Mark Kern, most recently recalled to MMORPG audiences for volunteering himself as a spokesperson in the Nostalrius World of Warcraft vanilla server ordeal, told followers earlier this month his side of the story of what happened to Firefall, the game built by the studio that he founded and that later ejected him.
Kern says that the game took many twists and turns from an alternate-reality WWII MMO to a sci-fi “MineCraft with war.” What shipped after his ejection was, he claims, “a complete disaster.”
“Of course, what shipped with Firefall was a compete redo of my original game (they spent six months undoing my game and implementing their own version prior to ship). The Firefall you can play now is level based, more about progressing your character than fighting a war. In fact, I think the war parts (like the Chosen invasions we had) are completely gone. Thumping is gone, crafting is gone, and dynamic quests have been replaced with traditional static quest givers, or job boards. Its pretty much a standard MMO now, instead of the simulated massive war game that I had always wanted to make. It’s really a shame.”
He’s further told Reddit that he’d be interested in purchasing the game back from The9 and Red 5 Studios. “I would only offer to buy Firefall if the IP fails and the game is shuttered or due for shuttering,” he cautions. “I’m not interested in carrying over accounts, or continuing the game in its current ‘WoW with guns’ state that is, at this point, irreversible.” Moreover, Kern posits, “any reboot will require at least partial crowd funding.” Embedded in Kern’s Reddit commentary is the curious sidenote that APB: Reloaded sold for “less than $50,000.”
Kern was indeed forcibly removed from Red 5 in 2013 following a round of layoffs and the suspension of PvP in Firefall; in the months that followed, former employees called his behavior as CEO “erratic” and “destructive” and mocked his infamous e-sports bus project. “Months of work would be thrown out simply because he would change his mind, or he would have another ‘revolutionary’ idea,” complained one anonymous worker.
Regardless of whether you agree with Kern’s assessment of how and why Firefall has struggled, it’s hard to argue that it hasn’t seen better days. Just before the new year, rumors began to circulate that Red 5 had missed payroll, followed by a brutal company meeting, late salaries, and the inevitable “reorganization” layoffs and departures. The studio shakeup was itself followed by a hurried and bug-laden Razor’s Edge patch. More recently, The9 traded part of its stake in Red 5 to a Cayman Islands cashmere manufacturer.
“The [Firefall] team is far smaller than we used to be and are working through many challenges including fully understanding systems and tools due to lost tribal knowledge,” Community Manager FadedPez told players on the official forums while explaining that EU servers have been transitioned to the California datacenter. “We’re going to keep working at the game but the amount of tasks we can get done for new features while we are also fixing bugs isn’t nearly at the level we were able to operate in the past.”
That said, there’s no specific reason to believe that The9 is planning to shutter either Red 5 or Firefall.