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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.