Chronicles of Elyria‘s 2020 saga is without a doubt of the most concerning MMO stories of the entire year. This past spring, after reaching pre-alpha and running a funding campaign, developer Soulbound Studios abruptly announced it had run out of funds, laid off the entire staff, shuttered the studio, and ended development on the game, which understandably upset the gamers who’d pitched in for its $1.4M 2016 Kickstarter and piles more money along the way. As that anger hardened into legal action, Soulbound’s Jeromy Walsh then clarified that game was still in production with volunteer staff.
That’s been reiterated today. Walsh has just released a brand-new video to Elyria backers and fans, confirming that the MMO is still in production, that some members of the team have been brought back to work on it, and that its timelines and scope have been re-evaluated so the team can get the game into backer hands as quickly as possible. Ahead of the video’s release, we had a chance to chat with Walsh, who provided additional details on hiring, crowdfunding, financial auditing, communication, and scope shifts. Read on for the whole video and our interview too.
MassivelyOP: The video makes multiple references to the current team, which is apparently much smaller than the old team. Can you discuss who makes up the current team now? Are they all people who worked on it before? How many people are there? Will other staff be picked back up at some point? How are the current staff being compensated, if they are being paid?
Soulbound’s Jeromy Walsh: Our team is much smaller than it was – we haven’t hidden the fact that we had to lay off most of our employees. However, we’re hiring again and will continue to do so as the need arises. The intention being that we prioritize bringing back former employees whenever possible. As it currently stands, we’re approaching our goals differently than we did previously and only bringing back the staff we need as appropriate for our revised roadmap.
You suggest that you actually see a path forward for the game’s release – can you go into more detail on this? Does the studio have new investors or a publisher lined up to see Elyria to the finish line? Or is the studio going to be turning to crowdfunding again? Who is paying for the development of the game right now? What’s the status of the PPP loan Soulbound took on in April?
We’ve taken as much reward-based crowdfunding as we plan to and development costs are being paid for from the studio budget. I also continue to work without pay, as I have since March. We’re positive about the path forward, and have revised our timeline to not only reflect the team size, but development milestones we can complete quickly. Where the PPP loan is concerned, it was received – alongside many thousands of other American businesses during the pandemic – and it continues to be used to drive development.
During the video, you mention wanting to clear the air about how crowdfunds were used in the past, specifically mentioning that you initiated an independent audit of your finances that determined funds were not wasted. Are the results of that audit available for press or backers to examine?
We recently updated our FAQ to tackle this issue, but just to add a little more to it, we do not plan to share the forensic accounting of our studio’s books at this time. We understand that our backers – including yourselves – want to know that the money contributed to Chronicles of Elyria’s development was appropriately spent. All I can say is that an external auditor evaluated Soulbound Studio’s statements, expenditures, profit and loss and was satisfied with our records and use of funds. I think the key part of this question is that our backers want to know that they’ll get what they paid for, and for us, the best way to demonstrate that is to deliver Chronicles of Elyria as intended.
Communication has been a big issue for the game, this year and in the past as well, as the video intimates. Can you discuss what specific steps the studio will be taking to improve communication – obviously videos are on the agenda, but what else?
We’re aiming to deliver one video a month, alongside several blog posts and development journals that give further insight into what we’re up to. We’re also inviting backers and those who’ve questions about the project to get in touch with us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. When we’re at a point where we’re after direct player feedback and we’re in a position to respond to feedback in a meaningful way, we’ll reopen our forums and the appropriate Discord channels.
You mention struggling finding engineers, a problem so many smaller game studios have had the last few years. What’s the plan for getting more? Is this staffing issue going to bottleneck any areas of the game’s development?
Small studios will always find it challenging to make the right hires, and we were no exception. However, our small size now allows us to continue development and move forward while keeping costs low. More important than a large team is having the right balance between design, engineering, and content. We’re able to move forward unhindered as we are, however we’re always on the lookout for new talent as we look to the future, and are currently hiring for some key roles.
I might be reading between the lines here a bit, but based on the video, it sounds as if Elyria’s scope or maybe just its timeline will be changing to deliver the game more quickly – are we understanding it right, and can you discuss the type of content that will be prioritized now?
There’s no mistaking that we’ve had to adjust what we’re capable of delivering in the short term after our difficult development period. But, part of our planning has been determining how we get to a point where we’re able to deliver on the full scope of the game. While I’m not yet in a position to share exactly how we’ve refocused our efforts, we’ll be releasing that information soon, and likely in the next few episodes of Inside Chronicles of Elyria. Our aim now is to choose development paths where we can make large inroads quickly, getting something into the hands of our backers as soon as possible.
Do you have a new window or ETA for test phases or release? When will the game actually be in player hands again? Will that include Kickstarter backers and those who backed the game through other avenues prior to this year?
Right now, there’s no ETA and we’re reluctant to share fixed dates. However, and as just mentioned, we’re focusing heavily on areas of Chronicles of Elyria that can be developed quickly. Testing phases for continued development will absolutely include our Kickstarter backers and those who were in the earliest test phases. As soon as we’re ready to get something into their hands, they’ll be the first to know.
I poked my head into the class-action Discord group; they’re all pretty peeved still, especially as some of them feel they’ve been cheated out of thousands of dollars, particularly the people who backed the game right before the studio closure. Can you discuss your litigation and its pending status? Are you planning to refund these backers or reach out to them in some other way? I’m asking this because it seems like this video is basically an attempt to come clean and start over, which is laudable – but making it right with the angry folks would help too.
Unfortunately, we cannot discuss the details of ongoing or potential legal claims against the studio, and we’ve discussed refunds in our recently updated FAQ. What I can say is that our intention is still to deliver Chronicles of Elyria to our backers. We believe that’s the best and only way to make right by them, and it’s something we’re committed to doing.
If you could do 2020 differently from an Elyria perspective, what would you do first?
2020 was a challenging year for the studio and we made some difficult decisions. Events that were in our control, while leading to hard choices, were still the right decisions for the studio at that time. We’re still here and are stronger for it. The important thing now is that we continue to grow from past challenges and focus on how we’re going to do better in the future. As a studio, we’re applying lessons learned as we move forward with development, so that we can deliver on what we promised in the most expedient way possible.