Shroud of the Avatar’s Richard Garriott on launch and philosophy following equity crowdfunding announcement

Last week during its seasonal telethon, Shroud of the Avatar’s lead developers surprised watchers by announcing an equity crowdfunding campaign that allows players and other parties to invest directly in the game.

To try to glean more information about the state of the company and the decision to launch this year, we fired off an interview to Portalarium’s Richard Garriott. But one extremely tricky (and frustrating for everyone) issue that crops up with these equity crowdfunding interviews is that the SEC has implemented strict rules for what studios can talk about, meaning they are not legally allowed to discuss deal terms with the press. In fact, if we mention specific deal terms of their campaign in this interview, we can get them in trouble, which is obviously not our goal here. For example, we asked additional questions about the company’s financial position, who has invested in it, what happens to Portalarium if the investor round fails to meet its minimum, whether the game’s income is currently covering its costs, and how the game’s valuation was determined, but Garriott couldn’t answer in fear of running afoul of SEC regulations.

So we’ve proceeded with what we can discuss, and investors can ask questions in public on SeedInvest where everything is posted in accordance with the law.

Massively OP: Is the game really ready for a July launch this year [as originally noted by the campaign]? Is that timing influenced by funding concerns? And why announce that so quietly?

Richard Garriott: July is NOT the launch date of Shroud of the Avatar; it is when we hope to have the main story lines fully playable. We plan to launch sometime later in the year. The timing of the “story complete” has nothing to do with finance, nor does our planned ship date. We are raising funds to move from a pure developer to a developer and publisher. The announcement came as soon as the site was live, our press release goes this afternoon!

Ditto for the equity crowdfunding campaign — why mention that on a stream instead of in a huge press release?

We are doing BOTH! Press release will be released soon [indeed it was!]; we announced as soon as the SI web site went live last night.

Can you clarify some of the confusion on the numbers given out — previously we understood the game had 200K players, but now it seems as if the 64K number is meant to represent boxes sold. How many active and then total players does the game have, and how many boxes have been sold?

We have 200k accounts signed up (accounts created) via www.shroudoftheavatar.com of these sign ups, we have about 65k backers who have backed the project. Most SOTA sales are digital downloads of the online game. Physical “Boxed” editions were only available during the original Kickstarter campaign, and about 10,000 players signed up for physical goods at that time.

Some of the claims for the game, like trading and town conquest, aren’t currently playable in SOTA. How do things like that make it into the game description when they aren’t yet in the game?

We are not done with the game, many more features are still coming. That being said, of course there will be some early ideas that get modified, cut or replaced in the years it takes to make a game. We discuss and revise all our plans fully in the open on our forums and with player input. If anyone (or you) are specifically interested in a particular feature, it is generally known to the community its priority, status and timeframe.

The story wipe took people by surprise. Wasn’t the last wipe of the game intended to be last summer? What’s the justification there?

The last “Character & Property Wipe” was indeed last summer, and will remain the last. What is happening in July is a story flag state wipe. No one has been able to play the full story, as it has been being built while they have been in this last year. Many players have a mish mash of flag states of their stories. In July, we expect to allow players to wipe their “story state” to get a clean run through the entire plot.

Some forumgoers have pointed to the fact that the game’s philosophy and description have changed since the original Kickstarter, shifting to be more of an MMORPG and less an offline-optional game. Do you agree with that assessment, and has it been intentional?

I understand some feel the MMO aspects of the game have been favored over the offline aspects of the game. The sequence of events is and has been to develop the online portions first, as they are needed for both aspects and then focus on the offline once the main systems are in. Offline is getting more and more focus these days as most of the online systems are in place now.

Console and mobile functionality appears to have taken some players by surprise. What’s the deal there?

Not sure where this question comes from, but one of the reasons we chose the unity platform is its ability to easily cross compile on multiple platforms. Today we are exclusively focused on PC / Mac and Linux. However once a year or so, we do test compile the game on to various platforms from consoles to tablets, just to get a sense of how easy or hard it will be to eventually create versions for those platofrms. While we hope to make Shroud of the Avatar widely available, as stated we are focused on PC / Mac and Linus at this time.

Many thanks to Richard Garriott for answering our questions!

Kotaku also printed a Garriott interview over the weekend; he told readers there that Portalarium currently has around 30 people, full-time and contractors together, and explained how the company has spent and saved the over $11,000,000 in crowdfund donations and presales it’s earned over the last few years.

“Garriott says the point of this round of funding is not an attempt to save the company from going broke, but to scale Portalarium up to allow it to do marketing and perform the other functions of a publisher—first for the PC version of Shroud of the Avatar, and then perhaps someday, for versions of the game on other platforms,” writes Kotaku.

Most recently, the game saw the implementation of Release 42 (it’s on a strict and unusually consistent monthly cadence for patches); the latest newsletter teases R43 due out at the end of June.

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22 Comments on "Shroud of the Avatar’s Richard Garriott on launch and philosophy following equity crowdfunding announcement"

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Vagabond Sam

I think it’s easy to write a list of what you did every month.

What they seem to struggle with is meaningful changes, or positive changes.

Major part of r42 was adding in a whole secondary combat system to try and appeal to the large section of players who didn’t like the random card drawing mechanics.

Devils advocate on why they are getting releases every month is because they are still making the core of the game and operating with a higher burn budget then a game that is launched and trying to balance profits with expenditure.

As far as start up go though their financials look fine. It wouldn; tbe unusual for these companies to have a runway (Time until they run out of money) of a few months.

SOPTA sells enough stuff each month that their runway is likely at least a year which gives room to address hiccups.

Now if only they’d remember that glorious promise on the Kickstarter

A fantasy role-playing game that will focus more on player choices and discovery than on level grinding.

because right now it is a ‘soft cap’ grinder with a more repetitive and higher grind then Black Desert Online in all aspects. Combat, Crafting or Trading.

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Armsbend

I love the reaction when Bree asked if it was hitting it’s July date.

“Richard Garriott: July is NOT the launch date of Shroud of the Avatar”

You could feel the tone. Dear god why would we EVER want to complete this thing? Then we have to go back to work.

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Sally Bowls

So what is the point of [non-trivial MMO] Crowdfunding any more? My recollection that in the past the pitch was these noble devs wanted to be free of “the man” not forced by a soulless multinational to release too soon. ( Coincidentally, the publisher pushing to launch was mentioned more than why was their software late.) I get that; perhaps my favorite line in Citizen Kane was on the freedom of being rich. “You’re right, I did lose a million dollars last year. I expect to lose a million dollars this year. I expect to lose a million dollars next year. You know, Mr. Thatcher, at the rate of a million dollars a year, I’ll have to close this place in… 60 years“. (Remember this is an old movie when a million dollars was a lot of money, not a down payment on a not extravagant California house.)

But if non-trivial crowdfunded MMOs need millions of dollars in equity funding, what benefit does the crowdfunding provide? The marks – I mean noble pledgers – will happily wait until it is polished to perfection. But what about the investors? I am not sure that getting a few VCs like Columbus Nova to invest in your venture means that much less pressure than getting EA to publish it. Look at AoC; 90% of the funds are coming from investors; it would have been 97% if they only raised the goal. Is there that much operational benefit to having 90% instead of 100% of your funding coming from investors?

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Armsbend

Are you insinuating that crowdfunding is a giant scam?

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Sally Bowls

Not really. I am sure there are a few outright frauds, like in any human endeavor where money is involved. I have other KS issues, but this is more a case of me feeling people are pissing on my boots and telling me it is raining.

1) True Believers tell me that crowdfunding will be revolutionary; free us from those evil gaming companies.

2) MMO comes out with a KS of a half or one million or even a few million.

3) I say that might work for a board game but is nowhere near enough for a MMO.

4) They say, don’t worry we shall get other investors.

I understand KS wanting KS campaigns. I understand companies preferring to get donations instead of having to take out larger loans/equity as well as free publicity. But if you need outside loans/investors to make the project, then doesn’t that have all the pressures of having investors, even if there is a facade of crowdfunding?

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Doubleplusgood

Wouldn’t it be interesting if all MMO companies were this transparent with financial details like where the money from subs and cash shops go…

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squidgod2000

I’ll play it when it’s done.

Solaris
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Solaris

I’ve been playing for about a year, but avoided the Story until it was complete. Looking forward to playing that aspect of the game. Guildies that have run through various Paths have been pretty glowing about it.

deekay_plus
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deekay_plus

the financial disclosure included that they have about 2 months of cost in liquid assets btw. not a very great position for a company to be in. but also explains why they take such desperate measures to raise funds every so often i guess.

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Doubleplusgood

Is that the part where it says the monthly burn rate is $230 000? I wonder how much of that is Lord British’s monthly salary…..

deekay_plus
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deekay_plus

in the reddit thread someone said in an interview he’s still paying off his russia trip 9 years later. who knows. the game doesn’t show it.

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Doubleplusgood

With his extravagant tastes one can only imagine

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Schlag Sweetleaf

.

equity crowdfunding club.jpg
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MesaSage

Now I know why Hollywood has always had a fascination with this genre. You can’t possibly make this stuff up.

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Kevin McCaughey

It’s like kids that do something wrong then make up ridiculous far fetched stories to cover it up. You really couldn’t make this shit up – they must take us all for fools.

cmdr_cotic
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cmdr_cotic

I see $11 million mentioned but unless I’m reading this wrong the actual figure spent on this game is nearer $19 million.

In the name of transparency, Portalarium’s SeedInvest page gives greater insight into the studio’s workings than is typically made publicly available. Since 2012, it raised $7.5 million in series A funding, $1.9 million in the Kickstarter campaign, and an additional $9.4 million through further crowdfunding on the game’s official website. As of last month, the company had $528,000 in the bank, and a monthly burn rate of $230,000. However, Portalarium also noted that it was planning a “telethon” in the near future, previous installments of which have typically brought in more than $100,000.

http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2017-06-02-portalarium-opens-the-books-for-equity-crowdfunding

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