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Vicarious Existence

To blog about what is going on in the MMO genre from a casual MMO player's viewpoint.

Author: UnSub

Scenes From A Sunken Ship: The Fall of Tabula Rasa From The Inside

Posted by UnSub Saturday January 17 2009 at 10:01AM
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Two interesting blog posts have popped up surrounding the closure of Tabula Rasa (TR) which come from the other side of the fence: Adam Martin, former Chief Technical Officer (CTO) of NCsoft Europe started it off, with Scott 'Lum' Jennings giving his perspective. It's a rare view, even if both men weren't directly involved in the development of TR.

What is interesting in this discussion is that the problems with TR were well known within NCsoft North America. Everyone was being forced to play it to provide feedback and everyone knew TR was a black hole sucking people, money and morale into it at a frightening rate, especially as it approached its launch. But the majority appear to have put their head down and ignored that sinking feeling. Management appear to have had too much invested in TR to see it fail or to delay it yet again so they pulled the pin because the game wasn't that bad. The resulting explosion was, of course, more of a whimper than a bang, which resulted in lots of finger-pointing, projects being culled (including Lum's Blighted Empire, for which he details his own problems about) and what has become a general decline in importance in the non-Korean market for NCsoft.

Another issue was in having three big names in development at the helm - Richard Garriott, Jake Song and Starr Long. Who would you take an issue to if you had a problem? Who'd make the final call if everyone couldn't agree on an issue? Although Jake Song left in 2004 when TR went into a new development cycle, it still left two captains to steer the fair ship TR, which obviously didn't work out for the best.

There probably aren't any easy answers to come out of TR's demise, even with this information. After almost 8 years in development, another delay to TR would have been highly embarassing. North American management needed to deliver on promises they'd been making to Korean management in developing their own title. There was a lot of investment in a result. Also, telling the naked truth - that TR wasn't ready to ship, that it needed more time - would have seen heads roll, probably of the person who stood up to tell it. Lum tells of how he had to go to management and say that his title, Blighted Empire, wouldn't be able to meet their schedules. He doesn't work at NCsoft anymore.

"Launch when ready" is a fine platitude for forum warriors, but it is much harder to see from the other side when a lot of money is on the line. Stories like that of Martin and Lum are good insights into how the MMO launch process can go badly awry, even if people know there are problems.

snowyjoe writes:

To me TR was a fun game, but didn't really feel like a MMO.  It didn't really have a sence of Lore or story in the world of TR.

It was just bombs going off here and there, and people fighting on a battlefeild.

To me TR just felt like a big Battlefeild, more than like a Whole New Sci-fi World.

I would love to play it.... but i wouldn't pay $14 a month to play on a battlefeild when i can just buy something else and not pay  montly.

Sat Jan 17 2009 6:15PM Report
CraveMode writes:

 I agree with snowyjoe, I did enjoy the game at first and I liked the combat system but there was a lack of story and lore. It got boring after a while, I actually went back to battlefield 2142 after the first month, ironically.

Sat Jan 17 2009 6:52PM Report
WRyan writes:

There seems to be a general concensus that TR was just lacking something.  We all know what it was lacking, but it's one of those things that isn't easily explained.

Basically, you blew stuff up in the game.  That's... pretty much all you did.  And, that's pretty much all there was to do - level and blow stuff up.  There was absolutely nothing else in the game to do, and I blame that on the fact that the Lore itself (it did exist) prohibited the game from doing anything outside of killing the enemy.

Sat Jan 17 2009 7:40PM Report
hanshotfirst writes:

There was a point during closed beta that I genuinely felt TR had potential to be a contender. There were some bold and dare I say it, innovative mechanics that really did shake up the traditional paradigm.

Then, like a light switch, it seemed like someone at the helm panicked and started to reverse/undermine all of that. The same, tired, old formulas went into practice. TR started looking less and less like anything new, and more like a light-weight MMO with a crappy pseudo-FPS component tacked on.

It all had the stink of desperation on it.

Sun Jan 18 2009 5:26PM Report
Curate writes:

You might like this read as well:

http://bifftheunderstudy.wordpress.com/2009/01/19/fun-equals-success/

One of the theme's I'm picking up in the developer post-mortems is "why didn't anyone kill the project?" It looks like everyone understood the project wasn't liable to succeed, at least to the levels that justified the investment. It's a damn shame when an MMO gets too big to abandon and too big to succeed.

I was interested in the game when the name made sense, when it was going to be a weird fantasy sandbox game rather than some Gears of War-ish FPS-MMO mutt. I have to wonder how many people were like me -- not turned off by mediocre reviews or bland word-of-mouth, but just disinterested in the product's offering.

Mon Jan 19 2009 12:41PM Report

MMORPG.com writes:
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