Brad McQuaid Is Back

Scott Jennings over at Broken Toys pointed out Brad McQuaid’s new blog. Apparently he’s back in town and ready to get to it. I say ‘apparently’ because some people also reckon it’s just an elaborate hoax.

No idea who I’m talking about? Don’t care? Well, I’ll fill you in anyway :) Mr McQuaid is basically one of the the big brains behind Everquest and it’s first few expansions. In 2001, he left SOE and after a short while started his own company, Sigil, who eventually released Vanguard.

The curious thing about Brad is that he seems to have attracted a lot of negative attention in recent years, particularly over the shambles that was Vanguard. Although it’s now in a pretty decent state, Vanguard launch to a very poor reception and the result was that Sigil was downsized and bought over by SOE. This in turn resulted in a lot of negativity towards McQuaid as being not only the reason why Vanguard failed but also about how he apparently ran the company (or didn’t run it) towards the end. It seems that the whole thing resulted in a lot of unhappy employees and disgruntled gamers. There’s plenty of interviews and articles about what happened if you want to dig up long forgotten memories.

I can’t comment about any of the fervor that occurred back in 2007 because I wasn’t there (at Sigil) and don’t know anyone who was. Also, it sounds like Brad has a pretty hard time and a lot to deal with and I can emphasise with that. Being a manager and in a position of responsibility in a company is no easy job.

Personally, I admire Brad’s work on Everquest and what he’s contributed to the MMORPG genre. Without him we probably wouldn’t be playing the games we are today. Also, I admire his vision and ambition for the genre. Vanguard may have been far from perfect but I take my hat off to him for at least aspiring to make something huge and amazing. In my opinion, too many companies are playing it safe with MMOs now and don’t really want to try and experiment or push the boat out in case they end up with the next Star Wars: Galaxies or Vanguard on their hands.

I wish Brad all the best for his future and I’m honestly curious to see what he gets up to next and looking forward to checking it out whatever it may be.

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  1. Tesh says:

    Actually, “the Vision” is one of the things that I wish would die in MMOs. I’ve always wanted these MMO things to be dynamic, interesting virtual worlds. The Vision has led directly to Kaplan’s silly “cruise director” mentality for WoW, and has put the whole genre in a mental straitjacket.

  2. Gordon says:

    @Tesh I’ve heard the term “the Vision” banded around a lot when people talk about Brad McQuaid but I never entirely sure what they mean by it. In one of Brad’s interviews he simply says:

    “I think for any game, you need a vision. Either a visionary or visionaries and if you don’t have that, you kind of meander around and I don’t think you get nearly as strong of a game. Or anything. A piece of art. Anything creative. Unless there’s a strong vision. My guess is I was doing a long-winded post back in 1999.”

    What’s the cruise director mentality for WoW? Would love to hear more about it.

  3. Jeremy S. says:

    I worked for New Gen Gamers for 2 years. My partner who headed all the podcasts(and is a living encyclopedia of Video Game, and Video Game Industry history)knows every detail of the story. I believe he talked about some of it in a previous podcast(maybe I’ll find which episode and send you the link). He was a Vanguard “fanboy”. I mean that only in a good way. He loved it, and was so happy to see Vanguard improving lately. I myself loved the trial he gave me, and bought the game. I intend to improve my graphics card and start playing it.

    My friend says that while he doesn’t approve of the way Brad has acted over the years, he can empathize and thinks that Brad has unduely had it rough with the way he was treated, especially after making a game that is pretty revolutionary, and massive in scope.

  4. Tesh says:

    Here’s a good starting point for the Cruise Director bit:

    …and I can’t seem to find what I thought I knew about “The Vision”. How embarrassing. Long and short of it, I’ve read complaints that while McQuaid’s assertion that strong art needs a strong core vision, his Vision for EverQuest led directly to the focus on endgame raiding and vertical linear DIKU progression at the cost of making living, breathing, dynamic worlds.

    …and now I’m wondering where I got that idea. :( Evidence seems to support it, what with EQ’s forced grouping and interminable grind, as well as the circumstantial evidence of hardcore raiders being poached from EQ to design WOW… but still, I’m not sure where I put all that together from. Lame.

  5. Tesh says:

    Sorry, missed a phrase. That should read as a general agreement with the assertion that strong art direction and a directorial “vision” is pretty well established in the creative arts, it’s his particular vision for EQ that has caused some trouble. I don’t disagree with the need for A vision, I simply think his has been deleterious to the genre at large.

  6. Beej says:

    I respect his work; I really do. I just think the genre has moved past where he wanted it to go. I loved EQ, but losing XP and levels for a bad death is ridiculous. I hated it then, and I hate it now.

    If he can experiment anew and come up with something as unique for tomorrow’s MMOs as EverQuest was back in the late ’90s, I’m all for it. If he wants to get back and start feeding more of the unnecessarily cumbersome mechanics back into MMOs, then I think we’re better off where WoW is leading us and where TOR looks to be taking us.

  7. Without him we probably wouldn’t be playing the games we are today.

    Perhaps not the exact same games, but some games existed before EQ, or so I’ve heard. Online games would have continued on just fine.

    Tesh wrote:
    …and I can’t seem to find what I thought I knew about “The Vision”.

    “The Vision” was something that the players personified to be angry at. Basically, when players asked for a specific feature or why something was nerfed the developers would post something along the lines of, “We make changes based upon our vision for the game.” It’s like a parent telling a little kid they can’t do something “because I say so.” It may be true, but it’s not terribly satisfying for the person to hear over and over again.

  8. Jack says:

    I agree with Beej.

    The problem with “The Vision” was that it was rigid. If a vision can’t evolve then it’s more harm than it was good. The thing with Everquest is that some people (including me) believe that Brad actually had far less to do with the game than people tend to think. I think people often prefer to believe that there is one holy genius behind good things, and if you follow that person they will lead us all to happiness and greatness etc.. But that just isn’t the case sometimes, and with EQ, I think Brad’s contribution to programming was far more significant than it was to the design principles themselves. There were other key players involved in the design and I think a lot of the success was down to them. (People like Jeff Butler who was the voice of reason, keeping Brad’s ideas grounded, and Geoffrey Zatkin, Steve Clover and Bill Trost. )

    The weirdest thing of all with EQ, is that part of it’s success (imo) is down to sheer luck. There are elements of the game which were absolutely great to play. Feign death splitting and pulling of enemies was a big deal, as was “kiting”, and both of these massively important things were never intended by any of the designers. They were “emergent” tactics that players came up with themselves and they took the designers by surprise. Without these kinds of things, I don’t think the game would have been nearly as popular as it became.

    But anyway, back to The Vision. Some of Brad’s ideas worked well, but some I think stifled the game. He had a thing about player interdependence, in other words, forcing players to rely on each other. In some ways this was good and did make the game a bit more social, but it many ways it was just annoying for everyone. It was annoying for the have-nots because they had to beg for assistance with things, and it was annoying for the people who had incredibly useful skills like teleporting and resurrection, because they got constantly hounded by desperate people in need of their help.

    Basically, I think the vision was too rigid and it never grew, and it never evolved or changed. It was enough to start up a great game, but that was back in 1999. The audience instantly evolved and wanted the game to evolve with them, and that was never going to happen with Everquest. Not only was the vision to rigid, but the way it was programmed was very amateurish and very rigid too. It had no scope for more levels beyond 50 and there were “hard caps” all over the place, so expansion had to be shoe horned in with lots of extra work, or was just so impossible that they had to find alternative ways to expand the game (“Alternative Advancement”). So it’s no surprise that World of Warcraft has come along and totally cleaned up. They were big EQ fans but they have copied it with a far more broad minded approach. I don’t like a lot of things they did with WoW, but at least their “vision” was more advanced and was capable of evolving over the years, which is why it’s still as popular as ever now, after 5 years.

    Vanguard was a painful shame for everyone. It was *almost* an absolutely legendary game. If circumstances were different, it had the potential to even destroy World of Warcraft. But there were just so many mistakes. There were design mistakes and the management of the company sounds like it was an absolute disaster. For all the praise Brad deserves for EQ, I suspect that he deserves 20 times more condemnation for Vanguard. I think that is why there is so much anger towards him. Combined with the fact that there were so many of us who had all our hopes pinned on him and his company. We loved EQ, but it got changed in to something we despised. At the same time, our only options were extremely limited with WoW starting to dominate and games like Shadowbane starting to get shut down. If you didn’t like WoW and you were fed up with EQ’s direction, our only hope was Vanguard. So when it all went horribly wrong, it made people extra upset.

    As for Brad today, his blog talks about him starting a new company to make casual games. I can’t help but feel sorry for him because this does seem like quite a demotion. Going from enormous 50+ million dollar budget and MS backing, to make glorified Flash games. I hope he can build up to something good again, we’ll see, but abandoning his blog for an entire year is not a good sign of his reliability and management ability.

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