Where Hellgate: London Went Wrong


In a Hellgate: London post-mortem at GDC 2009, the former Director of Business Development at Flagship Studios revealed where exactly the ambitious start-up had lost its way.

Come with me into the Wayback Machine, where we will descend through the mists of time to the far-off world of 2007, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and we weren’t all slaves to Twitter yet. It was a happy, carefree time, when Flagship Studios – made up of former Blizzard North staff – was about to release their first game, Hellgate: London. These were the same people who brought us Diablo II – what could go wrong?

As it turned out, quite a bit. Flagship closed its doors last year, quietly pulling the plug on Hellgate and moving on to other ventures. Stephen Goldstein, the one-time Director of Business Development at Flagship, spoke candidly about the errors that the company had made behind the scenes.

There was no question at all that the Flagship Studios team was talented – but talent does not preclude making mistakes. One such mistake was a simple one – hubris. Simply put, Flagship had started to believe their own hype, and never once considered failure an option. “Everything was plan A,” Goldstein said. “There was no plan B. Everything was going to be a massive success.” Goldstein cautioned developers to seek out opinions and feedback from people who weren’t “in the trenches,” from people who did not have a personal stake invested in the success of the game.

Beyond that, Hellgate was simply too ambitious:

It was Flagship’s first 3D game, it’s first first-person shooter, it’s first subscription based game, and it’s first time creating software as a service. On top of that, it planned to release the game worldwide in 17 languages, which required 17 builds of the game, with each of its six publishers looking to score “something special” for their version of the game.

Even then, Goldstein said that the true “company-killing moment” was when Flagship … turned down people looking to invest in the company and in the game. Had they accepted the money, it might have bought them a few more months of development – which might have made the difference between a polished game and the one that sputtered and sank.

Alas, mistakes cannot be unmade, and the promise of Hellgate: London will have always been that – a promise. Oh well. Lessons learned, and maybe the new Runic Games (formed from the ashes of Flagship) will take these lessons to heart: When people want to give you money, it’s probably a good idea to take it.


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