Interview: Pantheon devs on funding, Unity, and the launch window

Brad McQuaid's Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen is an MMO that's suffered more than its fair share of drama and setbacks, but even detractors will agree that its creators appear utterly determined to see it made. In fact, this past fall, Visionary Realms acquired fresh investors, produced a new website, hired new employees, and demoed a playable build.

CEO Chris Rowan, CCO Brad McQuaid, and Creative Director Chris Perkins recently answered my questions about the game's stormy history, past and future funding, playerbase size, and release date.

Massively OP: Visionary Realms has obviously come a long way since 2014, when former employees made accusations about money mismanagement and work on the game slowed down. A lot of our readers have some serious trust issues with Pantheon given that and given the problems that preceded with Vanguard. What makes the current incarnation of Visionary Realms different? Why should they trust in Pantheon and its leadership?

Visionary Realms: Pantheon started in late 2013 as an idea and seat of the pants game development effort. In early 2014 a small team of game designers and programmers was trying to simultaneously juggle game development, a Kickstarter campaign, and running a company.

In contrast, the current incarnation of Visionary Realms has a dedicated, highly experienced business team that supports a talented creative team that is a balanced mix of industry veterans and fresh, ambitious young talent. The creative team builds the game, while the business team runs the company in a highly disciplined manner, enabling the creative team to focus on development.

Our CFO is the only person at the company who holds the pursestrings.
The business team has decades’ experience managing companies from inception through development, growth and revenue. The business team plans, schedules, budgets, reviews and holds the entire team accountable to those schedules and budgets. Process discipline has increased across the board. Over the last eight months, the company has run on a strict plan and has actually spent on average 14% below budget over that period. All spending decisions require the approval of both the CEO, Chris Rowan, and CFO, Tim Sullivan. Our CFO is the only person at the company who holds the pursestrings. Furthermore, management reports progress against the strategic plan and the budget to the board of directors of the company on at least a monthly basis. We’ve received strong praise from our investor for our frugal stewardship of his money and the progress we’ve made since he invested.

Thanks to the seed funding, growth of the team, more discipline, planning and process management, and the incredible passion and commitment of everyone involved, development has been steadily accelerating since Q1 2015.

thronefast-steps

News that Pantheon was bolstered by a round of seed funding was accompanied by a new employee tally: 14. Those are employees, correct? Not volunteers? And why not name the investor?

Yes, our team is now compensated, and has been since receiving seed funding several months ago. The investor is a private person who wishes to remain anonymous.

Every time we cover new screenshots from the game, our readers erupt and claim that anyone can snap pictures in Unity 5 with a default texture pack. Could you explain once and for all how the team is using that engine and how the tech has evolved from stock to now?

It is a common misconception that Unity includes stock assets and/or textures that we are using in Pantheon’s development - Unity does not do the automatic “heavy lifting” that some think it does. Rather, it works as a focal point for third party tools and/or assets, which allows talented artists to create and sell assets through Unity’s Marketplace which developers can purchase and use for prototyping or in the final product. You can see this in many projects currently in development as it’s common practice. For the purpose of prototyping, purchasing assets from the Unity store made sense for us in the beginning of development. It allowed us to research and develop a structured, cohesive art pipeline and direction, while concurrently prototyping holistic aspects of gameplay and level design.

However, our goal has always been to create original, lore-inspired art. Therefore, at this point in development, we are using robust, state-of-the-art software for production of Pantheon-specific art, such as Maya, Zbrush, and Allegorithmic’s Substance Designer and Painter. The images [accompanying this interview] are some recent examples of the original artwork going into the game from our lead world builder, John Diasparra, who is using much of the same technology for our environments as was used in games like Witcher 3, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Destiny, Far Cry 4, and many more.

Overall, we use a modular design approach to create customizable construction sets for building highly varied points of interest with racial or faction-based architectural identity. Creating art and building points of interest is just the beginning of the production cycle - various layers of systematic optimization must take place in order to maintain performance in our large, open world setting.

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Games like Camelot Unchained have rather famously maintained that they expect and can survive on a very small, niche playerbase -- much smaller than the number of players WoW lost last quarter! Is Pantheon similarly prepared for a niche playerbase? How will it sustain itself against the current field of mega-MMOs and mini-indies?

MMOs have moved away from a social and community-driven focus where cooperative play is rewarded. This has left a significant audience orphaned, and Pantheon is being developed for that audience.
Pantheon is a classically-spirited MMO. We believe the goal of developing MMOs needs to change: developers/publishers need to stop spending huge amounts of money trying to make the next big thing that appeals to everyone. Instead, especially in light of the amount and variety of gamers interested in online gaming, we want to see MMOs begin to target specific audiences. We want to craft games according to the tastes and preferences of a specific audience because we think this will result in better games. Over the last 10 years or so, MMOs have moved away from a social and community-driven focus where cooperative play is rewarded. This has left a significant audience orphaned and Pantheon is being developed for that audience. No one can prove exactly how big this orphaned group is, but with an estimated 400 million people worldwide having played MMOs to-date, or according to ESA’s 2015 Essentials, 45 million Americans who currently pay to play games online, we are confident ours is a significant group. That said, we are a lean and mean team and we are careful and frugal with our spending - no, we don't need millions of players in order to be profitable.

Does the team have any plans for another Kickstarter or round of crowdfunding? Are Patreon contributions continuing? What about crowdfunding and early access pre-orders directly through the site the way some other studios have done it?

We’re considering the pros and cons of all options for funding the game. We don’t have any funding-related announcements at this time, but we can say that we haven’t ruled anything out. Thanks to our wonderfully supportive community, pledge contributions continue at a healthy pace.

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With proper funding, we plan on releasing Pantheon in 2017.
Sites like VentureBeat suggested that another round of investor funding will probably be required. What will Visionary Realms do if that funding doesn't materialize? Is Pantheon happening come hell or high water?

Additional rounds of funding will allow us to more rapidly grow our development team. That said, however unlikely, the team we have currently assembled can finish this game. In a worst case scenario, it would take us longer to complete Pantheon without the funding we’re looking to attain, but we will indeed ship this game, come hell or high water.

In April 2014, McQuaid said the game could launch in as little as three years, given the proper funding. Is that still doable?

Yes, with proper funding, we plan on releasing Pantheon in 2017.

Thank you very much for your candor and your time.

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91 comments
JohnHolderby
JohnHolderby

Love the game, am a gamer helping to support it with what little I have.  Want to see group play again, want to see challenge and skill play useful again.... I don't know who the patron funding it is but whoever it is thanks!


Drivendawn
Drivendawn

I wonder what the haters are gonna say when there is more game play vids and then alpha testing? Probably the same shit. >.>

LongtimeSkeptic
LongtimeSkeptic

@Drivendawn  It's not about "haters", it's about the reality that some of you just can't seem to accept. Look at the history of this team, of McQuaid in particular. Totally screwed his people in Vanguard, couldn't even be bothered to show up and face them when they got their pink slips and left them standing in the parking lot. A lot of people said at that point "McQuaid will never get money for a game ever again".


And then crowd funding emerged, and the suckers and dreamers poured out their hearts to Brad in hopes that he might actually deliver this time. And what does he do? Steals $30,000 in crowd funds "for personal reasons". Some speculate he's back on drugs again, others point to his wife's medical problems. Does it matter? The man can't be trusted and he is living in a dream world based on his one success in life (if you can call EQ a success, I do) and is trying to sustain his memories in a world that changed a long time ago and left him behind.


Guys. Stiffed employees. Unpaid staffers still owed money after McQuaid took his. $30,000 "missing" that Brad eventually owned up to taking "for personal reasons", and constant reshuffling of the team and the progress reports. No working demo even at this stage after McQuaid lied and said one existed eons ago.


What more do you need to smell a rat? This isn't "hating", this is using critical thinking to evaluate a business proposition.

ohforfs
ohforfs

Mystery Investor = a certain Mr Smedley perhaps? That's my guess.


If they can make a game with the nature of Vanguard but without the flaws, I will be very happy. I am optimistic about this title.

tilles87
tilles87

@ohforfs I'm pretty sure if it was Smedley it wouldn't have been kept a secret. It's would be a good publicity stunt for both VR and Smedley.

HolyAvengerOne
HolyAvengerOne

@ohforfs I'm totally pessimistic about this game, but maybe you're right about the Smed thing. He was the one that trusted him with EQ back then and he also already saved Brad's ass with VG:SOH. Why not again, lol.


I'm very curious about those two. Great ideas, an awesome drive to make them happen but poor management skills.

Radfist
Radfist

If they get it working it will definitely have a niche playerbase.  There really aren't many old school PvE games around or on the horizon.  I like PvP so there are plenty of upcoming titles for me, but old school EQ crowd is doing it tough.

Wiexlon
Wiexlon

@Radfist So true Radfist. Us old EQer's are playing an emulated Scars of Velious right now over at P99. 16 years later, we're playing the same game. Like others, I have hope Pantheon. That being said, I am really looking forward to Camelot Unchained and Crowfall. Both games look great. 

Radfist
Radfist

@Wiexlon @Radfist  Yeah I am thankful that I enjoy PvP and am looking forward to both CU and Crowfall. I really hope this one pans out for the PvE only crowd though.  Vanguard had amazing races and classes, would love to see something like that exist again.

Dawnlord Ed
Dawnlord Ed

I surfed over to check out their site.  I hope they hire a writer with some of that money because their backstory is so think as to be impenetrable.  It needs a much lighter touch.

LiamLightfoot
LiamLightfoot

Have total faith in this game and VR. Been backing them since kickstarter and will do so until i can sub to the finished game. This game is being made for a niche group and that is why it will be very successful for those people. If you havent done so i recommend perusing the game site. Lots of exciting stuff going on.

enamelizer
enamelizer

Fantastic interview, and big props to the Pantheon peeps for addressing these questions.

BeckAltarr
BeckAltarr

They had dev's that quit because McQuaid got paid but they didn't and to my knowledge never have been paid for the work they did. Have they since been compensated now that there is funding? Then they spent a year or so with a 100% volunteer team, some of which changed many of the core elements of the game from its original conception with the old Dev team.

Now the volunteers are gone, replaced by paid members for a 3rd round of let's make this happen. I feel sorry for the people who have put time, money and effort into this project only to be replaced. Yet to see a playable demo which was stated to exist way back at the first Kick Starter but was confirmed to have never existed.

This is going to be the Nickelback of MMO's. Some people will like it, but wont want to admit to it and everyone else will hate it. Only it wont be half as successful. This game will need to survive on about 1000 subs. Which can happen... Look at Defiance.

EricSantiago
EricSantiago

@BeckAltarr @jawbreaker23 so when you said that this game will be the Nickelback of MMOs. Some people will like it but won't admit to it and everyone else will hate it. It just won't be as successful as Nickelback, you were wishing the team luck and stating it had some potential?? lol let's hope you never wish me luck for anything

BeckAltarr
BeckAltarr

@jawbreaker23 When we did several open line shows on K-TAM Radio where virtually every dev who was there showed up in our mumble, including Brad, to chat over voice or text chat and some had not been paid anything, some had been paid a fraction of what they were owed and some had been promised to be reimbursed for costs associated with the project that, at that time, were not given. It was shortly after the $30,000 went "missing" from the crowdfunded totals which was later admitted to have been taken by Brad for personal reasons. This created a new round of accusations he was back on or still on the pills. He later said it was for his wife who recently was diagnosed with Cancer or something like that based on a volunteer staff member at the time who was also a regular on a forum called Re-rolled. The sources, for the most part, I believe, but with every story there should be some benefit of the doubt, which is why my statements were not accusations, but rather questions.

That being said, I certainly hope the talented Volunteers are being paid. Monty, if he is still there I know he was at one time, then got asked to leave then came back again so I heard is very talented and deserves compensation. There are others that I hope were shown the door.

My points were that I hope the dev's who had not been paid, have since been paid. They deserved it. I wish the team the best of luck in producing this game. I think it has some potential and if it sees the light of day will have a very small player base unless the attitude of gamers changes when it comes to MMO's and how the majority of them race through content only to beg for more while only exploring a very small part of the over all game to begin with.

BeckAltarr
BeckAltarr

@EricSantiago @BeckAltarr @jawbreaker23 My point is the game is tainted with the history of Brad. This project has a pretty notorious history already with more drama than it needed. So yes, I wish them luck. It's an up hill battle and it wont get any easier. It has a great base of white knights and I understand what it is like to pour in a bunch of money into something only to see it almost fall apart more than once and change fundamental story/lore more than once and so on. Some people walk away, some people fight tooth and nail to add as much value to their money, no matter how much, to it as possible. I was lucky and got mine back and watch from the out side. 

If it makes it to any kind of launch I'll give the trial a go. Likely it will have to be a high sub to cover it's costs. $15/m might be a little light. Closer to $20 is my guess to keep the lights on. They might even go free to play and go micro transaction heavy. Pay to win might be a good model for a game that is planned to be as difficult as older MMO's which for some of us is just the challenge we want. But for many of the younger gamers who grew up on watered down WoW and clones they will be happy to pay out for little boosts and what not. 

asuranknight
asuranknight

@jawbreaker23 @BeckAltarr I kindof gave the source, aradune (brad's profile) on mmorpg's forums. I imagine it will take some digging because its like 6 months old or something (not sure if I remembered to bookmark it or not) but its definitely there if you feel inclined to look for it.

Khayotix
Khayotix

@BeckAltarr Also what hasn't been stated, is that atleast two of the 4 people who left at the beginning have returned to the project. So if what was done was really so bad and so wrong, they would have never come back. They were paid, they were just led by some primadonna who wasn't happy enough with things and they were all riled up, the primadonna has not returned. The two team members who have returned from the original team are, Ben Deladurantaye, and Corey LeFever.


Again if they have returned, there cant really be bad blood as people like to claim.

BeckAltarr
BeckAltarr

@Khayotix @BeckAltarr There were more than 4 that left. Tony and Salim were long time friends of Brad who perhaps were taken advantage of the most. Vu is working for another company now, Firefall I think. Not sure if Tom eventually left or not, there were rumors and I have an email from him saying he wishes he could have given people their money back back when the crap hit the fan.
 That would make 6. Vu was owed money for unity purchases, Tony and Salim had been working on the project likely longer than anyone else besides Brad at the time. 

asuranknight
asuranknight

@BeckAltarr The first round of staff were actually supposedly paid (according to several sources, one of which is mcquaid himself and that information can be found in the mmorpg (site) forums). The valunteers are also not gone, they are just paid now and thus are being referred to as employees (this is known because the at least 4 of the volunteer staff is still active at the pantheon website). 


The problem is that people keep passing around the same 'sensational' information around (such as your comment) even after it has been addressed.

BeckAltarr
BeckAltarr

@sscarthia@asuranknight@BeckAltarr@jawbreaker23  There was never anything to mend really. I am commenting based on the information we have as it related to the events in the past. 

I don't follow the project that closely. I keep up on the notable events but our community has soundly stated that Pantheon is not a product our Community supported radio should be involved with. 

We had a host in the past who was very very negative on Pantheon and he has since gotten back into bed with them for his own profit. AT the very least I have always been consistent and have only changed my opinion when the evidence supports it.

No one at Pantheon has reached out to us since after the Original Dev's left, but we did stay in contact with a few of them for about a year or so after. We are a open community so anyone can participate in any of our talk shows at any time, including Pantheon people if they wish to bring the topic up.

sscarthia
sscarthia

@asuranknight @BeckAltarr @jawbreaker23 He's the main guy at K-tam..strange I thought all the fences were mended but it seems Beck has a knot in his face about something again...Oh well, the proof is in the pudding.   

asuranknight
asuranknight

@BeckAltarr @jawbreaker23 I dont know if you work at the k-tam radio or whatever but it was my understanding that happened BEFORE the explanation I am talking about. I am also pretty sure that your (i guess) radio went on something of a slam campaign resulting in members of VR not speaking with you anymore. No offense, but I'll trust the more recent and detailed information which suggested that staff WERE getting paid (though not much being that the project really wasn't raking in that much and there may be some variables involved) and that the money Brad took was as he put it "pay for time worked" to that point. It was a bad idea to do what he did but it was not what so many present it to be.

agemyth
agemyth

What a great interview. None of the gosh darn "How awesome is your game?" or "What bullet points would you like to vaguely describe while telling us how awesome it will be?"

Someone needed to ask these questions and their willingness to mostly give straight answers is commendable. Now to sit on the sidelines for another 2+ years of waiting.

Armsbend
Armsbend

@agemyth it was defo a good interview.  I don't believe the answers but Bree asked really good questions.

breetoplay
breetoplay moderator

@Armsbend @agemyth Thank you both. We often send interviews like these to studios! We just don't often get answers back. :P IMO that's why it feels like such a big deal when a studio really steps up.

MatthewYetter
MatthewYetter

Is it just me or does that castle look like New Targonor from Vanguard?

agemyth
agemyth

Man, as gorgeous as Vanguards semi-seamless world often was, their towns and structures had some real weird proportions going on when you think about how human-like people built that stuff for human-like people to use. Those two guards are so tiny.

barantorfwl
barantorfwl

@agemyth Yeah, New Taragnor as a city was interesting, especially the living parts, but the keep up top was not only just a tunnel but kinda weirdly proportioned. 

Gylnne
Gylnne

@agemyth @MatthewYetter I agree sometimes the proportions are a bit strange but I just love hugh, immense buildings in games.:)

agemyth
agemyth

@JosephDeStefano Read. It will help you in life.

Also, it was presumably an email interview. Skype interviews are a thing, but so much more can be expressed in words that cannot when someone is trying to be concise for the camera (imo).

Gylnne
Gylnne

It is good to hear more game devs realizing even though broad player based games are appealing so are niche core player games. Will these types making millions? Probably not. But if a dev team can get past always looking at making tons of money and go back to creating games they would love to play we may, in the not to distant future, see some nice niche oriented titles.

Giggilybits
Giggilybits

@Gylnne Theres an old saying if you build it they will come by the great philosopher Kevin Costner. Making a game that you want to play and not the game everyone expects you to make could be the next best thing without the developers realizing it.

Gylnne
Gylnne

@Giggilybits @Gylnne That is so true Gigg. Many devs of the past have stated their love for gaming is what cause them to create, not the money.