Ex-Blizzard Receptionist scores MMO Funding Deal!

Well, not really.

So a few guys that worked on World of Warcraft left Blizzard and started their own studio, Red 5, last summer. One was a team lead, another was an art director, and I don’t remember anything about the rest of the guys. I should say here right at the start, that I wish these guys the best and I hope they come up with some really cool stuff. The thing that gets me excited about these guys is the fact that no one knows anything about what they are working on yet. That means there is a chance, albeit however small, that they might come out with something really cool and innovative.

However what I don’t understand is why the hype around these guys is so big, and getting bigger (they announced a worldwide exclusive distribution deal with Asian MMO giant WebZen yesterday)…

How much did these guys really contribute to World of Warcraft? What makes World of Warcraft so good (well popular anyway)? What makes them worthy of all this attention? Did they design the core mechanics and gameplay for World of Warcraft? Did they engineer the backend architecture? What did they do that makes them such hot property? What exactly does an Art Director do? What about a Team Lead? Is their expertise in supervisor/low level management? Or are these guys brilliant designers that can also put together a company from scratch that is capable of building an industry competitive MMO?

Publishers and venture capitalists usually cringe at the very thought of giving money to a group of people that has not previously completed and published an entire title as a team. You can take ten guys from ten companies that are all experts, and they can implode from clashes of ego, arguments over design, confusion about best practices and methodologies, and so forth. You have to have experienced project management and executive management to work with a stellar development and production team to actually get anything created.

This isn’t to say that new unproven teams aren’t worth the risk…they are in my opinion (if they have the right elements in place). It is part of the natural cycle of the industry…group of people get together, have idea, form company, make game, get acquired, and then eventually leave to join another startup.

So, while I think Red 5 should be given a shot (I know some other brilliant people under the radar that have been waiting for their shot and just haven’t gotten a break yet), I think that there is something wrong with the mentality of a lot of people in the industry. I don’t know what Red 5 has in the box, but I suspect that they are able to get doors opened, golden opportunities thrown their way, funding, and business development/distribution deals fall in their lap simply because they were involved with World of Warcraft. I think the same thing of the ex-EQ folks over at Sigil (although I have real low expectations for them based on what they have published on their site so far). It isn’t just the Red 5 and Sigil teams that have had the golden ring of opportunity or mass amounts of cash thrown at them because of what they were involved in previously. There are scores of really dumb games (PC, Console, and MMO) that have been blessed with obscene amounts of money because of “celebrity” developer involvement, only to end up burning through the cash and giving us nothing, or a real crap game.

This is a bad thing about the industry…where “participation” in a commercially successful title = automatic credibility for something else. I get sick to my stomach when I think about how many great ideas and new ventures are passed over and ignored by the money folks because the team hasn’t produced a AAA console title. Seriously folks. Making a console title is completely and absolutely different from building a MMO. That’s the other problem…95% of the people in this industry (INCLUDING MMO DEVELOPERS) still don’t get what the hell an MMO is or what it is supposed to be. I have a really long rant coming on this one in the near future.

One last observation, if we assume that games like Everquest and World of Warcraft are just “good”, and maybe even mediocre as far as gameplay mechanics, design, and so forth (they look pretty on the outside, but as you dig deep you begin to see all the problems and recognize how a lot of things could have been done differently, or at least a lot better), why have these games been so damned successful?

I’ll answer that with a question. If I told you that you must choose between a poke in the eye, and a kick in the shin, which would you pick? Let’s say you and a lot of other people picked a kick in the shin. Is it fair to say that shin kicks are superior or more popular, thus new options should be focused on shin kicking like a double shin kick, or perhaps a shin kick by someone wearing bells on their ankles?

A perfect example of this is the diminishing number of gameplay genres. When was the last time you saw a good Adventure Game? Flight Simulator? Single Player RPG? What about games like Myst? It seems to me that everything is spiraling down to nothing more than a variation of a Third Person Shooter (TPS) with some “story” elements added in as an afterthought. First Person Shooter (FPS) and TPS games sell (or sold) well, therefore all new games must be TPS or with TPS elements. I want to pull all my hair out.

I think that the industry is saturated with mediocre content that just rehashes itself with different MMO makeup, and there is little or no innovation. Even worse, things that were done in the past because of technical limitations (like shards, one of the worst ideas on the planet) have become rules of thumb that everyone follows unquestioningly and assumes is the best idea.

Simply put, there isn’t anything better out there, so people simply play what is available. Crap gets popular, and no one is looking for the diamonds. The few people that know what a diamond looks like aren’t getting the funding. If developers were making better games with more substance and less flash, and with some innovation for a change (instead of the same boring junk) I bet that the mass market would be much more interested in MMOs and our industry as a whole would be MUCH larger than it is now.

Mark my words, unless something happens here in the West and the people holding all the $$ start waking up to the fact that Asian publishers and developers are rapidly gaining in every aspect (design, creativity, innovation, technology, business models, distribution, etc.), they will absolutely dominate the online games market within seven years.

What is the solution? Fresh people, talent, and ideas. Start looking for bright ideas and fund the hell out of them. So what if they don’t have traditional experience making some dumb console title…look for the TALENT. Throw money at TALENT, not just EXPERIENCE. Experience does not equal expertise. And heck, if you are a VC sitting on a fund and you want in on what is arguably one of the largest markets ever conceived…do your best to help the TALENT find the right executive management team to take their ideas and innovations to market.

It’s that simple. Talent + expertise + money = Big Money. Experience + money + generic idea = waste of money that produces mediocre game destined for market failure.

I’ll be watching.

5 thoughts on “Ex-Blizzard Receptionist scores MMO Funding Deal!”

  1. It was my understanding that the folks at Red 5 had integral parts in the design of WoW. I don’t know how much truth there is in that.

    What intrigues me is that this team has picked the right partners. You can say all you want about design, but the fact remains a game is a business first and foremost. Good business can sell bad games *cough* Delta Force series *cough*. Bad business can sell a good game *cough* SOE buying Everquest *cough*.

    Bad business however can’t start a company. I am guessing people in the industry that are waiting for their “shot” are just lazy, haven’t pursued it, are afraid to take the risk, or most likely just can’t market themselves and their ideas.

    Red 5 gets the attention because they have and will continue to market themselves properly. First off they are teaming with Project Offset which is going to be big news in the next few years. On top of this they are in with NCSoft now and that gives them a buttload of experienced people and solid technology to work off. You did know that most NCSoft companies share tech? We could see a Red 5 MMOG running off the Guild Wars server tech… and honestly that wouldn’t be the least bit surprising.

    And they would be dumb not to use their past experience on WoW as a bullet point on the good ole’ application.

  2. Actually, they are with Webzen, not NCSoft.

    It is possible for bad business people to start a company. It happens all the time. Thats why at least 70% of all startup companies fail miserably.

    Doing good business development deals early on does not guarentee success either. It seems that Red 5 is doing the right things on the business end for the moment, but it will remain to be seen how things turn out, as well as how good their game is.

    Yes, I agree about Project Offset. Extraordinary graphics…but that is just the front end. Red 5 will need solid backend architecture on top of that.

    When I said people waiting for their shot….well I can tell you from personal experience that there are a lot of people out there fighting for funding and attention, and working their butts off…but getting funding or business deals nearly always comes down to who you know, not what you know or what you have.

    Anyway, this is all going to be interesting to watch how it plays out.

  3. Ack thats what I get for reading an interview with the guy at Guild Wars right after reading that Red 5 teams with Webzen and then playing EVE Online before posting here… damn it!

  4. I’ll tell you why I’m playing WoW, I”m not a hardcore player. I don’t have 20+ hours ever week to dedicate to any game like I did when I was younger. I enjoy my RL too much. I want a game that is challenging and allows me to get something done in a few hours.

    Everquest was an awesome game, and I had some great times exploring and adventuring. As I passed 40 then 50 I noticed that I was not having as much fun. It took all the time I had just to get a group ready to do something before I logged. EQ became a grind and a chore. Sony/Verant ignored all their paying customers complaints and it catered solely to the hard core gamer. Now they are giving away the game.

    WoW has its faults but at least it lets me get something done in a few hours. It minimized the “chore” part of an MMO and allowed me to have “fun”. Fun being one of the reasons I’ll pay to play a game (interaction and challenging content being the other). I can solo, group, raid, pvp without a huge time sink just to prepare and get anything done.

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