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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 4 of 6 Next

Well, like you've said, Americans have a certain philosophy of "we pay for it, we get it all". And also like you've said, people think that you're hiding stuff from them that they would have gotten otherwise.

BR: Yeah. That's the really interesting thing. If you had plans for something -- and we literally would go like, "We probably shouldn't working on something like that even if we have time to start working on it, because if we come out with something like that within the first month, people are going to think we held it, even if it's not true." Because you would never do that.

It's like "We're not just going to hold it so we can release it." It's like, "No, if it's ready, ship it." I think that for some reason, and I don't know if it's because they've been burned by a lot of games they've bought where they thought were going to be something else... Like, I don't know what it is, but I think that gamers have become really jaded.

I mean, a game comes out, and they're like, "Oh God." You're always ready to find out what's bad about it. As opposed to saying, "Oh, this is really awesome. Oh my God. These guys kicked ass. And they came out with all this cool extra content like, you know, a few weeks after the game came out." They're like, "Oh. Like, what was the trick? How were they able to do that? They were holding onto it."

I mean, one of the things I've found is I've spent so much after Hellgate, I mean, to a degree... To me, it felt like trying to reconnect with gamers and going, "Hey, I'm not any different than I was before Hellgate." I think I was very disappointed that followed into going Cryptic. You know, people go, "Oh, great. Now this guy is going to come here and screw everything up." It's like, if only I ever had that level of power.

Yes, I was CEO at Flagship, but it wasn't like I made every single decision, right, and did everything. There is no individual at any company... Except maybe Sid, right. Sid Meier, maybe, because Sid still goes home and codes and brings in stuff. I mean, there's nobody at a game developer who is that one guy or gal who comes in and say, "No, pfff. Everything, every decision that was ever made is me."

Certainly they're not their own funder. You know, do you think there wasn't pressure when we were running Hellgate to say, "Yes, you now have to make the hard choice of are you going to fire 20 people so you can stay open for two extra months?" or whatever it is. You start coming to these decisions... Or it's like, "No, it's good enough. You guys are out of time." Or "What can we do? We can't drop that feature because we're contractually obligated to do it."

You know, there are a million things. And I think that to a degree, it's very hard to get that across. The thing that became, I think, maybe the hardest for me was I would go and I would do an interview, and the interview comes out, and I'm reading it, and I'm like, "Good. I really feel like I was trying to get stuff comes across."

But because of how something is phrased or there's no tone or just the way people would read things, then I would see comments like, "Oh, look at how greedy he is," or this, that, and the other thing. I'm just like, "You don't even know me. I'm just some guy that makes video games. I've been really lucky to have done it for a long time, and I feel like I'm pretty good at it."

That, to me, I think, was that tipping point, especially in the post-Hellgate stuff, where it went from "I didn't like your game" or " I don't think your company makes good games" to the personal assault level.

And maybe that's just because I've been a face for so long -- in quotes, "a face for so long" -- you kind of get that thing where it's like, "Oh, yeah, there's that guy. I know that guy." That thing gets attached. That's nothing I ever wanted. I didn't start making games like, "Yeah. Someday, I'm going to be doing interviews, and I'm going to be giving speeches," and this whole thing.

Well, I think what you ran into also is cultural. Americans love an underdog, but they also like to see people fall from on high.

BR: People hate the Yankees for a reason. It's interesting. I think Blizzard is very rare in that... Somehow Blizzard made the transition from the beloved underdog to the beloved number one. But absolutely, everybody... "Come on, you can do it, scrappy start-up guys." But then when you've had a couple hits.

Well, look at Runic.

BR: Yeah.

Much deserved, everyone was ecstatic to support Torchlight.

BR: Yeah.

And partially because it came out of the wreckage of Flagship.

BR: Yeah. Again, I think that part of this was tied into, definitely, how we elected to represent Flagship, but a lot of it was how we had to represent Flagship to go out and do what we were able to do with that company in such a short amount of time was going like, "Yeah. These are all top flight games and executives from Blizzard."

You had to sell the story, right? And I think that the way that came out, to make a music reference, when a supergroup gets put together and you're like, "Aw, man. We've got the lead singer from this group and the bassist from those guys." And you're like, "Holy crap, these guys are going to be great." And then you listen to them, and you're like, "Wow, that really wasn't as awesome as I thought it would be." They were never going to make the album I thought they can make.

And I think that was the way that we had to present ourselves. And I'm not even saying it wasn't true. We had amazing top flight talent there, but when that's a part of your story and you're pitching that, then people say, "Okay, then I'm immediately raising the bar on what I expect."

If you're like, "Hey, we're a bunch of scrappy guys that just want to make games," people are like "Okay, well, gosh, I hope they do well," and you come out with something good, they're like, "Oh my God!"

It's hard to say because you can't really find this out... If Hellgate would have come out from a different developer, how much different would the reaction have been? Like, "Hey, here's a start-up. We made this game." You know, would people have gone like, "You know, it's flawed, but wow, holy crap. What an amazing first effort"? Or if they would have been like, "This is a train wreck and a disaster, and I hate you"? Which is what we got.

Again, we were the victim of our own success previously and, you know, hey, that's how we put ourselves out there. We felt that's what we had to do to get the funding to do the company and everything. From that perspective, I understand where some of that backlash comes from.

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