Q&A: Fury postmortem

GS AU chats to Auran CEO Tony Hilliam to find out the real story behind this year's collapse of one of Australia's most ambitious game projects.

The closure of one of one of Australia's biggest game development studios, Auran, in December last year sent shock waves throughout the industry. Since that time there has been much speculation about what pushed the Brisbane-based studio to go into voluntary administration and lay off all of its employees and what caused its original IP massively multiplayer online game, Fury, to fail just 10 months after its release. GameSpot AU talks to Auran CEO Tony Hilliam.

GameSpot Australia: Fury was an example of an Australian studio developing its own original IP. What is the story behind the development of Fury? What were you trying to achieve?

Tony Hilliam: It's a long story. In a nutshell, we tried to create a product that would be "best in class" in an area that no one else had succeeded--the perfect player-versus-player game. We knew we couldn't compete directly with World of Warcraft so our goal was to have a single focus and become number one in that area. We got close and we learnt a lot; at least we did get to market, which is more than can be said for many attempts at making an MMO.

GS AU: Why do you think Fury failed?

TH: There was definitely a combination of factors: budget, business model, design flaws, competitive market, the World of Warcraft factor, pressures to release before we were ready, and even the psyche of the player base we were targeting. That's quite a list. Players hate losing, and ultimately Fury didn't have 200 hours of safe haven PvE environments where players could become comfortable with their character. The result was they came and they got beaten up, without really knowing why, and blamed the game for this (which is easier than blaming their lack of experience).

Ultimately, without $25 million in marketing, we were always going to need a groundswell of positive player feedback to succeed. Sadly, the "Fury sucks" snowball gained more momentum than the "Fury rocks" snowball. Look at Hellgate London--even with EA behind them they had a similar problem with a rocky release. So we were definitely not alone in finding it tough to break into the online market.

GS AU: Do you think that with more financial support from the Australian Federal Government that Auran could have succeeded with Fury?

TH: Money was a big problem. Look at Warhammer--they delayed a year and even with a team of well over 100 their "delay budget" was bigger than our total budget. Ultimately we released the game before it was polished enough to stand up in today's competitive environment. Whether it was the job of the government to support us or not, that I can't be sure. Certainly they did alright with the millions of dollars of taxes we paid over the years of development. A HECS scheme [similar to that of university students] would be good, where we could pay the income tax back out of our revenues--now that I'd love to see.

GS AU: Why was Auran forced to shut down?

TH: Just to be clear, only Auran Developments, the company that employed the staff, has shut down. Auran Games, the owner of the Fury IP and our long running Trainz franchise, is still operating. Auran Developments shut down because we couldn't get additional funds from our shareholders to pay the staff. Things happened very quickly in the end because it became clear that Fury revenues were only a fraction of the anticipated revenues.

GS AU: What lessons do you think the Australian industry can learn from this example?

TH: The biggest lesson I learnt from this is don't bite off more than you can chew, and don't start something you can't finish. For the industry as a whole, the lesson is that unless you have the budget, the skills, the marketing dollars, and a gap in the market to aim at, then don't try and take on the big boys. Find your niche or stick to work for hire.

GS AU: What did you personally do after Auran shut down, and what are you doing now?

TH: I actually spent the first few months trying hard not to have a total mental breakdown. It was a very hard blow to see years of effort turn to dust, but over time I realised that we had done all we could to make it work. Now I'm still running Auran Games and getting Trainz ready for market.

GS AU: In your opinion, should Australian developers be aiming to develop original IP or should they stick to making games for other people? Why or why not?

TH: Personally I'm an entrepreneur and can't stand the thought of working for someone else and making them rich, so I'm probably not the best person to answer that question. However, we've done some work for hire and whilst there are profits to be made from individual projects, the problem is that everyone works on their own IP in the downtime between projects, thereby spending their profits on a title that probably is going to end up underfunded and without the market presence of a major first-party title.

GS AU: What do you think of the state of the current development industry here in Australia, and where do you see it headed?

TH: To be honest, all I really know is my little piece of the pie. We have our next major Trainz release coming out shortly and I hear from all our distributors around the world that retail PC sales are in steep decline. Piracy and consoles are the main threats to PC sales, and online (ordering a box or digital download) are also threatening the retail PC market. We know that the day our last Trainz product hit the torrent sites we had a tenfold increase in visitors to our Web site. That translated into no discernible increase in online sales. Piracy of games really gets to me--most of these guys wouldn't steal a DVD from a shop but they're happy to download the game. It's just too easy to do it and there are no consequences for doing it, but ultimately it is putting people out of work.

The good news with digital downloads is that developers can now become publishers and avoid the middleman. For a $50 title, you get $50 revenue from your own online store versus a A$5-A$10 piece of the pie from retail. You don't have to sell as many copies to make the same amount of money.

GS AU: Would the Australian development industry welcome help from the federal government? Do you think the industry can reach its full potential without this help?

TH: The industry needs money, there's no doubt about that. Whether it comes from government directly or indirectly by encouraging investment in the industry, it is definitely needed for the industry to survive. I should also add that the federal government did support Auran by paying the outstanding staff entitlements when Auran developments shut down. However, if we had that same money six months earlier, and delayed our release date of Fury by three months, perhaps we could have ended up with a whole different outcome.

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16 comments
gnmish
gnmish

"The result was they came and they got beaten up, without really knowing why, and blamed the game for this (which is easier than blaming their lack of experience)." Anyone else think that quote is hilarious? He is blaming gamers for his game not being fun? Reality check, if you make a game, you are responsible for putting in a learning curve, perhaps even a newbie area. Even EVE (the most elitist MMOPRG I've seen) has an area the little guy can survive in and not get pwned every 5 minutes.

mario121212
mario121212

I pirate for a few simple reasons, A) the company/middleman set the prices WAY to high. Being a student its hard to come by disposable cash, and I don't like it when companies screw money out of me arrow82. The other reason is the insane security measures. I brought Bioshock, at RRP value, only to return it becuase i couldn't validate the game, only to be able to download for free. I see it as the companies fault that there games get pirated or not played at all.

mario121212
mario121212

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

aarow82
aarow82

yogibbear, Good games may sell, but it still doesn't mean you should pirate bad games. If u think it's going to be bad then hire it or wait until it's cheaper or don't risk your money. Don't screw people out of their money. I know u think your screwing some company out of money but without money that company can't pay its workers and if they can't pay those workers then games don't get made and that would make us all sad.

forhekset
forhekset

You cant blame Warcraft every time you make a crap game. That excuse is getting so old. Just because 10 million play WoW doesnt mean ten thousand or more cant play yours.

yogibbear
yogibbear

I wish people would stop blaming piracy. Good games sell. This was obviously not a good game.

itreeman
itreeman

The game had a whole lot of potential, a great combat mechanic and even a bit of a hardcore player base who sunk hours into playing the game. In a desperate attempt to get more people into the game they didnt listen to what people were saying in the forums and in the end alienated those who loved the game with the AotC patch which slowed down gameplay. Its sad, havent found a game quite like it.

aarow82
aarow82

I have a friend who worked at Auran during development of the game and he also said they were pressured into releasing early. So early that they didn't get to fix up control issues and so that even the manual was wrong. As for toothpik's comments that if you saw any way that you might fail, financially or personally related, you shouldn't do it, that's just stoopid. If people didn't take risks nothing would be discovered or invented, we'd still be sitting in caves eating raw meat fool.

Hippoboy
Hippoboy

The sad thing is that this seems to illistrate australian developers inability to break into a market dominated by america. It's just a little depressing.

cru3
cru3

Tell me you didn't just compare Nazis to MMOs? Are you high?

rockatanski
rockatanski

Yea, this is just bad news man. Such a great prospect gone down the hole. America will dominate this domain forever, not that it's a bad thing. But local talent in Australia are suffering, EXACTLY like the film makers. Pack our bags and let's get outta here..

majidok
majidok

Sad and thought-provoking :(

ranbla
ranbla

The real bottom line, and he actually touched on it, is that a pure PvP game like Fury requires a huge playerbase, WoW huge, to be successful. Without that, you're going to have a few PvP gods that just roll over everyone else. It's fun for those few, but not so fun for everyone else. And you can't compare Guild Wars to Fury. GW has a PvE aspect to it that Fury lacks.

toothpik
toothpik

Chavi, I agree with you whole heartedly. I don't like this Tony Hilliam bloke at all. He comes right out of the gate using the old "WoW is big and scary" line. Well you know what, mate? The bloody Nazis were pretty big and scary too, but the allies prevailed. Maybe if you pulled your head out of your... sand box, and did a little more research you wouldn't have to worry about your "budget" problems. Do you think mod developers complain about budget? No, but I'm damn sure there's a bucket load of mods out there better than Fury ever was. You call yourself an entrepreneur, yet you failed to see what everyone else did when fury was announced. I.E. This game is going to crash, or as Chavi said "Epic Fail." The words may as well have been printed on the packaging. And I don't care if the game had been delayed three months or three years, if you intended on keeping core gameplay and control flaws in the game and just focus on "polishing", you're begging for a fall. No amount of makeup can hide who Britney really is if you catch my drift... I truly wish I was wrong, I wish fury turned out to be a balls on fire, bone crushing, PvP masterpiece! I'm an Aussie and I support Australia's developers. But when those developers start using cop outs and excuses and blaming others FIRST before themselves for THEIR poorly thought out and over ambitious plans... well my respect and pride start to wane a little. "The biggest lesson I learnt from this is don’t bite off more than you can chew, and don’t start something you can’t finish. For the industry as a whole, the lesson is that unless you have the budget, the skills, the marketing dollars and a gap in the market to aim at, then don’t try and take on the big boys. Find your niche or stick to work for hire." This "lesson" should have been obvious to ANY self professed "entrepreneur" from day DOT. That is high school business studies basics. Identify your target market and if you think it's a tough market or you see ANYTHING that is going to prevent you from succeeding, be it financial or personnel related, or "WoW" related (If that's the best you can come up with...) then why do it? Why throw caution to the wind and jump in too early? If you planned a little more you could have ended up with something really great. But instead you wasted your opportunity, your money, and people's time. Some good may come of Fury though. Perhaps it will remind any budding "entrepreneurs" out there of what NOT to do before they too decide to don a blindfold and walk onto the freeway. I'm that annoyed with this(and not because the game failed, but because of your ATTITUDE, Mr Hilliam.), I'm even going to lower my standards: I hear TAFE has good small business courses availiable, Tony. Maybe you should look them up. You gotta learn the basics about the small boys before you can take on the "big boys." Epic Fail, indeed.

Chavi
Chavi

Their studio is dead, their game is dead but he still gives us bull***! "In a nutshell, we tried to create a product that would be ‘best in class’ in an area that no-one else had succeeded--the perfect player-versus-player game." - That's Guild Wars. At least acknowledge it and show some respect after your effort to put GW "on steroids" (exact quote) epic failed. Thank you.

ColdfireTrilogy
ColdfireTrilogy

I think Digital downloads is a great way to go for smaller name developers who cant get the funding to make a mass market campaign and jump hurdles for Publishing studios. And like steam and other platforms go you can still get great sales out of a not so well known game just from a little advertising in the right spots (look at AudioSurf the game is raking in money and it could've never stood up to big budget games but its great).