Codemasters disasters #2 Dragon Empires


Codemaster owned one of the very first MMORPGs, The Realm. It made steady revenues but was getting a bit dated, so was unlikely to set the world on fire. Codemaster’s directors watched as Ultima Online and Everquest built massive subscriber bases and made mountains of money. They wanted some of this.

The first thing that happened is that Mythic approached Codemasters and asked us if we would like to publish Dark Ages of Camelot in Europe. So one person was asked to review the game. He reported back that it was just Everquest light. So the directors said no thank you to Mythic. And threw away a fortune.

The next plan was to take on the big MMORPGs, but in typical Codemasters manner this was to be done on the cheap. The Realm was going to be upgraded. From 2D to 3D, for instance. And then we could take on the world.

So a very small team got to work. After a while it grew a little bigger. And bigger. They decided that upgrading The Realm was a blind alley and that an all new game was needed. Dragon Empires was born. And the team got even bigger. All this without proper management or marketing analysis of what they were doing or any strict budgetary control. It just absorbed money. And the months became years and the team became even bigger.

Our marketing philosophy was to start building interest in a game 12 months before street date. So we announced Dragon Empires in September 2001, a dedicated community manager was appointed, a stream of press releases was created and we went to E3 with it in spring 2002. A year later, inevitably, we were back at E3, this time with an amazing video (cut down version here) which had cost a fortune to make. But the game was no nearer to completion. We started recruiting beta testers. Over 120 thousand of them (marketing had done it’s job right). But there was nothing  to beta test.

Within Codemasters the whole project became a standing joke. Everyone knew it was going nowhere except the directors. It was a bottomless pit into which successive millions of pounds were being poured. Even marketing started to lose the will to maintain the charade. The community manager left. And still the team became bigger.

Then Codemasters recruited a new financial director (CFO) who did a full and proper analysis of what was happening with Dragon Empires. And he couldn’t believe it. So he reported to the board and they has a collective apoplectic fit. They had sleepwalked into disaster when all around them watched. Trying to do something on the cheap had ultimately cost a fortune.

And, in September 2004, that was the end of Dragon Empires.


  1. Hi Bruce,
    Really enjoying your expose, though a few people have asked me what your role at Codemasters throughout this rocky time was. It would be great for us all to read, as it would put things in a closer perspective and perhaps you could also publish how you tried to stop this ‘madness’!

    Thanks -and all the best!

  2. Hi Tobes,

    My career is on my Linkedin here:

    Of course I tried to stop this and many other stupidities, but in a family business that is run and owned by the same people it is just one voice in the wilderness.

  3. Oh Bruce… It’s a shame you no longer work here. These stories pale in insignificance to the horror that is Operation Flashpoint 2.

  4. LMA 360 wasn’t exactly a development management triumph either. A year late and the updates don’t work! And I have seen the reviews that Turning Point: Fall of Liberty is getting. Hardly surprising when it only took 9 months to develop.

  5. Re@ ALterego’s comment – developemnt woes are one thing, but we have to give a big hand to marketing when we look at successful games.

  6. Interesting stuff, this is a neat series of articles Bruce, I can’t wait to read them all this week 🙂

  7. If you take a look at Codemaster’s Massive Multiplayer Online community, I noticed that the community management is one-big-huge-enormous colossal-epic-fail. Especially RF online, we are almost always ignored, Empty promises and made the community felt like they we are not heard, or heard but no action taken.
    More recent petition: We all feel ignoed since EP1. ;D

  8. Found this on an ego-google. Interesting stuff Bruce! DE might have been ok if it hadn’t been for one very large flaw: The game was designed to run on only one server. Yup, you heard me right. Despite efforts by programmers this angle of attack was never changed until the consultants turned up and went “Dood, wtf were you thinking?!”. Well, this is what I heard after I moved back to NZ anyway.

  9. Bruce, It was all just unbridled passion at Codemasters. But in all the madness, i seem to remember a couple of guys getting very, very rich. In fact i understand that they are now in the top 20 richest in UK. As much as it hurts……… it can’t have been all bad!

  10. @Calistas – That isn’t exactly what happened. There were many things that went wrong on that project, but it suffered from a lack of attention by the directors and was understaffed on the code side for much of it’s development (and many of the staff there were badly demotivated). As someone who worked on the team I can tell you it would have made a good sitcom in how badly it was managed (similar to the Office).

    Shame because you managed to build a strong community and many people would have bought the game if it had been released.

Comments are closed.