Camelot Unchained boss rebuts theory that its studio finances are in disarray

    
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Dedicated readers of MassivelyOP already know that Camelot Unchained has become an MMO saddled with controversy over the last couple of years. Originally Kickstarted in 2013, it has seen multiple major delays, the founding of a second studio, and the announcement of a second game using its custom-built engine. It’s also run some pretty impressive mass-battle tests in its now three-year-old beta one phase and is by all accounts still under development.

However, the ongoing refund situation has been a thorn in City State Entertainment’s side since even before 2020 as players on Reddit and in our own comments have sought the refunds they were promised, some for over a year. Anyone who reads our comments knows how incredibly annoying it is to see every Camelot article about actual game progress followed by a thread that dissolves into a sea of complaints about delinquent refunds and haranguing of CSE, and we understand that some of the angry backers have turned to straight up harassment and toxicity behind the scenes, which is never OK.

But we’re still baffled as to why some of those refunds still haven’t been processed and why company has been willing to burn all its hard-won reputation and goodwill over what appears to be a clerical problem. That was one of the reasons we gave CU our “stormiest future” award in 2020.

I’d like to be able to tell you straight from the horse’s mouth what’s going on over there, but the second of our 2021 interviews with the studio on this very topic was never actually returned to us; our last formal response from CSE was in May. As we already noted in the March interview on alchemy, that second interview was focused on the studio funding situation rather than on design; specifically, we asked about the state of funding for both games, how long development would be sustainable on current funding, how hiring was going, how big the studio is, when the game would advance from beta one, when the remaining NDA would drop, when to expect launch or a minimum viable product, whether the game’s monetization could change, how big a playerbase was needed to sustain the game financially and gameplay-wise, what happened to Final Stand: Ragnarok and its “first access” last December, why refunds were so slow, how many more refunds were outstanding, and whether and how the studio had responded to apparently futile backer claims to the state attorney general.

Truth be told, we never expected clear answers on some of the more explicit questions – we all know devs aren’t really going to give launch dates in interviews – but others are fair game even now as CSE has maintained that the full game experience is still coming and refunds are ramping up with vaccinated staffers return to the office. And the lack of recent transparency on many of these topics had led to confusion and suspicion from backers who have traditionally praised the company’s candor.

To wit: A new video from YouTuber KiraTV goes digging into publicly available financial records for the company, including crowdfunding figures issued by CSE itself. By his accounting, the company actually seems to have unwittingly reported that it lost somewhere around $56,000 in crowdfunds through its website between May and November of last year, presumably because of refunds. After that, the crowdfunding ticker was removed from the website. He also argues that Final Stand: Ragnarok didn’t pull in much money either; based on the game’s website’s own counts, Kira calculates that it made only around $6000 from first access packs.

Of course, $56,000 is not really much money for CSE to lose in context, and from there, the math only gets much foggier and more speculative. Kira attempts to piece together things like office space rental fees, crowdfunding, multiple rounds of publicly disclosed investment, the $1.36M 2020 PPE loan, and the publicly disclosed $3.44M in salary for the company’s 38 staffers last year, estimating that the company has raised at least $18M and spent nearly as much (we assume much more on both counts – that’s actually a sign that CU’s staff are being relatively well-paid for an indie studio, and we already know Mark Jacobs doesn’t draw much of a paycheck).

Kira’s conclusion is that CSE is running on fumes, which might explain the refund situation, but he admits that it’s just guesswork based only on what is public and that it’s also possible CU still has a huge cache of untapped funding waiting in the wings.

The problem here is that we’re missing so much of the behind-the-scenes of the company that while concerns seem well-justified, conclusions about the company’s health are premature. Redditors, for example, have reminded naysayers that CSE was hungrily hiring for both its studios all through last year. And then, CSE’s Mark Jacobs himself appeared in the YouTube thread to rebut some of the theories.

“Your title ‘The finances are REALLY bad’ is untrue and misleading since you don’t have the facts,” Jacobs posted. “As a privately-held company, we don’t have to talk about all the funding we’ve received. Lots of privately-held companies talk about their finances, others do not, especially when they are not taking a large round of financing (as we did in the past). […] It can ‘look’ to you anyway you think it does but you are claiming that ‘The finances are REALLY bad’ which is quite different from ‘The finances LOOK REALLY bad’ One is stated as a fact, that other is stated as an opinion. Your choice of course but there is a world of difference between the two. And, if you simply looked at how we keep expanding the team, that we aren’t a team whose finances are ‘REALLY bad’ or we couldn’t continue to hire.”

In responses to other hecklers and well-wishers, Jacobs also posts the most recent update on refunds to date, remarking that the CU team has still not returned to its East Coast office as of the middle of July.

“In terms of refunds, nothing has changed in terms of how I do things. When I’m in the office, I take time out to pay some refunds along with my other work. The team is still not back in the Virginia office and I’ve only been going in some days and WFH the rest. That will continue.”

The community is certainly missing key information in the overall picture, but the backslide in crowdfunding, flop of Final Stand: Ragnarok, and PPE figures aren’t really in dispute; they merely add to our understanding of the project. While there’s no concrete evidence to believe City State is on the verge of collapse, we have also seen first-hand that neither we nor the public are getting the transparency on the crowdfunded Camelot Unchained that we deserve, which has resulted in an upswell of distrust coming from vocal MMO players and personal disappointment from stalwart fans who’ve followed the game for eight years. And until the refund process is finally and fully complete for all the backers who’ve been waiting so long, it seems as if CU will continue on under this rain cloud of its own making.

With thanks to Pepperzine.

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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David Ko

Jacob’s to Massively OP after promising them answers: “We owe You nothing
legally or morally”.

Sargon
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Sargon

I have a significant amount of money invested in CU and I’m ok with it. I still trust Mark and his studio’s ability to deliver a game much more than most other Kickstarter projects. The game has been delayed longer than I would have hoped, but it is still better than the alternative (*cough* SotA).

I do question the long-term financial viability though. By the time the game launches, it is hard to imagine that they are going to be able to get enough new purchases and recurring subscriptions to recoup their costs.

But… They do have the engine, and I’m beginning to wonder whether that is the product moreso than the game itself.

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Ardra Diva

Just my opinion. When your ‘fork’ your efforts and announce a new game before the one you’re supposed to be working on is even near finished, you’re distracted, eye off the ball, divided attention and resources, and I can’t see how that’s ever a positive sign.

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Dean Greenhoe

Either way I understood the risks. I will not ask for a refund.

This will be either an expensive lesson or a slow rewarding payout. Life goes on. :)

Alyn
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Alyn

Yes, this is probably my attitude to crowdfunding as well. It’s a type of calculated risk you take, similar to placing money on a particular stock.

I have been pretty much, personally, against crowdfunding in general. I did crowdfund this site back in the days when America Online was going “belly up” and Bree and company really needed we the readers to step up. That is an example of a low risk crowdfunding. However, back in 2013, I crowdfunded an mmorpg called “EverQuest Next” and we completely devastated at their failure to even be able to introduce us to anyone actually truly working on the project accept the “leadership” in charge of certain aspects of this lie of an mmo.

From that point forward, it is a no-go for me. If a studio want to spend 5 to 6 years and 50 to 70 million dollars in today’s money, then they need real investors. Yeah, even that can be a real pain, however, there are precious few mmorpg’s out there that have been 100% successfully player funded and are in actual commercial release.

“It’s easier to fool people than to convince them they have been fooled.” — Mark Twain

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draugris

I am a backer since Kickstarter and have around 200$ into the game.

For the video KiraTV is a professional shit talker who is on a crusade for Kickstarter games. He is mad about all kinds of things, for example about NDA’s, he thinks that he should be able to play games in that early stage without investing anything. He is shit talking games that fight rmt by limiting player to player trade because then he can’t be carried by his viewers amymore etc. etc. etc.So anything this dude says should be taken with a grain of salt to say the least.

To the refunds, i get that people are angry about the delays, and rightfully so. I also think that how the refunding is handled is super unprofessional. The story about the non networked computer is absolutely hilarious and shameful for a tech company. There are ways to handle remote access in a secure way, i work for over 20 years in IT as a Sr. Systems Engineer for servers and networking so no i do not buy that fairy tale at all. CSE should return to transparancy immediately and telling all people who are in the refund queue a realistic timeframe when their tickets are beeing dealt with.

Otoh i do think that a lot of people should not have backed that game. They have a customer mentality that they buy that game early and therefore have expectations. Imo thats the wrong mindset, if you invest in a kickstarter you should have an investor mindset. You invest in something that you want to become life but there is always a risk that it’s not. You invest in a dream and you should do that only with money you can afford to loose.

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Rndomuser

You invest in something that you want to become life but there is always a risk that it’s not. You invest in a dream and you should do that only with money you can afford to loose.

Of course, and I was fully aware of that when investing into this Kickstarter. I can also afford to lose the money I invested. However, I really dislike when game developer stops being honest with the people, which also includes lack of proper communication, and this is the only reason I want the promised refund, as well as why I want to warn other potential customers about the behavior of the company (what they do with that warning is up to them, they’re always free to disregard it and buy the beta access to the game). If I will not get the refund – that is totally fine, it’s not a big loss to me, I spent 10x of that amount on Twitch donations to my favorite streamers and to various charities. If I will get it – I’ll just use that money to donate them to someone else whom I believe deserve that money more.

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Narficus

Except that KS as per TOS is not an investment (nor a “donation” “gift” or whatever) but a contract, and one that generally has covenant of good faith of deliver what is contracted or communicate the reason why not in full detail, and if that contract includes a refund policy then people should not be spending months to years on public campaigns just to get their money back.

For a big point, nowhere did it ever mention the side-project, which it is more than reasonable to believe that CSE diverted time and money previous allocated for CU. Mark Jacobs has been acting like a bad debtor. The backlash was deserved for his unveiling of bad faith.

People do not need to go shopping for a lawyer – they can talk to their state attorney general’s office (or similar) about bad business and how much is involved, and go from there.

As another article reminded me (might have been this one in another comment thread), 4 Australians gave us Steam Refunds. You folks need to get what is owed back to you, whether it be what you paid for or a refund, NOT a bunch of side-hustle and excuse voicemails.

Contractually. More people need to consider what KS really IS, not what they’d like for it to be.

At least we haven’t gotten to The Burger Analogy… yet.

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draugris

So first of all, I talked about mentality and not about legal issues. Second what is “good faith”? Does not every company that is not a scam right away have that?

“The backlash was deserved for his unveiling of bad faith”

Are you talking about Final Stand Ragnarok? This has nothing to do with “bad faith” and I really don´t get how you can say that. CSE needed investor money and the only way they were able to convince them was to sell them FSR as an idea. That somebody who owns a small studio with very limited resources is so desperate that he is willing to take the risk of splitting development time between two projects in order to get money for the company should tell you a thing or two about how the status quo is.

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Narficus

The mentality should be the thing that is happening, not some kind of metaphor that doesn’t nearly encapsulate the situation. I also love all the excuses people use to provide reason for This Is Fine when it would probably not even pass investment law.

Keep doing that until it’s not fine, right?

The KS was for CU, not to develop anything else. Using that money to develop anything else IS bad faith. I also wouldn’t suggest you think of doing that with investor money because that would be a really bad idea.

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draugris

Dude you don´t get it do you…. Nothing is fine with CSE. That´s my whole point. But i do think that some people should not back KS games if they think they buy a product that is guaranteed.

“The KS was for CU, not to develop anything else. Using that money to develop anything else IS bad faith.”

Honestly this is delusional. Have you listened to what MJ said in that infamous stream? The studio NEEDED money. Do you get that? If you need money from investors you have to sell them something, understand? Apparently, nobody was willing to give them money for CU anymore so he came up with that idea. This is not bad faith, he wanted his studio to survive a bit longer. I understand that people are angry but your argument is simply blind hatred.

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Bruno Brito

But i do think that some people should not back KS games if they think they buy a product that is guaranteed.

The problem with this point is simply that MJ was able to get all the initial funding from backers by promising refunds. And by doing that, he has an obligation to follow through.

It’s all there is to it. If he hadn’t promised anything, i would agree with you 100%.

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draugris

I don´t know how much experience you have with software development projects at that scale and whether you followed through with the development process at CSE. The project was far from funded realistically, he made an expectation of how much money he would need. But along the way during development there crystallized some problems, for example, the ability system. It simply did not work so they had to rewrite that from scratch what cost time and manpower aka extra money that was not expected, and there were a lot of such things. The server infrastructure was recoded etc. If you develop something at that scale plus if you want to invent your own engine, a lot of unforeseeable things can happen during development and as we know they did. So you can maybe hold against him that CSE was too ambitious, but that the Kickstarter funding was not enough I mean that was crystal clear from the beginning for anybody who even follows remotely how MMORPG´s are being developed.

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Narficus

That just brings up the point that there wasn’t anything planned for contingency, if that, which anyone familiar with software development projects at that scale and whether you followed through with the development process like the history of MMORPGs should know WILL happen.

So those excuses are just proof for precisely why Mark Jacobs is now living in Derek Smart’s own circle of Dev Hell – and having about the same level of meltdown.

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dinarian_

Not everyone waiting for a refund backed via kickstarter. I didn’t do anything at all with KS, I bought my copy of CU through CSE’s webstore (the webstore that has a written refund policy). I wasn’t a kickstarter investor, I was a regular customer, and I am still waiting for my refund. I am on day 512 of waiting.

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Adam Russell

Wait, I can get a refund? Or no its too late?

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Drunk3nShaman

Can’t wait to play this in 2025

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Dankey Kang

think you’re being pretty optimistic there pal

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Narficus

“…those refunds still haven’t been processed…”

This is the crux of the entire matter. Those who want out are TRYING to get out but are still invested and drawn back into this because the developer keeps them there from unfulfilled obligations, now twice over.

This situation has been festering upon all social media and discussion points for the game for quite a long time that it almost seemed like an intentional marketing campaign. It isn’t helped when key staff behind the game are going around, not putting out any fires, but causing even more community inflammation via refusal of basic customer service.

It really looks like Mark Jacobs was milking the mess for any kind of press mention.

agemyth 😩
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agemyth 😩

Bad Youtube speculation for sure but I wish Mark would stop trying to be the direct and personable CEO type. It may have worked in the initial crowdfunding stages and may still work in some meetings with investors, but please stop doing this with the general public for the sake of your studio and game(s).

I’m an idiot so I’ll still not ask for a refund for my measly $60 or whatever I paid, but seeing the way all this keeps happening is only getting sadder and sadder.

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Robert Trey Hardy

Had to sign up to respond to this ….enabling remark

dissolves into a sea of complaints about delinquent refunds and haranguing of CSE, and we understand that some of the angry backers have turned to straight up harassment and toxicity behind the scenes, which is never OK.

So, it is the writers belief that late and negligent refunds, after time frames are established, is not a valid reason to be upset and for a person who has been waiting on end, should just shut up or, when speaking, be polite, and ignore the indifference?

I disagree.

Your “is never OK” smacks of a social position rather than an understanding.

As a privately-held company, we don’t have to talk about all the funding we’ve received. Lots of privately-held companies talk about their finances, others do not, especially when they are not taking a large round of financing (as we did in the past). […] It can ‘look’ to you any way you think it does but you are claiming that ‘The finances are REALLY bad’ which is quite different from ‘The finances LOOK REALLY bad’ One is stated as a fact, that other is stated as an opinion. Your choice of course but there is a world of difference between the two

I don’t play the game, intend to play the game, nor have I backed the game. I can read what is going on in that paragraph and it’s NOT a post of reassurance while putting someone in their place. That is someone flailing and deflecting.

When I’m in the office, I take time out to pay some refunds along with my other work.

And that is a dismissive defense meant to garner sympathy and put someone in their place

Not familiar with the company, but that guy should hire someone to post or stop responding and keep issuing refunds. He opened that door and now he has to live with it. You back a project I make and it dies, you’re money is gone as is my time. We are both out. The only reason he would start this mess up is if he has been cooking or thinks he still has a chance to go live and get paid.

if he has been cooking, he has to string people along until he can muddy the water enough that inspectors get lost in the paper trail as no one is going to hire a forensic account over 20-30k. If fraud CAN be proven, or implied strongly enough, with a smidge of proof, then a local DA may authorize such and see where that goes. I mean, you pay for that either way :)

If it’s a push to maintain credibility while doing his level best to get the game out, then of course he’s on a budget, and every dime out is 1 less line of code addressed.

Kickstarters do a few things. Cheer that value X was tripled on investors, then, ALWAYS, get airheaded and start spending on stupid crap “for the project”. Then things for the house, because you might do work at home,etc,etc, and those funds vanish because NO ONE seems intelligent enough to pad a budget for Murphy’s law.

You don’t see the large companies pushing kick-starters. You see random joe and his 2 college buddies who spent 4 months creating a solid looking demo, and sucker in the gamers unlucky enough to learn about it :) Reminds me of the good ol days of Cheyenne mnt entertainment who screwed the gamers AND MGM :) They got a contract with VERY narrow criteria, met that criteria, went in debt to his OWN shell company, then canned the game and played dumb while shareholder lawsuits built up :)

I’m with you. A game for players by players always sounds wholesome. But there is that vicious circle. Like the people who start a revolution to overthrow a dictator, then evolve into something worse in the ensuing years. Or a pair of guys who knock the PC world into the public spotlight, make a company worth billions, then 1 turns into an evil bastage and screws all of his friends :)

It always starts off well but either via mismanagement, delusional thinking, or despotism, dies or becomes a thing only die-hards want to be a part of.

If you invest, make sure it is an amount you’re fine with setting on fire for a cause you support. When I buy stock, and the wife cringes when I start saying certain things, I consider every dime I throw out on calls, puts, or an outlandish strike, no longer part of my world. I lose nearly as much as I make, but I know the risks and anyone investing in a kickstarted needs to stop kidding themselves on what they are doing. Gambling.

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Bruno Brito

straight up harassment and toxicity behind the scenes, which is never OK.

Read the thing you quote next time.

Death threats, anti-semitism and overall harassment is NOT feedback or demanding rights of any kind.

You want to get your shit back, do it through the proper channels.