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Roper: Flagship's 'Dark Time' Taught Me To See Games As Business

Roper: Flagship's 'Dark Time' Taught Me To See Games As Business

May 18, 2009 | By Staff

May 18, 2009 | By Staff
More: Console/PC

Cryptic's Bill Roper, talking in a major Gamasutra retrospective interview, has been discussing the troubled life of Hellgate: London creator Flagship, explaining how it's important to be "passionate about games", but how emotional overinvestment "cost me a lot on a personal level."

Discussing his time at Flagship, which was co-founded by Roper in 2003 after he left Blizzard, and which ground to a halt and shut down after troubled PC MMO Hellgate: London foundered in the public's eyes, Roper explained:

"That was some of my biggest highs and biggest lows in the industry. Things definitely were exciting [but there were] things that were ultimately big disappointments. Having to shut down a company was something I never had to do before.

It was a really dark time. It cost me a lot more than just the money we'd put into the company and things like that. It cost me a lot on a personal level with friends and loved ones that I wasn't able to keep in the process.

Since it was the first company that I'd run, I took it extremely personally. Now that I'm on the other side of it, I can look back at it and say, 'Well, that's business; it happens. I'm not happy about it.' I learned an amazing amount from the process. Those are things that I use every day."

When Roper, who was a key figure at Blizzard working on the Warcraft and Diablo franchises, was then asked about the biggest things he learned in that process, he commented pointedly:

"I think a lot of it is just looking at business models that work and don't work, ways to interact with publishers that worked and didn't work, gameplay decisions that we made. Things like just doing far too much in our design, trying to do way too many things, trying to appease too many people and players.

But I think the biggest one that I learned, and it's very cliche, is that it's just a business. I was very personally, more emotionally invested in the company.

And every day when we were struggling to keep it open, the thought of 'I'm going to let down a hundred people and let all these guys go,' like, 'I'm going to ruin their lives. I can't make this happen.'

And so that was really hard. Being on the other side of it, I can look at that and say, 'I learned a lot from this failure.' Every week easily at Cryptic, if not every day, someone says, 'Hey, we should do this.' I'm like, 'No, that won't work, and here's why it doesn't work.'

Whether that's a design decision, something about a business model, or just like an academic discussion, I can say I have both sides of that coin now. I can say, 'These are the things that were amazingly successful at Blizzard and how they worked. And these were the things that were amazingly unsuccessful at Flagship.'

And so, I think I learned as much from the failure, if not more, than the successes. I think the biggest disappointment was how -- because it was my first time through -- how negatively that impacted my personal life. Now I can see that, you know. It's nice because I know that won't happen again. That's one of the things you learn from it.

We love what we do -- I think that everyone [in the business] loves games. We're passionate about making games and making things that will make people happy. But at the same time, the more you do it, the older you get, and you realize, 'But it's just a business. We're not sending people to the moon. We're not saving lives. We're not curing cancer.'"

The full interview with Flagship's Roper is now available on Gamasutra, with plenty more detail about the design legend's storied history and his current work leading the Champions Online team.

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