Things You Will Not Get: Amalur Patch, Reckoning 2

By Nathan Grayson on May 29th, 2012 at 11:00 am.

That troll actually went on to nab a modelling career by using the ugliness of this whole situation as a comparison.
The saga of 38 Studios continues to be an eternally springing font of sad. A wrenching 379 layoffs are, of course, the centerpiece of this Shakespearean tragedy, but further fallout has revealed incredibly sketchy mortgage practices for relocated employees, and now, Joystiq‘s reporting that Reckoning 2 was in pre-production before Curt Schilling’s money Titanic collided with an iceberg that was also the apocalypse. And, to make matters – in retrospect – worse, it sounded fairly promising.

Big Huge Games was, once again, assuming development duties while 38 proper continued to devote its full attention to the Amalur MMO, Copernicus. According to Joystiq’s source, the focus this time around was one “higher graphics quality across the board, no loading screens between zones, expanded and improved combat animations, fewer branching quests, and greater effect on the world by players.” So basically, it was a very conscious effort to address many criticisms 38’s first (and very possibly last) open world opus received.

There is, however, an incredibly faint glimmer of hope for the project – or at least, an extremely similar project under a different name. Seeing as odds of securing the rights to the Amalur license (which may soon be owned by Rhode Island) are so slim that – if they turn sideways – they’re actually invisible, any sort of reformed 38 Studios would have to refit any Reckoning 2 ideas into a new world.

However, that’s pretty much exactly what it did with Reckoning and its previously in development “Ascendent” RPG in the first place, so that’d be a weird coming-full-circle type of poetic justice – and also probably the least messy thing about this entire situation. And while it’d clearly be a far, far larger project than, say, Double Fine Adventure or Wasteland, perhaps a Kickstarter could help set the wheels in motion?

Meanwhile, in the first Kingdom of Amalur’s smoldering ruins, a previously planned patch has, for obvious reason, gone from sure-thing to going-going-gone longshot. Lead designer Ian Frazier explained in an incredibly sorrowful forum post:

“I wanted to apologize for the lack of a patch for Reckoning. It’s something we very much wanted to do, but various issues outside our control (which unfortunately I’m not at liberty to disclose) prevented us from doing so for a long time. Finally we received clearance to do a PC-only patch, which wasn’t ideal (we wanted to do a patch on all platforms) but it was better than nothing. So we commenced working on that – working on everything from miscellaneous bug fixes to Joe Q’s addition of new camera features to Dakota’s addition of two new difficulty modes. But before we finished, the company collapsed. Now, barring some sort of miracle, it is highly unlikely that any patch for Reckoning will ever see the light of day.”

Which, of course, only heaps more cartoonishly oversized anvils atop this already crushing situation. In the cases of both Reckoning 2 and continued improvement of the original, Big Huge Games was obviously very dedicated. To see all that hard work go up in flames, down in smoke, and left-right-left-right-B-A-start in infinite uncontrollable circumstances is – without a doubt – an absolute worst-case scenario. We, of course, continue to wish everyone involved the best of luck. We’re rooting for all of you – as is the rest of the industry. Stay strong.

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69 Comments »

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  1. Premium User Badge

    Shockeh says:

    Which beggars the question of why not at least push the code out the door even in an unfinished state, and propose it receive fan-support. There’s the inevitable legal quagmire of code ownership, but surely the sheer positive PR of doing so might be worth it.

    There’s been a few titles over the years that have prospered as a consequence and really extended their shelf life. But I suppose that’s half the problem, isn’t it? Nobody in the chain wants titles to have a shelf life, they want it dead as soon as possible so you’re buying the next half-completed mess they ship.

    (My, I am critical today.)

    • Premium User Badge

      Lars Westergren says:

      >Which beggars the question

      Actually it raises the question, if you forgive me for nitpicking. :P
      http://begthequestion.info/

      >There’s the inevitable legal quagmire of code ownership, but surely the sheer positive PR of doing so might be worth it.

      Licensing issues may prevent this, it also not guaranteed everyone would react positively to such a move.

      • Premium User Badge

        Shockeh says:

        I’ll happily forgive it, it’s usually me doing it, after all. :)

      • Skabooga says:

        This only begs the question: how large is the rod that is stuck up the prescriptivists’ collective rectum? :)

    • Roshin says:

      The question I ask myself is why isn’t Amalur on sale? Sure, a Steam sale wouldn’t save them, but it wouldn’t hurt, would it?

      • Grygus says:

        I was just wondering the exact same thing.

      • Roshin says:

        And with things being what they are, I can’t imagine too many people are buying Amalur at full price.

        • Premium User Badge

          Smashbox says:

          Anyone who’s read these stories will likely not be picking this game up. Especially with this news of 38 dropping support.

      • thebigJ_A says:

        At this point, a Steam sale wouldn’t do anything for them at all. It most certainly wouldn’t do anything for all their (sadly former) employees, who’d not see a dime.

        • mmalove says:

          This. I’d be reluctant to pay more than 5 dollars for this game today, because
          1) From the sounds of reviews, the game is unfinished and needs a patch that will never see the light of day, and
          2) The developers won’t see a dime of that money. And while I feel somewhat bad for the Rhode Islanders left holding the bag, and the undercarriage of developers that lost their jobs, both intrinsically made the bad decision to trust 38 Studios’ management’s integrity, foresight and fiscal responsibility, which in hindsight clearly wasn’t there.

          • Joshua Northey says:

            You have to keep this in mind. While it is fine to feel bad for the employees, they are all adults who knew what they were going in for. They signed up on a big project with huge goals and little track record. They had to know that would be risky. Doesn’t mean they deserved to lose their jobs or anything, but it is not like the signed on with Valve and then it suddenly collapsed. This project looked shaky from day 1.

          • fish99 says:

            wrt #1, i’ve seen very few bugs in 60hrs, and I should also add i’ve more than got my moneys worth for the £20 I paid.

          • kazriko says:

            The game certainly doesn’t seem unfinished to me. I’ve been playing it now for 65 hours and it’s far, far less buggy than Skyrim. In fact, I don’t recall a single failed quest due to a bug in the game, whereas with Skyrim, I’m currently unable to proceed because of a quest bug and will have to roll a new character to work on the platinum trophy.

            I’m planning on finishing KoA:R before the end of the month, but so far I’d rate it pretty high, a 4/5 or so. It’d certainly be worth $20, and I’m not regretting the $60 I spent on it at all.

          • fish99 says:

            kazriko/

            …before you roll a new character in skyrim, if you’re playing on PC there’s usually console commands in Bethesda games to reset quests, respawn items, even resurrect NPCs, so you may be able to fix whatever problem you’ve run into. Or there may be a mod that fixes the quest.

      • NarcoSleepy says:

        Just checked Amazon, and the price dropped almost $20 since last week. I really enjoyed the demo, and I am trying to decide if $40 is the time to pull the trigger or keep waiting for the inevitable drop into the chasm a few months from now.

      • Archonsod says:

        It was on sale on Steam a couple of weeks ago.

    • LintMan says:

      They can’t just give the code away. Unless 38 Studios finds someone to bail them out, that code seems likely to become the property of the state of Rhode Island. RI could then use it to try to recoup some of its losses in some way.

    • RegisteredUser says:

      Agree with the sentiment. I also wonder how the Duke Nukem that got scrapped would have played.
      Why can’t we live in a world where the whole IP stuff isn’t so much about fear of loss of power and trying to cockblock ALL the community?

      I imagine they couldn’t just hand out the stuff due to being publishercopyrightsomethingsomethingorother locked down? (Or as some other poster said the property actually belonging to the state that financed them or something? Either way, its a sad state of affairs that these kind of things can’t just be “let go”)

  2. Hoaxfish says:

    I’m not sure how they’d go about this… but maybe they should start with a smaller game next time?

    Amalur didn’t sell very well for what they put in, Copernicus as an MMO seems like a bad move given how messy that market is.

    Fable 1 was smaller than Amalur?

    • Everyone says:

      Yes this is exactly what I was thinking as I read the latest happenings; there seems to have been a lot of trying to fly before being able to walk properly. 379 staff laid off from what is effectively a start up? That’s just absurd. Here’s hoping they find new roles swiftly.

      On the other had I find it difficult to not frolic in sweet, sweet schadenfreude seeing something that Salvatore had a big hand in fail miserably. I know, I’m a bad person.

      • caddyB says:

        Salvatore is overrated but he’s swimming in cash while I’m drinking cheap coffee in a cheap pub so he must be doing something right.

        • Hoaxfish says:

          You could probably say the same about Todd McFarlane… and frankly both of them are off-putting for me.

        • Arglebargle says:

          Success does not equate to quality. Salvatore’s not a very good writer, at least from the first couple of novels I sampled. Mostly fan service, laden with leaden tropes.

    • Grygus says:

      I am going to argue that over a million sales on a brand new IP from a new studio is actually very good; obviously it wasn’t good enough, but I would blame expectations, not sales.

      • Hoaxfish says:

        That’s why I stuck “for what they put in”.

        I’m not saying their raw sales are bad, or even really that the game was bad, but they clearly needed a bigger success and made a massive gamble on trying to do that with their first game.

        http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2012-05-25-kingdoms-of-amalur-reckoning-needed-to-sell-3-million-to-break-even

        • DrGonzo says:

          Yes. If you design a game in such a way that selling a million copies doesn’t rake in profits, then you should not be in business.

          • kazriko says:

            I think they were incorrect in that article. I imagine that at 1.2 million, it would have made its money back if not for other things getting tacked onto their bill. For one, BHG got pulled into working on Copernicus as well building their engine. I imagine that KoA:R made its money back, but it didn’t make enough to satisfy the monstrous money-slurping monster that is an MMORPG.

      • Chris D says:

        Depends. If you need to sell half a million to break even then one million is good, if you needed to sell two million then it isn’t.

        Edit: Too slow… And wrong numbers but if I cheat quickly maybe I’ll get away with it.

      • zaphod42 says:

        This is exactly why software development, and especially game development, is so extremely tricky. Some 40% or more, FOURTY PERCENT of software projects go over schedule or over budget. Its not that making a game is impossible, its absolutely possible. ESPECIALLY if you throw money at it. You’l definitely get the game made. But will it be fun? And even if it is fun, will it sell? The market is fickle. I would say releasing Amalur at the same time as Skyrim is about as terrible a decision as they could have possibly made. Even sitting on the game and doing nothing for 6 months might have been better, there would be a ton more buzz and more sales if you’d waited until people were getting sick of skyrim.

        A ton of new software or game companies make mistakes like this. You hire a ton of artists, for example, thinking you need lots of good artists, but before you have a game engine or a content pipeline worked out. So those artists spend a lot of time making a bunch of assets that nobody ever uses, because when you finally have your game mapped out you’ve decided to change what the poly counts are and you’ve decided they need to be in this other format and auto converting them creates artifacts in some cases and…

        All we’ve seen from the Copernicus MMO is world building. Lots and lots of level design and art assets, and nothing else. To me, this screams that they made just this mistake. Hired too many artists to work on a game that wasn’t finished being designed or engineered. And that’s just one of a ton of management mistakes they likely made.

        Keeping a video game development business running is insanely complicated. Even Epic games, as successful as they are, their name is all over the industry, with multiple games on different platforms and a game engine licensing business as backup, have come out and said that one or two games that don’t sell as well as they’re expecting would bankrupt them and ruin the company.

    • malkav11 says:

      If they’d stuck to Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, they might have survived as a company. As far as I can tell it was the MMO project that tanked them. But, the thing is, the whole point of the endeavour was to make the MMO.

    • Shuck says:

      The problem was that Schilling wanted to make an MMO and that’s why he set up the company. His plans were always a farce, frankly.

      • Joshua Northey says:

        The scale was just all wrong. That is the problem with a lot of athletes though, they are hyper-competitive. So he was never going to settle for making a small niche MMO that he could actually afford. No he wanted it to be the best MMO, just like he was always the “best” at baseball.

        Except in most things that is actually a terrible business strategy.

        • Premium User Badge

          Smashbox says:

          I think its important to note that his plan for becoming the ‘best’ MMO was to ape the current ‘best’ MMO. Somehow that would beget success, in his mind.

    • RvLeshrac says:

      There was nothing wrong with Amalur. It sold enough to out-pace development costs.

      Schilling, however, is a fucking idiot, and blew all the money on shit they didn’t need. Like an MMO.

  3. Yawny says:

    Here’s hoping one of the big companies helps them out. Like EA or Actiblizz borrowing them money, it’s not like couple millions is much for them anyway.

    • Premium User Badge

      PoulWrist says:

      Would you buy into a company that is around 100 million $ in debt and with the only recent game being a commercial failure at an outrageous cost and only some half million copies sold across 3 platforms and YAMMO in development?

      • stiffkittin says:

        My understanding was they’d only borrowed $50 million or so from Rhode Island before defaulting on their first repayment. Even with interest and owed wages are they really in the hole for that much?

        I also thought KoA did reasonably well for what it was. Obviously not enough to give 38 Studios the cashflow they needed to keep the lights on but we don’t really know where all the money actually is in this mess.

        • Grygus says:

          My understanding is that they borrowed $75 million from a bank; Rhode Island guaranteed the loan, they did not loan the money. $25 million had been set aside in trust, so the studio didn’t spend that. Assuming the two payments were largely interest, their debt would seem to be right around $50 million, but there could be fines and lawyers in their future, so that number could increase a bit. If they missed the last payroll as reported, they will probably end up being sued for that, too. And of course the mortgage fiasco could leave them exposed, as well. I think $100 million is too high an estimate, but they are almost certain to need more than $50 million to get out of this.

          For now, the next several loan payments could be covered from the trust. After that, Rhode Island will be on the hook.

          • stiffkittin says:

            Right, sorry my terminology was off as to who paid what to whom. Obviously Rhode Island State is not a bank. My point was that I’d believed 38 Studios had only been paid out 50 million of the amount guaranteed.

            Are you saying that the entire $75 million has been borrowed after all? If that’s the case then relying on what’s left of the loan for repayments isn’t going to get them far into the capital after interest. It certainly puts the total debt much higher than $50 million.

            Edit: misread the part about legal fees. I concur.

          • Joshua Northey says:

            They almost certainly had other debts in addition to the big loan guarantee from the state. The investors had put in tens of millions themselves, so banks would have definitely have loan them a few tens of millions more before demanding guarantees.

      • Grygus says:

        Commercial failure? The game sold over a million copies in its first couple of months, according to the developer. That was not enough to pay for the entire company, but was surely a profit on the costs for that game. Their problem seems to be business management, not development; it would seem to me to be a good candidate for a takeover, were such a thing possible. Since they’ve already let all of their employees go and the bank and/or state of Rhode Island probably own significant portions of the business, I’m guessing that picking it up just isn’t an option, though.

        • sneetch says:

          According to the article Hoaxfish linked above they needed to sell 3 million copies to break even on the project. It was a huge game and a massive gamble and, sadly, it failed.

          • Grygus says:

            There is no way in hell that Reckoning cost $150 million to make. That has to be a mistake.

          • Chris D says:

            The Eurogamer article estimates 63 million dollars.

          • Premium User Badge

            Morlock says:

            According to Ian Frazier (lead developer) and Curt Shilling Amalur exceeded EA’s expectations and the 3-million-sales-required info is incorrect.

          • sneetch says:

            I’m just saying what the experts told, Lincoln Chafee.

            It’s a mistake to assume they’d get anything like $50 per copy sold. The publishers, distributors and retailers all get a share too (Microsoft and Sony too for the console sales).

          • Hoaxfish says:

            Well, I can see “outperformed expectations” (in the article, and on twitter) … but I don’t see that meaning they broke even.

            Have you got a link to them saying that the 3 million figure is wrong, or a more accurate figure?

          • Chris D says:

            I suspect what’s confusing the issue is that Amalur seems to have been intended as a stepping stone on the way to an MMO and as such the costs are greater than what you’d otherwise expect from a game of this type.

          • Joshua Northey says:

            My guess is they needed to sell 3 million to break even. The only sold 1 million. And that 1 million was more than expectations. Keep in mind they also spent money buying BHG and funding another game.

          • kazriko says:

            I still think that article is wrong. I think they needed to make 3 million in sales for them to have enough money to finish Copernicus, not that they needed 3 million in sales to make KoA:R break even. That would be a ridiculous figure.

          • Joshua Northey says:

            Well it all depends on how you do the accounting, but I don’t think it is a silly figure at all. They don’t keep all of every sale, and it did have a big marketing budget and BHG wasn’t free, and it was in development for 1.5 years after that purchase.

        • Shuck says:

          Amalur alone was in development for 2.5 years with ~100 workers (not counting the bits of the game they’d done before being bought by 38 Studios). So we’re easily looking at $35+ millions in dev costs alone (not even counting marketing which adds at leas $10M). A million sales might pay for the development of a $20M console game. They needed something over 2 million sales just to break even. (DLC helps towards this, of course.) Since they were also apparently counting on profits to help keep 38 Studios aloft, their sales were far from good.

    • Premium User Badge

      RaveTurned says:

      Stop… Grammar Time!

      You borrow *from* someone else. You lend *to* someone else. A helpful company would *lend* 38 Studios money – EA borrowing them money implies EA would be asking a third-party for money on 38 Studios’ behalf, which I don’t think was your intention.

      [/pedantry]

  4. stiffkittin says:

    Kickstarter? Sure. I liked KoA enough to be interested in a similar game. Imo the weakest parts were the bits tacked on by 38 Studios after BHG’s acquisition.

    Of course it goes without saying that first Curt Schilling would need to step down as CEO and divorce himself entirely from the process before they’d see a single red cent from me.

    • Shuck says:

      It would have to be the biggest Kickstarter ever, I’m afraid, given how much money further development alone will cost (never mind the outstanding debts). Since the employees will have mostly moved on by the time the funding came through, you’d be looking at a (largely) new team trying to reverse engineer what’s already been done. Having worked on a game in a similar position, I have to say it’s not really worth it, neither for the investors nor the developers of the new project.

      • stiffkittin says:

        Of course. Any mention of a kickstarter can’t be taken seriously. No one is going to pledge money to pay the massive debts of a financial nincompoop. And since by all accounts the new game was a retooling of the original title I don’t see how the work on it can be separated from the KoA IP anyway. Anyone capable of purchasing that, even sans the dead weight MMO, isn’t going to be looking for Kickstarter to fund a new game.

    • Edlennion says:

      I agree that the worst bits of Amalur were those that were tacked on (the Lore, the “MMO feel” that it had).

      But, since all the employees have now been fired, I hope that one of the big publishers creates a new studio from the former employees of Big Huge Games and makes a spiritual sequel, using the same combat style but fixing bugs/getting rid of the generic fantasy etc. That would also have the benefit of Curt Schilling being kept well away from it.

      • Shuck says:

        Sadly I don’t hear about anyone putting together dev studios of this size very often (in the US, anyways), so it seems unlikely a sizable portion of these people will end up in the same place.
        I also fear that an RPG of this scale just isn’t economically feasible (using western developers) unless you’re making a sequel in an established, popular series (e.g. Skyrim).

  5. caddyB says:

    sad face

  6. Salix says:

    Turns out at least one person who worked on Amalur already has a kickstarter:

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/945275755/gateway-the-book-of-wizards

    although its absolutely nothing to do with Amalur.

  7. andytizer says:

    In terms of patching, there are still a number of fixes for Kingdoms of Amalur 1 that can be implemented for various bugs that remain: http://pcgamingwiki.com/wiki/Kingdoms_of_Amalur:_Reckoning

  8. fish99 says:

    Looking forward to getting back into Amalur, now I’m done with Diablo 3 on normal (nightmare can wait a while). Only seen one actual bug in 60 hrs, an NPC getting stuck.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      Shh don’t mention the unspeakable horror or the ravening hordes will descend to decry its inequities.

      • caddyB says:

        I didn’t see too many people saying it was a bad game, on RPS . It is certainly not a very good game, and it has a lot of issues ( like everything else ) but the main idea was that it was too easy, too long and too boring.

        Too bad this “lost” patch seems like it would have fixed the difficulty ( and probably boredom because of that ) issue.

        • arrueiraV says:

          Anyone who thinks Amalur “has a lot of issues” needs to go play Skyrim for a few hours. Geez.

        • Joshua Northey says:

          I was referring to D3 and the RPS boards response to it.

          • Grygus says:

            D3 on launch really only had one problem, but that problem was that you couldn’t play it. Comparing that to graphical anomalies and similar bugs is silliness.

        • fish99 says:

          That’s just your opinion though, I actually think it is a very good game. I wouldn’t say it had a lot of issues either, the UI is kinda awkward at times, and I’ve seen one bugged quest in 60hrs.

          IMO the big issue the game has, and it’s the same one Bulletstorm had, is the $60 US pricing. For £30 it’s much easier to overlook the little issues, and for the £20 I paid it feels like a steal.