Perfect Ten: A sampler of crowdfunded MMOs and how they’re doing

    
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A journey into complexity.

I’ve gone on the record many a time as being deeply suspicious of Kickstarter and crowdfunding when it comes to MMOs. There are reasons for this, and most of them are the obvious and mundane ones outlined in prior pieces, simply noting the cost and the complexity of MMOs and asking how easy it is to actually assemble them even when a crowdfund project tops a million dollars (which, for the record, is a pretty dang successful Kickstarter). But it occurred to me that it might be useful to assemble a reasonable sampling of Kickstarted titles and take a look at how many of them are doing well and how many, well… aren’t.

As a result, today’s column, in which I tried to find the highest-profile and most-successful titles out of the array of Kickstarted and otherwise-crowdfunded games we cover in our Make My MMO roundups, excluding things that have never been in some sort of playable state or titles like Chronicles of Elyria best described as “embroiled in lawsuits.” I wanted to take a look at the best of the best, so to speak. So let’s take a walking tour through where these titles stand.

Boat.

1. Elite Dangerous

We’re starting off in solid territory here. Elite Dangerous was Kickstarted way back when, something I think of as easy to forget because I forget it all the dang time. But it was crowdfunded, and now it’s nicely humming along and has been for quite some time. We’re got some writers here who definitely prefer it for all of their space-trucking needs, to boot.

That’s not to say that the game is devoid of problems (remember when its players managed to re-invent indentured servitude starting from first principles) or problematic updates (like the most recent one), but they’re the class of problems you expect from ongoing MMOs that are doing all right for themselves. They’re not problems like changing hands unexpectedly or never making it out of beta or some of the more scummy sides of raising money. So they’re all right.

Homes.

2. Albion Online

Albion Online wasn’t officially a Kickstarted MMO, but it was heavily crowdfunded well before its launch, so it counts for this column. I cannot adequately explain how often I see advertisements for this game, so I can only assume that other people see them pretty often as well. But I don’t think people would argue that this one isn’t doing well for itself. It’s kind of like the little open PvP title that could, in no small part because it offers people a lot of things to do other than just milling around and kicking other players in the virtual junk.

Not that you can’t do that, mind you. You just aren’t limited to that. Combine that with developer appearances from comfy chairs and the game seems to be in a good place.

It's dead, Jim.

3. Pathfinder Online

This game, meanwhile, is soon to be in no place at all. Another open PvP title (there are a lot of these), Pathfinder Online limped its way into an early access state, muddled along for ages, and now finally has an actual closure date. The game didn’t work out very well, in other words. But it did get to something of a playable state, so that means that it’s definitely ahead of some other games.

Hmm.

4. Crowfall

If you ask about the current state of Crowfall, you get a solid “answer hazy, try again later” from the Magic 8-Ball. Concerns about population and the long-term prospects of the game remain in abundance, at least in part due to the layoffs, which prompted some people to insist that everything is fine and others to insist with equal intensity that the sky is falling.

Regardless of which one you subscribe to, it seems pretty clear that while Crowfall made it to launch, it didn’t precisely light the world on fire. Which is perhaps not a good thing in and of itself.

You remembered when this name was attached to Garriott's.

5. Shroud of the Avatar

At this point, this is the game Richard Garriott tries to pretend he didn’t make, it seems. It was initially sold as being his triumphant return to building a nice big online RPG unconstrained by the restrictions of publishers or anyone second-guessing him, and it launched to weak reviews and do you remember when he was literally selling his blood to people for this game? How is that a sentence I have to write.

Anyhow, the game is now owned by Catnip Games and has what we here refer to as a “box o’ shame” due to various shady-as-hell things done by the current operators that we can’t in good faith fail to mention when covering the title. That’s never a good thing.

SOTA's box o' shame
Longtime MOP readers will know that Shroud of the Avatar is a controversial game in the MMO space. Kickstarted in 2013, the game and its original studio have been criticized for cutting promised features, crowdfunding excessively, delaying Kickstarter rewards, obfuscating its corporate leadership and office status, and neglecting SEC filings legally required by the game’s equity crowdfunding. In 2019, Richard Garriott’s company Portalarium sold off SOTA to its lead dev and all but exited the game. Press inquires have repeatedly been met with stonewalling and insults, and equity crowdfund investors were seemingly abandoned without notice, but the game does still have players and is still being developed, as we continue to cover.

Dream ships.

6. Star Citizen

Another owner of the box of shame and a game that basically everyone who is reading this is familiar with in parts, Star Citizen is a title that has fragments of a playable game and yet will continually sell you new concept ships as the cornerstone of its business model. It also has a vociferous defense squad that will eagerly inform you that you don’t need to pay hundreds of dollars for all these new concept ships that seem to be getting released faster than anything else related to the game, and discussions quickly devolve into morass in which one side points out that this is a project in the throes of scope creep being managed by people who do not seem to be good at management and the other side regards any criticism as damnable heresy.

So, you know, look forward to that in the comments.

Star Citizen's box o' shame
Longtime MMORPG gamers will know that Star Citizen was originally Kickstarted for over $2M back in 2012 with a planned launch for 2014. As of 2021, it still lingers in an incomplete but playable alpha, having raised around $350M from gamers over years of continuing crowdfunding and sales of in-game ships and other assets. It is currently the highest-crowdfunded video game ever and has endured both indefatigable loyalty from advocates and immense skepticism from critics. A co-developed single-player title, Squadron 42, has also been repeatedly delayed.

Let's get this back on track

7. Camelot Unchained

You know how you never want to be the “main character” on Twitter? The same is true in any news cycle, and Camelot Unchained managed to be the main character when it turned out that the studio behind it was using the custom engine to develop a second game. The results were a lot of shouting, a lot of anger, a complete loss of long-term trust in the project, and a furied controversy over outstanding refunds that is still going on despite the fact that the second game has barely been mentioned again for ages and development continuing on CU along the way.

We’re just going to leave it there, but this one is controversial to say the least.

Camelot Unchained's box o' shame
MMORPG veterans will know that Camelot Unchained, which was originally Kickstarted in 2013, has taken flak over the years thanks to delays, the founding of a second studio, the announcement of a second game using CU’s custom-built engine, and delayed refunds. The game entered its “beta one” phase back in 2018, with tests capable of putting 3000 humans and bots on the battlefield simultaneously. As of 2021, the studio says it is still paying refunds and is still working on both games, though it did not follow through on interviews with press.

Swooshy swoosh cutty swing.

8. Ashes of Creation

How do you address people when you’re looking at unclear test phases, delays, and a totally failed battle royale spinoff project? You greet them repeatedly as “glorious Ashes community” and all is forgiven, I guess. Is it just me, or do an awful lot of these projects seem to rely on people being convinced that their purchase of a small stake in a larger project is somehow placing them in an elite class of people who get to be privileged and separate from others?

Don’t answer that. Or do, your call.

Well, good by the standards of this title.

9. The Repopulation

This is the Kickstarter story that I personally find the most depressing. Due to what is probably best described as clever but morally questionable legal wrangling, The Repopulation wound up getting yanked out of the hands of the people who originally made it and deposited directly to the owners of the rent-an-engine it was built on, who proceeded to reassure people worried about this state of affairs with long-term waffling and a whole lot of promises that never went anywhere. The spinoff project that the original owners were still in control of, meanwhile, flopped horribly. So now no one gets what they deserved.

It’d be a bit like burning your own house down for insurance money, except I don’t think anyone actually made any money off of this.

The Repopulation's box o' shame
MMO players will recall that The Repopulation was Kickstarted twice for around $230,000 and hit Steam early access in 2014, where it’s been ever since, excepting the year it was offline entirely thanks to the HeroEngine dispute that eventually saw Idea Fabrik take it over in 2017.

So, probably not.

10. Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen

The first blow to this particular project was the unexpected and frankly tragic untimely death of Brad McQuaid at the end of 2019. The second blow was when the perpetually underfunded title decided that maybe it would turn to NFTs to earn some more funding, which immediately reduced any interest in this title to a net zero for me. So that was a quick collapse.

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten takes an MMO topic and divvies it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. Got a good idea for a list? Email us at justin@massivelyop.com or eliot@massivelyop.com with the subject line “Perfect Ten.”
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Narficus
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dinarian_

Just to add context the “furied controversy over outstanding refunds that is still going on” has been going on since February of 2020 and despite CSE repeatedly telling people they definitely for sure are honoring those refunds they are contractually obligated to pay. After over a year and a half we are all still talking about refunds outstanding from early 2020 that are still not being paid (and none of the refunds since then have bene paid either).

Meanwhile saying the truly awful R word (refund) will get you banned from CSE’s platforms. And it is official company policy to not respond to anyone’s request for an update on their over a year over due refund status. Email of course being the only official way to contact CSE about your refund since again you can’t even use the R word on official platforms.

For those keeping score I am on day 579 of waiting for my refund from MJ the self proclaimed very honest man. and I am still waiting. I am also not even the person with the longest wait time and none of the folks who have requested since February of 2020 have gotten their refunds yet either.

So yes there is continued fury because the refunds continue to not be paid.

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Brice Neal

Yikes.

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Narficus

For all the money Mark Jacobs wasted trying to trademark troll on “Realm vs Realm” and more he could have hired someone to melt down on social media for him while he processed refunds.

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Ken from Chicago

1. “I forget it all the time.” Well, at least some players remember it. Then again, they aren’t tasked with covering dozens if not hundreds of MMO daily, so maybe that’s not nearly as harsh a comment as it would coming from the average player.

2. Sometimes no news is good news. Not trending a twitter is what many wish who have trended on twitter.

3. At least there’s a paper and pen version that’s popular.

4. It’s tragic when a game doesn’t get the publicity or funding it needs.

5. Some games maybe could do with less publicity and settle for more funding.

6. Sad when discussions devolve into a morass of stereotypes lacking nuance. Then again what was called a scam then a tech demo has at least now ascended to having parts of a playable game, so … progress.

Speaking of nuanced discussions, considering it’s possible to gain alpha access to the game for only $45, why do some people, who apparently have a lot of disposable income, actually choose to spend a lot more. Maybe an interesting story? There’s a ton of speculation why they would. Maybe a few interviews are in order?

7. There’s fame and there’s infamy. While many people don’t see the difference it exists. It’s sad when something or someone goes through the latter.

8. You’re right, Justin. The “I supported X before X was cool” is a widespread sentiment. “Our group is not ‘small’, it is ‘exclusive’.” 👍🤣

9. Sad when studios make deals with publishers who stab them in the back, because the studios lacked the funding on their own. Although, sometimes in these sorts of conflicts, the good guys finish first:

https://techraptor.net/gaming/news/descendent-studios-scores-big-win-in-descent-lawsuit

10. I wish I had something witty, enlightening or engaging to say. Nope. Sadness.😟

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Bruno Brito

I would love if Albion was a TPS MMO with the same viewpoint as WoW/GW2/ESO/etc. Being isometric is a huge detriment to me, but man is that game solid.

——————————

It also has a vociferous defense squad that will eagerly inform you that you don’t need to pay hundreds of dollars for all these new concept ships that seem to be getting released faster than anything else related to the game, and discussions quickly devolve into morass in which one side points out that this is a project in the throes of scope creep being managed by people who do not seem to be good at management and the other side regards any criticism as damnable heresy.

imagem_2021-10-06_190029.png
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cursedseishi

Repopulation is probably the biggest bummer for me and how it all shook out. Hero Engine has always been a bit… shall we say, arse… but that whole kerfluffle pretty much set that in concrete.

I also threw money at Pathfinders Online–but, thankfully, I wasn’t as invested in the MMO as I was in what was on offer. Nabbed a whooooole lotta Pathfinders (1.0) material and plenty of minis when I was neck-deep playing the PnP game, which pretty much covered and was worth the cost. I had some interest in the MMO though, and it’s a shame regardless that it fell apart. But kudos for them pushing to keep it running as long as they did.

Star Citizen is… well, it’s a literal nothing. I backed for a single-player space sim (and wasn’t dumb enough to throw more than the minimum amount for it), and…. yeah. Nothing.

And SoTA is just more evidence that Richard Gariot (and Chris Spears by seedy association) are just the ‘Peter Molyneux’ of MMO games.

And Camelot Unchained is just… ouch. It’s never been a good (or popular, or successful) look for a Kickstarter Creator to announce work on a second game when the first hasn’t even shipped–and Keiji Inafune could tell you about that, if he ever sticks his head out again into the industry. At the same time? I… kind of… get it.
If a developer has staff that are redundant at a certain point of development, either because their work is largely done or something is bottlenecked, you either let them go or find something for them to do. There isn’t really any good way to say ‘here is a second project by us’ in CU’s situation, but… the way it was done definitely wasn’t the best. Backers should have been made aware of a second project sooner, expectations needed to be handled better, and it shouldn’t have taken the blowback to see a revised roadmap–especially when it impacted development of the main title.

Refund situation ain’t great either–but frankly? Not the worst I’ve seen. There is a certain… and I’ll put this politely but schmuck of a hack ‘artist’ claiming and bragging about making $150k a month, meanwhile two crowdfunded projects he started and then blew off are still waiting for refunds that he promised them… nearly a year ago at this point. And those two projects combined only raised, at most, ~$260k.

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Nate Woodard

While you don’t have to name him, we all know who he is… he’s certainly the definition of scum too.. I haven’t and won’t buy into Star Citizen’s ridiculousness, but D Schmuck defines bad developer with toxic behavior.

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cursedseishi

… I think I know who you are referencing, but it’s not who I am referencing.

Like I said, he is an artist. A good one I’ll admit, but one who used that work to help push a game on Kickstarter to fund (overfund, in fact). That project then went much the way of the dodo as he started a second project (not game-related) elsewhere—which he also didn’t ever fulfill. He eventually broke his silence to say he’d give full refunds, but like I mentioned it’s been nearly a year since with none—and all the while he continues to brag about how much of a ‘high rollah’ he is and how much bread he has been banking on his limited social media presence while also doing literally nothing to fulfill yet another project he started and immediately abandoned.

I don’t use his name because I’m one such person waiting for a refund, and he has been… something of a harasser towards those who don’t worship him or his one-trick-pony-bodystyle art.

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Narficus

A common theme among the more shady crowdfunding campaigns is how much importance they put on the success of being able to take money without having delivered anything, and on top of that, how well they are at doing everything but the thing for which they started money in the first place.

Some of those who got fleeced are just gleeful to promote the perpetual Ponzi.

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Paul

I think the one thing this list amply demonstrates is that crowdfunding is an awful way to fund MMOs (and #2 if you leave it to the Devs without oversight they never get the game out on time – or at all in many cases)

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Narficus

Many, if not almost all, of these acts have shown how a publisher becomes a necessary evil to reign in developer opulence, and why many of those publishers have balked at funding (in some cases, further funding) these guys.

Publishers and developers know a lot more than what is said out in the open. They have the contracts as well as all the stuff obtained during a previous lawsuit’s discovery phase. As well as company emails when they make a new subsidiary.

People are right in considering EA evil, but that company paid out millions for increasingly dubious returns from developers who increasingly acted like they were rockstars. Then those “rockstars” turn towards their fans and we end up paying for one to trademark troll and the other to not even be present for their game’s release, or really at all.

Crowdfunding will be hell from now on because of these legends writing their douchiest chapters of gaming history.

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Paul

Spot on – I think we can safely say crowdfunding of MMOs is a failed experiment

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CMDR_Cotic

It also has a vociferous defense squad that will eagerly inform you that you don’t need to pay hundreds of dollars for all these new concept ships that seem to be getting released faster than anything else related to the game

Something that needs to be repeated to these people is while it’s true you don’t need to spend more than $45 it doesn’t change the fact that someone has to, otherwise the game’s development will grind to an abrupt halt.
The company is spending $6 million a month, that’s a whole lot of ships being sold month in, month out, and a whole load of power imbalance to start the game with when/if it eventually launches.

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Tee Parsley

You know, at the amount some of those folks are in for, power imbalance doesn’t seem like that much of an issue. They deserve that initial advantage! I suspect that once the Goons (or their children) come back, that will be much of their goonish fun, ie, despoiling the advantaged.

As long as folks are aware of the deep issues of SC’s development and management, it’s their choice to risk their money.

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Boe_Jlobers

Nice list, was talking to a friend earlier this week about how when we raided in WoW way back in the early-mid 2010s there was a deluge of Kickstarter MMO dreams. At least half the games on this list we had someone in the raid team that would go on and on about “WHEN ELYRIA COMES OUT IM QUITTING WOW, JUST SO YOU KNOW” or “IM ONLY PLAYING THIS TILL CROWFALL”

Everyone quit WoW at some point, but it was rarely to move to the Kickstarted MMO.

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Boe_Jlobers

Also lol, Elite is #1 on this list, far ahead of the inferior competitor :P

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Nate Woodard

In my opinion, Elite Dangerous and Albion Online are the success stories of crowdfunding. The other games are trash. Ashes had be interested until they released their Battle Royale and I realized that it will likely never see the light of day. Something will happen and they will close it down.

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PhoenixDfire

Ironically, They were going to go ahead with Elite:Dangerous anyway. They’d already spent a huge amount of money on developing game. The Kickstarter was used as a way to judge if there was a demand for a new space game, especially when the SC kickstarter started.

I think, they spent £8 million of their own money to develop the game and the £1.7 million extra really helped with the Horizons upgrade the next year.

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Kickstarter Donor
Tandor

Uh oh, mention of “that game” and refunds. Time to bring out the popcorn!

A good summary, and well put together too. I must confess I’d forgotten half of them – now I know why!