Tales from The Trenches Archive

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Is there a game here?

I had worked nothing but fast food jobs, so I was really excited about the new job I had got.  It was advertised as “need DMs for new online game.”  This was the mid 90s, where text-based MUDs were still a majority of online gaming with AOL and CompuServe.

The job interview should have been my first notice that something was wrong.  They hired me despite “we’re not ready for DMs yet, but we want you to work in the game design group, we like your ideas.”  I was too buttered up by somebody wanting to hear my game design ideas to ask, “Why did you put out notices looking for DMs if your game is still in game design?”

What was the game?  That’s a good question.  It was definitely online.

It was 3D.  It was fantasy… most of the time.  It was a social community, but it was a standard RPG (killing things and leveling up).

It short, it was most anything it needed to be.

The next several months settled into a pattern.  The beginning of each week, the President of the company would tell us about the investors he had coming in later in the week.  They would have specific concerns.  Game design would answer those concerns.  At no point did it matter what had been said in previous weeks, or what our game actually did, our job was to answer those concerns.

One week the investor would be worried about a recent lawsuit where an online service was sued for losing player data.  Suddenly we had backup systems and EULAs to limit damages.
Next week the investor would have heard about online communities creating their own content and it was the big buzz.  Players could suddenly create the world, buildings, works of art, clothing.

And the very next week the investor would be worried about lawsuits about protecting minors from player created content.  Now we had a system where all content went through an approval process before anyone could see it.

After a couple months of my working there, we (the ‘game design’ team) were invited to see the game in action. Note this game had supposedly been worked on for at least a year before I was hired, and I had not seen even a screenshot yet. 

Drum roll.

Floating across a flat ‘landscape’, the player’s tank fired a shell at a square on the horizon, an enemy tank. 

An investor had decided there was too much competition in the online fantasy market; we were designing a futuristic tank combat game.

Later I found out even that was a lie, they had switched games because previous co-owners were suing for ownership of the ‘fantasy online game’ they had worked on.

The next month there were lawyers at the investor’s meeting.  They made the president of the company rip up all the checks that were being written.  Seems our company was no longer allowed to accept any more investment.  The company was literally put in a box, everyone was let go.

I spotted the former president of the company a year later.  He was still selling some game he was working on as being the best thing ever.  Somebody was still buying it.