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Bad Time at Spacetime

The Spacetime Studios Website (thanks Develop) has some unfortunate news about layoffs at the indie developer at work on Blackstar, a science-fiction MMORPG:

Our company has been entirely self-funded the for the last six months while we tried to find a publishing deal for ‘Blackstar.’ Throughout this period we have held onto our pre-production development team because, honestly, we think they are the best of the best. We have been shopping Blackstar around but - right now, at least – the concept of a SciFi space/ground IP has proven to be a challenge. Our studio cannot survive at its current burn rate without a publishing deal, so we face a necessary (though very difficult and painful) decision. We are scaling down from thirty-two down to sixteen folks in the hopes of developing a pitch, a prototype and another publishing deal.

We will be letting some very good folks go. They will receive extended benefits and we will be doing everything we can to help them land on their feet again. We consider these people to be the cream of the crop, so if you are looking to staff up your team please drop us a line at jobs@spacetimestudios.com.

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7. Re: ...the space combat genre is d0med Aug 6, 2008, 10:26  dsmart 
 
Wow strong words there....

On hindsight, yes, you're probably right. Perhaps I should clarify that [blanket] statement by saying that I meant in terms of the genre.

Eve is really pretty much a spreadsheet set in space. When compared to the traditional space combat genre, it doesn't even come close.

The only thing that Eve has in common with the likes of Evolution and typical space combat games in general, is the setting: space.

Obviously the concept and setting of Eve is fine for those playing it. But my guess is that if any space combat game comes along with the graphics, social (the *biggest* Eve draw) aspects and ease-of-use that Eve has, it would lose quite a bit of subscribers. That game, however, is not Evolution.

a success for Jumpgate might get people a bit more interested in the space flight genre as a whole again.

And pigs will fly.

The original Jumpgate was around when Eve came ont he scene. NetDevil were - pretty much - complacent in moving the game from its niche and legacy territory into modern day gaming. So Eve came and wiped the floor with it.

With Evolution, they're making the same darn mistake by re-branding the original Jumpgate with spit and polish that isn't even competitive in any form. The graphics alone - in this age and which most gamers care about - are nothing to write home about. Couple that with the fact that it seems to maintain its original legacy roots and you have a reboot that is destined to either fail to make an impact or remain relegated to the folks who would rather play a legacy Jumpgate than put up with the likes of Eve's spreadsheet driven gameplay.

Heck, we've had an MMO of our Universal Combat off and on in the making for several years. Given the financial commitments required, we've had to put it on hold while we work on something else (e.g. UCCE, Echo Squad etc) to pay the bills. In fact, the last time I wrote a single line of code for it, was back in March 2007. Obviously once we ship our next game next year, I might go back to it - which means upgrading it to our newer graphics engine etc. Its tough doing MMO games when you're self-funded. And thats the problem that the likes of NetDevil and Spacetime are facing.
 
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6. Re: ...the space combat genre is d0med Aug 6, 2008, 10:10 Duc
 
It'll be interesting to see how Jumpgate Evolution and to a lesser extent Stargate Worlds do. Jumpgate has remained solvent for years thanks to low costs and a dedicated fanbase, and Jumpgate Evolution is looking quite interesting at this stage and appears to have Codemasters on board to publish it - a success for Jumpgate might get people a bit more interested in the space flight genre as a whole again.

Likewise a win for Stargate likewise might make Publishers regard non-traditionals as a whole with a more friendly eye.

 
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5. Re: ...the space combat genre is d0med Aug 6, 2008, 10:09 InBlack
 
In fact, Eve, compared to Evolution, is IMO, rubbish.

Wow strong words there....

Now Ill have to check out Jumpgate Evolution, as I quite liked EvE, the early game was boring as hell and the endgame required connections that take a lifetime to build.

 
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4. ...the space combat genre is d0med Aug 6, 2008, 09:11  dsmart 
 
NCSoft had this IP and they dropped it earlier this year. If anyone could have funded it to the end, it would have been them. But seeing how they took a bath on Auto Assault and Tabula Rasa - both non-traditional (i.e. no orcs, elves) sci-fi projects, dropping this project was a no-brainer because it is just too risky.

The problem is that space combat games are a very niche genre and doing an MMOG based on that genre - in this industry climate - is suicidal. At best.

The biggest issue here is that while a small company like CCP can get away with their niche title and relatively small install base, lower dev costs (they're in Iceland) etc, the typical North American company cannot. For every $1 that a small dev/publisher gets to recoup on a game, the larger company needs to probably recoup about $5. This is the primary reason why 50K subscribers for Eve (an established - and fanatical - install base that in fact started out shakey) is fine for CCP, while it is not for NCSoft or another larger publisher.

PLUS, CCP is both the developer and publisher of Eve - so they pretty much control the fate of their title. And its success (for them) speaks volumes as to how far you can go when you control EVERYTHING.

Then you factor in the fact that space games just aren't doing the numbers needed by the larger companies and you have a bleak outlook for a sci-fi MMOG, let alone one based on a space combat foothold. There is a reason that SWG is floundering - despite the Star Wars name and apart from the fact that its, well, rubbish. Then you think of the demise of Star Trek Online, Firefly etc - both of which had to be rebooted and both IMO destined to fail spectacularly sometime soon.

http://forums.avault.com/showthread.php?t=3286

Here is what the space combat landscape looks like :

http://www.3000ad.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=50026509

Regardless of its developer pedigree, Blackstar obviously has a serious uphill climb. You can't make that climb without some seriously deep pockets. And if you think developing a standard space combat sim is fun, just think about what is involved with actually developing an MMOG based on that. And one with both space and planetary worlds.

The fact that there are still no gameplay shots of Blackstar probably means that either (1) they haven't moved past the concept stage yet - after almost eighteen months or (2) they probably have moved past pre-production, but aren't ready to show it publicly.

If after eighteen months you're still in pre-production, something isn't right.

These days, getting a publishing deal signed for a finished game is more of a lesson in futility than ever before. Especially with all the industry consolidation, publishers losing money left and right, going out of business etc. Then you factor in that you're pitching a new game - based on a dead genre - and you might as well call it a day.

Heck, even Jumpgate Evolution is pretty much self-funded by NetDevil (who could've made that game instead of Auto Assault, but obviously got funding for the latter but not the former) and is being rebooted with help from a small arm of the UK publisher, Codemasters. It is highly unlikely that were Evolution being pitched to Codemasters at the stage that Blackstar is, that they'd ever get a publishing deal - let alone a co-funded one. In fact, Eve, compared to Evolution, is IMO, rubbish.

My guess is that unless they can go it alone and fund it themselves from start to finish - or find investors - then publish it, Blackstar will never get made, regardless of by how much they whittle down the team. In fact, the more you whittle down the team, the lower the chances are that it will ever get made. It is a vicious catch-22 cycle.

Sad really. But I wish them all the best.


This comment was edited on Aug 6, 09:14.
 
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Game developers are just human beings who happen to make games for a living. If you want to hold us up to higher standards of conduct, then go ahead
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3. Re: O Rly? Aug 6, 2008, 08:51 Trashy
 
I don't think that WoW's Fantasy setting has anything to do with their success. Most people that play WoW I know wouldn't really care if it was set in a fantasy universe or futuristic, they come for the social environment, good game play and and lots of content and most of all their friends are playing. If blizzard decided not to make WoW, instead some other MMO in another setting it still would be successful.

Blizzard took what was wrong with every other MMO at the time (Sony *Cough*) and improved upon it. They knew what would work and what didn't. The problem with competitors to Blizzard, is that Blizzard had a couple years head start and gained a huge fan base that's almost indestructible.The Lich King expansion will Galvanize that even further. I can't see any small upstart company thinking that they will profit on an MMO at this point.
This comment was edited on Aug 6, 08:54.
 
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2. Re: O Rly? Aug 6, 2008, 07:44 InBlack
 

The problem is that MMORPG games are incredibly demanding high budget games, at least the ones that want to compete with WoW.

Why not develop the IP with a relatively simple single player/multiplayer game, and then go for a few sequels if its successful, and then when you have an established IP go make an MMO by all means.

 
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1. O Rly? Aug 6, 2008, 06:48 nutshell42
 
They'd have more luck if their SciFi RPG had elves and orks, their ships were the shape of mounts, their lasers were like swords and space looked like a fantasy setting almost indistinguishable from WoW for the casual player.

SciFi is niche and Eve is as successful as it gets and no publisher will touch it with a 10ft stick because you can't make a successful SciFi MMORPG.

Then at some point in the far future Blizzard will release Galaxy of Starcraft, it will be a smash hit and everyone and his dog will develop SciFi MMORPGs. Some small but excellent developer called Magictime Studios will lay off half their staff when they're unable to get a publishing deal because it's impossible to make a successful fantasy MMORPG.

(btw. no idea whether these guys are the best of the best or the bottom of the barrel but I don't think it matters anyhow. A retarded guy with a keyboard could get a publishing deal for a MMORPG as long as its WoWicity is high enough)

 
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