Hellgate: London was supposed to be the next big thing in PC gaming. It was hyped with a huge marketing campaign that included several vague full-page ads in various gaming magazines. It was already getting major attention for being the first release from Flagship Studios, which was formed by former members of Blizzard North, who developed such games as Diablo and World of Warcraft.
When Hellgate: London was finally released, the general reception from gamers was lukewarm, at best. Most people called it a first-person Diablo that didn’t live up to the hype. Gamespot.com gave it an overall 7.0, which is fairly average for a game that should have been stellar. G4 TV, on their X-Play gaming show, gave it a paltry 2 out of 5 stars and called it ‘broken’. In July 2008, Flagship Studios announced that they were laying off a ‘significant number’ of employees.
So what exactly went wrong? For starters, the game was plagued with technical issues. It would sometimes crash or players would experience weird graphical glitches. Worst of all, there were major problems with the online multiplayer part of the game. The general consensus was that the game wasn’t worth playing for more than a week, then it got to be too boring and repetitive.
In a February 2008 article on CVG, the CEO of Flagship Studios, Bill Roper, actually admitted that they rushed the game to release without testing it enough. He said the game could have used a couple more months of playtesting before release, so that many of the technical problems could have been resolved. At least he was man enough to admit their mistake, but it was too late to fix it.
This kind of ‘release now; patch later’ mentality has always been a problem in the world of PC gaming. That kind of thing might work well for Microsoft when they release a new Windows operating system, but gamers tend to be far less forgiving of buggy games. The problem is that when a new game is released, blogs and message board posts start popping up with complaints about technical issues, and pretty soon many people decide to ‘wait for the patch’ before they buy. In the meantime, the game price drops and other new stuff comes out. We PC gamers don’t spend all our hard earned money on high-end video cards and giant monitors so that we can play buggy games.
Ultimately, Flagship Studios shot themselves in the foot by pushing Hellgate: London to market too early. Blizzard is rather notorious for announcing release dates, then holding off for months while they make updates and tests. When a Blizzard game finally does come out, it generally works really well. You’d think the people from Flagship Studios might have taken something from their former company and used the same strategy.
To add insult to injury, a new word even spawned out of the Hellgate: London fiasco. It’s called flagshipped, and it obviously a take on the studio’s name. There’s even a whole website, Flagshipped.com, that chronicles the failures of the game and the company. Ouch!