Brad McQuaid: The Once and Future King?

Ten years after the release of EverQuest — one of the most beloved and revered MMOs of all time — one if it’s creator’s Brad McQuaid has apparently resurfaced. For a while there have probably been more sightings of Elvis and Osama Bin Laden then the reclusive Brad McQuaid.

Due to his bungling and mismanagement of Sigil and their subsequent failure Brad has been portrayed as an arch-villain in the MMO world in recent years. We are a very unforgiving community it seems. Failure is something that rabid MMO fans have a hard time dealing with. We crucify our MMO messiahs when they fail and never let them forget it. Today’s hero is tomorrow’s zero.

The Vision and the Hype

Going back a few years I remember the buzz surrounding Sigil all too well. Many MMO players impressed by the success and impact of EverQuest were hoping for another revolution in virtual worlds with Brad’s 2nd project: Vanguard. Although we appreciated many of the advances of Blizzard’s new WoW, we saw many trends we didn’t like. We felt that MMOs had yet to realize their full potential.

Entire communities, websites and fans were invested both mentally and financially in Vanguard and they followed its progress with fanatical interest. My wife and I even ventured down to Las Vegas to attend a fan event called Fanguard where I wrote one of my first articles.

Sigil employees

At that fan gathering in Vegas I was fortunate enough to meet Brad, Jeff and the team. Little did I know of the chaos and turmoil that was really going on at Sigil. Years later after reading my article I admit that much my praise and fervor was due to my own hopes and enthusiasm for the genre that I had projected onto Vanguard and the people at Sigil.

Later in 2006 at E3 I visited periphery of the SOE booth — the actual inside of the booth was by invitation only and for the “press”. Outside the booth I managed to track Brad down and spoke with him just briefly; this was right after they sold Vanguard to SOE. He seemed on edge and perhaps too preoccupied to talk to me at length.

Months later after Sigil started to fold and I found out what happened it dawned on me that that at the time Brad was on a sinking ship and embarrassed to talk to a real fan (and then novice game designer) who had posted quite frequently on their forums and had even written a favorable article about Vanguard.

Needless to say that what resulted was a disaster of colossal proportions. I hope someone writes a book about what really happened.

It’s Time to Clear the Air

I do agree with Chris over at I Has PC — Brad needs to come clean and make some form of official apology and mea culpa for what transpired at Sigil. He owes it to the people who gave years of their lives to work on his “vision” and the thousands of fans that lent their support:

You sunk a game and the hopes of thousands who followed it. You should probably address that.  Not addressing the opiate accusations? Hey, deny, deny deny (or at least explain). If a person in his standing and past accomplishments truly wanted to resurface and try something new your first post is an apology, with a thorough explanation, filled with candor and honesty. What is presented at the new Brad McQuaid blog is less than fluff.

One of the most important exercises that game developers can ever do is what’s called a postmortem. Game Developer magazine routinely does these and they are very helpful in giving their fellow game designers insights into the pitfalls of creating a video game. As a matter of professional courtesy and for his own conscience, there is really no point for Brad to go forward until he analyzes and admits what went wrong. Much can be learned from the mistakes that Sigil made.

The Price of Failure

The demise of Sigil and Brad’s misfortunes raises an interesting question: what is it about this industry that we can’t tolerate failure? A times some in the MMO community remind me of James Bond super villains who kill their henchmen for even the slightest failure.

In the real world failure is a part of life. Ask Thomas Edison who failed 1,000 times to invent the incandescent light bulb. Ask Donald Trump who’s gone bankrupt and failed many times. Ask any successful person. Rarely can you ever succeed without failing.

If everyone who ever failed just quit their occupation it’s probably that we’d still be living in caves. I think we need to more tolerant of failure. We need to give people 2nd and 3rd chances as long as they are willing to admit their mistakes.

The Root of All Evil

I suspect the real problem is that even to this day MMOs are damned expensive to make. It’s a risky gamble after all.

Not only do MMOs require the investment of millions of dollars but they also demand the blood, sweat and tears of the people involved in making the game. The human tragedy of the failure of Brad and his partners was the terrible impact it had on the lives of those Sigil employees who lost their jobs. Thankfully some of them were hired by SOE and if you look at the credits for Free Realms you’ll see many of them working there now.

After the debacle of Sigil many MMO investors will rightly think twice before they invest their money and opt to go for the safe bet — the WoW clone.  It’s a sad twist of fate that because of Brad’s screw-up that MMOs that try to offer something unique and revolutionary will have trouble getting funding in the future. He should do all he can to ensure that the dominant MMO design philosophy which is currently enslaved to the plodding banality of Blizzard — in part because of a lack of innovative competition due to his past sins — won’t be his ultimate legacy.

Looking to the Future

While it’s a positive development that Brad has resurfaced, I think the best course of action for him– if he has any hope of ever redeeming himself — is to actually produce something of worth and only then discuss it. Talk is cheap these days and we’ve been burned one too many times in the video game world by excessive hype.

Brad McQuaid

Love him or hate him but the fact remains that Brad McQuaid has accomplished more in the realm of MMOs then most people — especially his critics. Despite some that would label him a huckster and charlatan, I’ve always regarded him as one of the most eloquent and passionate spokespersons for virtual worlds and MMORPGs. Hopefully Brad has learned from his mistakes and come to terms with his limitations — he’s got a lot of respect and credibility to recover and it won’t be an easy time climbing out of that virtual mud.

Given the staleness and cobwebs that have crept into the psyche of the MMO industry since the arrival of WoW we could use someone like Brad to shake up the status quo. Who knows, the third time may even be the charm?

-Wolfshead

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