Monday, September 3, 2012

I'm awake, I survived, I was hurt, thought I'd die

This next bit's...odd.

I would state up front that this is complete hearsay. But it was hearsay from a direction I hadn't even heard rumors about before, and though I am dubious about the veracity of the source, I'm spending some time seeing if there's any way to verify what he said.

This also largely will not be quoting, for a few reasons:
  • I didn't catch the initial statement that stunned me so much;
  • I was in the midst of fighting enemies, because we're trying to push someone through a couple of arcs that she won't have the ability to get, if she ever goes off VIP status (which was supposed to happen two days ago);
  • If this is at at provable at some point, I want to offer as much anonymity as I can, so there's no potential backlash on him;
  • and he can't spell, to the point that if someone put a gun to his head, he couldn't spell clearly and legibly.
All that being said...this was the basic gist that started things off (according to this particular source):
The developers at Paragon Studios have been secretly skimming money from NCSoft in pursuit of their own, independent game, which they then planned to launch without NCSoft's help. NCSoft caught them at this and fired the studio, having given them multiple warnings for financial losses in the past. Paragon Studios is now in the process of trying to cover this secret, alternate game up, and blame NCSoft for what was a necessary, perfectly understandable decision, and additionally hopes to launch this second secret game as a new "alternative" that's been worked on since the mass layoffs and the slow death of City of Heroes.
Now, let me state clearly and concretely: I do not believe this is true, for more than one reason. And neither did many other players online at the time. Also, from the start, he was being a jerk. He refused to provide sources, accused us all of being mentally slow, and, in fact, seemed to consider that the lack of any proof of this allegation was, in itself, proof.

[Looking For Group] [GD]: u gotta look for yourself
[Looking For Group] [GD]: just like just did
[Looking For Group] Black Starbeam: Ok, so the lack of evidence is evidence?
[Looking For Group] [GD]: just like i just did
[Looking For Group] Black Starbeam: That's good to know.
[Looking For Group] [GD]: well later my topic is over go on with your cries

Which is deeply baffling if we try to think that through: from the first mention, to the outcry, to the consummate flounce.

I went looking for information to back any of this up. The first thing I found were .PDF files of the first and second quarter total NCSoft earnings. There does seem to be a significant dip in overall earnings between the first quarter, and the second quarter:
(from the City of Heroes album)

As we've discovered before this point, sales of City of Heroes--as well as total North American game sales overall--are a scant fraction of NCSoft's total net earnings. In the first quarter, North American sales was holding at about 5%, and sales specifically of City of Heroes was clocking in at about 2%.

This we knew.
(from the City of Heroes album)

Then we compare. Second quarter sales by region dropped to 4% throughout North America, though City of Heroes held its 2% total sales figures through the second quarter. What's more interesting to me, though, are the sales figures for other games.

Aion, for instance, dropped from nearly half of all game sales (42% quoted) to 28% in the second quarter. Guild Wars held at a scant 1% of total profits, with no anticipated increases, and sales in North America specifically dropped from 5% to 4%. At the same time, sales in Korea (where NCSoft is based), rose--though they only rose by a scant 1%.

Me being me (I really don't think things through sometimes), I contacted him to ask for the verification source. He...disagreed with me, let's put it that way. Things escalated slightly until this:

[Tell] →{Me}: Link or it means NOTHING.
[Tell] [GD]: wasnt trying to make it mean anything
[Tell] [GD]: all im sayin is look deeper
[Tell] →{Me}: I have been. Since this happened I have been. I've been reading EVERYTHING, from virtually any source, and NOTHING--and I do mean that, NOTHING--even remotely resembling this has come to light in all the searching I've been doing.
[Tell] →{Me}: And you won't provide any sort of substantive proof, so you look suspect.
[Tell] [GD]: no i dont
[Tell] [GD]: i said look deeper
[Tell] [GD]: go read for ur self
[Tell] [GD]: i did my home work so every1 else should too
[Tell] →{Me}: I have been! I am! I've been reading the financial reports, the game forums, the independent coverage, the blog coverage. I've been reading the Titan network posts. What "super-sekrit" only-you-know-about source are you TALKING about?
[Tell] [GD]: yeap i cant give out the info where i got it just know i talk to ppl that used to work with the dev's but if so just leave it alone

So, first we have this absolutely unsupported tripe on this supposedly "discovered" embezzlement scheme that pushed NCSoft to fire Paragon Studios as a team--rather than, oh, say, HAVING THEM ALL ARRESTED because embezzlement is a CRIME worldwide--and then I'm told that he can't tell me where he got this info because he "talks to ppl".

What an utter load of nonsense.

So, I left it there and went back to slaying vast swathes of enemies in bizarre little bases, but apparently, he just couldn't let it go:

[Tell] [GD]: bro i wasnt tryin to get ppl to beileve me ima just say this to u tho
[Tell] [GD]: if u working for me
[Tell] [GD]: and u making money
[Tell] [GD]: then y the hell would i stopu from making more money?
[Tell] [GD]: even if i got another new system to make money why not make more money from both!!!!
[Tell] [GD]: im not tryin to make u or anybody else believe me i dont have to show u proof like ncsoft or paragon studio have to show u
[Tell] [GD]: and 1 other thing if u look at the books like u said u did this game pulled in more revenue than GW1 now what make u think ncsoft think that GW2 gonna be make more than this game!?

Well, first, because Guild Wars 2 just launched. Second, because Guild Wars 2 is a box game--the box sales are important, and, because of the new launch, those figures aren't accounted for in second quarter. They'll likely show up in the third quarter figures.

Also, the biggest income with any game box set is two-fold--new sales of the box, itself, and later digital updates to content. It's not the same price comparison at all to an MMO with a monthly subscription fee.

I do agree that the Guild Wars original sales and profits are currently sinking, and sinking fast. But if they're trying to get folks to switch, it behooves NCSoft to keep Guild Wars active--at least, for the next quarter--because people will play that, see ads for the new game, and potentially jump ship. When they see the rise in overall profits from Guild Wars 2, they'll likely axe the original.

In between talking with friends and loves (on voice) and killing things in the game, my replies grew noncommittal. I won't lie. At this point I just wanted him to wander on.

But again, he tenaciously hung on to the tells between us for...well, no discernable reason other than that spurious need to somehow be "right":

[Tell] [GD]: like i said i can tell u a story but hell they showed me and yes they do talk to a person that works for paragon studio
[Tell] [GD]: but i mean hell u being a ass about it
[Tell] [GD]: come at me like a friend wanting to know
[Tell] [GD]: not some smart ass
[Tell] →{Me}: Dude, asking for proof--which you then dismissed as unnecessary--is far from 'ass' behavior.
[Tell] [GD]: well i'll put it in big words for u

How can asking for any form of verification equate to behaving like a "smart ass"? Even more importantly, how am I supposed to believe this idiot implicitly if he has no form of verifiable proof, not even the "I read it here" type?

[Tell] →{Me}: That's more capslock words, but okay, how about this?
[Tell] [GD]: no
[Tell] [GD]: u good
[Tell] [GD]: leave it alone
[Tell] [GD]: no use going back and forth
[Tell] [GD]: bye bye
[Tell] →{Me}: I have been trying to figure out two things: 1, why did NCSoft fire everyone with no warning? And 2, is this the start of NCSoft gutting all their North American assets?

Because those have always been my big questions in this. Is NCSoft pulling out of North America entirely and concentrating solely on Korean and Asian sales? It could make sense from a financial perspective, and they wouldn't be the first game company to do that. But is it actually what's going on in this case?

And the answer to the first question is something I devoutly hope I get, at some point, too. Why fire everyone with no warning? What made the company do that to a game studio in their employ?

[Tell] [GD]: oh im sorry
[Tell] [GD]: thought u was gonna be a smart ass at me again
[Tell] →{Me}: What you've been saying is clean out of the blue, and nothing I've found out
[Tell] [GD]: yeah its not so much para were actually stealing from nc, more that they mismannaged there monies to such a degree that, realistically, they shoulda either cut down dev on new game so it balanced their books to keep nc happy, or
[Tell] [GD]: get rid of the 80 odd staff....for fucks sake CoH doesnt need that many

So now the story's shifted to being not one of embezzlement and theft, to one of resource mismanagement? And still no link. Plus, the "getting rid of" the 80 person staff--that wasn't a cutback, you moron. As far as I know, that was the total staff at the time of firing.

(from the City of Heroes album; sixty-seven of the Paragon Studios staffers)

Let's put this into perspective. In 2010, Linden Lab laid off about 35% of their total staff. This was largely viewed in a negative light, but the general perception--even among LL detractors--was that this was a sacrifice move to shore up failing assets and retain sustainability.

This still left the Lab with over two hundred people for customer support, coding, developing, advertising, sales and management.

Here's where things get confusing, though. This eighty-employee figure has been bandied about extensively in discussion; even I've picked it up. But the Wiki page for the company says they only have forty-six employees, and in the photograph from Paragon Studio's main page above, I count sixty-seven people.

So where's the eighty person staff figure coming from? I couldn't tell you. There could have been interns in the mix, new hires, temporary workers...or, as Miss Neome says, it could simply have been someone took the actual 67-person photograph of the staff and figured that looked to be about eighty folks.

And splitting this into two sections, because it's getting long.

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