Massively Overthinking: The MMO Kickstarters that let us down

    
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MOP’s Chris penned a solid piece earlier this week about the fate that has apparently befallen Destiny’s Sword, and as I was editing it, I got madder and madder. This was an indie studio that promised an MMO, offered demos, went to Kickstarter, got MMO players to give it money, went mostly silent for a few years, then re-emerged as single-player game with no explanation or apology. The fact that it was a unique MMO with a mental health emphasis actually makes it worse; it wasn’t just another WoW clone. I didn’t back this, but it still irks me, and the only reason the whole disaster is not going to rise to Chronicles of Elyria levels of community upset is that it was so tiny and low-key.

For this week’s Massively Overthinking, I’ve asked our writers to tell me about other Kickstarted MMOs that let them down – and why. I’m not necessarily looking for the obvious scams or fiascos that everyone knows about but rather the ones that you personally felt dropped a ball you wanted carried to the bitter end. Which MMOs went to Kickstarter but didn’t deliver in a way that really upset you?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I’ll ignore non-MMOs (looking at you, Grave and Broken Windows Studio) and ask: Do people remember The Stomping Land? The dino-survival game where you could tame dinosaurs with some personality, but also it had kidnapping? I’d said on Massively-of-old it had promise, but obviously that was abandoned and never completed. There was also Maguss, a game I still will argue felt more wizardy than the now dead Niantic AR game; that was largely held back by over monetization and bugs. No game’s perfect, but people who could move past some of the issues had a solid game underneath. With better backing, maybe it could have been better, but at the same time, that’s also why some of these neat projects don’t feel like they get of the ground: The devs are able to make some cool things, but they don’t have the marketing or accounting skills to get there.

I hate to add it, but I still feel like Crowfall barely crossed the finish line. It has an audience to be sure, and there are worse games, but I think the mix of delays and personal situations just made me feel like the game I Kickstarted didn’t land at the best moment. That’s not fully on the developers, but it’s also why I avoid MMO Kickstarters the most: They’re large projects most teams/personalities can’t seem to be able to tackle in both a timely manner and within their financial constraints. The combination means the game you can see yourself playing today may release as is, but at a time you just can’t devote to it.

Andy McAdams: I guess I would go with Shards Online, aka Legends of Aria. At the start, it seemed like it was going to be a really cool game, and it checked all of my not shady checkboxes at the time. It had a unique pitch, was pretty conservative in terms of what they were promising, looked fun… it had a lot going for it. I was excited, but it never really seemed to capitalize on anything it attempted it to do. The devs never really stuck to any particular design goal, continued to waffle and waver, leaving me (and others) going, “OK, so what are you trying to be again?”

Even when it switched to a full-fledged MMO as a name change as Legends of Aria, I was still somewhat on board, though I still had dreams of setting up our own shard for just my friends to play on. But again, they could never quite figure out who and what they wanted to be and never really got anything beyond a raised eyebrow from most of the MMO verse. Then they descended into what is now a cardinal unforgivable sin of the MMO space: NFTs. Even though I know my $30 from how ever many years ago didn’t actually contribute at all the NFT-nastiness, I still feel dirty and wish I could get my money back.

A second runner-up for me would be TUG, but since I already wrote a whole article on the damn game, I didn’t want to spend more time on it.

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): I’ve never done a Kickstarter and thus don’t really pay attention to the games promised via that service.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): My list of Kickstarters that I’ve personally backed is pretty small, and all of them have let me down in varying degrees, from being scams to being flops: Shroud of the Avatar, TUG, Ascent, Crowfall, Book of Travels, Hero’s Song. I’ve also backed six non-MMOs (books and boardgames), all of which were delivered and were great. It’s the MMOs that don’t amount to much, which is pretty much why I seldom do it. I made an exception for Book of Travels two years ago, but it’s still years away from a completed state, early access or no. Hero’s Song was canceled and refunded. Ascent is effectively dead. Crowfall is empty. And Shroud and TUG are way over in yikes territory.

I guess of these, I’m most disappointed in the two most legitimate games, Crowfall and Book of Travels; each was offering something I really wanted conceptually, but neither really made it happen in a way that got me my money’s worth.

If I expand my circle to MMOs outside of those I backed, Star Citizen and Camelot Unchained top my list. Again, on paper, both are games I want, but delays and distrust have spoiled their allure.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): On the whole, I do wish that more Kickstarter MMOs had fulfilled their vision and lived up to their own hype, although I understand that the odds here are about the same as any video game project. Personally, I’ve only invested in three Kickstarter campaigns: Book of Travels was a definite dud and letdown, Ashes of Creation might be something if they ever cross the finish line, and Project Gorgon was a proven product before it got my dollar. I do wince at how bad, say, Elyria or Crowfall flamed out considering how much money they raised and how their downfall gives a black eye to the community that really wanted amazing new MMOs.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I wish I had more to add, but I’ve only backed board games on Kickstarter. I suppose I technically backed Crowfall, but only after it left Kickstarter and was available through their website. At that point the game was already playable – at least technically. It still had many years to go before release, but I could log in and play on a test server. I felt like at that point I could justify it as buying a game that still needed a lot of work, but I was buying it to play it. I wasn’t throwing money into a fairy well and hoping a game came out eventually.

I just can’t trust the format to being conducive to building MMOs. I don’t know exactly why, but it’s probably that MMOs are just too big, they’re too complicated, and they take too long to make.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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