Interview With Derek Smart of Quest Online: Developers of Alganon
Questions by Jonathan (Ardua) Doyle OnRPG Journalist
Answered by Derek Smart, President, Quest Online, LLC
OnRPG: Thanks for taking the time to talk to OnRPG on behalf of Quest Online Inc. Could you introduce yourself to our readers and give us a little insight into your job at QOL?
I'm Derek Smart the president of QOL. I first came in contact with the company in November 2009 when I was approached to give assistance to the Alganon effort as consultant. A few months later in February of 2010, I was made the interim president. That position was made permanent following the departure of the company's previous manager and original co-creator of the Alganon game. My primary role is to steer the company, handle daily operations as well as to oversee and lead the team developing the company's flagship MMO title, Alganon.
OnRPG: Quest Online is of course best known games wise for Alganon. How fares the world of Alganon since launch?
The game has been growing in leaps and bounds. As you know it was launched prematurely in December 2009 in an unfinished state. Once I took over the reigns, I came up with a robust plan to secure funding for continued operations as well to steer the team with specific milestones which would lead to the completion of the game. The latter eventually happened in April with the official launch of the 2nd generation Alganon game. Almost eight months later, we have seen the player base double, the game improved significantly and is nearly unrecognizable from its original incarnation in terms of appeal, gameplay, stability and feature set. We still have quite a way to go before I give the "all clear" signal, but we're getting there.
OnRPG: What part, if you could pick one, of Alganon are you most proud of?
To be honest, my pride is in the team first and foremost. The guys have done a remarkable job since I took over the reigns. What was a largely incomplete and shoddy mish-mash of features with no discernable cohesion or direction is now a unique and decent game in which all the parts are now neatly tied together and with a better streamlined interface as well as gameplay and feature set. Plus, taking a game that was built around a subscription model, then reworking it for F2P, adding a monetization system etc - in less than a few months - was no mean feat.
As a game developer myself and not some corporate suit who doesn't know what it's like down in the development trenches, the level of team work and dedication that these guys put into this game and under such intense stress from the 2009 fiasco is highly commendable. Under normal circumstances, most companies would have folded by now.
But I made the decision to keep things going rather than fold it all because the team very quickly proved to me that with the proper direction, leadership and support that they could pull it off. They did and they continue to work very hard.
In all, this was an incredible amount of work and was made possible through various team shuffling (all of the original designers, including the creator, are no longer with the company) in various departments as well as the construction of specific and achievable milestones.
Despite what you may read elsewhere, where some departed people are trying to take credit for things they never had a hand in nor created or spearheaded, as well as trying to ride on the our successful continuation, the value of this company is in the people who work here. No one person did anything here. We can all scrap a game and start from scratch; but it is hard to replace experienced, dedicated and hard working people. It took an entire team to build this game and company. Today, we have a much stronger, focused and dedicated team who now have everything they need to excel. When we look back on how things were before I came to QOL and where we are now as a company with a game that was pretty much DOA and a company on the verge of closure, everyone wonders how we ever made it to this point.
OnRPG: Many companies are linking in with Facebook nowadays but you yourselves have instead launched the networking site http://www.myalganon.com/ for players. Why have you gone that particular route and how has it benefitted you and the players?
Well I wasn't involved in the design of that space. It is quite different from social networking sites because it is tied specifically to the game and a user account. It benefits the players because it is a portal where they can read news about the game, meet each other, write their own blogs, create guilds etc. Basically, this is our own social.
OnRPG: While connecting players on http://www.myalganon.com are there any plans for QOL to go one further and have player meet ups?
Given the level of effort, planning and finances that it would take to pull off something like that, it is not something that I am considering at this point. Maybe in the future I will put some thought into it.
OnRPG: How many people are at Quest Online working on Alganon?
At any point in time, we have up to twenty eight people, including some contractors who we only use when needed.
OnRPG: Naturally enough, where Quest Online and Alganon are concerned, people will ask about the vocal and passionate Derek Smart. How much of the focus of QOL has changed under his leadership?
Well, in Nov 2009, as a consultant on the outside looking in, I came to a company that had an incomplete product, a disillusioned team, very upset investors who had poured a fortune into this company and with no hopes of seeing any ROI, had run out of money and was on the verge of closure.
In less than a few months, the investors who own the company saw the value of my input and expertise, then made the decision to have me take an active lead in running the company and the team. It was a last ditch effort to see the game finally completed, handled properly and hopefully turn the company around.
Things didn't immediately go as planned due to a lot of friction between myself and those who wanted to continue the Status Quo - which had then yielded no decent or meaningful results.
So, with my newfound authority as president, I took the bull by the horns, made some rapid changes to both the team as well as the game's development roadmap. Along the way, we had some distractions in the form of one frivolous lawsuit and two other threats of a lawsuit, all of which were eventually disposed of so that we could continue focusing all our efforts and resources to the game.
As an industry veteran with over twenty years experience and fourteen shipped games, I have a lot of experience in dealing with adversity, challenges, detraction and everything in between. For me, as long as I keep my eye on the ball, everything else is just noise. This attitude has pretty much brought QOL to where it is today. Of course none of this would be possible without the support of the investors who own and fund the company or the team that work very hard on the game.
Because I am, first and foremost a game developer, producer, inventor and everything that those entail; and given my experience in running virtual teams, developing very large hardcore games, keeping costs in check etc running QOL was right up my street. I do very few things differently at QOL when compared to how I run my own company, 3000AD. And this has led to exceptional results and is the primary reason that we are where we are today. I am a firm believer in the notion of "leave well enough alone". So I really wasn't interested in running QOL and the Alganon team any different than I would my own company and products.
As the team will attest to and have said in various places, my taking the reigns was pretty much a refreshing break from what came before. I have always believed that even when things are tough, nerves frazzled, tempers flared etc treating your team with the level of respect that they deserve and have earned, is paramount to your success as a leader. Especially in our business where teams are made up very diverse personalities, all with their own opinions, eccentricities etc. It is very hard to have people follow your lead if they don't respect you as a leader; even if they're just pulling a paycheck.
So given where we are today and compared to where we were a few months ago, I think it is safe to say that whatever it is I'm doing is obviously working. Besides, unlike 3000AD, I don't own QOL - I just happen to run it. So if that wasn't the case, the investors would have pulled funding and closed the company down by now.
OnRPG: Given how the blogging universe revolves around personal opinion, have you as a company had any trouble regaining positive press with the David Allen situation?
Well negative press against the company and game are few and far between. In fact, if you checked, you would see that most of the press has been positive since I took the reigns. The Allen situation didn't cause us any problems in the media at all. After all, I'm not this clueless and unknown n00b out on his first outing. So everyone pretty much settled on the fact that as long as I was involved, no matter how dire, I would eventually emerge undetered. So there was really no news there because irrecoverable disasters are a lot more fun to watch and write about. My thoughts on that are that because similar events had taken place at other companies and projects involving Allen, the media - who reported on those events back then as well - just treated this new fiasco as "same ol', same ol'" and quickly moved on. Through it all, we remained focused on actually finishing the game and getting it out there. The lawsuit and the ensuing drama were just noise and distraction. So apart from a few interviews that I did, we didn't focus on that fiasco at all because, as I said from the start, it was rubbish and largely inconsequential. Obviously the fact that we're still forging ahead like it never happened, proves that I was obviously right.
OnRPG: Getting a game live and into the market has to be a big moment for any company. What can we expect from QOL next? Are there any projects in the works that you can give us a little sneak peek on or tidbits on the future of Alganon?
There are quite a number of things going on at QOL which I am not at liberty to divulge at this moment in time. So you will have to wait for the press release(s) on that. But it is safe to say that Alganon will live on and we're most certainly not putting all our eggs in that one proverbial basket. That's your hint. :)
Despite the fact that I work for the investors, I have always maintained that once completed and handled properly, Alganon was a very good game which had a lot of potential for future growth. A lo t of money was spent by the investors in creating this game. And we're going to end up spending just as much getting it where it needs to be in the long term because we believe in this game and in the team that remains at QOL and feverishly working at it. As I have the authority to make decisions like this, if for one minute I felt back then that it was a pointless cause, I would have advised my clients - the investors - to just give me the go ahead to shut it all down and wind down the company. I opted to keep it going and thus far we've all seen the results of that as it relates to where we are as a company and indeed the state of the game itself. We took Alganon from a shoddy DOA mess to a worthy contender that continues to generate third party licensing interest, increased player numbers etc. And the team and I did all that within eight months of my taking the reigns - and on a shoestring budget no less. Think about that for a minute.
I mean seriously, have you seen some of the crap that's out there? Heck, while you're at it, take a look around and see just how many other better funded and higher production quality MMO games that are not WoW are still struggling for relevance and survival, have since moved on to a F2P model, been shutdown etc.
Nobody knows what lies ahead, but at this point in time and going forward, we are committed to Alganon as a going concern and thus will continue to improve on it as well as market it heavily in order to build up our numbers etc.
OnRPG: Any final comments you would like to add on Quest Online or Alganon?
I just want to invite back all those who tried the original 2009 game and were disappointed. Come back to Alganon 2.0 and see how far we've come - you will be pleasantly amazed. Plus we're still making improvements and a lot lies ahead for the game. Join us.
OnRPG: Thank you for your time.