/6/02

Ubi-Soft 12/6/02

Runecraft 12/6/02
 
 
 

Past Stories:

 
STAR WARS GALAXIES: BETA IN A BOX
By FatGreedyLucas

If you haven’t been following the news, Sony Online Entertainment last week announced that their latest mmorpg Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided will be released on June 26.  Oops!

This June 26th release is a horrible idea.  I have been beta testing SWG for over 2 months, the moment they gave the release date for the game I deleted the SWG folder from my hard drive, realizing that I can no longer say 'this is just beta, this stuff will be fixed sooner or later,' but that this is actually the final game.. this is what people will be paying $50+ for.. I cannot just say that the game is buggy, I can say that it is, for the most part, completely unplayable.  Over the past 2-3 patches, it seems for every one bug they squash, 2-3 new ones are born.. I am not even kidding about that.  I cannot suggest to anyone to get this game until about November/December.. 

The crafter: They haven't balanced any of these classes at all, in my opinion.. you can become a Master Architect (one of the highest professions in the game) in a matter of hours.. is this how MMORPGs are supposed to work? With this latest patch they've broken the Armorsmith profession almost completely.. giving no tim to test the new implementations they'd forced on it.. There's so much more beyond balance that is far more important, but the NDA is still under effect. 

The combat professions: Brawler, Scout, Marksman.  I'll start out by saying that this game has the most boring combat in any game I've ever played.. I'll also say that there is nothing STAR WARSY about it. In many cases of PVP (trust me, you won't even care about PVP after trying it out in the game..) it's whoever gets the first shot off.  In terms of cross-combat such as Brawler/Marksman, it is whoever is in their ideal range when combat is initiated. As for scout, this is an entirely broken profession, this profession equires 3 types of experience.. one from setting up camps, one from using traps, and another from (mostly) harvesting resources from creatures you have killed. Now the latter part of that takes up half of the trees in the profession.. meaning there's a lot of killing to be done.. but with a newbie gun/knife?  Something to know, as a marksman you are given weapon certifications as you make your way up through each tree (whether it's pistol, carbine, or rifle.)  Therefore in order to have better than newbie weaponry you'll have to pick up either brawler or marksman and begin running through these professions in order to be a viable killer. 

Entertainer: So you want to be a Master Entertainer?  How about a Master in the elite entertainer professions such as Dancer or Performer?  Go to a cantina.. type /dance.  Go to work, go outside, go to the movies.  Now there have been rumors of gating the AFK Ents and I'm sure at some point they will do this.. so with the next part I'll show you how to get past this gate.. 

The Lowly Artisan (crafter): So this is a big deal, digging up resources.  Why?  You need resources to craft things.  One tree of the Artisan consists of Survey I-IV.. normally this can take 3-4 days to get through.. Survey is another word for digging up resources.  But you don't feel like spending 3-4 days with your lowly artisan building him up the normal way?  One word: MACRO.  This can also un-gate any Entertainer gating rumors.  Here's the plan, go into your SWG directory, create a text file.. call it samp.txt  Open this, type "samp: /sample; pause 360; /stand; /pause 5; /sit; /pause 100; /stand; /pause 5; /samp;" without the quotes of course.  What does this do? ok.. /sample is the manual term for DIG THIS RESOURCE.. so you do that for 360 seconds (until the average artisan's Action Points runs out) then you sit for 100 seconds (the amount of time needed to regenerate them.)  Having /samp; at the end makes this a loop.. 

Bounty Hunter: With the latest patch they've introduced 90% of the BHs abilities/weapons.  Who in their right mind believes that 9 days is enough time to fully test/debug an entire class?  Smuggler falls into the same category.. due to BUGS in the patch before this "final" patch, you could not become as smuggler up until now. 

Jedi: OK, everyone wants this, no one's getting it for a while.. know why?  It's hard to get they say.. that and it's not really done.. They're testing it internally amongst their QA.. Does anyone think that's a bad idea?  If it takes about 10,000 users to fully test other classes.. how would an in-house QA be able to properly test an entire class (AND CLASSES.. as it is assumed that there is a Dark Jedi Class, Jedi Class, etc.)  Some hints have been gven that you need to use all of your skill points (points used to buy skill boxes in a class.. you are given 250 at start and each box is from 1-6 points) in order to become a Master Jedi Knight (or whatever)  Didn't Yoda once say that you must unlearn what you have learned.. in order to become a Jedi Master?  Yeah.. 

The Medic profession is broken in the same way the Scout profession is.. you need another class in order to become effecient. 

Non-character: Inner city lag, unbelievable.. If you're not on a top of the line machine you will experience horrible lag while in cities and some people with higher up computers even complain about inner-city lag.  This new patch introduced the rubber band effect.. happens when you come close to cities in most cases.. you walk 5 meters, suddenly your 2 meters behind yourself.. it's very annoying and hard to watch.  Some of the worst bugs are the ones that cause crashes, whether it's a crash straight to the desktop or just a freeze up.. it's always terrible.  It happens in many areas of the game.. I've crashed many times while walking towards a city, crashed when exiting options, crashed when editing something in options.. 

The stat bug: This bug has been around for so long, and they're still asking for input about it.. you'll take some injuries in battles and all of a sudden these injuries won't regenerate.. at some point I was at -100 on three of my regeneration stats.. that is something that isn't supposed to happen and has been happening for a month or so now. 

Server/Database Lag: This is a scary one for people who don't know about it.. say you just bought your first house and planted it.. after it "pops up" you take a walk around inside and enjoy the house.. nice isn't it?  Well let's say you walk towards the city to check out the City Bazaar (aka broken Ebay machines) whe you return you find that your house has vanished.. This is caused by lag in the server/database.  I would be horrified if something I spent 2-3 days working on/saving the money for has just vanished.. sometimes this problem can be solved by simply logging out/in.. but when the server has been up for over 2 days it seems like the only fix is a server reset.. which keep the server offline for 45 minutes usually.. they claim to have a stable server? 

Battlefields: Imagine the stupidest thing you can imagine, then run into a wall as hard as you can. 

Creature Pets and NPC Pets: There's a profession that the scout leads into called Creature Handler.. there are also Faction (rebellion/empire) Perks that can allow you to purchase NPC Pets.  All I can say is that as a member of the empire I've never had an NPC pet that worked properly, neither has my friend who was a creature handler.  I think the latest bug is the inability to attack.  The last time I played I was with my Storm Trooper Sniper and my Imperial Trooper Wuss.. just roaming the desert looking for a reason to play after I'd read the horrible Release Date post.. I ran into a Rebel General.. initiated my attack.. told my pets to attack.. told them again and again.  So then I died.  But that's nothing compared to the woes of the creature handler.. my friend has never been able to keep a pet for more than a day.. they vanish on him in a matter of hours, and unlike houses, they don't come back. 

I could go on forever, I really could.. but I think I've done enough.. I do believe that this game has potential, but it's not going to be tapped on June 26th. This is a Christmas 2003 game at best.  If you wish to waste your $15/month on this POS, more power to ya.
 

-FatGreedyLucas


6/23/03 Vivendi's Sinking Ship

VIVENDI’S SINKING SHIP
By FatFloater

Here's the latest update on the sinking ship that is Vivendi Universal Games. 

1) Probably the most amusing and apt judgment call the company has ever made is the soon-to-be release of Jim Wilson.  Like most of the management (and the producers, for that matter) Jim has never actually played a game before, but he claims to know how to build and market one.  As a reward for his insane arrogance and unbelievable ignorance he has been promoted every step of the way (better brush the dirt off your knees, Jimmie).  No longer. 

The new executive management team is trying to figure a quiet way to oust him (note: Where did his Black Label Games go?  Weren’t they just announced last summer?), and it's rumored he'll be gone by the end of June. 

2) Because Wilson leaves a giant idiot footprint to fill, a possible successor has been found: Nicholas Longano, who has has been heading up the massive failure that is Universal Games.  Longano was previously in the marketing area, then was moved up by Wilson to oversee Universal Games.  In an interesting turn of events, Longano is now set succeed him (what is it about Vivendi that they tend towards short, effeminate men for high-level management positions?  Must be that French influence still lingering.) 

3) A good portion of the staff knows their days are numbered.  Lots of drinking after (and during) work, and there is a lot of talk of which members will abandon ship first.  Why would this be?  Well...

4) VUG's Universal group has a crap load of crap games in the stable, things like Cat in the Hat (which appears to play more like Cat caught in shit), Fast and the Furious (whatever), Battlestar Galactica (should sell about 12 units), and a bunch of shelved games that will now never see the light of day. 

5) Sierra is in a even bigger shithole, with games like The Hobbit (which should have been canceled 2 years ago), Malice (remember this game last E3?  It barely ran, and guess what - it's worse now), and cost overruns which make the Pentagon look frugal.  Instead of Sierra it should be called the bottomless pit. 

6) The tech side is being run by Neal Robison (former janitor and court jester) who has been hated by many a producer at the company.  The marketing department is basically asleep at the wheel (press coverage for The Hulk (another piece of crap) is getting overrun by The Matrix), and most everyone else seems to have given up.

Well, there you go, another big publisher slowly bleeds to death.  Although I have to admit, as I secretly search for another job, that if it wasn't for the idiotic upper level management and a few really horrible producers, I've enjoyed most of the people here. 

Thanks guys, I'll send a postcard from wherever I land next.
 

-FatFloater


6/23/03 Midway Games Changes Board Make-Up

MIDWAY GAMES CHANGES BOARD MAKE-UP
Taken from the Chicago Tribune

Midway Games changing board makeup 

By Andrew Countryman 
Tribune staff reporter 

Three weeks after a major institutional investor sharply criticized its governance practices, Chicago-based video game-maker Midway Games Inc. disclosed it is taking steps that could address some of the concerns. 

In its preliminary proxy statement filed Thursday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Midway asked shareholders to approve a proposal to elect directors annually, disclosed that two directors with ties to the company would not seek re-election, and said it planned to add two new, independent directors by the end of the year. 

Late last month, the California Public Employees' Retirement System, known as Calpers, put Midway and five other companies on its annual focus list of targets for corporate governance improvements. 

Among its requests, the nation's largest public pension fund wanted Midway to add two independent directors, separate the chairman and chief executive positions and commit to having only independent directors on key board committees. 

Calpers noted at the time that only three of Midway's 11 directors met the pension fund's independence guidelines, and said none of the nominating committee members did. 

In Thursday's SEC filing, Midway disclosed that two of the directors Calpers deemed not independent--Executive Vice President Kenneth Fedesna and Gerald Sweeney, whose law firm provided services to Midway--would not stand for re-election. 

Instead, Midway said in the filing, it plans to add two directors who qualify as independent under New York Stock Exchange rules, which are less stringent than Calpers' guidelines. Midway said it believed six of the remaining nine director nominees were independent under NYSE rules. 

The filing said no candidates were under consideration for the open spots. A Midway spokesman could not be reached for comment. 

Midway also said it had changed the makeup of its nominating committee--a Calpers concern--since its last proxy filing. Thursday's filing said Chief Executive Neil Nicastro had been replaced as chairman of the panel by outside director Norman Menell, a former 
executive at Waukegan-based WMS Industries Inc., Midway's former parent company. 

Proposed NYSE listing standards, which would mandate all-independent nominating, audit and compensation committees, would preclude Nicastro from serving on the panel. 

In addition, Midway asked shareholders to approve a proposal to elect all directors annually, rather than having them serve staggered three-year terms. 

Although Calpers did not specifically request annual elections, it is one of the fund's key corporate governance principles. 

In seeking the change, Midway's filing said the staggered terms were adopted to help foil any hostile takeover attempts, but noted that many investors view them as impediments to director accountability. 

"The election of directors is the primary means for stockholders to influence corporate governance policies and to hold management accountable for its implementation of those policies," Midway said in the filing. 

Making the switch to an annual election, it said, is part of the board's "goal of ensuring that our corporate governance policies comply with applicable rules and regulations and maximize our accountability to our stockholders." 

Calpers spokesman Brad Pacheco reacted positively to the disclosures. 

"On the face of it, it sounds like promising steps," he said. 

Copyright C 2003, Chicago Tribune


4/11/03 Russia Bitch-Slaps Game Pirates

RUSSIA BITCH-SLAPS GAME PIRATE UPSIDE THE HEAD!
By FatCosmonaut

Live in Moscow

Over the last several months Russia has finally shown that it is getting serious about stamping out piracy in the videogame markets across the country!  The government has recently taken firm action against piracy strongholds, such as the infamous Garbushka Market in the center of Moscow.  This market is even a bigger tourist draw than some of Russia's finer monuments to be sure.  Lots and lots of people want cheap music, games, and software more than they want to see some smelly onion-domed church, staffed by long-bearded monks sporting vodka-laced breath. 

Over the last several months, I have prowled the public and private markets of Moscow in search of Pirated X-Box and PS2 games, and I have yet to find them for sale anywhere!  That is a huge victory for publishers, manufacturers, and developers alike, 
and there are several reasons for it. 

First of all, Russia wants in on that whole WTO party in a big way.  They have been told repeatedly to clean up their pirate dens before they have a chance.  They are therefore fully motivated to do so. 

Second, the copy-protection schemes on the new consoles have proven very difficult for even the best crackers to crack.  Cracker sources have told me that the only way to pirate an X-box or PS2 game is to have a "chipped" console to play it on once you manage to copy it.  Holy anti-piracy-scheme that actually works for once – and chalk one up for the game industry!  It seems that pirates are finally incapable of just burning copies of games and selling them on the street-corners like caramel apples for a couple of bucks.  Without a "chipped" console in the hands of the user, which replaces the BIOS in the console with one that can play pirated games, the pirates have no market for their cracked games!  Chipped consoles are even harder to find here than the games.  People are in jail here right now for trying to sell them.  Russia is getting serious about this piracy business at last.  They've started bitch-slapping the pirates and chasing them underground. 

Last week, I visited the massive Garbushka market to see if what I have been hearing is true.  The changes that have overtaken this former pirate haven were striking and immediately noticeable upon my arrival.  Where once row upon row of pirated games, music, and DVD's were on offer, there are now official shops enclosed in glass, selling legitimately licensed games and music at full price!  Being a bit of a skeptic, and after seeing what a piracy-party this market has been for years, I started nosing around through the aisles, looking for pirate videogame booty and illicit gear, to see if I could find some amongst the 100's of stalls, stands, and tables. 

Going up to table after table and browsing what was on offer, it was clear to see that things have changed in Russia's largest Pirate CD market -- which is even rumored to have heavy police protection.  Now the market owners, police, and copyright holders
hold regular meetings to coordinate piratskii stings, share information and create holy nightmares for the pirates who have operated freely here since the fall of communism. 

After browsing and finding a drastic reduction in the amount of pirated CD and software products on offer, I began asking the friendly customer-service-agents at the stands what the heck was going on, and where all the pirate goodies disappeared to?  They informed me that in the last month alone there have been multiple surprise raids by the piracy police.  They have confiscated any pirate discs that they find.  In addition to the confiscations, stand-owners have been served some teethy looking court-summons that seem to be scaring the heck out of this former den of intellectual copyright thieves. 

The Moscow police have boldly claimed that "by the end of the month, all pirated goods will be gone from this market," an astonishing claim that seems to be well on the way to 
realization.  This is a phenomenal development and one that I wasn't sure I would ever see in Russia -- in my lifetime.  But here it is and I am witnessing it before my own eyes.  The pirates are on the run and legitimate discs are breaking out all over this mother-freaker!  Looks like Russia really does want in on that WTO party thing after all! 

SONY has declared their own War on Piracy in the Russian market, and it is also rumored that they have provided Russian piracy police with their own -- "Men-in-Black" special-agents as they are called.  These are SONY piracy-agents, who have been seen on multiple raids assisting police in locating pirated goods, and then accompanying the police on the raids which end in confiscation, court summons, and arrests.  "Sony is here, they are pissed, they are taking names and kicking down doors.  They are having a huge impact on the pirate market in Russia right now," I was told by a former pirate who has seen several of his friends arrested for attempting to sell "chipped" PS2's and pirated PS2 games to play on them.  "It's not a joke any more," he said, "People are really going to jail now and that is the first time I can remember such a situation in Russia." 

Heavy pressure is also coming from the US Embassy directly from the top.  Alexander Vershbow, the US Ambassador in Moscow, has constantly lodged official protests to the rampant piracy clearly happening right under the nose of the authorities here in the Russian capitol.  His message is finally getting results at some of Moscow's biggest pirate-bastions. 

After my visit this week, I can assure you that in the hundreds of stands at Garbushka and indeed across the entire city, I have not been able to locate any pirated PS2 or X-Box games for sale at any retail or pirate table!  That is quite a feat and a clear victory for videogame publishers and console manufacturers alike, considering the absolute hey-day that pirates had here with the last generation of consoles.  PS1 and Dreamcast games were so heavily pirated here that it seemed pirate software out-numbered licensed copies a million and a half to one! 

When I asked around the market for "Piratskii Copias" of X-box games or PS2 games -- stand owners looked at me like I had just asked them for crack, heroin, or endangered elephant sperm.  "Nyet Nyet Nye Zdes," they told me in stand after stand.  And sure, I 
look a bit like a foreign spy, so they weren't likely to bust out with them, but the key is that they aren't readily available to everyone with 3 bucks as they used to be. 

Granted, there are still pirate CD's readily available in Russia, and many PC games are still being pirated like cotton-candy at the circus -- but the volume, availability, and purveyors of these illicit discs are being driven further underground every day.  It seems that International copyright-holders may finally be winning the battle to shut down Russia's many pirate-markets, at the retail level at least.  This is really good news for our industry because discs manufactured in Russia are usually shipped to other parts of Europe and the world especially the former Soviet Union territories. 

Sony's strategy of targeting and assisting the local piracy police seems to be paying the biggest dividends.  The pirates I have talked to are running scared from the "Men-in-Black," Sony's Secret International Piracy Police Force.  Pirates -- Be very 
afraid and start looking for a new haven to hide out in -- like Iraq or Afghanistan! 

The War against Piracy is certainly not over in Russia, but battles are being waged and won right now.  Oh, and if you want some pirated X-Box or PS2 software, you better try someplace besides Garbushka in Moscow.  Try China or Hong Kong -- I think you'll have much better chances there!
 

-FatCosmonaut

Where are the pirates?


3/10/03 SWG Cuts Everything But Jar-Jar Binks

STAR WARS: GALAXIES CUTS EVERYTHING BUT JAR-JAR BINKS
By FatKosterTheHutt

What do you do when you are behind schedule, have a poor design to begin with, and are facing serious competition out on the heels of your game’s release?  You cut features of course!

In mid-February, Sony Online/Verant announced a slew of design feature cuts in order to make their April 15 release date.  Major features cut include Dark Jedi, rideable vehicles, player built cities, playable classes, and others.  These cuts will leave a rather barren gaming landscape that will test even the most hardcore Star Wars fan’s mettle.  Reports from beta testers indicate this is, essentially, Everquest with Star Wars texture maps.  While being like EQ is not a bad thing, we seriously doubt that is what gamers are looking for.

Along with the design cuts were explanations from nearly everyone on the team except George Lucas himself, rationalizing the reasons for the cuts.  Here’s a clue, nutjobs:  if you have to get the fanboys to step in line with your feature cuts, you are already in serious hot water.  Raph Koster, nicknamed Holocron, already responsible for the single character server fiasco (aka the "More Money for us Greedy Pigs" plan), wrote long winded and rambling explanations for the cuts; none of them making any more sense than the next.  We are reminded of EQ's wonderful PR mouthpiece Abashi, who specialized in double-talk and smoke screens.  Looks as if Raph Koster is following in Abashi's rather large footsteps.

To this original Star Wars fan, it appears that Sony Online is doing to the franchise what George Lucas has already done to it with the Episode 1 & 2 crap:  sending the franchise further into the depths of shit from which it will most likely never return.  The long line of Star Wars crap games tells the story thus far: Rebel Assault, Force Commander, Battlegrounds, Rebellion, Pod Racer, and more.  Only the occasional gem such as Jedi Knight or Dark Forces keeps the fanboys’ hopes alive.

Everyone predicted The Sims Online would do gangbusters.  It tanked.  And so might Star Wars: Galaxies, as egomaniacs running the team continue to run that project into the ground.
 

-FatKosterTheHutt


3/10/03 Sega of America Crashes and Burns

SEGA OF AMERICA CRASHES AND BURNS
By FatSonicTheHemphog

Sega of America let go of close to 50% of their staff two weeks ago.  Hardest hit was the marketing department—it’s basically gone.  Only Rich Briggs remains.  Visual Concepts is going to be handling all the marketing for Sega products, as SOA marketing failed abysmally in the year 2002.  The company released great products, but sales were pathetic.  Both Stacey Kerr and Mike Rhineheart have moved over to VC in San Rafael.

The recent layoffs took out the creative services director Bob Schonfisch and most of his staff.  This group was responsible for the hideously mediocre packaging and market materials produced by Sega since the launch of the Dreamcast.  Ever wonder how a company as big as Sega could consistently put out such sub-par packaging?  This group was responsible for it.  No eye for detail, no concept of marketing, and a design aesthetic from the mid-80’s.  Most of the “art” that Schonfisch was responsible for was simply the Japanese package with a hastily thrown together Engrish logo dropped on top of it.

Terry Higgins, formerly of Sega PR is now in charge of creative services.

Tetsu Kayama, the 42-year old Japanese CEO of Sega of America, has appointed a gang of three to run the company following the departure of COO Peter Moore.  Kayama, who doesn’t speak English and is deathly afraid of flying, made his second-ever visit to the company's San Francisco office in early February to announce his intentions. 

Greg Thomas, the president of Visual Concepts, will take over management over Sega Sports.   Inept yes-man Shinobu Toyoda, EVP of Content Strategy, will run Sega’s entertainment titles.   Toyoda is widely acknowledged as the architect of the infamous test department purge by personally directed firing of its Filippino testers.   Because of his actions, Sega is now embroiled in a multi-million EEOC class-action law suit.    Fred Huey, formerly CFO of Sega.Com, will head up Sales and Administration.   While at Sega.Com, Huey oversaw an orgy of spending dumping over $150 million in to the money losing operation before taking it into bankruptcy.   Now tasked to shutter Sega.Com, he has cut a significant portion of Sega of America’s IT, HR and Legal departments to make room for his dot-bomb cronies.   Now with the Sammy merger announcement, the big question emerging from Japan is whether Kayama and his troika of toadies will survive the next few months…
 

-FatSonicTheHemphog


3/10/03 Motor City Online:  What Went Wrong

MOTOR CITY ONLINE:  WHAT WENT WRONG
By DanElektro of GamePro
(original article located here)

In November of 2001, Electronic Arts launched the first massively multiplayer online racing game, Motor City Online. In August of 2003, that game will be officially shut down, the sad and early end to a multi-year experiment in online gaming. You'd think that a game that celebrated America's hot-rod culture and love for classic cars would be an instant hit...but it simply wasn't. MCO started strong and then sputtered, finally running out of gas. But why? It's not the concept. I refuse to accept a future of online gaming where my only options are shooting, spellcasting, and whatever the hell The Sims is. But ask anybody who's been playing MCO-or any of the NASCAR titles, or Need for Speed--and you'll find that competitive online racing makes total sense. And MCO did it better than I expected.

I like racing games. I don't like tech-heavy simulations, generally--I don't have the mind for real-world details. That nonsense about tire pressure and camber and restrictor plates just gets in the way of me flooring the accelerator. But MCO made things like engine building not only feasible but fun. I can't think of another game that offered that level of customization. Yes, NASCAR lets you adjust the downforce, but the problem there is in the name of the sport: stock car racing. More or less, everybody's cars have to fall within certain boundaries. Not so with MCO: wide-berth car classes were set up to make races fair, but you could use any car you wanted, build it however you saw fit, and run it however you like. A good setup was helpful, but it ultimately still came down to driving skill. Great idea, great execution. And with names like Corvette, Shelby, Firebird, Mustang, and more, it was every car nut's dream. 

So what went wrong? EA's own dev team issued a goodbye message on the MCO website that suggested two problems: 1) Veteran drivers were so good that newbies got bummed and left and 2) retailers didn't get behind it, so customers didn't know it was there. I think both excuses are lame, and I feel the truth is a bunch of stuff EA doesn't want to admit. 

Let me address their excuses first. Where do veteran drivers come from when a game is brand new? Um, the real world. I started playing MCO the week the game came out, in November 2001. I sucked. I learned by doing, but I didn't win a lot of races until I figured out the dark art of engine building. Now maybe that alone instantly ruled out part of the audience (I can understand that most people are not interested in choosing the proper intake manifold), but building an engine does not make you a veteran driver. Practicing the tracks does. MCO was--is, since the game is still running--a competitive online racing game. Someone's going to win every race; up to three other people are going to lose. If you keep losing...seek out advice from better drivers. That's just basic common sense! I sought it out and found people who were very friendly, very willing to teach other people what they needed to know to get more out of the game. Some drivers being better than other drivers is not what hurt the game--that's the very thing that made it work in the first place. 

The second point, about retailers only supporting the latest games and giving MCO the (crank)shaft in the process, may have some truth behind it...but it's definitely not a main factor, and it's totally unfair to point that finger. I really enjoyed MCO and was eager to talk it up to anyone who would listen, especially after a few of the key patches went through and fixed the more glaring bugs and balanced out the gameplay. Truth is, by June of 2002, MCO was a much better game than it was at launch. What did EA do to let everybody know that the game was improved? Nothing. Not a damned thing. By the summer of 2002, I was doing more to promote MCO awareness than EA was. Why should the retailers go out of their way to recommend a game if the publisher isn't telling people it exists or supporting it in any public way whatsoever? Don't blame the store--blame the people inside EA who decided that a one-of-a-kind unique online experience didn't need to be nurtured beyond the month of its launch. 

If you really want to know why Motor City Online didn't live up to potential, here's my take: 

1) The lack of promotion after launch. The same PR folks who talked up the game at launch were reassigned to new titles just a few weeks later--from that point forward, MCO was on its own. At the 2002 E3 show in May, MCO wasn't even in EA's booth. That's simply inexcusable, and was the first indication that the end was inevitable. Consider the ongoing support that EA's other games, including Ultima Online, Battlefield 1942, and Medal of Honor have received, and this really looks bad. 

2) Promises were not kept. The box advertised cars that were not available in the game for almost a year--the Firebird Trans-Am was a major selling point for a lot of people, but you could not buy one until a few months ago--and many people left the game long before that, when they realized they would have to wait too long. Last week--February 2003!--the Shelby Cobra was finally released (along with imports from Toyota and Mitsubishi...but again, nobody interested in those cars outside of MCO's existing players knew that, because EA never told anybody). And I am still waiting for the '63 Corvette, but it's never coming out, since the development of the game is officially halted. The smarter thing would have been to promise less of the cars on the box, then release new car expansion packs at retail--which also solves the decreased retailer support problem. Those new packs give a fresh product to push at retail, plus it gives the press a fresh reason to discuss the product. This has worked wonderfully for EverQuest to keep it in the public eye, and players are accustomed to it; why isn't it good enough for EA? 

3) Online gaming is assumed to be free. Motor City Online, as a boxed retail product, cost $40 plus $10 a month. That's a lot of money, especially to the core teen audience who can get behind a title and make it a huge hit. EA eventually dropped the price of the game to $20 plus $10 a month, but do the math. When you're selling a game that costs $140 a year on the low end and you're competing for attention with games like Counter-Strike-a free mod for Half-Life, a game that's $20 and you're done, for as long as you want to play it-you're doomed to fail (unless you can convince that audience that it's worth it-which EA, again, did not even try to do). Okay, that's not a racing game, but it does create expectations for what a good online game can charge. (Sierra's NASCAR Racing and EA's own Need for Speed series offer similar free internet play, so if you just wanna race another live person, you don't need to spend $10 a month to do it. For younger gamers without credit cards, MCO did eventually let you send in checks and even pay via PayPal--but nobody ever actually sent out a press release or made any attempt to inform the audience that it was easier to pay to play. There were tons of real-world brands in the MCO, everything from car manufacturers to real-world parts, so maybe in-game sponsorships should have been explored to reduce the price. You're looking at roadside billboards anyway--if they advertise a real car or automotive brand and reduce the fees, that's fine with me. And wouldn't car advertisers love knowing their core, enthusiast consumer was getting their message? 

4) Gamers felt like they were buying it twice. Ever hear the old analogy about razors and razor blades? In a game like MCO, you're making steady income on the monthly fee. Charging gamers $20 or $40 for the boxed game as well looks greedy--and that's because it is. A lot of gamers I spoke to said they might pay the monthly fee, but they were not going to shell out the price for a full game as well. They wanted either a free game with paid online play, or a paid game with free online play. A paid game with paid online play is understandably not cool to the consumer. After the first few months, EA should have given the MCO client software away--or better still, bundled the MCO installer on one of the discs that comes with PC gaming magazines. Here it is, here's a week's free play time to test it out; if you like it, subscribe. Instead, there was too much financial risk involved, and not enough people took the bait. 

As it is, it's probably too late to save Motor City Online. Not that players aren't trying--there's some discussion among the rabid fans to figure out how to set up player-hosted servers, the way Counter-Strike works (any yahoo with the game can post a game for other people to join)--but that will require cooperation on EA's part, to share some of the source code with fans. If it's a dead product anyway, EA literally has nothing to lose, but we'll see if the company even wants to be bothered. 

Motor City Online will remain up and running until August...in theory. Activity dropped severely this week when drivers realized they were on a road to nowhere; there's a good chance that EA will say "Hey, activity is down, so we're pulling the plug early." The team I've been driving with for the last 18 months has already made contact outside the game so we can find a new game to play together. We were total strangers when we met, but now we really enjoy each other's company. That's what online games do-they build communities. EA touted that as a big part of Motor City Online, but didn't stick around on a corporate level long enough to see whether or not it developed. 

My biggest fear here is that the next time someone comes up with a great online racing game idea, they'll instantly be shot down with "Dude...Motor City Online. Enough said." That's definitely not fair. On so many levels, Motor City Online worked. It's EA that failed.
 

-DanElektro


2/13/03 EA Closes Westwood

EA COMPLETES ASSIMMILATION OF WESTWOOD STUDIOS
BY CLOSING THE VEGAS OFFICE
By The Fatbabies Team (ghost written by FatSlicky)

I had to come back out of retirement from Fatbabies.com to write this story.  Heck, since I live in Vegas, it happened in my own backyard.

Nearly two and a half years ago I wrote the Story The EA Collective to Westwood:  You Have Been Assimilated.  I wrote it because I knew that Electronic Arts would eventually get rid of what had been one of the most premier game development studios in the world.  They’ve done it before, and they will no doubt continue to do it again and again to studios in the future.  Take heed, you independent studios, FEAR THE EA BEAST!

Westwood was shattered when Brett Sperry was finally pushed out the door from his figurehead position as head of "EA Las Vegas."  (It should be noted that my prediction of EA changing the name of Westwood to EA Vegas never came true—they instead just shut the whole kit-and-caboodle down.)  With Sperry gone, there was really nobody left to fight with the EA brass to keep Westwood alive.  Louis Castle was essentially an EA toady, a man with no spine who would not go to bat for the company he founded.  In that, he let the 120 Westwood employees, some of them Westwood lifers, down.

No big deal for Castle though, as he’s going to transfer to EA Los Angeles (or should I say, "EA Hollywood") and run the show from there.  Guess the women and children, husbands and wives of those employees of Westwood aren’t important.  Sure, let’s go ahead and uproot the lives of some 300+ people for the pure joy of a few former execs from Sara Lee Bakery Corporation, Amazon.com, and Pepsi Cola.  They sure know games, don’t they?

I don’t know about that, but they do know how to close studios and to consolidate operations.  Everybody’s favorite president and COO John Riccitiello, certainly knows how to lose half a billion dollars in the EA.com fiasco.  But oh, he still has a job.

How nice.

Meanwhile, EA’s stock has fallen from its high of  $73 in October of 2002 to its current level of $49.  While revenues are very strong, their EPS remains high at over 20.  I’d even go so far as to say EA is a short opportunity waiting to happen.  Their games continue to get worse, they can’t manage online components, turned the best selling PC game of all time into a dismal failure online, and they alienate employees and studios at a whim.  That cannot be a solid recipe for success.

But I digress. 

To Westwood’s Aaron D. Cohen, PR Director (if he's even still employed):  don’t say we didn’t warn you.  Who got the last laugh now, eh smart guy?

Links to the past related articles on Fatbabies:

Original Story
Response to Aaron D. Cohen
FatTissimo’s response
Follow-up
 

-The Fatbabies Team


2/13/03 G4--Skinned Alive

G4--SKINNED ALIVE
By FatHatInTheCat

G4TV.  Where hosts are allegedly paid $500 a show, corporate sponsors seem to rule the roost, creating an increasing amount utterly appalling "infotainment" that's as biased as it is embarrassing to watch (think a half-hour program on the movie xXx branded as a TV show), and there's more repetition than a Street Fighter franchise.  What with G4 being almost a year old, struggling to find a foothold, unable to be seen by anyone with a 
satellite dish, and seemingly run by people who think celebrities pretending to play video games is a great way gain audience support (it isn't; ask anyone from incite magazine), we thought we'd check in to see what sort of clusterfuck is currently being shaped and imploded over at G4 towers. 

Ask the seven people who regularly watch the channel, and they'll confirm that it's a pretty sad state of affairs when up until recently, the best reason for viewing was a show called Arena, hosted by Wil Wheaton.  Yes, that Wil Wheaton.  Wheaton, and co-host Travis Oates pitted teams of four contestants against each other in games of Counterstrike, DOA3, and Mechwarrior, and the sometimes-amusing asides gabbled by the two hosts were a breath of fresh air in an otherwise turgid sea of mediocrity.  With most of the other shows being hosted by out-of-work actors with little-to-no video 
game experience (a prime example being Filter, auto-read by Diane "Fook Mi from Austin Powers in Goldmember" Mizota), it was great to watch unscripted, amusing, witty, and self-deprecating humor.  Until both hosts got "fired" towards the end of last summer, that is. 

Recently, Wil told Slashdot exactly why he and Travis fled from the show.  The results may surprise you.  If you think Producers aren't fucking ego-maniacal idiots, and upper management aren't comprised of major-league assholes.  Just in case you've got work to do, we've snagged the best bits from Wil's startling expose 
(http://slashdot.org/~CleverNickName/journal/20695).  It basically states the 
following: 

1. Things were chugging along nicely until the game Counterstrike was dropped from the show, as Valve wouldn't sign a waiver in case Little Jimmy decided to reenact the game with his pals using real weapons, "internet cafe style," and some cock-jerky lawyer decided to sue G4. 

2. Travis told forum members about this after okaying the post with the show's Producer, Jim Downs.  If you watch one of the 70 repeats of the show "Pulse" each week (where press releases masquerade as "news"), he's the one with the ill-fitted shirt, glasses, lack of charisma, crafting strained reports from the locations the hosts of the show should have gone to instead.  Despite a personality-free on-air style, he's apparently a slightly autistic devil behind the scenes. 

3. Valve got wind of the forum post, and were completely the opposite of "happy", and mentioned this to the upper echelon over at G4 towers (you know, the guys that are predisposed to sit around collecting money, waiting for a golden parachute when the money runs out).  They tore into Travis, who expected Downs to 'fess up (as Downs okayed the post).  What happened instead?  According to Wil, Downs "sat back, and let Travis get blamed for just following the producer's instructions."  This was one of many examples of Producer behavior that's come to be known as "Downs Syndrome." 

4. Dead or Alive 3 got dropped next.  The forum members wanted to know why.  Hell, the hosts wanted to know, too. Downs told them it was because one of Comcast's (apparently evil, EVIL) executives was "personally offended" by the T-rated game.  Travis okayed another message board post with Downs.  Management found out, collectively roared with disapproval, and Travis got it in the neck again.  Downs remained quiet once more.  Travis was threatened with dismissal, and was getting a "bad guy" rep, despite being apparently innocent. 

5. Then came the "Halo finals special" show.  Wil had expected the show to last an hour (44 minutes, plus the obligatory 16-minute Pringles ad), but they cut it in half, and the taping "ended up looking like crap" according to Wil. Had the Producer fought to make this show one hour long?  Nope.  "I realized that the producer was lazy, and that as long as he was involved, the show wouldn't ever grow into something that I'd be proud of" lamented a weeping Wheaton.  Oh, and there's talk of the Producer talking down to the 
Halo players.  This is the one time we'd like to give Downs credit.  Nice one! 

6. Then comes the "show is fake" revelation!  Despite the fact that the early shows had teams that were clearly made up of staff members (some actually appeared in other programming and house ads later into the year), it took Travis and Wil a few more months to realize the Producer (yes, he's still talking about Downs) wasn't getting "two teams of eight players together every other week to play our games.  When he found that there weren't enough players for the games, he grabbed people people (sic) who worked for G4 to play against the "champion" teams."  Wil then told Downs' boss.  Which is when the real fan-feces interaction began. 

7. Wheaton told Downs' boss about the way the show was imploding.  The boss "claimed to know nothing about the faking of the game play rounds, and was very upset that the producer wasn't securing new players for each episode."  This apparently lead to a dressing down for Downs, who phoned Wil up later to "scream at me, call me names, and tell me that I was 'a fucking bullshit asshole' for going over his head and complaining to his boss."  The potty-mouth ranting continues on Slashdot.  It's a riveting read. 

8. Wil then decided to make a movie with Issac Hayes instead.  But didn't quit due to Travis' pleading, and they made a thirteenth show.  During this time, "the producer skulked around like a child, and there were countless mysterious 'technical' problems that we'd never had before.  Travis and I were forced to stop and start over and over again, and it became clear to us after an hour or so that the producer was fucking with us."  So Downs (who has Producer credits on the show) was actually sabotaging a show while it was being filmed!  Scandalous! 

9. Wheaton's paycheck was then severed by two thirds, he was told it would remain this way for two years, and by then it was clear to Wil that fleeing the scene at Warp Factor 9 was the only real plan.  Travis was fired during this time.  Wheaton also broadsides Downs with another... er... broadside:  "It has also come to my attention that the very producer who treated us so badly has been telling people that he had me fired.  For anyone keeping score at home, it is entirely because of this producer, and his outrageous treatment of both me and Travis that I quit."  After that, Downs hired two 
more hosts, who don't really have the on-air presence or sense of wit to compete with Team Wheaton.  Which is great for G4 management, as Arena is now at the same standard as most of their other awkward offerings. 

10. An ex-writer of the show then posted some really rather far-out and amusingly outrageous (not to mention litigious) comments.  There's even a bit about peeing in Downs' coffee, and threatening to "skull fuck" him.  It's probably all lies, but we'll let you be the judge.  There was a response from Vinnie Longobardo, the "boss" mentioned in Wil's post, who denies fixing the show (as that's illegal), but not the psychotic behavior of a certain Producer. 

The Fatbabies cordially invite Jim Downs, or anyone associated with G4 to write in and set the record straight if there are any discrepancies.  While you're at it, why not let us know how much more mileage the channel has when the most humorous and gifted presenter is now Tommy Tallerico? 

Just kidding!  We love ya, Tommy! 
 

-FatHatInTheCat


2/13/03 A Dark Day for Shadowbane

A DARK DAY FOR SHADOWBANE
By FatMinotaur

Shadowbane’s European publisher goes bankrupt!

Germany's developer/publisher SWING! Entertainment Media AG has filed for bankruptcy.  They were the ones contracting "Gladiator" extra Ralf Moeller (the weightlifter-turned-actor) as their... ahem... celebrity spokesman and behind Enclave/Xbox and more noteworthy the developers for the MMORPG Shadowbane. How many people exactly were let go is uncertain, but they had been axing people on a monthly basis for some time.

People fluent in German can read it either here or here

As if that wasn’t enough, the game’s Asian publisher had their website h4xxor’d and held hostage.  We have a shot of what the site looked like here.

This does not bode well for Shadowbane, a game already plagued with development costs and delays.
 

-FatMinotaur


2/13/03 Sims Online Gives Creators a Painful Reality Check

'Sims Online' Gives Creators a Painful Reality Check
From the Los Angeles Times
Originally published February 4, 2003

Deana Morss' one-word take on "The Sims Online": boring.

"My screen saver is more entertaining," the 31-year-old college student from Casper, Wyo., said of the ambitious and closely watched computer game from Electronic Arts Inc.

Morss' gripe echoes complaints from thousands of gamers disappointed by a title that EA had hoped would broaden the appeal of online games and persuade a mainstream audience to shell out $10 a month to play.

But after being heralded on the cover of Newsweek and on "60 Minutes," the $25-million "Sims Online" has turned into an expensive letdown for Redwood City, Calif.-based EA. Sales are sluggish, reviews have been merciless, and many in the video game industry wonder whether online games will ever find a large following.

"In retrospect, we allowed ourselves to become more optimistic than we should have been," EA President John S. Riccitiello said.

"The Sims Online" is a key product for EA because it tests the broader market for subscription-based online games, which are attractive to publishers because they generate continuing revenue beyond the initial sale of a packaged title.

The game, built on the successful "Sims" franchise, takes place online, in a world where thousands can play at once. Players control characters who live out virtual lives by making friends, buying houses, marrying, building businesses and developing careers.

Pamina Elgueta, a 24-year-old student at UC Irvine, has been playing the game for a month with her brother and best friend. The three have been collaborating, both online and in person, to build a virtual resort. For Elgueta, the game is a way to meet new people.

"It's the most interesting aspect of the game," she said. "This gives it a social dimension. There's another person behind every character."

But many players say there's just not enough to do.

"It was fun for the first couple of hours, but then it became very monotonous," said Phil Lochner, a 28-year-old Web designer from Campbell, Calif., who said he was unlikely to pay the monthly fee once his 30-day free trial is up. "Ultimately, there didn't seem to be any point to the game."

Other players have blasted the game as "shallow," "pointless," "tedious" and "repetitive."

EA executives say they are doing all they can to fix things. Because the game occurs online, EA can tinker with content to make it more fun, something the company can't do with offline titles.

Developers at EA's Maxis studio in Walnut Creek, Calif., have been shoveling in new features daily. To goose sales, EA dropped the retail price $10 this week to $39.95.

"Do I wish we shaped the expectations differently? Of course," said Gordon Walton, the game's executive producer. "But all we can do now is cope with what's happened. The way we're doing that is to give players what they want as quickly as we can."

As EA scrambles to mend "The Sims Online," others in the $20-billion video game industry are transfixed by the company's effort to reach out to mainstream players. Hard-core gamers are familiar with multiplayer games that charge monthly fees, but the idea of a subscription-based game is relatively new for casual players.

"People in the industry want to know whether you can bring casual game players into a pay-for-play environment," said Mark Jacobs, chief executive of Mythic Entertainment, which produces "Dark Age of Camelot," a fantasy-based online game that caters to more experienced players.

Even with broad media exposure, "The Sims Online" sold 105,000 copies, or only about a quarter of the initial shipment in December. Since then, 82,000 users have registered to play the game for the 30-day trial; of those, about 40,000 have run out of free time and are paying the monthly fee, Riccitiello said.

The disappointing sales were partly blamed for the only blemish in EA's holiday quarter results, reported last week. Although the company posted overall sales and net income gains, its EA.com division, which includes results for "The Sims Online," lost $70 million.

"The Sims" franchise is one of EA's most successful, generating more than $650 million in sales, $200 million in profit and 8 million players worldwide since 2000. The original 3-year-old game and its add-ons continue to be among the top 10 best-selling computer games week after week, according to market research firm NPD Group Inc.

EA executives figured that if 10% of those fans subscribed, the company could take in $96 million a year in fees. That figure, however, remains elusive. The company now hopes to reach half the original goal, or 400,000 subscribers, by December.

Although that seems modest compared with the 22 million "Sims" games and add-ons that EA has sold, it's an aggressive goal for an online game reaching out to a new audience.

The country's most successful online game, "EverQuest," took three years to accumulate its 435,000 subscribers. EA's own "Ultima Online" has 220,000. Unlike offline games, which typically have initial sales spikes and then quickly drop off, the growth curve for online games tends to be more gradual.

"This is a marathon, not a sprint," EA Chairman and CEO Larry Probst told Wall Street analysts during a conference call last week.

"What the subscription level is after six or eight weeks is not important," he said. "It's what happens after 18 months."


1/29/03 Holy Lawsuits, Batman!

HOLY LAWSUITS, BATMAN!
By FatJohnnyCochran

Ultima Online has been around for over 5 years now.  If you’ve ever played the game, you might have seen hooded blue-robed figures running around in a city or talking to another player.  Those "smurfs" were called counselors, and they were members of the UO volunteer team.  The counselors would help players by moving them if they became stuck, help to retrieve their stuff if their dead corpses (with all their equipment) had fallen behind a piece of world geometry, or would help the newbies by answering questions. 

As the game’s success grew, so did the volunteer staff.  Eventually these vols helped to run events within the game, contributing substantially to the game’s overall storyline and helping to make it a living world.  The volunteer program became very structured, with those at the top receiving a monetary stipend from Origin Systems, developers of UO.  While not officially on the payroll, these "elite" volunteers were routinely in touch with members of the development team and for all intents and purposes, were employees.  Oh, except they weren’t really getting paid.

Whoops, forgot about that last part.

Some of those volunteers would put in 40 or more hour work weeks (yes, for no money), and they were ruled over by Electronic Arts/Origin Systems, who told them what hours to work and how long their "volunteer" shifts needed to be.  One thing though, these people were volunteers.  That little bit of information did not matter to EA, because in order to remain on the volunteer squad, they had to abide by EA’s directives, or they were off the team.

Fast forward.

A group of litigious hungry ex-volunteers got together and sued Electronic Arts several years ago.  They claimed they were due monetary compensation for having to work the hours which EA directed them to, and if not for their services, EA would have been forced to hire additional Game Master support staff.  While far-fetched, any numbskull today can file a lawsuit alleging anything he wants, so some lawyer’s eyes lit up at the thought of the vast monies of Electronic Arts and took up the case on a contingency basis.

Well after several years and court hearings later, a judge has decided, as many now do in the judicial system, to throw out common sense and lean towards the plaintiffs in this case.  Check this out:

From the lawsuit: 

This action arises from the failure of Defendants to: 

(1) pay approximately four thousand participants in their Counselor program (including those participants serving as Counselors, Senior Counselors, Assistant Senior Counselors, Seers, Shard Lead Counselors) minimum wage for all hours worked up to 40 hours per week, as guaranteed by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended 29 U.S.C. §201, et seq. ("FLSA"), and 
(2) pay those participants at overtime compensation at the rate of one and one-half times the minimum wage for all time over forty hours per week worked by those participants.


There is a thread located here where apparently ex-volunteers go to find solace in their miserable lives and to discuss the lawsuit. 

Even though the lawsuit verdict has not been pronounced yet, many companies running mmog’s and other programs utilizing volunteers are abandoning the programs, in light of this UO lawsuit.  Sony Online has terminated EverQuest’s guide program, Anarchy Online has canceled their program, Asheron’s Call theirs, and even America Online has dropped all board and chat room volunteer moderators. 

Should the UO volunteers win their case against EA & Origin, it could open the floodgates for all so-called "volunteers" to go after companies for lost compensation.  The already bloated and laughable legal system will become ever more so, with frivolous lawsuits being filed left and right by money-hungry red diaper doper baby trial lawyers.

Here’s hoping common sense wins out.
 

-FatJohnnyCochran


1/29/03 This Is No Garden of Eden

THIS IS NO GARDEN OF EDEN
By FatRogueSquadronLeader

We’ve seen it all before, the required agreeing to non-disclosure agreements, pressing that "I Agree" button, and not spreading a peep of information to anyone outside the closed circle.  Now that’s been settled, I can say that I’m technically breaking the NDA of the EVE beta here, but at this point I suspect that it'll be a moot point in about 5 months.  Simply put, the beta test of EVE: The Second Genesis is in complete and utter ruin.  The testers have been told the developer IS going to make the game go gold in about a month (believe me, there's no question about that)... and the developer can barely keep the servers up.  In the six months I've been in beta, all they've done is add a bunch of features that don't really work all that well.  The basic server mechanics are actually WORSE now than they were when I first joined.  They can't code a stable server to save their lives, and they keep saying that they've improved the server code with each build.  Something doesn't seem to be working too well. 

Basic gameplay still needs a lot of work - even hardcore space fans like myself are bored STUPID with how the game currently plays (which generally involves a lot of mining, followed by point-and-click fighting that, despite the dev's claims, doesn't actually seem to involve all that much skill so much as who has the phattest ships or most friends.)  They promise to have a large NPC back-economy running "soon(tm)", which will mostly amount to being able to travel across the galaxy hauling things.  The "player-driven dynamic economy" the devs promised hasn't materialized, partially because they keep wiping the characters. 

Frankly, this isn't surprising.  EVE is young for an MMOG.  Although the initial concept was formed in 1997 (and the idea of a Privateer or Elite multiplayer game has been the wet dream of many a space fanboy, myself included, for at least a decade), primary development began in 2000.  Almost right on the New Year, as a matter of fact.  Ergo, EVE is now three years old.  The average MMOG takes at least four years to develop fully.  In other words, EVE is being pushed out the door a long time before it's ready.  Another year of development, especially of the server code and gameplay, is definitely required at this point. 

And of course, this isn't really CCP's fault.  Hell, I still have an incredible amount of respect for Solaris, Coroner, RealX, Clover, and a lot of the CCP crew.  They do need to recruit outside of Iceland, though... I am convinced that the reason they're the first all-Icelandic dev team is because the overall talent pool in Iceland is still rather thin (they have no schools devoted to game programming specifically over there, and I don't think any of the current dev team attended one elsewhere.)  This is, as I've said, especially evident in the server programming department. 

But even then I'm willing to give them some leeway... they are attempting something on a scale that has never been done before.  They are about where they should be with a three year old MMOG - they're getting all the guts of the game in place, and now they need to spend a good deal of time polishing the product to a brilliant shine.  Instead, Simon & Schuster Interactive is pushing the game out the door either because they don't want to bother putting enough money into it to develop it right, or they want to squeeze as much cash out of it as they can now and then run like 3DO did with Jumpgate

Yep.  SSI are the ones who picked up the rights to publish EVE worldwide.  This is the same company who brought us such blazing pieces of shit as Outlaw Golf, Deer Avenger 4, Real War: Rouge States, and Star Trek Starship Creator.  I can't think of a single game they've put out that hasn't been anything above "mediocre."  And the reason is well-known:  they like pushing games out the door before they're finished so they can cash in. 

Of course, they're part of Viacom, so this approach is ridiculous when applied to a game like EVE.  Hell, their marketing director, who sometimes visits the forums and chatrooms, has himself stated that EVE is a cash cow waiting to happen, especially since Viacom owns it, of all people.  They've vaguely talked about movie rights, models, Zippo lighters, etc.  And all this is true - they could make PILES of money on this game/franchise.  The concept is that good.  The only problem is that they need to invest the time/money into a really solid beta test and make sure they release a well-developed MMOG (gee, there's an idea.)  As it stands, they're even getting ready to cut out features if they need to if it means they make the March deadline.  It's pathetic. 

Of course, they've also run one of the most disorganized and poorly-structured betas in gaming history.  Conventional wisdom says that you get all of your features in and make sure the servers run flawlessly with a few people, then let the masses in.  Star Wars: Galaxies has supposedly done this.  Not so with EVE.  Here, they just made sure the absolute bare minimum of the game worked (which didn't include the servers, obviously), at which point they opened the floodgates.  The result has been sheer unbridled chaos.  Most beta testers have quit in disgust at this point.  I'm one of them.  I keep hoping that they'll miraculously fix things with one patch, but it never works.  At this point, SSI and CCP need to scale back the number of testers they have, focus on getting the rest of their content and gameplay in, and indefinitely delay the game until it's ready to be launched, probably a year from now.  Otherwise, EVE will join the ranks of World War II Online and Anarchy Online as cool concepts that were released FAR too early and thus became disasters. 

The best thing about all this (from a bitter point of view, anyway) is how I even came to KNOW of Fatbabies.  A good while ago, the aforementioned SSI marketing suit mentioned that Earth & Beyond was getting lambasted on the site (8/26/02, "Westwood's Earth and Beyond".)  In that post, he said that they'd have a much better game than Earth & Beyond would ever be.  Well, at least E&B has stable servers. 

Ah, what a wonderful thing irony is. 
 

-FatRogueSquadronLeader


1/8/03 Can You Spare a Dime, Please?

CAN YOU SPARE A DIME, PLEASE?
By FatNonFrog

Due to poor stock performance, Infogrames stock is going to be delisted from the NASDAQ index on January 15th, 2003, UNLESS the stock price can sustain a price of $3.00 or more for 10 consecutive days.  The stock has shown no signs of recovering from Infogrames' financial mismanagement as it has closed around $2.00 or below for the past few weeks, and recently has closed as low as low as $1.90.  Currently, the price is at $2.04 and will probably drop more on results of their Christmas sales.

Stock price as of January 7, 2003:
Infogrames stock price as of 1/7/03

Most employees inside the company have no idea what's going on with the upper management, and thus don't know the dire situation that Infogrames has created.  They don't tell staff anything, and when finally asked, management assures the employees that the company is performing well and will turn around and most of all, to NOT worry about losing our jobs.  Press releases from the PR department titled "Infogrames' titles continue to rock the PC charts!" or similar rhetoric are common now (some coming every other day), as a way to soothe the unrest of employees worried about employment future. 

Unfortunately, when management/marketers release games like Survivor and Nick Party Blast, while passing on games like Oz and Ape Escape, it's no secret as to the reason why Infogrames has no business being in the gaming industry, and why the French have no business trying to run a company outside of France. 

It sucks working for rich idiots who grew up with silver spoons in their mouths and managers who don't know the first thing about management (the Director of Publishing Support doesn't even have a college degree), but as the French say: "C'est la vie!"  It does create an interesting tug-of-war with "managers" and "executives" as to who is to blame for the company's horrible financial crisis, though.  On the one hand, you have the executives (who have had everything handed to them all their lives) pointing fingers at the managers for failure to manage their people effectively and on the other hand, you have the managers (who got their positions being a friend of a friend) pointing their fingers at the executives for making bad executive decisions that hamper their management. 

On a more humorous note, the employees at the Sunnyvale QA office (formerly Accolade) had their company Christmas party at Dave 'N Busters last week, and things got so out of hand that 3 Infogrames employees were arrested:  2 for public drunkenness and 1 for resisting arrest after the party was over.  Out of the 2 that were arrested for being drunk in public (they were both arrested at the same time because they were playing around outside of the establishment), 1 employee was terminated the next day while the other employee, a QA supervisor who knows the Director, received a slap-on-the-wrist and is still working as a supervisor.  It was a nice microcosm of how this company works. 

Got any job leads?
 

-FatNonFrog


1/8/03 Bam or Sham?

BAM OR SHAM?
By FatBammed

There is so much dirt on these sods it ain’t funny.

First of all the company is a royal sham, run almost completely into the bloody ground by Ray Musci and Bernie Stolar with help from about a dozen "VPs."  In less than a year following the initial public offering, all that employees worked so hard to raise is blown.  Angry investors now visit our offices daily and the remaining staff (those who haven't left or been laid off) are generally frightened, miserable or pissed off. 

It started late '01 with the heavy hitters like Bernie Stolar, big names, big hype (big French) all to boost the share price of the recent public offering--most of these people are very much not worth their high salaries.  People who had been there since the beginning, the ones that worked night and day to take the company public, were demoted and pushed out passed by to make room.  Excuses were found and nobody trusted anyone... 

Worst of it was the new strategy for '02 seemed to be--make us look good on the books (hello Enron), by cheaping out on the games and preying on and screwing more than a half a dozen of the Bam developers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, possibly millions, by routinely failing to complete contracts, withholding support (employees were openly told not to), pushing and then denying milestones, and outright lying.  They played favorites--usually based on some license, Bernie's, Alain's or some favored-son producer's opinion).  I know several of the developers had to lay off talented people.  There is the a constant churn of legal action (angry developers or creditors trying to collect), but it is all very hush hush!  Too bad we spent all of their money.  Please don't tell the employees what crooks we are! 

With the developers mad, the execs turned on us, starting to abuse the beleagured staff, already way overworked, underpaid, promising raises, bonuses to select favored people and options, just a pitance of nose-diving, worthless stock really.  Office politics, people climbing to be king of the crap hill for Ray and Bernie was encouraged.  All this while other people in sales or marketing don't have to do their jobs.  Our promotions and marketing was simply just shove it out the door whether the market or title is ready or not.  Bottom line, baby.

Now come the recent layoffs.  They say that is all there will be... I doubt it. 

The employees know we are the fasting falling stock in video game history (Nov to Dec and now delisting!).  Angry shareholders routinely call on the phone and come to the offices.  Company projections are over 100% off the mark quarter after quarter.  Stephen Ambler just shakes his head and the rest of the VPs scramble to find a solution to prop up the share price. 

Let's sign and celebrate another "strategic" partnership!  In the end nobody takes notice.  Here's an idea:  you start with a sound strategy and by treating people fairly.  Maybe if we had a solid group of people that could work together, supported our products, paid our developers, had less than 10 scatty directives coming at us at once, and half of the incompetent, overpriced management, we'd been in a better place.  Some weeks in the last 12 months it really has been complete chaos.

Bath (UK) is totally dead and San Jose is a camp divided (for months now). 

Where are Bernie "my way or the highway" Stolar, and Ray "I am not a crook" Musci and the rest now???  Probably hiding in their offices or in some meeting.  All the muscle turns out to be flab.  What a blood bash... I wonder what they have in store for '03? 
 

-FatBammed


1/8/03 Vivendi Games Unit Has Talked to Suitors

VIVENDI GAMES UNIT HAS TALKED TO SUITORS
By Ben Berkowitz and Jeffrey Goldfarb

LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Vivendi Universal has held talks with at least three potential suitors to sell its video game arm but no deal is believed to be near, according to banking sources familiar with the situation. 

Vivendi Universal Games has talked to Microsoft Corp., Sony Corp. and Electronic Arts Inc. about a possible acquisition, though those conversations were described by the sources as preliminary. 

The talks come as Vivendi Universal Entertainment, which encompasses the Franco-American conglomerate's TV, film, music, theme park and game assets, has itself been the subject of a takeover bid, with oilman Marvin Davis spearheading a deal worth about $15 billion for the unit. 

Vivendi appeared unlikely to sell off any part of its entertainment unit until it makes a decision on the the future of the whole business, a source close to the Davis bid said. 

But any eventual deal to spin-off the video game business alone would dwarf more recent game industry mergers, in which publishers like Sony, Electronic Arts and Activision Inc. have bought small game developers in cash and stock deals worth a few tens of millions each, analysts said. 

Some industry watchers said Sony, Microsoft and EA, which dominate the market for game consoles and independent software, are likely the only ones in a position to readily acquire Vivendi's game unit, which like the other entertainment assets has been the subject of heavy speculation as its French parent company restructures. 

A spokeswoman for the Vivendi games unit declined to comment. A spokesman for Electronic Arts said the company would not discuss merger strategy "prior to the announcement of an agreement." 

Microsoft said it does not comment on rumors. A spokeswoman for Sony was not available for comment.

In recent months, senior executives from Electronic Arts, Activision, and other dominant industry players have said the games business is ripe for consolidation, though much of that is expected to come from attrition as smaller publishers find themselves no longer able to compete for limited retail space. 

As Vivendi worked through a cash crisis earlier this year, its games business was thought by many analysts to be an easily-sold asset, especially after it sold its publishing division, which had previously housed the games business. 

VALUE OF UNIT DEBATED 

However, investment bankers and analysts have debated the value of the unit, with some saying Vivendi itself valued the division between $1.5 billion and $2 billion while others said that was far too high. 

"There's no way that those assets are worth more than one times' sales," Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst Michael Pachter told Reuters, pegging the unit's annual sales at $600 million. 

Pachter speculated that a more likely potential suitor for the unit would be Activision, which he said has $550 million in cash on hand and a recent shelf offering that, combined, would give it more than $1 billion in capital to pursue a deal. 

A spokeswoman for Activision said the company would not comment on industry rumors. 

Vivendi executives have said the company is on a better footing now, and Barry Diller, the media mogul who runs Vivendi's entertainment assets and also owns a stake in the company, has dismissed Davis's bid as "a lot of silliness." Sources have also said that Diller sees games as an important sideline to the overall entertainment business. 

Vivendi's game unit has had a number of popular titles over the years, including PC games in the "WarCraft" and "Diablo" franchises, and games based on J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" books. Electronic Arts has the rights to make games based on the new "Rings" films. 

Various industry sources, including market research service NPDFunworld and retail group the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association, have said in recent weeks they expect U.S. game hardware and software sales to reach somewhere between $10 billion and $12 billion this year, a new record. 

In September, Ken Cron, the head of Vivendi's game unit, told Reuters the French parent company had no plans to sell the games business and was in fact open to making acquisitions. 

Reports have since surfaced that Vivendi would consider an initial public offering for part of the games division in 2003, though no papers have been filed to that effect with regulators. 

Company sources have said that nothing is expected to happen with any of the entertainment assets until January when the Vivendi board next meets. 


1/8/03 Top Vaporware of 2002

TOP VAPORWARE OF 2002
from Wired News

Wired News put out a call to readers for the technological wonders they most looked forward to in 2002 but never saw because developers delayed release or, in some cases, abandoned them altogether. Then we tabulated nominations and selected the top 10 -- or should we say bottom 10? -- most-waited-for-in-vain products.

[Game related ones listed.... ]

9. The new Amiga: Earlier this year, fans of the Amiga  were in a tizzy about the prospect of a revival of the comatose platform: Both new machines and a new operating system were promised. Suffice it to say, neither are readily available.

"Some retailers and the Amiga website are taking orders for systems, but 'selling' and 'shipping' are two very different things," wrote reader Russ Van Winkle.

Swift Griggs added: "I've heard promises now for three years. Amiga Inc. has delivered nothing but lies and hot air now for three years, just like everyone who has come before them in the post-Commodore Amigan holocaust."

8. Ubi Soft's Shadowbane: An ambitious online role-playing game set in a post-apocalyptic world, Shadowbane has been in development so long, readers said, it is now referred to as "Shadowwait." (Although the game has been in beta for a couple of years, it qualifies as vaporware because it hasn't hit store shelves as a shrink-wrapped product.)

"It promised to revolutionize gaming, but it has been in progress the past five years," wrote Sue Tillery. "Every other month open beta and release are pushed further and further away."

Another reader added: "The game is in a perpetual state of impendingness that never comes to fruition."

6. NVidia's GeForce FX graphics card: NVidia claims its new GeForce FX card will usher in a "new era" of "cinematic computing." If it ever gets to market, that is.

Reader Eric Scott said, "First it was 'early summer,' then it was 'August or September.' Those came and went and it became 'on sale right after Comdex,' which was followed by 'available for Christmas.' And now Christmas is just a few days away, with no product in sight.... Perhaps all those dates were really supposed to be in 2003."

5. Infogrames' Master of Orion 3: Master of Orion 3 , known as MOO3, is the long-awaited update of the popular space-strategy game. The wait appears to be nearly -- but not quite -- over. The game is available as a "preorder," according to the company's website.

"People have been waiting for this puppy for three years now and it's still not out," said reader Eric Budai. "At least the publishers have refused to give yet another release date until it goes gold."

Andrew Gray said, "Master of Orion 3 has been talked about forever, hyped over the last year, and the release date pushed back until February now. Chances are we'll be talking about MOO3 in the same way we talk about Duke Nukem Whenever (the sarcastic nickname for Duke Nukem Forever; see below)."

3. Team Fortress 2: Brotherhood of Arms: Valve's Team Fortress 2  is a team-based, online action game from the creators of Half-Life that also made last year's vaporware list. It will be released "shortly," Valve promises.

"This game has been talked about since 1999 or even earlier," wrote reader Chris Mendoza. "And we are about to go into 2003 and still no TF2. The homepage for the game even has a quote from 1999. They haven't even got the decency to remove it!"

James Morgan said, "TF2 has won many awards, including E3.Net's Game Critics Award for Best Action Game and Best Multiplayer Game at E3 '99, but in 2001 news about it dried up, with no solid news about it in over a year. A game that looked almost done in 2000 appears to remain vapor for the foreseeable future."

2. Mac and Linux clients for Neverwinter Nights: Bioware's Neverwinter Nights is a huge online Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game set in a medieval fantasy world. Bioware promised Mac and Linux clients when the game was released in the summer, but according to readers, they are still waiting for them.

 "The Mac version of Neverwinter Nights was supposed to be released along with the Windows version in July," wrote reader Lorien Draeger. "Well, it's Christmas, where the hell is my NWN?"

The Linux client was "supposed to ship with the Windows version," wrote Simon Brooke. "Then a fortnight after the Windows version. Then Autumn 2002. Then Winter 2002. Now not before January 2003. However, to be fair, I really do believe they're working on it."
 

And the winner is ...

1. Duke Nukem Forever: 3D Realms' first-person shooter is the first title to win the No. 1 spot in the Vaporware Awards two years in a row. The game is so hazy it received almost as many votes as all the other vaporware nominations put together. First announced in 1997, the game has now been five years in the making. So long, in fact, 3D Realms makes jokes about it on its website. It's routinely referred to as "Duke Nukem Whenever" or "Duke Nukem If Ever."

"I remember that they announced this game when I was in the eighth grade!" wrote Ian Huggins. "I'm bloody in college now. What is this?"

"This game was on the cover of PC Gamer back in 1998," recalled reader Jonathan Roberts. "Of course, it is now 2003. Five years later and still no game. Their website still says it will be released 'when it's done.'"

Dennis Murphy wrote, "Once again, Duke Nukem Forever is the definitive vaporware. Hell, even Warcraft III made it out this year. You know, I think I'm going to set up a script to submit Duke Nukem Forever every year."

The company's president, George Broussard, gracefully received the award on behalf of 3D Realms.

"What can I say?" he wrote in an e-mail. "We're undeniably late and we know it. We've switched engines a couple of times, and we've started over a couple of times. We've made some mistakes, and we've learned from them. I'm just glad we're in a position to do those things, and to be able to make the game we want to make, instead of being rushed out the door to meet stock projections.

"In the end all that matters is the quality of the game," he continued. "So, lessons have been learned, and progress is being made, and we're working as quickly and quietly as we can. You're completely justified in calling us 'turtleware,' at the very least, but the release date is still 'when it's done.'"
 

The original article is located here.


1/8/03 Gaming Industry Consolidation?

GAMING INDUSTRY CONSOLIDATION?
from cbsmarketwatch.com

Video-game industry analysts stoked speculation of a possible buyout Capcom Co. by Nintendo Co., one of the world's top three game-console makers. 

The sector is ripe for consolidation, and a Capcom buyout would substantially boost Nintendo's position, said James Lin, an analyst with Jeffries & Co. "All of these companies are up for sale, except Microsoft and Sony." 

Analysts said Japan-based Nintendo is expected to make a major announcement Tuesday. Officials at both Nintendo and Capcom, of Osaka, Japan, declined comment. 

Nintendo could use Capcom's software to drive buys of its lagging GameCube console. 

GameCube is second worldwide but ranked behind Microsoft's Xbox and Sony's PlayStation 2 in the United States, said analyst Paul Kaump, of Doughery & Co. LLC. 

Nintendo has suffered because its game software -- Pokemon, Super Mario and Donkey Kong -- cater to younger children. "They are trying to shake their image a little bit and attract older gamers," Kaump said. 

Capcom, which has created game franchises such as Street Fighter and Resident Evil, would be a logical buy for Nintendo, analysts said. 

"Nintendo has to do something to beef up its software," said analyst Shawn Milne of SoundView Technology.


12/6/02 Pay to Play--the Beta

PAY TO PLAY--THE BETA
By FatChewbacca

Usually companies pay for good beta testers.  PC games and Console MMOG's have started letting potential customers beta test for them... giving them a sneak peak in payment for finding bugs for them.  Now Sony Online and LucasArts want people to PAY THEM to beta test Star Wars Galaxies

Cut 'n Paste from the email I just received: 
 

To:  FatChewbacca 
From:  "The Station@sony.com" station-mailer@sony-online.com 

Subject:  Star Wars Galaxies Beta Invite 

Congratulations!  The Star Wars Galaxies (tm): An Empire Divided (tm) team would like to inform you that we have reviewed your application, and your account is now flagged for access to the beta test.

In order to receive the Star Wars Galaxies (tm): An Empire Divided (tm) Beta CD, simply click the link below to purchase it from the Station.com Store.  Please note that you will be charged a nominal fee of $5.95 plus shipping and handling to defray certain costs including duplication, and a valid credit card will be required to complete the transaction.

You can order the CD here:

https://store.station.sony.com/swgbeta/swgBetaCdCheckout.jsp 

*Please do not install this CD before checking on our beta web site at http://www.starwarsgalaxies.com/beta. Our site will updated with the date to install the CD for the correctly patched version of Star Wars Galaxies.

Once you have ordered your beta CD, you'll receive a confirmation e-mail, which will contain your account key or you can visit the Beta Status page which will display your CD key as well.  You'll be prompted to enter this account key when you install the Star Wars Galaxies (tm): An Empire Divided (tm) beta on your computer.

If you ever happen to lose your beta CD, you can obtain a replacement by calling customer service.  Needless to say, please keep the beta CD somewhere safe, so you'll have it if you ever need to reinstall the beta software.

Finally, your account now has access to the Star Wars Galaxies (tm): An Empire Divided (tm) Beta Center.  Here you'll find the latest news and information on the beta test, private message boards to discuss and report issues concerning the game, and most importantly, a web form you can use to report bugs in the game and send feedback to the developers.

You can login to the Beta Center using your Station Login and password. Simply point your browser to:

http://starwarsgalaxies.station.sony.com/beta

Please be aware that it does take up to several hours for our systems to update your beta status, so access might not be available right away.
 

Once again, thank you for helping us test the game, and we appreciate your support.

-The Star Wars Galaxies Team

** This is an automated email. Please do not reply to this email. 
Instead, email starwarsbeta@soe.sony.com . **


Nice stuff, eh? 

Just so you know...the small shipping and handling fee is : 
 UPS 2nd Day Air - $6.40 
 UPS Ground - $5.99 
 UPS Next Day Air - $9.99 

$12 minimum so that I can help find bugs and stress test their game.  Nice work!

And as if that isn't enough, over the past week the servers have been up a total of about 15 minutes.  I don't know which is worse, the fact that I actually paid for the beta build, or that they can't get their servers running worth shit.
 

-FatChewbacca


12/6/02 Ubi-Soft's New Tier PR System

UBI-SOFT’S NEW TIER PR SYSTEM
By FatConfusedOne

With all of the recent public relations flap about Electronic Arts, here’s something to share with all of you from our lovable French publisher, Ubi-Soft.  They have established a new Tier System for press sites.  Those more priviledged sites (ranked by hits) are entitled to more perks, regardless of content. 

Now, I'm not sure if you have ever heard of Alexa--it wouldn't surprise me, no one has--but this is one of the dumbest moves ever seen.  Please allow me to introduce you to the 116th website IN THE WORLD, according to them: 

Alexa.com

The page consists of almost nothing, and yet it's being shown as 116 amongst all webpages in the world.  And Ubi Soft wants to use this system.  Anyone who isn't fond of spyware won't install this software, so that leaves a majority of many readers not accounted for.  Not only that, the system is flawed, while they say they base on past records of 3 or so months, I've seen it jump hundreds of thousands of spaces with no difference in traffic.  Sites can also attack others in reviews (check out GameRankings.com, Gamersmark.com staffers lowered their score when they were booted from GR's database due to several complaints).  While I have no problems with companies limiting who they give coverage to, as they should limit it, this just seems extremely odd and makes one wonder if some cash was involved.  It blows my mind that a company would actually use this flawed system.

And now, without further ado, the Ubi-Soft email proclaiming the new Tier System: 

"Thank you for your continued support of Ubi Soft Entertainment.  As you know, Ubi Soft has grown immensely over the past few years.  In 2001, for example, we launched more than 100 skus of products.  As we continue to grow and develop quality games, we want to maintain a high level of communication with ALL of our press contacts.  We would like to accommodate all requests for review product, but unfortunately we have limited resources.  To streamline this process, Ubi Soft has instituted a new evaluation program utilizing the Alexa Web Search site rating system, where we will analyze and evaluate online sites to determine who will receive review product. 

Based on qualifying characteristics, each site is assigned to a tier (numbered one through five) which allows them varying levels of access.  Below is the breakdown for how we prequalify websites.  If you believe that your site qualifies for a higher tier, please let us know and we will reevaluate your Web site. In the meantime, you can expect to receive all of our news announcements for our many products. 

Ubi Soft will soon be unveiling its all new press site which will feature press releases, fact sheets, screenshots and other press materials.  In the meantime, keep in the Ubi Soft loop by checking out our homepage www.ubi.com. 

Online Tier Outlines 
Tier 1 
GameSpot/IGN/GameSpy 
Support: Exclusive content, sneak peaks, previews, review gold code, all boxed review codes (as courtesy), email updates and screenshots.

Tier 2 
Gaming Websites 
Ranks under 100,000 according to Alexa Web Search 
-       daily updates of news 
-       frequent reviews of the latest videogame titles (written by site) 
Support: Limited exclusive content, limited preview code, all boxed review code, email updates and screenshots. 

Tier 3 
Gaming Websites 
Ranks under 200,000 according to Alexa Web Search 
-       frequent updates of news 
-       frequent reviews of the latest videogame titles (written by site) 
Support: All boxed review code, email updates and screenshots. 

Tier 4 
Gaming Websites 
Ranks under 300,000 according to Alexa Web Search 
-       frequent updates of news 
-       frequent reviews of videogame titles (written by site) 
Support: Some boxed review code, email updates and screenshots. 

Tier 5 
Gaming Websites 
Ranks above 300,000 according to Alexa Web Search 
All cheat code/tips and tricks Websites 
Support: Email updates, press releases and screenshots -possible limited PC boxed product support at discretion of product manager. 

Genre Websites and Miscellaneous Websites 
Specialty Websites, such as MMPOG, Sims, RPG, and websites featuring other topics besides videogames (i.e. computer hardware, movies, anime, etc) will be assigned a tier based on their Alexa Web ranking and the frequency of their videogame news and reviews updates."


-FatConfused One


12/6/02 A Floating Carcass

A FLOATING CARCASS
By FatAshes

UK developer Runecraft is surely doomed to go to the wall any day now.  For the 3rd month out of 4 the staff have failed to be paid on time.  Word is that this is the last straw and staff are starting to walk.  Back in July, when the pay was late by a few days the company moved the pay date back a week so that staff wouldn't be paid late again, it worked for the following month but Octobers and Novembers pay has been late.  Also, at the start of August the company put the pension scheme "on hold" until things improved, it turns out that the company hadn't been paying into the scheme since April but had failed to inform the staff - breach of contract. 

They have no new projects signed and income after November is negligible as pretty much every project they were working on will be signed off by then.  They keep banging on to staff and press about the 16 SKU's they are working on, but after those are all signed off staff will just be working on concepts in the hope someone will sign them.  The only project that they stand half a chance of signing is only with them as their competitors didn't want to touch the project with a bargepole as it isn't doable in the time or budget. 

They shut the Leeds Studio part way into October, losing about 25 staff, mostly ex-Infogrames and ex-Sony employees - some very highly skilled and experienced people there.  None of the management had been seen in Leeds for around 5 months apart from one visit to tell staff that they were taking away more benefits.  When they were told about the studio closing down neither of the 2 owners were anywhere to be seen, leaving HR and Finance to face the staff, the HR woman handling staff VERY badly indeed.  That really pissed people off that they couldn't be bothered to come and address the staff they were sending down the river, although that is typical of their way of working - avoiding the problems. 

Laughably the Dev Manager had seen one of the games in development in Leeds only ONCE in a year!  Apparantly 2 of the team were playing ISS and the guy said "oh that's coming along nicely" he had no idea that it wasn't even one of their games!!!  No wonder the staff had zero respect for the guy.  This bloke was named as one of the "top 30 under 30" in MCV and was credited with having turned Runecraft around - yep he'd taken it from a successful company working with lots of publishers to a totally demoralised development company with publishers running a mile.  He is also living with the VP of HR at the company, all the staff know but they think no-one else knows.  A massive conflict of interests there, you can't really go to HR and raise issues about problems with the Dev Director (and there are LOADS of issues) as it'll get back to him as they share a bed. 

When they shut the Leeds office they also cut the wages of the staff in Dewsbury by 15%, that went down a storm!  Around 80% of the staff in Dewsbury are looking elsewhere for work, people like the R&D Manager and other senior dev staff have their CV's doing the rounds.  Without the last few talented people the company stands no chance of delivering even halfway decent games. 

Laughably they offered jobs to the programmers in Leeds who had been laid off and were said to be "disappointed" when all but 3 people applied, they seriously thought that everyone would fall over themselves to stay! 

Goodbye Runecraft, the first few years were fun, but that lovable Manc Kev Devine with his Old Trafford prawn sandwich box has destroyed it in just over a year.
 

-FatAshes

 
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