The Grouchy Gamer

Yeah, I'm cranky. That's kinda the point...

Tag: Brad McQuaid

Good Night, Vanguard

So it has been a really long time since I have been in this chair.  Writing a blog post that is.  With where I work, it’s best to be silent and thought a fool rather than open my mouth and remove all doubt. Vanguard Collector's Edition This  way I don’t accidentally say anything that gives away any company secrets accidentally.  So I have been silent.  I would imagine that this blog has fallen off most if not all of the blog readers, what with me posting every 3 or 4 years lately.

It came to my attention today that at 8PM Central tonight, Vanguard was closing down for good.  I knew it was happening.  Honestly, I had thought that it had already happened.  But when Nick Parkinson posted a Vanguard box as his Facebook avatar today I had to ask why.  And he let me know that today was the day.  I’ve long since stopped playing Vanguard.  I’ve been playing World of Warcraft for most of the ten years it’s been online.  I still thought about Vanguard from time to time through the years.

I’m having a ton of mixed emotions to be honest.  Vanguard was the game where I went from being just another gamer to just another gamer with a fansite.  The time that I spent on that site was incalculable.  I was working at a job that kept me on the road a lot and whenever I was in an airport, or a restaurant, or a coffee shop, or a hotel room I was working on that damn site (vanguardcrafters.com). There were volunteers that I was never really able to do much for if anything who put in that kind of time too.  Moderating, writing, and managing was my job.  The volunteers also did a ton of moderating and also maintained the always-under-cyber-attack wiki.   Vanguard was going to be my next game home.  At it’s peak the site had about 60,000 users.  Even after the game was obviously failing I kept the site open for a while and it was one of a small handful of sites still running farther into Vanguard’s life.

The stuff that happened with Brad McQuaid is well documented both here and elsewhere so I won’t beat that dead horse again.  That is, other than to say that it floors me that there were still people throwing money at his Kickstarter campaign in spite of what we know about his business challenges.  Thankfully for them, there wasn’t a critical mass of people foolish enough to get it funded.

The time that I did get to spend getting to know a lot of folks at Sigil really was a highlight of my gaming life in a lot of ways.  I really believe that without that experience I wouldn’t have ever come to work at Blizzard, even though what I do isn’t related to game development.  Those countless volunteer hours prepared me for how to work with, and how to speak to game developers.  I’m thankful for all of the access that I was granted to the developers at Sigil and for the opportunity to work not only around them but also with them in many ways.  I went to E3s (the old ones) and lunches and dinners with my friends at Sigil.

That team has long since been scattered to the wind.

To all the folks in community at Sigil (Cindy, Nick, and James in particular), and all of the development folks (especially Salim and Justin) I thank you.  You guys were always open, friendly, inclusive, and fun.  Those experiences literally changed my life.

As of this past June I have been working in the game industry for 4 years.  My career wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for my Vanguard experience.  So thanks to all of you who have read my rantings or my news articles or my fansite.  I miss you guys.  And I’m thankful for being able to spend all the time together we did.

I was wrong. I was SO wrong.

Turns out that the site listed in the previous post is indeed Brad’s.

There was too much about it that made it seem “off” that I didn’t believe it.  But I got from a trusted source today that it is his site.  Too bad, a spoof would have been funny.

As it is, it’s kind of creepy seeing some of the posts there.  There are sycophants and there are vitriolics, and not much in between.

Judging from Brad’s post today, there isn’t going to be an interview, which is too bad.  I guess we’re going to pretend that everything never happened and there is no culpability.  I wish when I didn’t make my sales figures for a month, I could go to my boss and say; “I’m really looking forward, not looking back.”  Like that would work.

I hear from my sources that Brad is in a better place, and that he’s healthier and doing better than he has in years.  I’m glad for that.  I never wanted the guy to be sick or unhappy.  I just don’t want him around any game that I’m playing.  From all accounts, he’s a good guy.  Just not a good manager.

Good luck, Brad.  I don’t know what you are trying to accomplish.  I think the road is going to be a little rockier than you may expect.

And I’d still like to do an interview.  Shoot me an email when you are ready.

That’s NOT Brad McQuaid

I think someone fooled my friend Darren over at The Common Sense Gamer.

As most of you know, I started off my online “career” doing a fan site for Vanguard.  During that time, I got to read a LOT of Brad McQuaid’s essays, posts, and manifestos.  After a while, I got to where I could easily recognize his style.  So I was surprised today to see that Darren posted about how Brad was popping back up with a couple of posts on his blog at bradmcquaid.com.

Here’s what Darren and most of you probably didn’t know.  bradmcquaid.com’s domain registration expired in February.  What you also don’t know is that on a flyer, I took a shot at picking it up when it expired.  I didn’t get it.  It was scooped up by;

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A Vanguard Retrospective, Part Three

This is the third and final installment in this series.

After E3, Sigil actually started to market Vanguard.  There had been a cover story on Computer Gaming World, but now there were trickles at other web sites.  Also in 2006, the beta began to grow.  At least Sigil tried to grow the beta.  I was in beta starting with stage 1.5 (which was right after friends and family) and there were a couple more stages after that.  One startling thing was this:  Sigil put the number of active players on the front page of the sign-in.  Even after thousands of people had been invited to the beta it was very rare to see more than a hundred people signed in.  This is when I started to get worried.

Before too long the beta leaks started.  I saw them at several different sources.  All of them had one thing in common.  Beta leak stories were not positive.  I’ve been around long enough to know that those types of leaks are not going to come from your happy customers.  One thing about the leaks made them hard to ignore.  They were right.  At this time we (the beta community and the public) didn’t have much of an idea about what was going on behind the scenes.  I was starting to get the message, though.  I decided not to fund the database development for VC, because it looked like I would be throwing good money after bad.  Why did I make that decision?

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A Vanguard Retrospective, Part Two

In Part One, we left off with beta under way and some signs of trouble.

As beta wore on, it was obvious that there were issues with how the game was developing.  Months into the beta, only the continent of Thestra was on line.  None of us had seen Kojan or Qalia, or tested any of their content or systems.  Wholesale changes were being made, and behind the scenes, the designers were getting antsy.

I got to know the crafting design team pretty well during this time, as well as the community team.  I can tell you this;  my impression of them was always that they were a confident, competent, and likable group.  They were always pushing forward and evaluating and trying to make the game better.  They were not afraid to throw out what they had done if it didn’t work and replace it with something that did.

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A Vanguard Retrospective, Part One

Sigil Games OnlineOne 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.

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Sigil Dirt Finally Hits The Street

For about 8 months now, I’ve been telling you what I can get substantiated about the demise of Sigil and what led up to the spectacular failure that was Vanguard’s shipping. I hate to publish without some substantiation. There have been some other things that I have heard from people that worked there about what happened that I have never blogged about or even talked about with Tarkheena.

Until today.

Over at Fires of Heaven, former game designer Vince Napoli, known at FOH as Teclisen lets loose with a torrent of information that hasn’t been discussed publicly up until now. I’ve been dying for some of this stuff to see the light of day, and now that he’s spilled at least a good-sized portion of the beans let’s do a little postmortem. Not something for the kids to read, probably. The complete post follows, broken out and commented on.

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It’s Deja Vu All Over Again

With all the crap hitting the fan over at SOEigil the other day a lot of old laundry is being dredged up. In light of some of the things I have heard from former Sigil employees (when they were still Sigil employees) some of the things that I had heard about in the past but dismissed now seem to be given added credence if not corroboration.

In this post from The Safehouse in 2001, some of the same or similar types of observations were made about Brad McQuaid’s management “style” as are being made today. In particular, this quote caught my eye;

Things weren’t coming up roses at 989/redeye/verant. Brad himself had basically done no work whatsoever since Everquest’s release, and many (including Kelly Flock) think he didn’t do anything *before* its release. Brad thought of himself as infallible, and Everquest’s incredible success, his millions, and his ferrari were all proof of his greatness. Being crowned a “Game @#%$” by PC Gamer didn’t help either. His self-aggrandizement cannibalized Verant’s customer relations for its entire existance. He insisted on being the sole point of contact with the public to promote his own name, and he did a miserable job.

Overall, it’s an interesting post-mortem about how Brad allegedly left Verant/989/SOE back in 2001. If you look at that and also look at the recent posts to f13 and here, I think you’ll see some staggering similarities. Where I come from, if something happens once, it’s a happening. If it happens more than once, it’s a pattern.

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on this one but to me it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck.

Brad McQuaid “Clears the air”

In this interview with f13, Brad McQuaid tap-dances around the reasons for his specacular failure, Sigil Games Online. He seems to lay a large part of the blame on Microsoft and it’s “Zoo Tychoon” management team. Classic. Here is a little snippet where Brad justifies his decision-making on the story we broke here the other day;

f13.net: Right after the split and before the tragedy the other day, that’s when people claim you started to be in the office… not quite as much. Can you explain why?

Brad McQuaid:: We need to back up a little bit. After we split from Microsoft – because obviously we couldn’t ship the game in an unready state – we had to go out and do something. Find money to make the game that we could and all dreamed about. We cut a deal pretty quickly so that we could get into SOE’s E3 kiosk. We ended up having to meet payroll and to pay the bills. We needed to raise money. We went out and found some people who specialized in venture capital and I worked with those people immediately following the deal coming together. I started working with them on putting a deal together to fund the game to completion and fund the company post-completion and to possibly start a second title. It was basically “get money that we needed.” So I started working with these people, it was a learning experience – I’d never really been in the private investor/VC world – and we started that process. I was in and out of the office quite a bit. Demoing the game, showing it to potential investors and putting together the documentation. All sorts of stuff you have to do for that kind of money.

f13.net: So that time being out of the office was business?

Brad McQuaid: It was a bummer. Even going back to SOE, I want to make games. The executive producer side of things is more fun than the CEO business side of things. But it had to be done, right? So it was a bummer leaving a lot of that behind and it simply had to be done.

So I guess the only other thing I have to ask Brad is; When did it stop being you out of the office drumming up non-existent financing and start to become “a bummer?”

I guess my personal feelings about this whole thing are getting the better of me, but my bullshit detector was going off all through that story. What do you guys think?

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The Other Shoe Drops at Sigil

Today the other shoe dropped at Sigil. According to John Smedley,

“Today I would like to formally announce that SOE has acquired the assets of Sigil Games Online, including Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. As a part of this acquisition, we are bringing on approx 50 people from Sigil in order to insure [sic] that Vanguard continues to grow. SOE is dedicated to making sure that Vanguard is well taken care of and that we provide the same level of service we do for our other titles. In the near future we will come out with a publishing plan that will largely be driven by the strong player community that Vanguard has already built up. We plan on supporting Vanguard for many years to come, and you can expect many content updates as part of your subscription. Down the line we will of course be coming out with new expansion packs, but right now the focus is on making sure Vanguard is running the way it should be.”We are also officially opening up forums. In the past, our deal with Sigil didn’t allow for this, but as with our other games we feel this is an important part of communicating with the playerbase. You can expect a strong presence from our community team as well as the development team members. While we realize that Sigil had said they wouldn’t open up general forums, at SOE we feel this hampers our efforts to communicate effectively with the players. We will continue to support the fansites in a big way, and will be contacting many of them directly to discuss what this change means. By no means do we want to lose the strong fansite support by making this change, but we do think it’s important to have a forum for players to communicate directly with SOE.

“A few other items I wanted to mention:

1. Brad McQuaid will be consultant to SOE as a creative advisor for Vanguard. Dave Gilbertson will be the person directly responsible for the day-to-day management of both the Sigil Carlsbad office as well as Vanguard.

2. We do not plan on making any major changes to Vanguard. Any changes are going to come from the team itself. We aren’t mandating any big changes to the game. We’ve learned a thing or two with our experiences with the NGE and don’t plan on repeating mistakes from the past and not listening to the players.

3. We do plan on spending a lot of time cleaning up legacy issues with Vanguard and making sure the game’s performance improves.

“By way of comparison, this team is approx. the same size as the EQ2 team and I feel like that team has done an amazing job improving EQ2 since its launch. We intend to do the same thing for Vanguard and it is our hope that the players feel like we’re doing right by them.”

Just for clarity, the Sigil team was near 100 before these actions were taken.

As far as the central forums are concerned, let them have them. They are already a festering sewer, and will only get worse. The funniest things I’ve seen through all this was one of the SOE forum slaves over there proclaiming “This is the place to come for answers!”

Yeah, good luck with that.

I have some seriously mixed emotions about this. First of all, some people that I know and care about lost their jobs. Some good people stayed. As the site admin for Vanguard Crafters, I can tell you that the crafting team was in a no-win position. They were going to cut the team in half, and there was no easy choice I’m sure as the crafting team was strong, in my opinion. Salim Grant and Justin Deebs ended up staying, and they are both exceptional in what they do. Losing Kurt Wagner and Daniel “Steve” Newman hurts though, as both of those guys had some skills that won’t easily be replaced.

According to my sources at Sigil, some of the people who originally acted as boat anchors to the project remain, and they have less optimism about the ability of Vanguard to recover quickly as they would have had if some of the “disruptive forces” would have been removed at this opportunity. SOE is bound to make some mistakes as they sort out who they should have on the team and who should go.

Overall, I think the businesslike approach that Sony is going to bring, and the needed structure will help get the Sigil team back on track. As I have alluded to before, I don’t think it’s the working people at Sigil that got Vanguard all balled up, but the leadership or lack thereof. SOE’s leadership should help the new smaller team get some things done.

This should be the extent of the drama for now. As the new smaller team gets settled in and the community gets it’s feet back under it, we’ll see what happens next. For now, we’ve lost some friends at Sigil. Here’s to hoping that they find something better soon.

Brad McQuaid Abandoned Vanguard, Sigil

This is the blog post that I hoped I would never write. I recently became aware of some “things” about the internal goings-on at Sigil, but for the sake of the people that I know that work there I’ve kept them to myself. Or should I say “worked” there. According to f13.net, “at approximately 4:30PM today, Sigil employees were told to meet outside. At which point they were terminated. On the spot.” You can see the article at www.f13.net.

I was able to get confirmation on this tonight from a couple of very reliable sources. So the company has now officially been driven into the ground. Here is what most people don’t know, outside of Sigil.

Brad McQuaid has been an absentee manager at Sigil for months. Not only has there been a leadership vacuum at Sigil, with the employees there left twisting in the wind, but I have been able to confirm that Brad hasn’t even bothered to be at the office.

Since last year.

Reliable sources confirmed to me that Brad hasn’t been at the Sigil offices save a couple of brief visits since December of last year. Whether or not he was supposed to be the creative force behind the game as we were lead to believe, he was the leader of Sigil and at a time when the game was under a deadline and his people (many of whom left promising or lucrative positions elsewhere to hitch their wagons to his star) were left to fend for themselves. That’s right. When the shit was hitting the fan, and the game was under crunch, Brad went all Brian Wilson on his people. I’m not sure what the psychology of that was, or whether the producers there didn’t want him around. Whatever the case, he wasn’t able to show the leadership to rally the troops, or even to keep them up out of the dirt. To their credit, the people working at Sigil remained professional even in the face of the lack of professionalism from the top.

As a fansite operator, I can testify that Brad wasn’t around for us either. As a matter of fact, Brad never showed support for the affiliate program. Whether you believe that the Affiliate Program was a good idea or not, the CEO of the company should probably support it. When we challenged Brad on his record of (lack of) support for the program, he let us know that he thought it was better spending his time posting on sites like FOH and MMORPG.COM, to evangelize the program. Evidently that took a lot of time, or it just wasn’t possible to cut into his Hero-Clix schedule.

It would be amusing how fast the denizens of FOH are throwing dirt on Sigil’s grave were it not so tragic for the lives and careers he’s irreparably harmed. Irony at it’s finest.

The bottom line for me is this;

I can’t believe that the CEO of the company can’t make an appearance at his own company for 4 or 5 months if to do nothing more than lend moral support. I have heard that Brad is worthless for anything important, and a lot of people probably found him an irritant. I know that most of my later interaction with Brad wasn’t positive. His fansite presentation at E3 2006 left me cold. Jeff Butler had a ton of energy and told us a lot about his vision for the game, but Brad couldn’t have looked less interested in being there. On one of my visits to Sigil, Brad was overheard telling someone in a customer/community position not to give an answer to a question, and if someone asked why, just to “tell them I’m eccentric.” The best he had to contribute was dismissive. So Mr. Eccentric, how does it feel to have a mud-hole stomped in you by effing Turbine?

In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I’m pissed that I wasted 2 years on developing a community at my site for a game that is nothing more than a steaming pile of shit. I’m pissed that the good people (and good developers) that I care about at Sigil are now in the street, and Brad still has millions and Jeff Butler a job. I’m also pissed that the game was so badly mismanaged and allowed to get to this point. I’m also pissed that the good people at my site have dedicated so much time to help each other only to see this happen.

I truly hope that all my friends at Sigil will land on their feet. I also sincerely hope that no one ever gives Brad another cent to make a game or to start a company and put other’s livelihoods at risk. It’s evident that Brad lacks the skills, dedication, or maturity to handle that situation.

In the end, this game may someday be good. Tomorrow, when this news is announced a lot of the SOE haters will just jump ship, whether SOE had anything to do with this game failing or not. Fact is, it has (failed.) And fact is, it’s not SOE’s fault. The blame for this one falls squarely at the desk where the buck should stop. The CEO’s office. The empty one in the corner.

Brad McQuaid Thinks you Screwed Up Vanguard

I was cruising through Fire of Heaven’s web site today, and much to my surprise I came across this little gem from Aradune, AKA Brad McQuaid, regarding people’s expectations and how much like EQ1 Vanguard might be…

Like I said, that message resonated with a lot of people in a positive way, but it also did harm in that those people who don’t want another EQ 1 were turned off when they heard about Vanguard but not all of the details behind the game. There were and are also a lot of ‘Vanbois’ who spread the word that this game was not for WoW players and that people who like a more casual game like WoW were not welcome in Vanguard. In that sense, the messaging backfired and many people aren’t even giving the game a chance.

So THAT is the problem with Vanguard. All the negative press and all the dunning that they are getting about the half-baked game they shipped is actually the fault of all the people who have been supporting him over the last few years, the “Vanbois.”

I’m having a hard time deciding if this is Brad kissing FOH’s ass or if it’s just him being an ass. Either way, my opinion of Brad as a person, manager, and steward of this game just went down another notch.

Brad, first of all, if you feel like that, come to the community and post it. And no, FOH is NOT the community. FOH is the retard rickshaw and a place for pricks to stand around and flaunt their e-peens. The community is the people who actually bought your half-finished pile of steaming shit and are trying to play it, and the Affiliate community that is trying to help keep the group focused on the positive, but you don’t have the time of day for. You have officially lost touch with your community.

Yes, I’m pissed. Brad, I think you owe the community an apology. If you wanted to start at vanguard crafters, that would be ok with me. Sense of entitlement? Fuck yeah. I’ve been paying for and operating a fan site for your game for 2 years, and I think we’re entitled to at least as much love as you give those catasses over at FOH.

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