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How big egos and poor management practices killed a legendary developer
Published on May 17, 2009 By bl00gername In PC Gaming

 As everyone who reads game news sites, 3D Realms, the developers who popularized the "shareware" business model for promoting games, and made that classic FPS game Duke Nukem 3D over a decade ago, closed down their doors suddenly over a week ago.  The annoucement caught everyone off guard, yes, including those cynical skeptics who "wondered why they lasted so long", and foreshadowed this from a mile away.  After an apparently positive development outlook for their upcoming game, 13 years in the making, the legendary Duke Nukem Forever was, right before the shut down annoucement, on its way to an "important milestone" according to the flamboyant, and usuallly overtly enthusiastic head of 3D Realms, George Broussard.  Weekly tweets about reaching important milestones, and being close to finishing the game, as well as an "upcoming" RELEASE DATE annoucement (which developer these days announces that they will announce a release date for their game?)  gave everyone the idea that everything was working as planned, and that gamers would have a game to play, reviewers/bloggers/industry experts  would have a product to write about, and publishers (or publisher) would have a return on their (by their own understanding) investment. 

  This is the reason why the annoucement of their shutdown was a surprise to everyone.  3D Realms did one thing right, after all the years of restarting development efforts again from scratch countless times, making plain dumb decisions and relying on a project leader with poor or no project management skills at all.  They kept everyone guessing, and kept everyone interested.  If only to see if next year they would again win the Vaporware of the Year award with their "when it's done" game of all games, Duke Nukem Forever.  They went as far as keeping a great segment of the gaming community thinking to this moment, that it was all a big marketing/public relations stunt to generate enough buzz for the gold status annoucement of Duke Nukem Forever.  They argue, E3 is just around the corner, and what a better way to promote such a big, anticipated title, than to stir up some controversy.  Or maybe it's just fun to wear that tinfoil hat...

 3D Realms was a one of its kind developer.  They pioneered a business model called the shareware model, by which they gave away roughly a third of a game, and offered the complete version of the game for a reasonable cost.  They developed several games which were released under this model during the late 80s and onto the golden era of PC gaming.  Shortly after they went on to develop a few "doom clones" as they were called back then.  They were id software's original publishing partner, from who they learned the inmense popularity of "doom clones".  Their flagship title, duke nukem 3d, starring the main character of one of their early sidescroller games, became part of gaming history when it was released in 1996.  With its excellent level design and interactivity, and crude humour, it became a household name, "better than doom" as some called it.  It became the biggest thing since sliced bread in FPS gaming at the time. Or at least they thought so at 3DR, the widening of their income sheets providing evidence to support that idea. 

  3D Realms made history not only with the games they released, but with their track record as a gaming company.  One of its owners, George Broussard, made a name for himself with outrageous declarations about the grandiose nature of Duke Nukem 3D's successor, originally anounced in 1997.  Constant delays, 3 engine revisions, and a lifestyle of "hiring strippers to get an idea of the atmosphere of the game", became widespread.  It seemed like they took Duke Nukem's own tone at heart, as if Duke Nukem himself jumped out of the game and was running 3DR.  In a way he was. This fictional result of mixing cheesy 80's action movie heroes was indeed the biggest thing for 3DR.  It was the only thing for them.  They tried with other "original" games, which were varying versions of the same duke, with different shades of dukehood in them.  One only has to look and compare the box cover art for duke nukem3d and then at one of their later games, Shadow Warrior's and see the resemblances. 

  Along with a constant display of arrogance, from expressing the time needed to reach level 70 in their WoW account as one reason for the delays, as well as telling Take 2, the current publishing rights holders for Duke Nukem Forever to "STFU", George Broussard and his sheer idiocy drove 3DR to the ground.  And continued to drive it to the underearth.  In the preceeding weeks before the 86 annoucement, it was revealed that mr. Broussard had gone to Take 2 asking them for a "bailout"-like cash inyection to keep the development of DNF on its course.  Apparently he didnt do a very good job at convincing Take 2, and they possibly didnt oversee the 13 years in development track record 3DR had with DNF, and declined to provide the funds.  In turn, George went back to 3DR and put the now short in funds company to sleep.  No explanations given.  No official word.  No outlines detailed.  The only course of action was basically to hide behind a forum employee called Joe Siegler, to act as a press guy giving out "no comments" to anyone asking what had just occurred.  And many 3dr workers, some of whom had joined the company not too long ago, now back in the job market.

 On the next days after the shutdown, many now jobless former employees of 3DR began putting on the web parts of the work they did for the now "on hold" game.  Screenshots of working animations, videos of completed levels both in-editor as well as ingame, were posted by the ex employees, probably more as a desperate attempt to make their resumés attractive enough for potential new employers than scornful acts of disgruntled ex employees trying to get back at the company that put them back on the street.  One former employee went as far as releasing the entire design document of the game, revealing key plot points of the game, as well as core gameplay elements.  That was probably more of a revenge act, since no company would probably hire someone who leaks out internal development documents in the wild.

 The crowning "didnt see that one coming" event occured just a few days ago, when Take 2 filed a lawsuit against 3DR for failing to release the game within an acceptable timeframe, thus breaching contract, according to them.  The legal validity of their claims are very much questionable.  While Take 2 paid the amount of 12 millions USD to acquire the publishing rights for DNF, they paid the former publisher of DNF, the now defunct GT Interactive, and not 3DR.  Scott Miller said they didnt see a dime of those 12 million, and George Broussard very often boasted about 3DR being a "self-funded" company. Some have argued, albeit with proper knowledge of the legal aspects of these matters, that the investment Take 2 did, was an investment with no guarantee of any returns, and thus they should have had any expectations of returns, from 3DR or anyone.  Take 2 (and their legal department) most likely doesnt see it that way, and there were probably some other legal obligations on 3DR's part.  However, one can only question Take 2's "ingenuity" regarding a developer who was well-known to have a single game being developed over a timeperiod of 13 years with no clear indication of an expected release date. 

 3D Realms was a successfull company in the past, who let their success get the best of them, convincing them that they were somehow above conventional formal business practices, like predictable release schedules, meeting expected release deadlines, and SHIPPING finished products eventually.  For many years by the time they closed down they had been mostly riding the nostalgia train, living off past glories of yesteryears, releasing a poor quality screenshot of their "work" on DNF every now and then.  That, along with the pizza, WoW and stripper monthly receipts did them in.  And on the way killed their reputation for being the ones responsible for one of the best games in decades past. It would be probably be predictable and downright cheesy to add some sort of example of the wrong way to run a company.  But the reality is that no other gaming or otherwise company nowadays remotely follows their ways.  It would probably only serve as an example to the other remaining older game developers on the wrong way to go down. But the (sadder) reality is that dont remotely follow those ways either.  They know better too. 


Comments
on May 17, 2009
on May 17, 2009

While a very funny story, it was posted a long time ago, and back at that time, it was aknowledged to be a joke, nothing but a joke, but its creator, Charlie Wieder.

on May 18, 2009

^Excluding the recently released ingame pictures and storylines of course.

on May 20, 2009

There's another new event in this unfolding drama.  George Broussard came out of his hiding and now says 3D Realms isnt closing after all, and that the closing down news were just rumours.  So he's now dismissing the rumours they started themselves.  These people, much like DNF, are a joke.

on May 20, 2009

Sigh, I remember when they didn't used to be a joke. I remember when they used to make DOS feel like a super nintendo with all of their wonderful platformers... and only Epic was behind them... and then the Catacomb 3d trilogy. Not even piracy has given my the REAL catacomb 3d... just crappy hacks 

Apogee, you will be missed! 3d Realms... you won't be!

on May 21, 2009

Well, you know, success got to them, and they believed to be above I dont know, the reality of game development?  Funny thing is that Scott Miller said that they would have sold the duke IP for 30 million if they had been offered that amount.  Now instead, they are looking for business "partners", meaning someone that will fuel them with more millions for an indefinite amount of time.  Good luck with that.

BTW there are stores that still sell the Catacomb Abyss games, I think the company that bought SoftDisk offers them at their site, only thing is that they ask IMO too much money for each game, like 10$ for each of the catacomb trilogy.

on Jun 12, 2009

Spooky
Also read this shocking story: http://gamingisstupid.com/2009/05/06/the-chair-story-revival/

Nice "review" as usual from mr. zero punctuation. BTW, there's also now a clip of extended footage from an early Jason Hall Show episode of Jason Hall playing DNF.  Anyone seen it so far?

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