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Player Perspectives (Archived): Drama Queens

By Jaime Skelton on April 16, 2010 | Columns | Comments

Drama Queens

MMO gamers are no strangers to drama. Our gaming experience is essentially social, forcing us all at some point to interact with other people. As we've all learned by now, other people means, inevitably, some form of drama - that angsty, dark, back-biting, emotional experience that many of us hate (and a few of us thrive on).

And that's just between friends.

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The personal drama that takes place in-game and on the forums can sometimes have long-lasting effects on our gaming and, in rare cases, our lives. The high-level drama that takes place in developer offices brings a whole new level of experience to the social gaming platform, however. A flame war between players can be both exhausting and entertaining to the spectators, but a flame war between the people that make the game has so much more popcorn-chewing value.

Yes, I'm talking about the David Allen vs. Derek Smart debacle with Alganon. I'm also talking about the current Stargate Worlds development state. Both are excellent cases in what I'll term loosely as "developer drama," and both have made some significant impact on their game communities as well as their games.

Those of you who visit MMORPG.com are probably very familiar with the Alganon spectacle, but I shall offer a retelling for those who have not kept up. Alganon was the MMORPG spawn of David Allen, best known for his role in Horizons (now Istaria). In December, a date delayed from its initial day in October, Alganon launched. Several people, including myself, took a look and said that it wasn't fit for human consumption. A few months pass, while Alganon plunges ahead, and then in early March, news was released that David Allen was no longer with the company. That news was quickly followed up by the bold announcement that Derek Smart was now in charge - and that he had fired David Allen for insubordination. Since then, there has been a lot of banter between ex-employees and Derek Smart, and this past week, David Allen finally popped up to tell his side of the story.

Naturally, that's not all to the melodrama going on with Alganon. To understand the full story, you have to know the stories behind both David Allen's and Derek Smart's careers, and read pages of forum posts across multiple communities. My goal here to not to paint a full and accurate picture of the facts behind the case. At this time, the community is separated by that opaque veil called corporate speak; also known as the game "Who's telling the truth anyway?". It's a two-sided drama match that hasn't seen its final day in court, and while I, like many others tracking the story, have an inclination to what the truth is, I'm reserving judgment until the court cases are over and the tell-alls are told.

Reading Derek Smart's somewhat narcissistic responses to the state of Alganon and his presence as a leader is pretty entertaining, but what effect does it have on Alganon's community? Come to find out, a good number of the community don't like Derek Smart. While some are cheering his blunt style as just the thing Alganon needs to get out of the reeds, others are leaving or swearing to never visit because of Mr. Smart's involvement in the affair. His involvement certainly offers a shake-up for the community, drawing many lurkers out to offer their own vision on Alganon's needs, even if some of those visions are "Get rid of Derek Smart" and "Bring back David Allen." What is clear is that the melodrama isn't just affecting game development. There are jobs at stake at QOL, and a community who has devoted not only their time but money to a game that may not "make it" (in some cases, individual players have shelled out hundreds of dollars for a game that has been "live" less than half a year and hasn't quite yet officially launched).

The story at FireSky and Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment (CME) - producers of Stargate Worlds - is rather similar, although a lot calmer in tone. CME has been struggling with finances for a while now, but in the past few months, the situation has snowballed. In December of last year, the studio announced Stargate Resistance, a Stargate third person shooter designed to utilize some of the existing talent at the company and help raise interest and capital for Stargate Worlds. Stargate Resistance was released on February 10 of this year. Nine days later, a double-punch came from CME: an announcement that the company had filed for bankruptcy, and an announcement that the company had ousted and was now suing former CEO Gary Whiting. Then an anonymous complaint appeared on the Internet claiming that it wasn't Whiting that was the bad guy, it was now CEO Tim Jenson, who was pursuing some form of elaborate corporate takeover. The complaint was eventually removed by the staff of the website it appeared on, and CME has officially shelved Stargate Worlds while the bankruptcy is in court.

Sounds a little familiar, doesn't it? Another game in financial trouble, two corporate big-wigs, both with some dirt in their careers as stories tell, another firing, another claim of corporate takeover. The main differences are that Alganon has actually been produced, while Stargate Worlds has a popular license behind it.

Despite the troubles, the Stargate Worlds community has been rather undisturbed by the news that their game-in-waiting may be dead or moving to a different castle. While some communities may have said "Well, game over, nice knowing you folks," the Stargate Worlds community - partially held together by Stargate Resistance players and staff - is still hanging around, chatting and speculating about the game's direction.

Does this mean that the Stargate Worlds' community is more resilient than Alganon's, or that the drama is any less significant at Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment than at Quest Online? Considering that Stargate Worlds is completely dead in the water and its staff is mostly gone, I'd say not. If anything, it's the way the community at Stargate Worlds hasn't been dragged directly into the drama like Alganon's community has. Stargate Worlds' community hasn't had Tim Jenson interacting with them on a daily basis, much-less in a tone so strong and opinionated as Derek Smart's. That's not to say that Smart is ruining Alganon's community; rather, it shows the effects this kind of drama can have on a community.

I rather liked a post on the topic of these MMO fiascos, posted here in the forums by Cosmonaut79:

I grew up watching basketball at a time when Jordan, Bird, Barkley and others were coming up. A great time to be a kid who loved basketball. Now that I'm older, I've learned of all the things that went on behind the scenes with these guys and I think to myself, "I'm glad I was a kid when these guys were playing. I was innocent and had no knowledge of what was really going on to tarnish the enjoyment I had." Maybe a bad analogy, but this is how I'm starting to feel with MMO''s. I don't want to know anymore about who is getting fired from where and who is saying this about who. I just want to play a fun game and not worry about it.

The MMO industry isn't the only area of the video games industry that gets hit by this kind of developer drama, but it is the most affected. Players get intricately involved with the communities of their game, and in the game development process. They spend money - a lot of money, when it all sums up - to be able to play a game with hundreds or thousands of other people. While I agree that players need to know the truth, and need honest communication from game companies, the less we have to see of the hair-pulling, teeth-gnashing, and shin-kicking, the better.

Jaime Skelton / For fourteen years - since the days of Ultima Online - I've been playing MMORPGs with a passion, from paid subscriptions to free imports. Online gaming has become one of my most passionate hobbies, as the games internally and externally evolve over time, providing an ever-changing gaming experience. I write for several websites about MMOs, including MMOSite, Examiner, and BrightHub.