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Daggerfall successor The Wayward Realms revealed to be mismanaged vaporware in post-mortem editorial

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Daggerfall successor The Wayward Realms revealed to be mismanaged vaporware in post-mortem editorial

Editorial - posted by Infinitron on Tue 8 September 2020, 18:32:41

Tags: Julian LeFay; OnceLost Games; Ted Peterson; The Wayward Realms

Last year, we learned that a number of Bethesda veterans from the 1990s, including names such as Julian LeFay and Ted Peterson, had teamed up to develop a new RPG inspired by the design principles of The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall. We soon learned that the company they'd formed was called OnceLost Games, and at the end of the year the upcoming game's title was revealed to be The Wayward Realms. We didn't post about it on the front page at the time, since I wanted to wait until they had something more than a placeholder website and a Discord channel. Thanks to a post-mortem published by Ian Phoenix (AKA Indigo Gaming), a YouTuber who was the game's marketing director and largely responsible for getting the team together in the first place, we now know that this may never happen.

It's an amazing read that provides a first-hand account of just how clueless these vaunted gaming industry veterans can be. Julian LeFay comes across as particularly bad, a dilettante who treated the game as a hobby while still demanding authority over its design direction. The trouble began when the team drove away their programmer (implied to be infamous former Morrowind designer Douglas Goodall) by talking shit about his politics in a post-video conference chat. Another programmer quit after realizing that Julian had no intention of doing any real work after losing the argument over which engine to use for the game. The team's business guy, Stefan Metaxa, soon left after a last ditch attempt at salvaging the project by arranging a weekend meetup at a rented house (apparently much of the weekend was spent goofing off and watching livestreams).

There are several more amusing anecdotes of this variety, but the most incredible one must be when Stefan's replacement, an industry veteran named Vijay Lakshman, tanked an $8M publishing deal (with a company that sounds like it may have been Paradox Interactive) by demanding $12M to "compete with the upcoming releases of Cyberpunk 2077 and The Elder Scrolls VI". Despite all of these events, it took until July this year for Ian to finally call it quits. This is how it ended:

This has become much more long-winded than I expected, but I think it’s important for me to share the most important facts surrounding the project. If only to give myself a some closure.

I should have seen the signs a long time ago, on how we couldn’t really work as a team under the easiest of conditions, no oversight, no investors, no deadlines, no expectations. One could only imagine how bad things could have gotten had we really been under pressure.

There was an ongoing debate about the graphics style. Julian was convinced a more photorealistic style was not only more ideal, but cheaper than a stylized style. At a few points he suggested that we could build the entire game using Unreal Engine Store-bought assets, which caused quite a debate.

Toward the end, there was no clear direction, or singular vision. What started out fairly clear, was continually challenged, questioned or debated. Lots of ideas came and went, but it seemed like not all the founders believed our idea was enough. It needed something else, in some people’s eyes.

By the time I left, we had only pursued two funding opportunities:
  1. One sent directly sent to our email inbox from a publisher.
  2. My recommendation to approach an investor group.
We didn’t have an active producer, someone who could really schedule out, plan, manage and motivate our team (which was growing to well over a dozen contributors). And we did very little to actually curate, verify the identity of, or actually get a real agreement with our contributors. One time, a mapmaker was recruited to our team, only later to be discovered to be an underage teenager, who then started leaking details about the game to the public. Ouch!

Was I going crazy?

Here I was working with several 20 to 30+ year veterans in the gaming industry, and it felt like we had no idea what we were doing. What’s worse, every step forward was met with criticism, devil’s advocate arguments or nagging debates that went on for weeks or even months.

I sent an email in June 2020, where I voiced my numerous concerns about group motivation, updates and the massive budget we now were shooting for, despite the sparse progress.

One of the newer founders (another Daggerfall veteran) agreed with me, and due to his massive workload due to COVID-19 related demand, he didn’t feel he could continue on the project with the time and dedication it needed.

I could no longer stomach the poor communication, lackluster updates, and black-hole-sized void of leadership and direction, things that an ambitious, unfunded project like this needed in spades. Every week, I began to dread our meeting. Sometimes it would be cancelled, delayed, or postponed multiple times if one of the founders was MIA. One weekend it practically took all day to finally land a meeting. It was just madness.

I was thinking about the project constantly, worrying, stressing out, not sleeping well. I had (in my own mind) shouldered the responsibility the estimated budget had grown from a Kickstarter goal starting at about $300–500K, to nothing less than 10 million, while the development stagnated.

I realized then, that you can’t pitch a 10-million-dollar game based on an hour-a-week Skype call. You need some serious motivation, lots of hard work, and unfortunately, lots of unpaid progress until we got funding.

I left the project in early July, turned over all the accounts and administrative access I had set up for our various services, and cancelled all of the project’s subscriptions, of which I was paying for out-of-pocket.

I was weary, unproductive and cynical due to the lack of communication and updates, I went ahead and backed up all of our services, shared drives, documentation and emails and shared the archive links, in case nobody thought to read my emails and make sure the Google and project management services didn’t cancel.

I didn’t even get a reply from all of the founders, which I was used to at that point, so it didn’t shock me.
Again, it's an amazing article. Not so much because of what it reveals about Wayward Realms (a game that I don't really care about much) but because of what it suggests about other projects whose development we don't know as much about. How many other spiritual successors from industry veterans have failed for similar reasons? I would love to see this kind of post-mortem written about OtherSide Entertainment, for instance.

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