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The Spellborn Chronicles - A Short History of Spellborn
#1
In the Beginning


The tcos.com domain has been registered on August 4th, 2002, according to DomainTools. The earliest records on Web Archive’s Internet Wayback Machine show that sometime between March 23rd, 2004 and November 23rd, 2005 the tcos.com domain had already been put to good use.


Developing a MMORPG is a monumental task, so it is safe to assume work on Spellborn began in 2003-2004, and quietly marched on until they almost had a beta build, in July 2005, when the first screenshots surfaced. The first closed beta event went live on the last day of November, that same year. At least three closed betas followed and the game was finally released on November 27th, 2008. The approximate budget for this game was €10 million.


This is where things have started to (publicly) go downhill. While three years in development since announcing a game is nothing unheard of, three closed betas in three years, with no release in sight, meant something went wrong.


Development


While Spellborn was owned and paid for by Dutch company Spellborn NV, developing it was the job another Dutch company, Khaeon (now known as Khaeon Gamestudio). According to their own site, they “provided expertise, game concept, core gameplay and overall technical and visual design”. They basically created Spellborn out of nothing.


In 2007, Spellborn NV created the wholly owned subsidiary Spellborn Works BV and tasked it with continuing the development of the game. Most Khaeon people involved with the game transferred to this new company, but a small minority went on with their Khaeon contracts. Khaeon says they continued to “provide additional development services from 2007 to 2009”.


However, a source inside Khaeon told me that they parted ways with Spellborn NV on bad terms and had no involvement with the game after 2007. The source did not want to provide further details on the matter, but he implied there was some serious friction between the two companies. In the gaming industry, this usually means one thing: money - but that's just me speculating. Either way, the Spellborn Works BV studio was created.


One of the game’s publishers, Frogster, was briefly involved in the game’s development, as they mention in a 2008 press release – their Korean programmers rewrote the networking code of the game:


Quote:[…] The real-time 3D-world’s high complex program and network code which was produced within the last four years - lastly with the support of Korean Frogster team members – […] proves to be very reliable in live operation. […]


Shortly before the launch, Spellborn NV said that the game will have had sort of an unlimited free trial – characters will have had a level cap and will have been allowed to freely explore one area of the game with no time limits, more or less like the Warhammer Online trial.


Publishing Deals


On July 27th, 2006, Spellborn NV announced that German game publisher Frogster Interactive AG bought the publishing rights for TCoS in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France.


On September 5th, 2006, Spellborn NV announced that Frogster Interactive AG bought the publishing rights for Korea, along with sublicensing rights for other Asian territories.


On September 21st, 2006, Spellborn NV announced that Mindscape bought the publishing rights for TCoS in Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the Benelux.


On December 19th, 2006, Frogster Interactive AG announced that they have sublicensed publishing rights for Korea to Frogster Asia Co. Ltd. At the moment of this announcement, at least 50% of this Asian company was owned by Frogster Interactive AG.


On April 11th, 2008, Spellborn NV and Frogster Interactive AG announced that they have received a letter of intent from an unnamed US publisher who was interested in publishing the game. They had also agreed to delay the game in order to allow the US publisher to properly market it.


On August 19th, 2008, Frogster Interactive AG announced that they had found a US publisher for Spellborn. Spellborn NV has signed a contract with this publisher and sold it the rights to publish TCoS in the US. The publisher was Acclaim Games Inc.


The above list of press releases reveals some important information:
  • Acclaim approached Spellborn and asked for a US publishing deal. Four months later a contract was signed.
  • Frogster boasts about it and they go as far as claiming that they were the ones to find a US publisher.
  • Mindscape bought the publishing rights for Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxemburg – collectively known as Benelux, while Acclaim bought the rights for US only.
  • Frogster had big plans for the game in Asia where they believed it will prove to be a success; they wanted to become a big player in the Spellborn world, the middleman between Spellborn NV and the Asian publishers who will have licensed the game from them.

Game Release(s)


Initially, Acclaim, Mindscape and Frogster releases were to take place at the same time, on November 27th, 2008. Frogster launched in Germany, Austria and Switzerland on the agreed date, and one week later in France.


Mindscape initially invoked messing up some retail boxes and released in the week following November 27th.


One week before the agreed launch date, Acclaim said they needed more time, so they pushed the release date to “January 2009”. In Janyary, however, they released a closed beta. Acclaim finally released the game on April 23rd, 2009 – the January 2009 deadline was missed. It is worth noting that between the time when they signed up as a publisher for the game and the actual release, Acclaim also acquired publishing rights for other territories, like South America, but most importantly, UK.


During these troubled times, two versions of the game existed. Frogster’s version was up and running, yet for five months gamers in the UK, USA and other countries were greeted by an IP block when trying to access the game. The IP block continued after Acclaim released their version.


Downfall


Two months after the North American launch, on June 30th, 2009, Frogster dropped the bomb: FREE-TO-PLAY-VERSION OF THE CHRONICLES OF SPELLBORN SCHEDULED FOR RELEASE IN 2010. Basically, Frogster’s Asian subsidiary along with Spellborn NV were to jointly develop a free-to-play, microtransaction-based version of the game. The existing Acclaim and Frogster versions were to continue using the subscription service until the free-to-play version would have been ready.


The same day Spellborn Works – the studio that developed TCoS after Khaeon left – went bankrupt.


Free to Play Era


Frogster closed their servers one month following the free-to-play announcement and offered free character transfers to Acclaim’s US servers.


Starting August 14th, 2009 Acclaim offered the subscription version of the game for free, “until the microtransaction-based version is ready”.


Frogster hoped to continue developing the game, using their Korean subsidiary. They have hoped to sublicense the game throughout Asia, as we can tell from a 2008 press release:

Quote:[…] Frogster also holds the exploitation rights of ‘The Chronicles of Spellborn’ for Asia which is by far the biggest submarket for this new entertainment segment and where it shall be launched in 2009. Thereby, Frogster considers the proof of a technically successful launch in Germany very useful for the talks with Chinese online game publishers about a sub license in China. […]


While talks with the Chinese went nowhere, Frogster managed to sublicense the game to Japanese web-portal Excite. Using the free-to-play version created by the Korean Frogster studio, Excite had a Spellborn open beta for a while – with IP block and everything – but shut down the game a few months later, citing lack of interest from the playerbase and low income generated by the item shop.


Meanwhile, Acclaim showed no interest in the game – they just kept the two remaining servers on life support, but even that was troublesome. At one point in time, the servers were more offline than online, as if they were cardboard boxes under someone’s desk and everyone in the Acclaim’s office has forgotten about them. In the final days, characters level 10+ could not access the game world anymore because of a bug that appeared in the authentication system. Players pleaded with Acclaim to fix the bug, only to be ignored.


And then Facebook game makers Playdom bought Acclaim. They, too, ignored the players’ messages. On July 27th, The Walt Disney Company bought Playdom. One month later, all Acclaim servers were shut down, including Spellborn’s last remaining two realms. Everything Acclaim ceased to exist.


On May 28th, Frogster announced the layoff of its Korean workforce involved with the free-to-play version of the game, because they could not reach an agreement with Spellborn NV about TCoS:

Quote:[…] The 64% Frogster subsidiary Frogster Asia Co. Ltd. could yet again not reach an agreement on further cooperation with the Dutch licensor Spellborn NV regarding the intended enhancements and publishing of the free to play version of the MMO Game ‘The Chronicles of Spellborn’ in Asia and is thus forced to close down the development studio and to dismiss all staff who dealt with the free to play version by order of Spellborn NV. Herefrom arises an extraordinary negative P&L effect for the subsidiary which will have a negative impact to the group result in a small to medium six digit Euro amount. The Frogster Interactive management had informed the public several times before about the uncertain outcome of the ongoing talks. On the other side, Frogster Interactive will reclaim the paid prepayments for the product of a seven-digit Euro amount while it is unknown whether the developer could make such a payment. The company has already fully written off all prepayments on Frogster’s balance sheet regarding the game so that no noteworthy negative impacts from the balance sheet are impending.[…]


Translation:
Quote:Frogster Interactive AG paid something between 1 and 9 million dollars in advance for a free-to-play version of TCoS to Frogster Asia Co. Ltd.

Frogster Asia had failed to “reach an agreement” (read: money) with Spellborn NV, thus the Korean developers involved with the free-to-play TCoS version had been laid off.

Frogster Interactive does not really know whether the Korean subsidiary can cough up this money back or not.


As of November 20th, 2010, all references of TCoS being in development are gone from Frogster’s sites and no TCoS server is online.


Thanks to CowMooFlage & Selachii for the feedback. Last edited on April 1st, 2012.
All I ask of you is one thing: please don't be cynical. I hate cynicism - it's my least favorite quality and it doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen. - Conan O'Brien

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#2
Hello,


I have created the above timeline hoping that it would be useful. I tried to be as accurate as possible and looked for official press releases to back up all my claims. If you see something inaccurate or if you have something to add, please post in this thread and I'll make the necessary adjustments.


Moderators, please don't modify my message. Ask me and I'll do it if you think it's really necessary.


Cheers!


Edit: oh, and if you think this is useful, please make it a sticky.

All I ask of you is one thing: please don't be cynical. I hate cynicism - it's my least favorite quality and it doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen. - Conan O'Brien

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#3
It is like I am reliving it all it sucks because there is not a happy ending... yet!

[Image: Steampunksignature.png]
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#4
Quote:The approximate budget for this game was €20 million.

I'm sorry but it's 18 million; it's said in this video (0:18 mark):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwNItQ-O3p4


It is Spellborn Works BV and not Spellborn Works.

Quote:It seems that one of the game’s publishers, Frogster, was briefly involved in the game’s development, or so they claim in a 2008 press release – possibly because Spellborn NV was now lacking the Khaeon expertise and asked Frogster for help in order to meet the release date:

The Korean people from Frogster Asia rewrote the netwerk code. Several ex-devs have told me this.

Quote:Mindscape initially invoked messing up some retail boxes and said they will release one week later. In the end, Frogster released TCoS in Benelux and Scandinavia instead of Mindscape, so it’s very possible possible that Mindscape did not release at all. They had no mention of TCoS on their homepage the day of the release.

Frogster didn't take over publishing for those areas and my box clearly say Mindscape.


Gameboxes were present in the Netherlands on the 27th as far as I know. I know, I got my box a bit later but not on the 5th, earlier.

Quote:One week before the agreed launch date, Acclaim said they needed more time, so on November 27th they released a closed beta instead of the final version of the game and pushed the release date to “January 2009”. It is worth noting that between the time when they signed up as a publisher for the game and November 27th, Acclaim also acquired publishing rights for other territories, like South America, but most importantly, UK. Acclaim finally released the game on April 23rd, 2009 – the January 2009 deadline was missed.

If I recall well their beta didn't start the 27th but more as in January 2009; followed by a larger scale open beta and 2 weeks of free play.

Quote:On August 28th, Frogster announced the layoff of its Korean workforce involved with the free-to-play version of the game, because they could not reach an agreement with Spellborn NV about TCoS:

You got the date wrong there it's may 28th. That's a big difference; as the Acclaim servers were still up around that time.
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#5
Thank you for your feedback, CowMooFlage, it's really appreciated. I'll modify the post as necessary.

All I ask of you is one thing: please don't be cynical. I hate cynicism - it's my least favorite quality and it doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen. - Conan O'Brien

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#6
Quote:Thank you for your feedback, CowMooFlage, it's really appreciated. I'll modify the post as necessary.

You're welcome Smile
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#7
THX for the post!


[Image: boi10qlavfy6wwvye.png]


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#8
Quote:Gameboxes were present in the Netherlands on the 27th as far as I know. I know, I got my box a bit later but not on the 5th, earlier.


Seriously? I went to the stores on Dec 5th and they didn't have the game anywhere yet 'cause the boxes were supposed to arrive later that day. How unfair Smile

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#9
Quote:Seriously? I went to the stores on Dec 5th and they didn't have the game anywhere yet 'cause the boxes were supposed to arrive later that day. How unfair [Image: default_smile.png]

I heard from dutch friends that played the game that they found their box on the 27th.
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#10
A very nice collection, bravo! Some statements are incorrect and some are a bit exaggerated. I think i posted some (much less fleshed out) timeline on these boards as well. If I find a rainy weekend afternoon I might go over the whole thing and elaborate on the points I think could use some more info.


Short comment to get started [Image: default_wink.png] )

What I think is exaggerated is "In the gaming industry, this can only mean one thing: money." Because I think it's not really a property of the game industry and there was actually also a personal health issue in management involved ( of course money plays a part, but where doesn't it? ). So it feels a bit barbaric to read it like that.


Also what I think gives the wrong impression is: "In 2007, a new development team took over.". There was no new team taking over at all. It was in june 2007 (if i remember correctly) that the existing team simply moved over to the new daughter company, Spellborn N.V. (strictly a paperwork matter). During this transition though, not everybody moved over and some stayed under contract of Khaeon (their own choice). This was a vast minority, though everyone is crucial in a project like this. The people that were still on a Khaeon contract finished what they were working on and phased out over the course of about 8 months, after which they started on other Khaeon projects.

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