One year ago today, Operations Manager Andy Platter asked everyone to come out to the Sigil parking lot and fired basically everyone who worked for Sigil Games Online. Sigil, who was to be the savior of the TRUE MMO fan, would be laid to waste. The next day, about half of those people would be hired by SOE to work on their newly-acquired property. Brad McQuaid would be put out to pasture, presumably at a nice stipend, to not mess with any of their games. I’m going to attempt to chronicle some of the events leading up to and following that day, and see where Vanguard is now. This is mostly going to be written from the perspective of a community manager/fansite operator, because that is what my involvement was. This is going to be a little long, even broken into three parts, so be forewarned.
January, 2002 – Brad McQuaid leaves SOE and his position as Chief Creative Officer to found Sigil Games Online. According to McQuaid at the time, he left SOE because of his lack of day-to-day influence over what was happening there. According to other accounts , McQuaid had already well-overstayed his welcome at SOE. In the article linked above, it’s already a foreshadowing of what are reported to be issues that came to the forefront at Sigil.
Starting in 2003, the company started communicating with the outside world. They announced they were working on an MMO project (big shock) and that the unnamed product would be out sometime in the distant future. The forums over at Sigil were alive and had a high level of anticipation. When they eventually announced the product the public perception was that this was going to be the true logical successor to Everquest, without the interference of what was perceived to be the evil, oppressive SOE. I was an early member of those boards (member number was something like 1000 of what eventually became about 400K) and I saw the level of discourse rise and fall. Somewhere along the line, World of Warcraft became this giant punching bag for what was supposed to be everything that was wrong with a modern MMO. When people would join the community, they if they offered advice about features that they would like to see that were at all “WoW-like,” they would frequently be shouted down and told “Go back to WoW” or called “b-Net kiddies.” These were the first signs of danger for the community, although I have to admit that I didn’t perceive the depth of the problem at the time.
2004, the community for Vanguard is reaching maturity. Sigil has announced that it’s going to take a hard-line stance against Real Money Transactions (RMT). Several fan sites had sprung up around the game, and the community took a step outside the Official Vanguard Forums (OVF.) Most of them remained civil, some of them became what I would call “typical game forums”. At most of them, the level of discourse was high and a lot of interesting things got talked about. We also got to know each other as a community and leaders definitely emerged. About this time one of the RMT companies came along and bought or “acquired” some of the sites. Given the community and Sigil’s stance against RMT, this sent a ripple through the community. Several of the most popular sites were affected, and they became virtual pariahs in the community. I’m not sure what the RMT company was trying to accomplish by this expenditure, other than to send a message to Sigil that they were not going to be immune to the influence of RMT, and to “look, we’re in your kitchen already.”
IN 2005, I launched my fansite, Vanguardcrafters.com. It’s still live, although I have to admit that it’s getting less traffic than I’d like. On the other hand, it’s one of the only independent sites that is still active and still gets a respectable amount of site visits. Many others followed. Sigil announced that to award sites that don’t participate in RMT, and to have a more defined community, they would offer the Vanguard Affiliate Site program. In essence they would watch your site, get to know you a little, then allow you the designation. In return for behaving, RMT-wise, you would be given access to content, developers, links from their official site, banners on the official site, etc. I took full advantage of this and Vanguard Crafters became an Affiliate site. Several others did as well. We were never filtered or censored and we were still free to operate our sites as we wished, just without obviously objectionable content.
Late in 2005, the “friends and family beta” (alpha) started for the game. I had the privelege of seeing the game at this stage on my visits to Sigil, although few people from the fansites actually got into that stage of beta. Most of us did get into the next stage of beta. It was obvious before too long that there wasn’t much content there. There were the usual bugs, and many systems in the game (harvesting, crafting, diplomacy) came and went as the beta progressed. As you would expect during a beta there were a lot of changes. One thing I noticed at the time was that it was beautiful, but wasn’t much fun to play. This persisted through beta.
On my visits to Sigil (I made several of them) I noticed that Brad was hardly ever there. “Working from home.” out at some other place, I didn’t think I was going to meet him. Eventually I did. We were on the way out of the building to lunch and we came across Brad. He was gracious and he went about his business and we went about lunch. On one of the visits, I had the opportunity to have lunch with Keith Parkinson. He was a great guy, funny, quiet. Looking back, it was pretty evident that he was ill at the time, although I had no idea how ill he was. He signed a bunch of Vanguard posters for me, including one that said “Never trust Nick, Best, Keith,” a reference to something we had been talking about at lunch and his son Nick, better known to many of you as former community manager for Sigil (Glip the Gnome.) He took time to tell me about some of his old D&D exploits, his characters, and his life in the business. Unfortunately, Keith passed not too long after that visit.
On upcoming visits, I got to know more about the people and company that were Sigil.
Tomorrow: more on that and what led up to last year’s events. Stay Tuned!