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Bill Roper On How Flagship, Hellgate Spiraled Out Of Control

Bill Roper, former CEO for defunct Hellgate: London studio Flagship, candidly explains the background of his former company's collapse, saying the firm "t
Bill Roper, former CEO for defunct Hellgate: London developer Flagship Studios, explained in a candid interview how is company met its demise. "Flagship actually got a lot bigger than we ever intended it to. In our heads, we wanted to have 25 people. Like, that was how big we wanted our company to be," said Roper in a newly-published Gamasutra feature interview. "We had to grow to a larger size within Flagship to support everything we tried to do with [Hellgate]," said Roper. Prior to founding ill-fated Flagship in 2003 with former Blizzard staff, Roper was VP of Blizzard North and a director of Blizzard Entertainment. After Flagship's demise in 2008, Roper joined Champions Online developer Cryptic Studios as chief creative officer, then resigned from the developer last year. Flagship launched action-RPG Hellgate in 2007 -- the game would be the studio's first and last title. "The biggest failure with Hellgate is we just tried to do too much," Roper explained. "We were a single-player game, or you could go online and play for free. And there was also this hybrid subscription model that you could get into, and the game was coming out on the new Windows platform, and we were part of the Games for Windows program." He continued, "We shipped in 17 languages, we had a very high-end graphics engine that we had built but at the same time we did low-poly versions of the game. I mean, the list just went on and on and on." Roper acknowledged that the studio's ambitions spiraled out of control. "I think that was where our 'growing up Blizzard' hurt us, right? [laughs] Because at Blizzard you just go for it. Every time you swing, you swing for the fences." "A couple benefits we had there [at Blizzard,] we really didn't have at Flagship -- I mean, even Blizzard now, but at Blizzard 10 years ago -- one, there was always support from Blizzard from the top-down, from the publishing-down. We'd go in there and say, 'We need to take six more months. This is why. This is the benefit you will see from it,'" recalled Roper. "And you always had to justify it." "There was always the support [at Blizzard] to say, 'You know what? If that's what you need to make this game great, then that's what we'll get for you. We'll figure it out.'" But the startup Flagship didn't have that luxury, as its publishers needed Hellgate to launch. "It still eventually comes down to dollars and cents and time," said Roper. "I mean, I think when Hellgate: London came out... we knew it needed another four to six months. The publishers knew it needed another four to six months." Roper said the game's publishers weren't willing to put more time and money towards the title. "The publishers were like, 'Hey, we're invested. We're in. We're as in as we're going to get.' So, the game's got to come out, right? You get to that point." Asked if it's a mistake to adopt the mentality that "the game's just got to come out" even if if it isn't ready, Roper laughed and said, "Yeah. I think it's a horrible mistake." For more from Roper, read the full, candid Gamasutra feature interview, available now.

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