Working As Intended: There is no good reason for MMO gamers to fund Dreamworld

    
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Not quite a month ago, we covered the Kickstarter for a wildly ambitious MMORPG, Dreamworld. We were, uh, pretty skeptical about the game’s chances. As we noted, the game’s 2.5 developers demonstrated no outreach in the MMORPG industry, no MMO dev pedigree or experience, and no understanding of modern Kickstarter failures. The website and Kickstarter were thin, and the video showed many stock assets, and yet the promises made by this tiny novice team with only eight months of development under its belt were extravagant: an “infinite open world MMO” with “millions of players” in “one single world” made up of “thousands of unique biomes” developed to be a playable alpha in just a few more months.

In other words, they’re pitching a game with the scale and breadth that wealthy and experienced and connected MMORPG industry vets have struggled to produce with full dev teams and unlimited funds for over two decades. They even bracketed it all with a tear-jerker of an origin story and named the game DreamWorld, inviting obvious jokes and causing the likes of GreedMonger to blush and our legions of commenters to grumble.

In spite of the fact that we suggested players wait and see what happens before shelling out, gamers are poised to give them their $10,000 and then some anyway, a sum that is merely the cherry on top of outside investment (which is presumably where they got their Facebook ad spend, targeting the exact demographic most likely to hand over money). The game is now just a day away from funding at over six times its original ask, and since this is Kickstarter, they get all of it whether there’s ever a playable game or not. Clearly, we need to be far less subtle. Noted.

Today’s update from the team declares that it “met [its] seed fundraising goals through the YCombinator network of venture capital investors.” It does not say there how much money that is or who is investing (more on this later). The missive also promises a merch store as its next stretch goal (…), and the comment section is filled with people deleting their pledges, complaining about Discord moderation, and declaring the game a scam. One backer actually posted a massive list of questions for the developers, which were answered… but not fully. The developers bob and weave their way through direct questions about game copies, a release window, AI development, player limits, griefing, and stress test concurrency, all while repeatedly directing questioners into their dev-friendly home turf on Discord.

(Those follow-up questions have yet to be answered.)

Bizarrely (and to their credit?), the two core devs also sat for an interview on a teeny-tiny YouTube channel, where they come off as affable and genuine. There are some puff questions in there, but most are perfectly on point. For example, the YouTuber, Skiazos, carefully inquires about the UE store assets, which the devs laugh off, saying they are wisely focusing their efforts on custom gameplay instead of reinventing the wheel. He then asks how the team will manage to actually get millions of people into the game technically without ridiculous latency. The answer? Put as much as possible in the client to reduce latency, which runs contrary to pretty much every major online game (because cheating). Skiazos immediately calls them on this.

“This is actually a very common networking problem,” the engineer in the duo replies. “The current way this is solved is that you cryptographically sign the code in the application that’s being run, and then there’s a certificate that the clients have that’s a public and private key pair. Since we both send out the clients and we have the server, we can kind of embed these certificates on both sides, and the server and client doublechecks.”

Skiazos pointedly asks about the game’s finances; I was surprised to see the studio reps claim they have $650,000 raised from outside investors so far (that was March 22nd, mind you). YCombinator (the investment platform) apparently invested 7% ($125K) itself, followed by the current seed round referred to today, but the devs won’t namedrop any specific other investors who anted up, just saying that they have a Twitch co-founder, Google senior VP, family members, and YCombinator investors on board. Obviously, no evidence is offered for this funding claim, except for the fact that this team actually is listed on YCombinator. It’s not clear why these details were disclosed on a YouTube channel with a few dozen subscribers and not in the Kickstarter itself, but then again the devs make clear that the Kickstarter exists more for exposure than for funding, which isn’t atypical.

Look fam. We’ve been covering crowdfunded MMORPGs since the days of Old Massively in our Make My MMO column, since the days when Kickstarter first began, and we know how Kickstarter works first-hand since we ourselves were Kickstarted. Last weekend, we went through our entire list of crowdfunded MMOs and categorized the 100 or so of them by status. There are a lot of winners – more than you’d think, honestly. Kickstarter does work, sometimes. It has its place.

But there are just as many scams. Active, outright, overt scams. Nobody will ever be legally accountable. That money is gone. MMOs were not saved. The genre was only made more cynical because most of the large-scale crowdfunded core MMOs have yet to release. I mean, damn, this is an industry where the multi-millionaire who literally invented the word “MMORPG” 24 years ago can’t even be held properly accountable to actual EC investors and the government for his last flopped game, never mind to mere Kickstarter donors. It’s just not always obvious which ones are scams from the start or just hopeless delusion. To quote MOP’s Eliot,

“[S]ome outfits really aren’t grifters but are just so ponderously bad at managing money that a crowdfunded game sure turns into what seems to be a scam. And then there are times when something starts out as a good-faith effort but morphs into rent-seeking over time – because when you’re already halfway there, you may as well go all-in.”

I can’t say for sure which one this one is either, frankly. The Kickstarter reads like a scam, but the video sounds like a pair of kids with the impossible dream.

But for the sake of argument, let’s assume it’s completely, 100% legitimate and that the engineers are brilliant once-in-a-generation prodigies who can actually pull this off: There’s still no reason you should gamble on yet another distant MMO or engage in a Kickstarter marketing stunt when rich people – who actually stand to profit, unlike you – are willing to fund it. The only way you can ever be sure you can’t lose is to never throw money at it in the first place. If it’s going to succeed, great, awesome, welcome to the genre – but you can just buy it if and when it does.

The MMORPG genre might be “working as intended,” but it can be so much more. Join Massively Overpowered Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce in her Working As Intended column for editorials about and meanderings through MMO design, ancient history, and wishful thinking. Armchair not included.
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Nabe
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Nabe

While I’m sure these happen all the time, the last one I remember was Oath… what happened to that, I remember something about how them privating their Discord, then just scarpered? I imagine this’ll be the same.

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G I G A B E A R

$2000+ backer here.

I’m feeling better about my decision having read this article, which I fully expected to be written and the reason why I suspect no outreach was made. Why would you approach an outlet known to be hostile to crowdfunding about your crowdfunded game?

We’ll see what happens next.

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Drunk3nShaman

I put 2000 in Ethereum, we will see in five years who made out better. hope it works out for you.

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Connor

If your $2,000 in Ethereum goes down to $10 in value over the next five years, you’ll still have ten dollars more than if you wasted it on this Kickstarter.

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Kickstarter Donor
NecroFox4

I’m not saying it’s Dawn 2.0, but…. It’s Dawn 2.0…

Relmharver
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Relmharver

“…and no understanding of modern Kickstarter failures.” Oh, I think they understand exactly how this business model works.

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Jon Wax

Noware.

boom.
roasted.

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Kanbe

Wow that video of theirs is just chalk full of red flags. I had to watch to see if it was really as bad as it sounds and well, it looks worse IMO. The tear jerker sob story (if it’s even real) had no place in the video other than to garner sympathy which might attract some more donors.

To me this looks like either a lazy scam (that’s sadly working) or 2 kids with massive dreams who aren’t grounded in reality.

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Loopy

What if – and hear me out – these two guys with zero MMO experience end up creating exactly what they set out to do. And we as a community finally learn that it was the industry veterans that held back the genre for so long, and all they needed was some outside perspective, drive, and vision!

Nah, probably not.

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Jo Watt

Lol. Would be funny though. Especially with all those, “from the guy who served coffee during the development of Ultima Online” making a great mmo! 8+ years now we see glimpses of games that look to be 2+ years in development and made for the audience 20+ years ago.

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

I mean, if you watched their video, they claim they are ‘industry vets’ in a way themselves(We used to work for peoples!)…so this would only be a slight stretch.

I highly doubt this will end up making something because they are promising everything and eventually sometimes they hand you a basic ‘Not everything that was promised’ in return…but something may come of this…

I’m willing to hold out ‘hope’ for something new and innovative, but I also am a cynic and know it won’t happen, so I’m not going to be let down. :P

PlasmaJohn
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PlasmaJohn

In my book ” no MMO dev pedigree or experience” is a bonus and the farthest thing from a red flag. Not so much from an innovation standpoint but because “MMO dev pedigree” screams utter lack of “enterprise architecture and operational experience”.

To be fair there are plenty of other red flags (2.5 engineers, lol) involved.

Tizmah
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Tizmah

The game’s art assets and direction look worse than most sims in 2010 Second Life. Who the hell gave them 64K for this already? All it takes is a smooth tongue for some people to part with their money I guess.

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cursedseishi

To note as well, Dreamworld was also a ‘Project We Love’ holder up until–I believe–April 4th. I mentioned it on another article, but that little badge does more than just give a project a thumbs up. It gives the project preferential representation and an additional coat of ‘trust’ because the site itself is endorsing the game.
Paired with them preying upon non-savy users through ads in websites off the known hobbyist/enthusiast/professional games trade, it’s criminally easy to get away with ‘succeeding’ with a goal, especially as big of a non-goal as their 10k price was.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night’s kickstarter was done to show interest in the project, and Igarashi was upfront about that too. But their initial goas was $500k, because as competent, real developers in the industry they also knew how expensive things can get, and it would be… straight up ridiculous to ask for that game to fund minimally at $10k. And it showed investers interest with ~65k backers down for the game as is.
Hell, Red Ash – The Indelible Legend, shameless MegaMan Legends knock-off that it was, had at least 6k backers, even though the project failed to hit the goal (multitudes of reasons there, too much to type here).

And I’ll say this right now, but if they wanted ‘exposure’ and show potential outreach? This project is a bloody failure of both. 650 backers isn’t the sort of number that makes me comfortable in thinking this ‘MMO’ project will succeed or be worth investing. That isn’t sustainable MMO numbers, and the pocket-change they have raised is hardly an equitable or fair share of costs these investors will have to put up for it. And regarding the goal itself? Projects asking for these absurdly low goals are, more likely than not, scams*. They operate off an easy reach, use ad agencies/groups to get the project out where it’ll most likely get cash from, and misrepresent/obfuscate as much as they can. Then they run off after the fact.

There are multiple red flags here. Dreamworld doesn’t offer any sort of demo, the ‘alpha’ gameplay that is on offer is only through a raffle system where you needed to get 2 people to back the kickstarter–and that only gets you on the waiting list to maybe eventually get to play it. No actual gameplay exists out in the wild, nor has anyone really talked or met people who did play it. And the videos being shown? They’re not just assets slapped into a space, the entire pirate area as a whole is one giant pre-assembled pack that they even failed to hide the in-asset video tour prompt from the cut (you’ll see a ‘press button to enter movie mode’ prompt in the upper corner). I reported the project more than a week ago, but knowing Kickstarter’s horrendous failings at enforcing/investigating things I doubt anything will come of it other than the unmentioned pulling of their endorsement well after the funding had died down.
Seriously, only one project I’ve reported has ever been pulled–and that was because the idiot was blatantly putting up MMO projects of F2P games that had been out for years, proclaiming he developed them and etc. etc.. You have to actively campaign against yourself and out yourself as a scammer to be thrown off Kickstarter.

*Yes, added an addendum here. Not every project asking for a low goal is obviously a scam, after all. Undertale had a tiny $5k goal, and we all know how big that game has gotten. What’s important is project scale, experience, and aim. But this is precisely why I am against Dreamworld being on Kickstarter, much less getting funded. All three of those important elements are violated here. They have literally zero experience in the field, they have literally an ‘infinite’ scale and that scale is as wide as their aim is tall. That is to say, infinite. All of which, of course, is outlandish.
That they are actively silencing backers off-site when they ask about plans for funding and how they’ll be handling development is just another tag. And, well… sob stories being thrown in to make themselves an ’emotional underdog shooting for his dreams’ is just… disgusting. There’s some other stuff linked to that for me that isn’t tied to this project, and once that mess clears up I might make more than a passing mention of it elsewhere but…

I don’t care about your sob-story, not when the project isn’t about it. There are other platforms more suited to airing them, and even raising money to help off-set that. A Kickstarter project about a game is not that platform, and it is not the place to try and use it to garner sympathy backing.