31 December, 2009
Just so the Meridian 59 fans who read this first don't wet themselves: The game will continue running. It just won't be running as a commercial concern with Near Death Studios owning it.
But, today is the official last day of the company. We started it early in 2001 to make games and got the opportunity to buy the rights from Meridian 59 from 3DO; that game dominated NDS's life.
If you're interested in some details, read after the jump.
As I've wrote before, the company has had an interesting past. We started the company with three co-founders, two in California and one across the country. Early in the company's history the other Californian founder dropped out right before we got the opportunity to buy M59.
We had hoped that M59 would be the springboard to other successes. We focused a lot of effort in getting M59 launched. Most people were amazed we were able to launch an MMO with just a handful of people. Others said that "of course!" we could relaunch M59, since online games never really die; I still find that humorous given how many online games have slipped into oblivion.
Unfortunately, M59 never really grew. We were lucky that we got a lot of attention for keeping an old game alive from the press. We also had a small and dedicated group of fans willing to keep the game alive. But, the press didn't really care about our attempts to improve the game, and the fans weren't interested in trying to attract new players. So, we were in a purgatory where we had enough money to keep moving forward, even spend some on things like advertising, but not enough to really grow like we needed.
The death knell was probably when we tried to do a massive upgrade to the client, getting an actual 3D hardware accelerated renderer instead of the DOOM-era software renderer. We finished this project a few months before WoW launched, and any fanfare we tried to generate was drowned in the flood of WoW excitement. On top of that, WoW cannibalized our subscribers (like it did for many other games), so we had even less income to deal with.
Honestly, the last five years the company has just been on life support. I haven't taken a regular salary from the company in many years now. There's enough money to keep the server running and someone to do the minimum maintenance required. But, little work has been done on the game, and believe me the fans have noticed. :)
The killing blow was losing our billing provider. We no longer had a credit card processor for subscriptions. We talked to another company, but after several months of false starts they told me they were dropping the project since they had sunk so much money into it without result. Which is sad, because they didn't tell me that anything was wrong until they just dropped it. While deciding how to handle the situation, it was decided that closing down the company was the best option.
On the bright side, it's kind of cool to have kept a business running for almost 9 years despite all the ups and downs. I've gained a lot of business, game design, and game administration experience. I've met a lot of great people over the years.
So, this has been bittersweet for me. It's been a long time coming. I kind of wish things had gone differently; there were a few opportunities in the past that the company failed to act on. Nothing that would have let us become the next Blizzard, but things that could have give the company (and me) a different trajectory. Little sense fixating on the past at this point, though.
In my personal life, I've been seeing a lot of stories about life passing people by. I feel like I've been pretty passive in my life the past few years. I think I'm going to use this opportunity to make a break from the past and focus more on the future. Make it's time to step my plans up a notch and make a new game.
At any rate, happy new year all. Let's hope it brings better times for all.