Massively Overthinking: Contemplating Colossus and Camelot Unchained

    
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You had to know we were going to talk about Camelot Unchained in this edition of Massively Overthinking, right?

Last week, City State Entertainment announced that it’s started work on a second game, a co-op horde-battler going by Colossus, though its release name will be Final Stand: Ragnarok. It did not go over well, as a lot of vocal backers and watchers viewed it as a betrayal of trust, since the game they’d backed, Camelot Unchained, is true RvR MMORPG – and extremely behind schedule. Refund-granting and the technical details – like the revelation that more investor money is being poured in to both games and both share critical resources – have calmed the storm somewhat, but not entirely.

Tonight, we’ll dip a toe into the melee. I’ve asked our writing team what everyone thinks about the situation. How badly did CSE screw up? Are the gamers rioting out of line? Does this impact your emotional investment in MMOs crowdfunded games going forward? How does the move stack up against similar moves in the industry, and where should Camelot go from here?

(Editor’s note: This roundtable was written and compiled before this evening’s news about the apology and reveal and roadmap coming tomorrow, but we don’t think that news invalidates our opinions here, since many of us were already agitating for better communication.)

Andy McAdams: I have an unpopular opinion in that I don’t think CSE did anything wrong and probably made a good move here. And I say this as a backer. From a product and a business perspective, what the studio did makes sense. It took a low-effort feature and expanded it into a new source of income to help the main product. There’s synergy between the two products: Both will benefit from the existence of the other. The low-cost, potential high revenue generation nature of Ragnarok makes sense. True, it takes some development time away from CU, even if it adds more in other ways, but software development isn’t zero-sum. Working on one game doesn’t mean that the other isn’t being worked on. Or that moving people from one product to another doesn’t necessarily mean that CU work is slowling down substantially. As anyone who’s been in development can tell you, throwing more people at a project has a rate of diminishing returns, and CSE will eventually get to the point where putting more people on a project will actually slow it down (see also: Star Citizen).

Overall, I think some gamers are overreacting, as is our custom as a community. Jacobs and CSE didn’t message the new game well, and I think there’s an opportunity for improvement there. I had a few moments of really, this is how you chose to do this? But the actual change? It doesn’t bother me in the least, and I think it makes sense for gamers, investors, and CSE. Everyone wins in the end; we just don’t win the way we expected to. And that’s OK. Arguably, what we end up with in the end will be better than it would have been otherwise.

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): I can easily see both sides. The backers are getting two games for the price of one. Of course, that second game is not the one they wanted or asked for, and the obvious conclusion that can be drawn is that their money, which was intended for CU, is effectively being used to subsidize multiple projects instead of just the one they were told it was going toward.

In the end, I guess I side more with the backers who are upset by this. If you need to design a whole new game in order to finish the one you’ve promised, then you’ve made a wrong turn somewhere along the way. Perhaps the scope of the new game should have crept into CU, instead?

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I think I mostly said my piece in the podcast earlier this week, so if anyone wants to hear the whole recap, there it is, from about 16:19 to 43:23. But to sum up? I’m disappointed. Like a lot of longtime MMO players, I played Dark Age of Camelot and Warhammer Online at launch, and I really, really want to see another full-scale RvR MMORPG, especially one that was removing PvE grind and adding in things I personally love, like construction and vendors and cities and crafting. Watching Camelot Unchained linger in this weird sort of development limbo as Mark Jacobs (whom I still greatly respect) was repeatedly left to explain the delays and tech and finances to a more general audience – that has been inordinately frustrating, especially against the backdrop of growing (and deserved) MMO gamer distaste for Kickstarter.

I think CSE knows there was no good time to do this, but if was going to do it, and it thought it needed to do it to push CU along, it may as well have done it now – it wasn’t going sting much less later. Do I think the whole thing is a scam? Nah, come on, why would a multi-millionaire bother personally discussing any of this with $35 backers in comments and forums if it’s a scam and he’s sitting on millions in investment he could just run off with. I think it will be a net positive for the studio in the end if Project Colossus actually succeeds (not sure it will), but definitely not right now, especially presented as it was, when what people needed to hear (and see) was CU updates. I feel that frustration in my bones. So I do think people should get their refunds if they’re upset, and to be honest, I’d like to see CSE refund all the player backers pre-emptively, then it can do as it pleases with the studio and games and engine. Oh, sure, we’d keep complaining about delays, but at least gamers wouldn’t be on the hook with a financial investment.

I hope Jacobs and crew get some pro PR after this because the perception out there is real bad right now. And then? We need to see serious forward movement on Camelot, with high-production and public video. Otherwise, it’s gonna be nothing but seething all the way up to Colossus’ launch date.

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX): I’m a slow and steady kind of guy so I personally think they should have just worked on one game. It would be nice to just get Camelot out the door before diving into a new title. But I’m not the type to get mad over game development drama anymore, especially with this company. It always seemed much more transparent than other companies, so I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt.

Also, Jacobs is running a business here. Yes, Camelot is attempting to uphold a legacy of a strong RvR, but I’m not so naive to think that’s the only thing they’re doing this for! Part of his responsibility is to make sure his company looks good to both investors and his playerbase. Having only an RvR game wont attract attract the PvE crowd that their Ragnarok game is aiming for. They have people to pay and their portfolio needs to be rich if they want to keep their company stable long-term.

Overall, good for them. Its not easy to maintain a balance between the investor and the player needs. I think at least for now he’s doing a good job.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): While the timing of its reveal most assuredly could have been done better (as in mention the idea as soon as it was in the planning stages and gauge interest there), I don’t think it’s really ruined much for me. At least, so far as plans on paper go. It now ultimately falls to CSE to demonstrate that it can keep both games running to the satisfaction of backers and fans (without overworking people, I should point out).

It’s very easy to assume that they’re incapable of juggling these balls as CU has already been delayed a fair bit, as mentioned in the lede. Still, I’m at least willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Time will tell.

I will contend, though, that it’s easy for me to feel this way on account of not being invested fiscally in the game. I am reasonably sure my feelings wouldn’t shift much, but I appreciate where others who bought in to a very specific vision feel cheated. Therefore, a lot of the reaction is absolutely valid, though that also isn’t a hall pass to be vile. The folks at CSE are still humans, after all.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): Here’s the thing. I have a different perspective from a lot of our readers on two points. For one thing, I have no particular skin in the game vis-a-vis backing Camelot Unchained. While I’d like the game to come out and do well, it doesn’t have met in any sort of personal position. For another thing, well… I’ve been covering this genre for a long time, and I’m familiar with the demands of development, the cost of putting together an engine, the need to expand beyond a single product line, and so forth. From my personal perspective, then, this is kind of a smart move from a development side, making good use of existing tech and developments to expand what the studio can do and providing a proof for investors of what the technology is capable of for the future.

Unfortunately, the big problem was always going to be what players took away from this, and there was never going to be a situation where backers and fans were happy about this under any circumstances. Forget even the whole Ashes of Creation: Apocalypse debacle; this was always going to feel like something players had backed was now changing shape into something that the backers had not asked for and did not particularly want. The fact that this is not accurate doesn’t really matter when it comes to emotional response. Fans were going to hate it, and setting it up as a big announcement kind of just helped fan the flames of this particular reaction.

Could this have been managed better? Maybe, but then again, maybe not. I keep finding myself thinking that it might have been received better if it had been shared with backers quietly beforehand, but that might have just accelerated backlash to no real benefit, and it might have led to NDA breaks that would have caused more turmoil. And I’m really leery of the narrative around some of the more extreme examples. Yes, I get the reasons for negative feelings, but that doesn’t mean “Mark Jacobs lied to us” is somehow a true take. It’s still not what happened. He developed a second project using separate money to prove how much the engine being built could do, a project that can be released earlier and will ultimately help insofar as the tech is the same and it also helps secure the studio’s financial independence. It just… feels really bad when a whole lot of backers are waiting on a game being in a testing stage that keeps getting pushed back further and further.

I don’t know whether there was really a right answer here, or maybe this was just the best option among a bunch of bad ones. To speak to that I would need to have more knowledge of behind-the-scenes matters than I posses or than I care to. I will say that I can definitely respect the overall attitude of taking your lumps and accepting criticism along the way, since it at least avoids trying to defer the obvious and understandable player stress. But maybe this shouldn’t have been framed as big, exciting news for fans. Just a thought.

Samon Kashani (@thesamkash): I agree with many that the optics are pretty bad. CU has been in development for a very long time. It’s understandable for players to want to have the game they backed out the door and ready for prime time. Personally, I don’t have a fork in this salad. I only have so much room in my mind left to spend on upcoming games. So, my mindshare leaned towards Crowfall and has stayed there. I’ve said on more than a couple of occasions that being burned by Warhammer Online really did a number on my support for Jacobs.

But all that said, I do like what Jacobs and his team are attempting to accomplish. Once CU releases, I’ll be ready and willing to play it so long as it pulls off some of the feats they have planned. And I think creating this break off title is a good move too. I know everyone hated on Ashes of Creation Apocalypse (with valid reasons). But the game was actually pretty fun and certainly caught my attention. If Ragnarok can similarly move development forward and bring in new eyeballs to CSE and possibly CU? That is a good thing in my book.

Tyler Edwards: I want to start off by saying that Mark Jacobs is someone I generally hold in pretty high regard. Camelot Unchained is not a game that appeals to me personally, but I admire that Jacobs seems to have a very clear vision and fairly realistic expectations for it. He’s building a niche game, and he knows it. That’s good; it’s a welcome change of pace from the pie in the sky idealism of a lot of other crowdfunded games. I also respect that he’s been able to make clear his game is for a specific niche of players without coming off as exclusionary or elitist. This is in stark contrast to Crowfall, whose developers made abundantly clear that not only is their game not for me but that they hold players like me in disdain and don’t want my business.

I have started to lose some faith given the huge delays CU has suffered, but on the whole, it’s still the game I’m most likely to bet on succeeding out of all the big name crowdfunded titles.

I’ll also say that Ragnarok looks like a game I might like, and if it releases, I’ll probably give it a shot. It looks cool.

All that said, though, putting out a new game when your crowdfunded title is already massively behind schedule is a really bad look, and I think it’s a serious misstep by Jacobs and his team. Even if Ragnarok releases and turns out to be a good game, I think it’s very likely to fail just because it’s already so resented by the community. Just look at what happened to Landmark. Gamers are not a forgiving bunch. Whatever benefits developing this game might have yielded, I don’t think it will ever be worth the PR hit it’s caused. Maybe that’s not fair, but that’s the world we live in.

Speaking as a creative person myself, I know it’s very hard to stay on one project for years at a time without your attention starting to wander. It’s only natural to want to create something else for a change of pace. That’s not always the best decision, though, and when you’re an industry veteran who runs your own company, it’s got to be pretty easy to convince yourself your new passion project is a good idea. Probably not a lot of people going to tell you “no” in that scenario. I suspect that’s what happened here.

I’m not even saying that I don’t believe Jacobs when he says that Ragnarok has been beneficial to CU’s development. That may well be true. But whatever technical benefits a new game might have offered can’t possibly be worth how much this looks like a betrayal of trust to CU’s backers.

What Jacobs should have done is doubled down on getting CU out the door and then announced Ragnarok as a spin-off. If he’d done that, I think everyone would have welcomed it with open arms.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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Rodrigo Dias Costa

My opinions on this are more in line with McAdams’. In a sense, it surely is CSE’s fault, for the game being way harder to make than they expected, but also some may consider what were the other options without the additional funding. Starting selling virtual items? Deliver the game unfinished as is and fold? Not even deliver and disappear from the face of Earth?

What they’re doing may be not what supporters want and the announcement may have been badly planned, but from all possible outcomes, I do believe this was on the neutral-to-good side.

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Anton Mochalin

As I’m more interested in multiplayer co-op games than in MMORPGs I can only welcome that move. Though it definitely isn’t good that Camelot Unchained is so much behind the schedule so I understand that for many people this move has hurt the studio’s reputation. Not for me though – I just play games and take them for what they are, not for what’s written in their “roadmaps”.

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wratts

I feel like I’ve seen this tried three times before, with H1Z1, Fractured, and Ashes of Creation. I’m not sure there’s a good outcome for the “main” game no matter how it shakes out. Either the sub-game is very popular and becomes the better ROI for the studio, or the sub-game is very unpopular which distracts resources from the main-game into shoring it up, and makes financial backers more concerned that the studio isn’t capable of putting out a solidly marketable product.

Either way, has there ever been a case where the main game truly benefits and actually gets extra resources because of a sub-game launch?

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Tandor

Not in the other obvious example of Landmark and EQ Next, no. The sub-game folded, and the main game never got beyond vaporware.

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Tandor

I have always had a lot of respect for Mark Jacobs, as I’m mentioned on this site before he went “above and beyond” when dealing with a massive issue that the European players of Warhammer Online had at launch, and he banged heads together and got it sorted. We had some personal exchanges at that time and he impressed me with his responses and actions.

That said, he clearly messed up on this occasion, not necessarily with the basic decisions but in the way he presented them. Happily, he has admitted as much and in pretty blunt terms too! It does take a particular kind of person to front up to that sort of thing rather than bluster his way out.

I think we’ll all have to see how things go from here, but to me the biggest threat to CU isn’t the Colossus mess but rather the continuing delay and the growing sense of frustration that is causing both the backers and the other players whose interest in the game is probably waning as CU gets pushed back and with no clear indication of when they’re aiming for.

I’m sure Mark has had better times before, and he’ll have better times again. He’s the kind of guy who does spot when things aren’t going as they should and he fixes them. The hastily summoned nocturnal meeting in Paris I was referring to in my opening paragraph was proof of it then, and I doubt that his sense of obligation and commitment has gone away since then. I wish him well with it all, even tho’ neither CU nor Colossus is my sort of game. Warhammer Online was, and I wish it wasn’t lost to us.

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Fang GWJ

Sorry but, the yearning for an RvR has been largely met with Overwatch, Apex Legends, PUBG and Fortnite.
The only things those don’t address are persistence, leveling and expanding things like crafting and structure building.

But online shooters are much better equipped to dissect those issues and boil down to the working fun.

Leveling ruined the fun in Warhammer Online. RVR and scenario were great in tier 1 but even then there was the catch up mechanic of 1-7’s being boosted to level 8 to compete. And it got progressively worse in tier 2, 3, 4 and higher RRs to the point of circle capturing or trading off capturing defenseless points in RvR.

Persistence only adds the problems with faction population imbalance. Things like time zone differences, “uglier” factions, and class mirroring are only really issues with persistent worlds.

We see what structure building has become in Fortnite. Will it survive in CU? I don’t think it is a given. The danger is that it becomes like Warhammer Online where one faction builds something for the other side to take down and vice versa. Where the numbers show that defending is a waste of time/resources. (i.e. say that it costs resources to defend but is a net gain of resources to attack) . Also, a game like EQ: Landmark shows how locking building behind progression is finicky and frought with pitfalls.

Crafting was fun in UO. But even there it was easier to exploit/grief to get resources than it was to gather. The Darkfall style games demonstrate that to a T. Would a system like D3’s work? It is certainly straightforward and self sufficient but not trivial. And then you have things like kunai cube recipes to add depth. Yet I would suspect players would flame the idea regardless of its merits.

So, again, I am really happy that the horde mode PvE variant using CU tech is coming out. Sadly, it can’t just be really fun. It has to be fun enough to change hardened minds. I think there is potential. I could see a fantasy based Left 4 Dead with crafting and destructible environments being phenomenal. And Overwatch 2 is going to be heavy on the PvE as well…

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Bruno Brito

Sorry but, the yearning for an RvR has been largely met with Overwatch, Apex Legends, PUBG and Fortnite.

Neither of those games are MMOs with RvR. Where did you pull that opinion from?

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Fang GWJ

If you read passed the first paragraph, I illustrated how those games took what was fun from mmo rvr and discarded the rest. Some of the stuff they discarded still has potential, but the rest are things that mmo players say they want but vote against with their playtimes and complaints when they get it.

Alyn
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Alyn

Now while I truly understand that small studios that are trying their damnedest to make an mmo and need funding go to us for their money. Unfortunately too many times the studio fails to bring their game together in any playable form. How many games have we seen listed here on Massively during the week that are in some state of alpha or beta? Many. Bree would have the true numbers. How many of those “investments” have yet to see “the light of day”? Again, Bree would have to research that number for us.

All in all, there are far too many hopefuls out there that simply do not have the financial backing to “break through” to a full commercial release. We often feel cheated. There are many, many reasons why these attempts at game making fail. We all have read various stories about these failures right here on this magazine.

Bottom line for me is I have to stay away from financially backing something that, in these unsure times, might turn on a dime. It is just too risky of an investment for me. I would never have a negative word to say for any of those that feel a need to help an upstart. Go ahead, friend, but be ever wary of a possible failure.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

I suppose it’s normal for the backers to be antsy and disbelieving. Kickstarter backers for games have been lied to, hornswoggled, and duped. They’ve had their games hijacked by Epic, turned into entirely different genres, and vanish into vaporware or abandonware. Moreover, we’ve seen Early Access abused to the point of meaninglessness, live service mumbo-jumbo gut release integrity and utter trash released with promises to fix soon, whenever that is, yet loaded with MTX.

The gaming industry as a whole has zero credibility. People who pre-order anything are indulging in wishful thinking on the order of “I ran into a burning building and was surprised it was on fire.”

But, as my mother used to say, Hope Springs Eternal. And Kickstarter is the gushing geyser of hope, enthusiasm and engagement. It’s hard to see something you’ve put so much expectation in not meet those expectations.

However, There’s Many a Slip Twixt the Cup and the Lip (thanks, Mom, for filling my head full of handy aphorisms) and the uncertainty of what a project may face three, five or seven years down the road is hard to factor in. Among other things, who could have foreseen in 2013 that battle royale games would literally set the gaming world on fire?

It’s hard to find fault with Mark Jacobs or CSE for taking stock of their situation and finding a creative way to address it. To me, that shows determination. At the same time, it’s been seven years and backers have reason to be concerned.

And I swear, that building was not on fire when everyone ran into it.

gelfred
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gelfred

Ive had many great games that would not have existed without kickstarter, and a few bad ones. Kickstarter gave a boost of fresh energy to RPGs, RTS and other genres that had been lacking, and the MMO projects havent borne fruit yet and may not give good results, I dont see much coming to compete for RvR players so all I can do is enjoy seeing the progress of CU, despite how long its taking.

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Bruno Brito

Reality unfortunately doesn’t uphold your views. Yeah, Kickstarter and Crowdfunding have had great games, but more often than not, they end up being complete failures or worse: Complete scams.

And having a golden age developer doesn’t help, Mighty Number 9 is a great proof of it.

gelfred
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gelfred

I’m not so sure about that, most RPGs that have been kick started with large budgets have been successful, some with changed features in development but most giving a decent product. Some smaller budget games have flopped, but that is usually when 1-2 people work on them and such a game is obviously high risk, games such as Copper Dreams seem to be in development hell but small teams also cant present information with regularity so who knows.
Multiplayer games have certainly had trouble and failed, but really nearly every multiplayer game without a large company backing it has. Much success within specific genres of multiplayer game but much less success outside of this, that haven’t been kick started, probably due to lack of nostalgia for these new types of games. Quite a few failed arena shooters, but other shooters have succeeded in Early Access which took over from kick starter as primary crowdfunding method after an initial few years.

No point in doom and gloom, I gave CU a modest amount of money and any progress towards an RvR game made in the last decade is better than none, no one else is going to come up with RvR so its a minor loss to me if they fail and gain if they succeed.

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Bruno Brito

so its a minor loss to me if they fail and gain if they succeed.

There’s the problem: You’re placing this as “minor loss”. That’s not the point. The point is that you paid for a product and they delayed that product multiple times.

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Fang GWJ

It would be interesting to uncover what the percentages are of failed kickstarter and non kickstarter games. I’d wager that despite a lot of failed kickstarter games, the percentage of released games is higher than self or publisher backed games. But the difference may be close enough to be a wash. Game development is hard and prone to failure. (so quoteth a master of the obvious)

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Armsbend

“There’s Many a Slip Twixt the Cup and the Lip”

Never heard that one before. Your mom sounds awesome!

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Dean Greenhoe

I’m in for the long haul no matter the end result. This new game does nothing for me but I wish them well in its development.

My only real concern for CU is if the retirement home will have decent internet. :)

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Ironwu

“…It took a low-effort feature and expanded it into a new source of income to help the main product…..”

You do realize that this is exactly the same rational applied to Landmark, and to a great extent H1Z1? And who knows how many failed BR spinoffs were created under the same ‘Cheap & Easy’ philosophy.

I’m going to give CSE a chance to demonstrate some sort of commitment to finishing CU. But I am not buying any of the obvious PR nonsense.

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Utakata

As I’ve said, I’m taking a wait and see approach. I am concerned for the backers that this new project may indicate delays to the game they want to play and be fully developed. But I am also not going to dismiss Mr. Jacobs any potential opportunity of making his projects and company better for everyone. So I am can only wish the best of luck here an hope for the best results. /bows