Editorial: Digital Anvil's Fall From Grace

ATTENTION: We have become aware that the below article is being 'cited' as evidence of Chris Roberts' personal history in something of an ongoing witch hunt. We would therefore like to note that the document below is maintained as a historical oddity and is in no way a proper record of events.

First of all, this is an (unsigned) editorial written by teenagers at a much earlier version of this site; it was responding to what seemed like the most important question in the universe for Wing Commander fans at the time: should they transfer their loyalties to the new world of Starlancer and Freelancer or should they keep the faith that Origin Systems would deliver another Wing Commander experience. WCNews.com, which was at the time supported by Origin Systems, naturally argued for the latter.

Online interaction and game development in 1998 were VERY different from what we know today. Back then, absolutely nothing was open. If a company had a web presence, it was a static website advertising the latest game and nothing else. Any juicy "rumors" came by the way of anonymous Usenet posts or from the whispers of disgruntled former employees looking to spread strife to communities willing to listen to them. Today, we have the whole story from the actual people involved.

For the record, many of the 'facts' listed in this article are absolutely untrue on their face. In the years after this was published, it became very clear, for instance, that Electronic Arts did not have any issue with Chris Roberts' performance. They would go on to spend millions starting and then aborting project after project in attempts to recapture what Chris achieved in Wing Commander; these failed and the franchise went dormant save for an Xbox Live Arcade title released in 2007. It's with no surprise today that we learn that they had actually offered him millions to stay but that the lure of creative control ultimately sent him to Digital Anvil.

We will continue to maintain the below as it is relevant to our sites own history, but if you are citing it as some evidence of what Chris did or did not do back then, you are absolutely in the wrong.

In 1996, when Chris Roberts left Origin to form Digital Anvil, we were told that it was the best thing that could happen -- he was leaving the evil business minded Electronic Arts to get back to his roots. He was going to develop games that were good instead of games that would appeal to everyone. He was taken a risk, and it was for our good! We ignored, of course, the rumors that he'd been fired by EA because Wing Commander IV had gone over-budget.

When Digital Anvil signed a publishing contract with Microsoft, our jaws dropped -- but only momentarily. This is the best thing that could happen, we were told! Microsoft would provide Digital Anvil with unlimited capital, and they don't care about how long it takes to develop a game! We ignored, of course, the fact that this made absolutely no sense. We were kids, and we didn't realize that the reason Microsoft has lots and lots of money is because they invest it wisely -- not because they throw away randomly.

When Digital Anvil president Martin Davies left, this was the best thing that could happen! Chris Roberts would get more responsibilty! We ignored, of course, the fact that Davies specifically stated that his departure was because the company had lost their original vision.

When Microsoft did the worlds worst job of PR on Starlancer, this was the absolute best thing that could happen! Free beta copies to everyone who wants one and large breasted women on the cover of the box were going to help this game sell like wildfire! We ignored the fact that this meant that the same Microsoft who had once promised non-intrusion into Digital Anvil's affairs had put their food down.

So now Microsoft has taken over Digital Anvil and this is going to be the absolute best thing that could happen! More money for Freelancer, and so on and so forth. Excuse me while I discard the tattered remains of my faith.

We were duped... we wanted to believe, and we were duped. But that's only natural. That's how the world works. Such companies don't exist to provide entertaining games, they exist to make money.

We need to stop being duped now, though. Everyone looking forward to Freelancer needs to look at the situation and take stock.

Note that Microsoft's press release does not address the topics of Loose Cannon, Tony Zurevec and Erin Roberts. Did Microsoft fire Erin Roberts, the man behind the one game Digital Anvil actually shipped -- or did he leave because there's more to the situation than the press release indicates?

The Freelancer fan sites claim that Freelancer will be just fine under Microsoft... better, in fact! Remember, then, that we have it from a reliable source that Freelancer will be cut back -- further, thanks to Microsoft's press department, we now know that Chris Roberts is "leaving" due to "creative differences". When the creator of a game "leaves" because of creative differences, people, this means that somebody else is forcing changes to the game. Duh.

Specifically, I wonder why the fans of Freelancer are taking this so well... what, exactly, are you people fans of? The game does not exist -- the reason I can see to declare it the greatest game in the history of mankind is the fact that Chris Roberts is helming it. Without him, what are you fans of? EA fired Richard Garriot, and nobody seemed to care. Now MS has fired Chris Roberts -- and one slick press release later, everything's just fine again. Don't let it end this way.

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