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The Long Road To Ruin December 13, 2007

Posted by David Gillespie in Video Games.
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I remember hearing a long time ago (couldn’t possibly remember the source) that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. You can see it play out with major corporations who don’t alter their strategies with changing markets, flying in the face of all the evidence presented to them, watching their consumer bases shrink in slow motion before them, unable or unwilling to make the turn before the iceberg collides.

I’ve just finished watching it play out at a company I used to work at, Auran, a game developer based in Brisbane, Australia. Those who played strategy games in the mid-90′s probably came across their biggest hit, Dark Reign, which set the company up and garnered worldwide acclaim. Of course then the publisher Activision bank-rolled a start-up and took pretty much the entire development team away; it’s safe to say things never really quite got back on track.

I spent two and a half years working at Auran as a game designer and producer, and I have never spent so many good, good days around a group of nicer, more intelligent people. I was blessed with teams that were passionate and inspired by the work they were doing. Leaving to chase other dreams in other cities was a hard if correct decision, but I have stayed in touch with a number of the people I worked with, and their Operations Director is my best friend.

So it is with a very heavy heart that I say the administrators have just walked into the building and the process of dismantling what was one of the great development houses in Australia begins. Thankfully the scene in Brisbane is booming and the staff will all have jobs to go to. Their publishing arm, N3v3rfa1l is likely to continue which is good news for its staff, with the continued involvement of Graham Edelsten and Tony Hilliam, the latter of who has invested a fortune over the years into a truly capable company that never quite managed to live up to its promise.

Auran never lived in the shadow of previous successes, it was always looking to break new ground and refused to rest on its laurels. Other companies grew past it in terms of size and projects, but to its credit it took on unusual and interesting projects, even when the direct ROI wasn’t as clear as would have been nice. It bet the farm on a unique idea for an MMO, a game that I was involved in as a Producer on the initial pitch that won a significant piece of funding from Korean publisher Hanbitsoft. That relationship soured over time, but the companies parted ways and Auran continued to innovate and push the title down a completely new direction instead of taking the me-too approach of so many MMOs. A variety of suitors would come and go in that time, but the vision was steadfast, and thanks to Tony Hilliam’s generosity, it meant they could forge a path that was all their own, not beholden to anyone else’s ideas.

The game, Fury, was released to mediocre reviews on October 16th, and while many of them acknowledged a good idea and solid game at the core of it, the technical issues proved insurmountable. The game has failed to garner a large enough following to make it viable, and Auran’s directors decided that the water was coming into the boat much faster than they had the capacity to bail it out. They can’t be blamed, though I’m sure in the fallout fingers will be pointed in all directions. It’s like the break down of a good relationship; in the end maybe nobody is to blame, and it simply ran its inevitable course.

I don’t know that I’ll ever go back to games, but if I did, I would seek out the culture that Auran created. Compassionate directors that valued innovation over a safe bet, the best and brightest staff from all over the world, a willingness to go against the odds even if failure means you don’t exist anymore. Auran went down with a corporate philosophy focussed on leaping towards the sun; you may not reach it, but at least, for a little while, you can get off the ground.

It is a really sad day.

N.B. I appear to have been linked back to from all over the web as the “Ex-Fury” Producer. While I worked on the game initially, they were very early days and I cannot claim any sort of stake in the title it became. Many people much smarter and more talented than me devoted themselves to it for a number of years, and despite the end result, they deserve the highest of acclaim. Also thanks to Bloody for the kind words, they have been passed on to the team.

Comments»

1. scrat - December 14, 2007

It is a very terrible thing that has happened. Really makes me wonder about the state of the industry in Australia. I was even consdering a bachelor of arts in game graphic design next year, and this whole sequence of events has given me cold feet. Its bad when any dev shuts down, but Auran being well known, highly respected, and Australian… Its a real dissapointment. I guess all you can do is hope that you all find work post this.

2. David Gillespie - December 14, 2007

Scrat, the above should serve as a warning but not a deterrent. Any line of work brings tough times with it; I’m now involved in an online start-up in Melbourne, seems I’m a junky for risky ventures! =]

Companies will come and go (I have a saying I’m fond of: Even Rome fell), what is important is that people do what they love. If you want to get into game development then go for it! But the time to show a passion for being on that side of the fence comes long before you’re in a position to apply for a job.

Best of luck, whatever you decide to do.

3. Ed Orman - December 14, 2007

Hey David, very sorry to hear about this. Good luck with whatever you’re going on to.

Let’s catch up for some more beers some time :)

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5. scrat - December 15, 2007

Thanks for the words David, defitnaly puts my heart back into the spirit of things, which is at great timing as i have been made an offer for the course.
All the best for your latest venture, I really hope that it reeks the sucess of Auran back in the Dark Reign days – same to all the former employees, and wherever they may go – may sucess follow :)

6. johnnypeepers - December 15, 2007

I am glad you are out of the gaming business. Video games are a deceptively innocent tool engineered by the Illuminati to distract the global citizens from their over-arching aims. Since the television industry has spawned hundreds of channels, their tentacles are less effective at influencing the minds of the viewers.

I have heard of embedded subliminal messaging in many of the games, even the children’s games like Sponge-Bob’s Underwater Adventure 3. They send the players into a hypnotic drugged state where they are susceptible to menacing thought-control programs.

Thank you for your post.

7. brahnamin - December 15, 2007

Your quote is attributed to Albert Einstein. Yeah, I know. I’m a geek.

8. izzy99 - December 15, 2007

Bet you did not know you were merely an Illuminati pawn in their insane plot to destroy humanity, eh. (re: johnnypeepers comment) I would rather see kids spending hours playing video games rather than sampling drugs as an antidote to the troubling aspects of life.

Recreation and games are the best part of life, methinks. I am always amazed by the tech knowledge that makes online games (and the offline video ones also) possible. It is sad that games do not take priority over wars.

9. J. - December 15, 2007

And this is what happens when a good game company throws their whole weight behind a MMO. They can well be the road to ruin.

10. The Realist - December 17, 2007

And another game carcass falls to the ground to be pickup by Sony and shoved into their Station Exchange. Lets fact it, Sony lives for this sort of thing.

The moral of the story… If you want to make an MMO these days, got for a “me too” WOW clone or move to the US, Australia is a technological backwater… and I an’t just talking about the crappy broadband!

11. Bloody - December 17, 2007

Here’s something you have to realize. You reached for the stars and it fell short. But the fact is you reached and you dreamed. Whatever you did, I loved the game you took a part in, you can always live with knowing you tried your best and this experience will make your life a richer reward and you will go further and farther in your goals due to this learning experience. It’s nice to know Auran had such a nice people. Stay strong and live your dream!

12. Loading… » Blog Archive » MMOG Carols - December 18, 2007

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13. unborracho - December 18, 2007

The only experience I ever had with Fury was at Penny Arcade Expo – they were handing out pressed CDs with a beta version of the game. That right there left an initial sour taste in my mouth, because you couldn’t play it until like a week after PAX was over. Even after that, I couldn’t get an account registered due to problems with the beta server being down or something like that.

The only experience that I have with beta testing is blizzard (World of Warcraft open beta and Diablo II stress test) and SOE games (Planetside) and all of those experiences were fantastic – fun games to play (albeit I found a few exploits and occassionally the servers would come down more often than I liked) but none were as frustrating as attempting to setup my Fury beta account and not even getting to play a moment of the game. I was pretty much instantly turned off and didn’t even bother to give it a second chance.

I understand a company comes to a point where they need capitol to continue development and making payroll at the end of the day, but releasing beta (and even live production) software will end up hurting your long term result.

I know nothing about Fury’s gameplay issues (having not played a lick of it) but combining those on top of frustrating experiences = fail and probably attributed a great deal to the overall success of the game. (or in this case, lack thereof)

14. Loucidity - December 18, 2007

Problems may not have just been the game itself. I bought a copy, took forever to get it to install, patching process, constantly nagged me that it couldn’t run at other than lowest resolution every time I tried to kick it in.

(Okay, I get it, I’m cheap, I don’t have the greatest card in the world, stop rubbing my face in it.).

Never did get to the point of actually playing the game. When I went to their support channels the process was extremely cumbersome. Messages coming from their support staff were “just reply”… unfortunately the from address was do_not_reply@auran.com. Finally found an old message with their web site on it, got into the web site, let them know that they had issues.

Response was “well you managed to get to us (support) didn’t you…”, plus a list of noxious commands and directory searches I was going to have to conduct in their behalf and zip up and send in. No indication that anyone acknowledged that there was an issue in their process.

Needless to say, never got to play the game, de-installed it, and took the loss.

Programmers may have been great, concept could have even been fantastic, but if the customer is left in the lurch it isn’t going to fly.

15. David Gillespie - December 18, 2007

Wow, that’s pretty incredible! You would assume most people would be savvy enough to have a smooth process to deal with user complaints. People invariably aren’t willing to jump through hoops for you when they’ve parted with dollars; I think the general feeling is “I bought the hoop, you jump.” Your last line says it all Loucidity, the best of intentions don’t ultimately count for much in the long run.

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