Hellgate : London fans are no longer lingering in limbo, as Namco Bandai has officially set the record straight... for now.
The drama originally began back in June when Flagship Studios’ audio and gameplay programmer Guy Somberg wrote in a nine-paragraph blog that employees were leaving "in droves," including programmers, accountants, HR people and artists. He went on to say that there was only one employee actively still working on Hellgate : London despite all the negative feedback the game generated after its launch, and rightfully so : the game was littered with various bugs causing severe slowdowns and crashes altogether. Of course, in the typical damage control fashion, Flagship Studios CVO David Brevik issued a defensive follow-up stating that Somberg was "having a bad day," and that the studio was doing just fine.
The blog thus disappeared.
“Both our studios are currently fully staffed, with our San Francisco studio working on ongoing content for Hellgate : London and our Seattle studio working on our free-to-play MMORPG, Mythos, which should go into open beta within the next couple months,” said Brevik in his official statement. “In total, we have over 100 employees working for both studios. As is typical in the industry, after a game is released some people naturally want to work on something else and they leave the company to do so. But in total we have had less than 10% turn-over and have rehired for all needed positions.”
Then on June 14, Flagship CEO Bill Roper officially came out and admitted that the company canned most of its employees, but also claimed that the studio was still alive and kicking, with the core management and founding team members still intact. "The past five years have been an incredible experience for us, but unfortunately, we couldn’t sustain the size of the company any longer,” he said.
Soon after the announcement, the Hellgate : London and Mythos forums went offline, with the latter game put on permanent hiatus. Roper also announced on the Hellgate : London website that the company would not be taking any new subscribers for the online game, and all current subscriptions would no longer be billed. Once word got out that Flagship laid off most of its employees, HanbitSoft - the so-called exclusive licensee of both Hellgate and Mythos in Asia - claimed that it intended to take control over the Hellgate : London IP. As a secured creditor, HanbitSoft claimed that it had a right to determine the game’s future.
HanbitSoft’s CEO Kim Ki-Young was so fired up over the whole ordeal, he publicly crucified Flagship’s business practices. “Flagship not only lacked effort (in developing and maintaining Hellgate), but were only looking for personal gain. Firing all of the Flagship employees in order to protect the personal interests of its founding members only shows how selfish and irresponsible they are.” He also commented that the company was ready to take over the IP that the game has a strong possibility of being ‘reborn’ into an excellent game with an outstanding product life.”
Bill Roper fired back and claimed that Flagship owned the rights to both IPs, and that HanbitSoft’s claims were false. As it turned out, HanbitSoft only had the rights to Mythos, the free-to-play Diablo-like MMORPG ; Comercia, another secured lender, had the Hellgate IP as collateral. According HanbitSoft’s attorneys, Flagship Studios did not actually own either IP, and the developer even turned down additional funding that "would have allowed to keep its doors open."
Flagship Studios eventually closed its door in August.
All the while, forums lit up with talks about Namco Bandai stepping in and taking over the Hellgate : London IP, specifically keeping the online multiplayer portion alive. Finally, this past Friday, the company verified the rumor with an announcement of its official support. "[Namco] will continue to support customers of PC game Hellgate : London with online server support and play through January 31, 2009 despite the closure of Flagship Studios," reports the company. "In a further gesture of support, Namco Bandai Games will provide this server support free of charge to all fans and players of the game up until the shut down date. NAMCO BANDAI Games appreciates the enthusiasm of all the Hellgate : London players and looks forward to providing them with future entertainment products."
While the news may not be gold-plated with promises of immortality, at least fans of the game will still be able to enjoy Hellgate : London until the end of the year. Perhaps Runic Games, a new company founded by Mythos lead designer Travis Baldree and Flagship Studios co-founder Max Schaefer, will take the mantle and boot up their own servers. Until something happens, there’s no doubt that Hellgate : London fans will keep their fingers crossed until January 2009.