Saturday, April 28, 2018

Putting Out Fire With Gasoline: Daybreak Games

There's only been one MMO story this week - the fiasco surrounding who owns Daybreak Games. Wilhelm has the best summary of the position so far. Massively OP is also worth checking for the ongoing updates to the increasingly convoluted drama.

The one piece of information that hasn't been widely linked is this analysis of the original problem by ShadowInsignus on the Planetside2 reddit. Written by someone who seems to know how these things work it appears to explain that the sanctions in question were unlikely ever to have impacted DBG specifically, regardless of the ownership issue. Even if they do turn out to be among the targeted entities, there should still be options available to apply for exemption or for a license to continue trading.

If true, that makes Daybreak's bizarre behavior all the more difficult to comprehend. The most obvious and simple response to the initial flurry of interest and concern would seem to have been to issue a straightforward PR statement of the kind frequently used to pour sand on a fire. Something along the lines of "We don't believe the impending sanctions will affect the running of our games in any way but if we discover anything to the contrary we'll be sure to inform our customers right away".

That would have dampened interest to nothing more than the familiar mumblings of the usual haters. The troll army would have moved on, looking for new witches to burn. Instead, someone at DBG chose to behave like a clown in a rake factory, running full pelt in random directions, stamping on anything that might fly up and hit them in the face.

Who's driving the boat?

The issue almost instantly ceased to be about whether U.S. Government sanctions over Russia would have an impact on the EverQuest franchise, the H1Z1 PS4 launch, the renewal of the DCUO license or the health of Planetside2. If all that was at stake was the future of those IPs the story would have remained a very local one. While that would have been an impressive line-up of MMOs a few years ago, these days, no-one outside a sliver of the MMO community cares about any of them.

Instead, someone at DBG decided to go full George Orwell on the problem. They tried to rewrite the internet, thereby ensuring that people with no interest in MMOs whatsoever began to sit up and take notice.

Perhaps the weirdest aspect of this whole weird tale is that it's beginning to look as though the current, rewritten narrative could turn out to be the "true" one. Rohan from Blessing of Kings  makes a convincing case in the comments to the TAGN post that the way the sale was handled, as it's now being described, wouldn't even be all that unusual.

The Ars Technica piece is more revealing still and adds further clarification that suggests there may be many more layers to this supposedly done deal yet to be uncovered. A lot seems to rest on the somewhat nebulous term "owner", which, as I originally suspected, does not necessarily mean what a lay person would take it to mean.

I can affirm this from my own tangential experience. In the business where I work, both internal and external PR has referred for years to a specific individual as being "the owner". Recently, when the business was put up for sale, the names of other institutions and entities, none of which most of us working there had ever heard of, began to appear in  ownership roles. This stuff is complicated and frequently obscure, whether intentionally or otherwise.

Nibiru is coming!

Then, as if the ownership issues and wikipedia scandals weren't enough, we had the layoffs. Layoffs, like server merges, are never good news but, frankly, the thing that surprised me most was learning that DBG still had 70 people left to let go.

It seems likely that, rather than being a consequence of - or even a reaction to - the impending sanctions, these layoffs relate more to the collapse of H1Z1 as a profit-driver. That game, which played a John the Baptist role for PUBG and latterly Fortnite, had a good run while it lasted but it appears everyone agrees it's over. It's a shame the zombie depocalypse also had to damage the fortunes of the rest of the portfolio but if it results in a tighter focus on the core franchises it may not be all bad.

In normal circumstances (that's to say when the company appeared to be in the hands of responsible adults rather than teenagers trying to cover up the evidence after a wild party), I wouldn't feel especially concerned by either the layoffs or the ownership confusion. Apart from commiserating with the individuals involved and offering my genuine best wishes for their future careers, there wouldn't be any particular need to get involved even to the point of writing blog posts about it. I may have my preferences and my favorites but game ownership and personnel change all the time. We just smile or frown and log in as usual.

All I really care about is that someone is there, paying the bills and keeping the lights on, so I can log in when the fancy takes me and walk my countless characters around until I get bored. If there's enough money and enough people to bring some new content once in a while then that's a bonus. Even in the depths of the PSS1 debacle, the absolute nadir of the SOE administration, I never threatened to quit.

Portrait of The Owner.

It's when my access to the games themselves feel under threat I get anxious. Over the years I've seen a number of MMOs I felt an emotional connection with go dark: NeoSteam, Rubies of Eventide, City of Steam, Free Realms and, by far the most difficult to accept, Vanguard. None of those would or could have the impact that the simultaneous disappearance of both EverQuest and EQ2 would have. I might never recover.

Consequently the outcome of the current crisis is paramount. I want the games to continue and my characters to persist. If that means a sale to yet another owner (there are rumors) then so be it. I don't want them to change hands because, unlike most of the angry brigade that dominates the discussion, I am on record as believing that the games themselves have been better run, more stable and more fun to play since the sale than throughout most of the time they were owned and operated by Verant and/or SOE. If it's a choice between sunset and a new owner, however, then it's no choice at all.

For those without a wolf in the fight, it must make for a fascinating soap opera. I would absolutely love to know who panicked this week and why. When the easiest thing to do was to do nothing, why did someone instead choose to try to do the impossible?

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

I'd also like to know why John Smedley is keeping his counsel. It's not like him to stay out of any argument where his input could make things even worse. To be fair, the feisty Smed of a few years back has been conspicuous by his absence since the hacker wars and the demise of Hero's Song. Maybe he's just a changed man. On the other hand, maybe he knows more than he wants to tell.

There may be further revelations and surprises. Regardless of what else does or doesn't come to light, we will all know on June 5th whether the games will continue. With astonishingly bad timing that is also the day I fly to Spain. I'll be gone for almost two weeks and I would normally intend to avoid all gaming news while I'm away. I might have to make an exception this time but I'm keeping my fingers crossed the outcome doesn't spoil my holiday along with everything else.

As for the lay offs, I have yet to see a comprehensive list of the individuals who have left the company or what roles they vacated. Without that it's hard to estimate the impact on specific titles. If the sanction problem goes away, will we still get the promised expansions for EQ and EQ2 later in the year? At this point I'd consider that a luxury but who knows? Maybe Norrath will start to look more important to whatever version of the company remains, once the appeal of all things zombie fades away.

For now, all we can do is wait and watch. It will all be alright in the end or it won't. Either way, it's a salutory reminder of the impermanence of all things and the uncertainty of most.


Well, not to ruin my own carefully crafted, elegaic coda but after I posted the above I had my tea and then I logged into EverQuest. The news section on the launcher pointed me to "A Note from the EQ Producer Mooncast" which states, among other things, "Though we’re not ready to announce too much yet, both game teams are still gearing up for this year’s expansions, and EverQuest 2’s Game Update #106 is just around the corner with loads of new in-game content ... (stay tuned for news on that very soon!). Plus, on top of all that, we’re already entering the planning stages to make sure that EverQuest’s 20th Anniversary will be an event to remember!"

Onwards and upwards!


  1. My wild, unfounded guess is that Smed is the trusted source that convinced MassivelyOP that Daybreak was telling the truth about their ownership.

    1. Well, you'd think he'd know... but the Ars Technica story says it's a source "inside Daybreak Games " and MOP say they think thieir source is the same person... at this stage, though, they could tell us Smed never left DBG and we'd probably believe it.

  2. I have the opposite opinion of the last few years in EQ2. The gameplay choices they have made have pretty much killed the few things I liked to do. That was running groups and playing lots of alts at end game. It is now just a solo game which I have played and have some fun with it.

    I think the developers were put in a tough spot and had to interact with customers when they had no idea how to. It's like in Office Space and they lay off the customer service rep. "I talk to the customers so the engineers don't have to!" A lot of the quotes to the players would have earned a quick firing in most reputable customer service jobs.

    Anyway, if it remains DBG and does not sell to another company then I am most likely done. How this has been handled is just another way they are dishonest and it's amazing what they expect us to believe.

    1. Everyone's experiences are different, I guess. Having played since beta I have found the last three years among the most enjoyable and certainly the content on offer has been some of the strongest and most satisfying I've played in EQ2. It's true, though, that I play entirely solo these days, which is how I like it.

      As for customer servie, I've rarely had to use it but when I have it's been fine. Some of the public statements by devs have been unprofessional or incendiary it's true, but then that has always been the case with the EQ games. Some of the things Abashi and Absor said in the Verant/SOE days were absolutely astonishing and nothing I've seen in years compares to that level of open attack on customers so perhaps my standards are different.


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