Make My MMO: The biggest MMO crowdfunding stories of 2023


Welcome to a special end-of-the-year edition of Make My MMO, the MassivelyOP column where we – well, I – keep tabs on all of the crowdfunded MMOs in our genre, as well as all the ones that attempted some form or other of crowdfunding. And as readers probably know, this segment of the genre is in a weird state: We’re getting fewer Kickstarted MMOs nowadays, but we’re also seeing some of the old ones finally throw in the towel, even if we’d given up on them ages ago. Still others are still coasting or racking up the self-owns. Let’s run down the biggest news of 2023 when it comes to crowdfunded MMOs and MMORPGs.

The death of The Repopulation

The Repopulation’s current owner Idea Fabrik had let the game drift on with few updates over the last few years, so it was no shock when the subcontracted studio on the game, TGS Tech, announced in January this year that it could not make the game viable and couldn’t “come to terms” with the owner “on various business issues.” Idea Fabrik itself, however, never came forward with any clarity on what was going on, whether it would select a new studio to operate and develop the early access, or even whether the game would remain for sale on Steam. (It didn’t.) And then Idea Fabrik itself vanished, sort of. Oh don’t worry; this won’t be the last time we mention it in this article. It’s also part of a different crowdfunding debacle. It’s been a weird year!

The age of cozypunk

The two biggest MMO-esque titles with successful Kickstarters this year – Loftia ($1.2M) and Solarpunk ($329K) – show both the direction of online games (into smaller-scale, cozier survivalish worlds) and the direction of Kickstarter (the dollar amounts raised just keep going down). While we’re not expecting much from either any time soon, it’s hard to see how either is achievable on such a small sum – which was the problem with funding MMOs this way all along.

Camelot Unfinished

City State Games’ Camelot Unchained, Kickstarted 10 years ago, has been in a bizarre state of limbo over the course of the pandemic following the debacle with Final Stand Ragnarok, the flabbergasting failure to execute CU refunds, and (most disappointingly) the studio ceasing to be transparent with press and gamers. Ragnarok, incidentally, is still dead in the water, and last year the studio was buzzing about $15M in fresh investment, but this year has been a slow plod of development blogs and hiring sprees that the team says put it ahead of schedule for the year.

The Spectacles of Elyria

Chronicles of Elyria, having emerged a winner – well, more specifically, not a loser – from the backer lawsuit lodged against it, hasn’t released anything of note this year besides longwinded dev blogs. Initially, the team promised to ship Kingdoms of Elyria in 2021, insisted Elyria would “return as a full-fledged MMO in no time,” told everyone how it burned through its money, and then canceled the promise to quick-ship Kingdoms because of a nebulous engine licensing deal. Once again, absolutely none of this is what gamers backed on Kickstarter.

Embers Adrift

Embers Adrift surprised everyone with its quality indie launch at the end of 2022, and I’m pleased to say that it spent 2023 rolling out content patches rather consistently. But it also seems to be struggling with a small population, which has prompted Stormhaven to shift into a hybrid buy-to-play business model as of this year.

The Wagadu Chronicles

A Kickstarted turn-based Afrofantasy sandbox MMORPG makes for many “firsts” in the genre, so we were thrilled to see The Wagadu Chronicles launch into early access just ahead of winter. Granted, it’s very much a work in progress, as studio Twin Drums reminds backers, and right now, its test playerbase is tiny indeed. It’s one to keep an eye on.

The superhero set

We saw some encouraging movement from two of the City of Heroes spiritual successors this year. City of Titans – which itself was Kickstarted over 10 years ago – released an alpha playtest version with a heavily expanded map. And Ship of Heroes opened itself up with a demo build and the bizarre leak of its possible pricing plans; the SoH studio chewed us out for reporting on the pricing plan, which was publicly posted on the game’s own website, and then made the extremely dubious claim (with no evidence or public statement offered) that its website had been hacked. (We think they just forgot to set a page private.) Either way, a strange note for the otherwise well-liked MMO.

Pantheon 247

Pantheon would’ve made this list just for its August activities, which included the reveal of its artistic overhaul into what Visionary Realms argued was a more appealing set of visuals. But the drama for the game really ramped up in the fall, when rumors about a monetized spin-off extraction mode for the game called 247 were finally confirmed, and while the studio insisted that exploring 247 would help Pantheon’s development in the long run, crowdfund backers were furious at the pivot and the realization that the MMORPG would be at least briefly sidelined. VR would up backtracking on its extraction mode plans within a month of the reveal, admitting that it had damaged player trust.

The surprising return of Fractured

Dynamight Studio’s Kickstarted sandbox Fractured began 2023 under a cloud of confusion after the team split with publisher Gamigo and pulled the game back out of early access. The indie team finally resurfaced in April to admit the end of the partnership and the start of a new path forward. In November, the game actually rolled back into early access with a rather different build from a year ago… but unfortunately, similar exploits, as the game’s success story was almost immediately derailed by a nasty hack that wiped out all the player cities in the game.

Ashes of Creation

Ashes of Creation, Kickstarted in 2016, continues to be one of the highest-profile crowdfunded MMORPG projects on record, but it’s still slow going, even for an apparently well-funded indie team. Over the course of the year, Intrepid Studios kicked off its alpha one playtest and dropped its verbal NDA; alpha two is expected in the back half of 2024.

We stan a king.

Project Gorgon’s revival

Project Gorgon has been relatively quiet over the last few years, but it floated to the top of discussion this fall when the tiny indie team announced that it was running out of cash to continue development on the game. Elder Game told fans that cancer and medical costs were weighing down the dev team (one of the two key devs has been sick for years), and that while the game would stay up, the devs would need to cut freelance staffers and pull back hard on new content. The Gorgon playerbase responded in the most heartwarming of ways: by shoveling money at the team, which is now set to carry on with content production, at least in the short term.

Magic to Master

No crowdfunding story in 2023 was as simultaneously dramatic and trivial as the Magic to Master storyline, when Hungarian studio Laniatus published a Kickstarter that included a batch of fake “testimonial reviews,” including one supposedly from us. There followed a wild drama of AI-written excuses, the revelation that the game is actually a Metin 2 rogue server, a legal tangle with Metin 2 publisher Gameforge, Kickstarter and YouTube ripping down the game’s assets under DMCA claims, the Kickstarter being canceled outright before it could fail, DMCA abuse against random YouTubers, and the pretense that a stretch goal for NFT pets referred to “necessary features tree.” And since I promised y’all that Idea Fabrik would return in this column, here it is: Laniatus apparently bought out Idea Fabrik and Hero Engine and dragged The Repopulation and TGS Tech into all of this with some knock-down drag-out Discord drama. Apparently, Laniatus still hasn’t given up, as it’s rebranded the whole thing as LaniEngine. Dear god.

Star Citizen

This year, Star Citizen broke through the $600M and then $650M barrier in terms of total crowdfunds, and in fact it even raised ship prices this year. Oh, you wanted to know something more concrete about the game? Well, that’s a harder ask, as the game – Kickstarted over 11 years ago – is still deep in an incomplete alpha, with developers getting snarky about long-delayed deliverables (which MOP’s Chris covered brilliantly in our Stick and Rudder column). And as for Squadron 42, CIG claims it’s now “feature complete” and “moving into the polishing phase” – but there’s no launch date for that either.

And since you’re gonna ask…

  • No, Richard Garriott’s blockchain MMO Iron & Magic didn’t materialize. It vanished, in fact. Meanwhile, Shroud of the Avatar’s patches just keep getting smaller; there’s been no more movement on financial accountability since last year.
  • No, Zenith still hasn’t released (or even worked on, as far as the public has been made aware) the PC-centric client it promised during its Kickstarter. It did release several patches this year a new class and player housing, as well as support for more VR headsets.
  • Yes, Titan Reach came back as World of Titans with some halfhearted claims about ongoing development. No, it has no more chance than the original version, whose development was a trainwreck and a half.
  • No, there’s been little movement on Dual Universe or Elite Dangerous this year, but both are still alive. (DU is finally shipping KS rewards, however.)
  • Yes, Temtem did in fact launch a second side-game this year; it was poorly received by fans. Crema Games told players it’s trying to find revenue sources to keep the MMO sustainable.
  • No, Legends of Aria’s BRITARIA crypto spinoff isn’t going anywhere. The games spent a year mired in one drama after another, with the studios nearly losing the IP rights and promising a pre-alpha this year (which hasn’t happened as I write this with two weeks left in December).
  • No, there’s been no movement on Crowfall since the collapse in 2022. It’s now been offline for well over a year. Sigh.

Here’s our whole list of Make My MMOs from 2023!

And of course, our recaps from years past:

Previous articleMMO Year in Review: Returning to Morrowind (June 2023)
Next articleThe Daily Grind: What MMO-related thing do you want to remember from 2023?

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