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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 9:01AM
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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.