Learning From Failure

Learning From Failure
The Greatest Game Never Played

Justin Emerson | 21 Dec 2010 12:33
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But shipping an actual product, especially a videogame, was an insane undertaking for the small group. "At the time, MSR wasn't accustomed to shipping products so we had to discover nearly everything we did: staffing, budgeting, marketing, project management, QA, community management, content pipeline and management. It was incredibly fun - like starting a business from scratch," says Dehlin. And this was at a time when Microsoft, outside of Solitaire and the like, had never actually developed a game internally from the ground up, and the Xbox was still more than a year away from release.


Internally, the project became known as Oblivion. It was ambitious - a 3rd person MMO RPG with space combat. "Think EVE Online meets Tribes," says lead designer Girling. "We showed it to the Games group and they smiled encouragingly and said more or less 'good luck with that.' The vision was pretty insanely ambitious so after we hired [Joel] we focused on making a great large scale multiplayer 'space combat' game cutting all the RPG ideas."

Allegiance shipped to great reviews in March of 2000. The space combat was deep - ships had complete free range of motion, with a main engine in the back and omni-directional thrusters. But initial sales were bad - by the end of the year it had sold less than 30,000 copies. For a title published and promoted by Microsoft, this was a huge disappointment. And sadly, when a multiplayer-only title starts losing its player base, the effect begins to snowball. What happened?

"First, the spacecraft action game genre was in decline, there had not been (and still arguably has not been) a commercially successful space shooter game since the mid 90's," explains Girling. "Secondly, 'multiplayer only' action games appealed to the hardest of the hardcore gamer, which further reduced the potential appeal. In addition, the game required a subscription to the [Allegiance] Zone to play in the big games, which at that time was still an experimental business model and only worked ... with RPG titles."

The last problem, relates Dehlin, was one the team had little control over. "Right before we shipped, the games division inked a $100M deal with Digital Anvil, who happened to have a game in the same category: space. Microsoft put all of the marketing behind Starlancer and hardly any behind Allegiance. Most of our marketing was word of mouth and great reviews. That year, Allegiance dominated Starlancer in game reviews, but sales were awful."

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