Just over a year after departing Linden Lab, former CEO Rod Humble has announced the release of his new game, Cults and Daggers, which will take place under the Chaphat label on February 12th, 2015.
The game, priced at US $29.99, will be made available through the Steam platform. Described as “a sprawling and complex turn-based strategy game set in the Hellenistic era between the death of Buddha and the birth of Christ”, the game will be available for PC and Mac.
In it, players are charged with creating their own religious cult / faith and engage in a secret war for the soul of the world, lest the ancient Gods, unable to rule the world, seek to destroy it. Once they have created their faith, player must travel across the Mediterranean regions, spreading the word of their faith, converting the masses and gaining the support for the nobility. They must compete not only with the ancient Gods, but also the forces of other cults, spies, occult forces and other hindrances and opposition forces. As such, you can also engage in espionage, arm the members of your cult / faith
Commenting on the game in the official press release, Humbles says of the game:
With Cults & Daggers, I sought to explore beyond the traditional strategy game model of ‘build and fight’, and offer up a more cerebral experience. At the same time, I wanted players to challenge themselves by navigating the chaotic web created by corruption, religious avarice and betrayal as rival factions vie for power.
The game spans a 400-year period of history, between the death of Buddha and the birth of Christ, and can be played as a single player against the game’s AI, with a multi-player mode for up to four players (hot seat and play-by-e-mail supported). As well as building their own faiths, players can seek to subvert their opponents’ followers, train disciples to become fighters or assassins, gain additional rewards by directly thwarting the plans of the ancient Gods, and more.
Adam Smith, writing in Rock, Paper, Shotgun, says of the game, “I’m absolutely hooked by the theme and the world is an active place, with plagues and wars interrupting my plots”, another he notes a couple of things aren’t immediately clear when playing – although he also notes these isn’t sufficient to put him off, and he’s very keen to try the multi-player options.
A trailer video for the game has also been released on You Tube, so take a look for yourself. And for those of you who like Dance / Electronic music, you might want to have a listen to Mr. Humble’s debut album Outsurge, released last Apirl.
I keep promising myself I won’t start banging on about Linden Lab’s inability to openly communicate. That was more-or-less the tone of things in this blog back in 2011 (see my views on business, communication and growth, and the growing frustration over the Marketplace situation in 2012, and weel as point in between and after, if interested). However…
Friday 24th January saw the news break that Rod Humble had departed the Lab. According to his own comments pass to others at the time of the announcement, he’d left the Lab “last week”. If so, this could mean the Lab has been absent a CEO for about two weeks, and they have yet to say anything on the matter.
It’s not just the fact that repeated enquiries from the likes of Hamlet Au and I (among others) have gone without response – we’re still small fish in the ocean of blogging / journalism. Where the story has been picked-up by the games media, it also appears that enquiries made to the Lab also remain unanswered.
True, the message has been somewhat slow in spreading to the media at large; only Gamesbeat picked-up on the news in the 24th along with as did Games Industry. Since then Gamasutra covered the news on January 28th, as did Massively. Nevertheless, one would have thought some message would have been forthcoming from the Lab in order to squash the potential for speculation or negative rumours to become established as fact. Or could it be that Rod Humble’s annoucement was a knickers-around-ankles moment for the Lab?
See what I mean about speculation?
Beyond this, as Ciaran Laval observes, there is still ongoing confusion and upset relating to attempts to cash-out and / or tax ID requirements. A part of this seems to be down to the Lab possibly being overwhelmed by the inflow of documentation, and it is taking time to clear things up. However, the fact that noting is – once again – being done to communication matters and provide some form of open feedback really isn’t helping matters at all.
Of course, the Lab may well feel secure in its position that the majority of SL users are likely to be oblivious as to what is going on, and are happy knowing that SL is still there for them when they are ready to log-in. But in terms of those who are investing time, effort and money into helping make Second Life a place people want to log-in to and enjoy, not actually taking the time and effort to offer reasonable clarification of what is going on as requires things like cash-outs and tax (and, indeed, what is and isn’t required ahead of time) doesn’t tend to send a positive message, but does tend to add a little more weight to an overburdened camel’s back.
In writing about Rod Humble’s tenure, I pointed out that communications had started on a downward trend prior to his arrival, and had continued to sink throughout his time there, despite his own initial attempts to ramp things up. This smacks of a deep-seated cultural element within the company (driven out of the board?) which doesn’t see communications as having any real priority. As such, I’m not holding my breath in the hope that things will change, even with a new CEO, when (if?) we ever get to hear about one being appointed.
But even a short-term upswing, as witnessed in the months immediately following Humble’s arrival at the Lab prior to the downward trend resuming, would actually be better than we have at the moment. I won’t borrow from Tateru again and use her Silence of the Lab logo, but I can admit, I’m sorely tempted to do so.
It’s been a great 3 years! All my thanks to my colleagues at Linden Lab and our wonderful customers I wish you the very best for the future and continued success! I am starting-up a company to make Art, Entertainment and unusual things! More on that in a few weeks!
Rod Humble officially joined the Lab as CEO in early January 2011, although according to BK Linden, he had been logging-in during the closing months of 2010, “exploring and experimenting in-world to familiarise himself with the pluses and minuses of our product and the successes and challenges faced by our Residents”.
Prior to his arrival, and under the much maligned Mark Kingdon, the Lab had been investing in hardware and infrastructure, with Frank (FJ Linden) Ambrose being recruited into the company to head-up the work. This continued through the first year of Humble’s tenure as CEO, paving the way for a series of large-scale overhauls to the platform in an attempt to improve performance, stability, reliability of server / viewer communications and boost the overall user experience.
Much of this work initially announced in 2012 as “Project Shining”. It had been hoped within the Lab that the work would be completed within 12 months; however, so complex has it proven to be that even now, more that 18 months later, elements of core parts of it (viewer-side updates related to interest lists, the mesh-related HTTP work, final SSA updates) have yet to be fully deployed.
Even so, this work has led to significant improvements in the platform, many of which can be built upon (as with the HTTP updates paving the way for HTTP pipelining or the SSA work already generating core improvements to the inventory system’s robustness via the AIS v3 work).
It might be argued that these aren’t really achievements on Humble’s part, but rather things the company should have been doing as a matter of course. True enough; but the fact is, prior to Humble’s arrival, the work wasn’t being done with anything like the focus we’ve seen under his leadership.
A philosophy he brought to the Lab was that of rapid development / deployment cycles, as he indicated at his first (and only, as it turned out) SLCC address in 2011. This saw the server release process overhauled and the three RC channels introduced, making it easier to deploy updates, patches, and fixes to address bugs, issues and exploits.
Humble referred to this as “putting the ‘Lab’ back into Linden Lab”, and in fairness, it didn’t always work as advertised, as with the initial experience tools deployment in June 2012, which resulted in a spate of grid-wide griefing. However, it is fair to say it has generally resulted in less grid-wide disruption and upset.
More recently, this approach has also been applied to the viewer release process, allowing the Lab to focus more sharply on issues arising within the viewer code as a result of changes or integrating new capabilities. This in turn has largely eliminated the risk of issues bringing viewer updates to a complete halt, as happened in the latter part of 2012.
One of the more (to many SL users and observers) controversial aspects of Humble’s tenure was the move to diversify the company’s product brief. When talking to Giant Bomb’s Patrick Klepek in October 2012, he candidly admitted his initial attraction to the post was born from the company being “ready-made to do a whole bunch of other products, which I wanted to do.” He’d also forewarned SL users than the company would be diversifying its product brief during his 2011 SLCC address.
Many objected to this on the grounds it was “taking away” time and effort which might be focused on Second Life while others felt that it was a misappropriation of “their” money, or that it signalled “the end” of SL. In terms of the latter, the reality was, and remains, far from the case. In fact, if it can be done wisely, diversification might even, over time, help SL by removing the huge pressure placed upon it as the company’s sole means of generating revenue.
The problem is that the direction that has been taken by the Lab thus far doesn’t appear to be the most productive revenue-wise, at least in part. The apps market is both saturated and highly competitive (and even now, two of the products in that sector have yet to arrive on Android). Similarly, it might be argued that Desura could be more valuable as a marketable asset than as a long-term investment), and dio appears to be going nowhere. All of which leaves Patterns, which in fairness does appear to be carving a niche for itself, and has yet to be officially launched. It will be interesting to see what, if any, appetite the Lab has for continuing with these efforts now that Humble has departed.
There have been missteps along the way, to be sure. Humble’s tenure has been marked by a series of ongoing and quite major issues with the SL Marketplace which the company appeared to be completely unable to bring under control. These prompted me to wonder if “putting the ‘Lab’ back into Linden Lab” might actually work in all cases. Worse, they led to a clear and continued erosion in customer trust where the Marketplace was concerned and quite possibly damaged Humble’s own reputation. Despite promises of “upping the tempo” with communications and updates, all merchants saw was the commerce team reduce communications to the bare minimum, and refused to hold in-world meetings which might otherwise have improved relationships.
Similarly, some projects were perhaps pushed through either too quickly or without real regard for how well they might be employed. Mesh was perhaps prematurely consigned to the “job done” basket, particularly given the loud and repeated calls for a deformation capability which were spectacularly ignored (and are only now being addressed, after much angst and upset in the interim, all of which could have been avoided). Pathfinding has failed to live up to the Lab’s expectations and still appears to be something that could have been pushed down the road a little so that other work could carried out which might have left people more interested in given it a go.
Update: The message on Rod Humble’s Facebook page confirming his departure from the Lab reads: “Its been a great 3 years! All my thanks to my colleagues at Linden Lab and our wonderful customers I wish you the very best for the future and continued success! I am starting-up a company to make Art, Entertainment and unusual things! More on that in a few weeks!”
Jo Yardley has posted that Rod Humble has apparently left Linden Lab. In a blog post she states:
In a personal message to me via facebook send a few minutes ago, Rod Humble told me that he has left Linden Lab as CEO last week.
After 3 years of running Linden Lab and bringing a lot of improvements to Second Life he resigned and is going to start up his own company that will make art, entertainment and all sorts of wonderful stuff.
It is not yet clear who will replace him but I wish him lots of success with his new project.
This news comes as a bit of a surprise and shock and there is no official announcement yet.
As noted in Jo’s post, there is no official announcement on the matter, but I have contacted the Lab in an attempt to gain further verification. I’ll provide an update should any reply be forthcoming. Even if confirmation is given, and there is no reason to doubt the veracity of Jo’s post, it is unlikely the circumstances behind his departure will enter the public domain