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Bill Roper: Reflections on Hellgate
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Bill Roper: Reflections on Hellgate

February 7, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 6 Next

It was complicated, and it sounds like the ambition spiraled out of control.

BR: Yeah. I think that was where our "growing up Blizzard" hurt us, right? [laughs] Because at Blizzard you just go for it. Every time you swing, you swing for the fences. A couple benefits we had there that we really didn't have at Flagship -- I mean, even Blizzard now, but Blizzard 10 years ago -- one, there was always support from Blizzard from the top-down, from the publishing-down.

We'd go in there and say, "We need to take six more months. This is why. This is the benefit you will see from it." And you always had to justify it.

There was always the support there to say, "You know what? If that's what you need to make this game great, then that's what we'll get for you. We'll figure it out." It's obviously very different when you are an independent company, right, and not owned by somebody.

It still eventually comes down to dollars and cents and time. I mean, I think when Hellgate: London came out... we knew it needed another four to six months. The publishers knew it needed another four to six months. Everybody was all in. That was kind of the mindset.

I mean, we didn't have any more money to put into it personally. The publishers were like, "Hey, we're invested. We're in. We're as in as we're going to get." So, the game's got to come out, right? You get to the point. Again, because it is a third-party game. When you're owned by the publisher, if you're the developer, they're much more vested in that happening.

Don't you think that's a mistake, though? I mean, that happens a lot. "The game's just got to come out."

BR: Yeah. I think it's a horrible mistake. [laughs]

Blizzard proves to an extent that polish is what sells.

BR: Sure. I mean, the Blizzard model is almost impossible to use as one to follow, right?


BR: I mean, they will put unlimited time and resources into getting the game out. Every bet is huge. And you have to take everything into perspective. When World of Warcraft came out -- what was that, five years now, five plus years ago now -- when we were working on WoW, the biggest Western MMO was EverQuest. They had 330,000 subscribers.

By the time we were starting to talk about, and this is in '03, I think we were having these discussions... We had sat down and said, "Do you realize that we're going to have to have a million subscribers for a year to break even?" Like we started talking about how much money and how much time had been invested just at that point, and that was insane.

You can't plan for that. That's like saying, "Hey, we've got a great band. We're coming with our first album, and we're going to put all the time we want in the studio, and all we've got to do is sell 10 million copies, and we're gold!" It's like, no one plans for that. And I think at one point, that got really scary.

And if World of Warcraft wouldn't have -- not even do what it did -- but if it wouldn't have been a financial success, a lot of heads would have rolled. The time was right. The market wanted that, and as with all their games, when it came out, it was just as polished as they could get it. Now, people also forget that WoW was pretty flawed in some ways when it came out. Its servers were down all the time and, you know, all these things.

I think the difficulty there is that it seems like a simple enough formula, right? "Hey, put in all the time that you need, make sure the game is perfect when it comes out." But at some point, you have to pass that bottle test. You got to pass that gut check if you're on the publisher side and say, "Am I really going to pay for another six months? Is it good enough to come out?" You start second-guessing that stuff.

You probably went through some of the most harsh and unpleasant community reaction experiences a developer has had in the last decade. [laughs]

BR: [laughs] Yeah. The community reaction put the hell in Hellgate.

To a good extent, we were our own victim, if that's going to make any sense. You know, we had to put together a good chunk of money to make that game. We had to sign a lot of deals, and we had a U.S./Europe publishing partner and an Asian publishing partner. I mean, there were a lot of moving parts in that. And to go out and get the support we had...

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