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.