Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen and the Realities of Kickstarter Funding

Here we are, less than a day in and Pathneon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter project is just shy of the $50,000 mark.  That would put it at a little over 6% of the way to the first goal of $800,000.

39 days to go

No doubt higher now

As with Camelot Unchained and Lord British’s Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Title Brevity, I am interested in this project and Kickstarter campaign for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the personality driving it.  Brad “Aradune” McQuaid is an name to conjure with in the MMORPG world.

The guy with the flaming sword

The guy with the flaming sword

His is also a name tied with a pretty public meltdown of vision versus follow-through.

Vanguard at launch...

Vanguard at launch…

If you want to spin this from a particular angle, you can draw on the parallels between Brad and Mark Jacobs and Richard Garriott.  All three were key drivers for three of the early MMORPGs that were very successful, drawing in hundreds of thousands of players.  EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, and Ultima Online all left their mark on the MMORPG world.

All three went on to another MMORPG that… failed to meet expectations.  Tabula Rasa closed quickly, Warhammer Online lingered, but closed as soon as it was contractually able, and Vanguard would have shut down a few months in had SOE not bailed it out.

And all three have come back to the MMORPG table pitching a new game based on lessons learned.

Well, sort of.

Mark Jacobs clearly had a “lessons learned” message with Camelot Unchained, and spent weeks talking about it before the Kickstarter was launched.  PvE is out, all focus of the game must be on PvP and RvR and everything in the game must in some way support those two.  The theme is about moving forward into a superior mix that will make for a game that is great within a limited focus and which can be sustained by appropriately small numbers.

Richard Garriott’s “lessons learned” were more along the lines of being true to what made his past single player RPGs popular.  Shroud of the Avatar will have a single player mode and it isn’t exactly clear to me how “MMO” the multiplayer mode will really be.  The theme here is about all the cool games from the past, Ultima IV through VII inclusive, and how to make that sort of thing come alive again.  We shall see.  But there is also a sub-current of focusing on what is important to make sure that gets developed fully.

And then there is Brad McQuaid.  He wants to remake EverQuest in a more modern image… which isn’t a bad thing.  After all, viewed from the right angle, Mark Jacobs simply wants to re-ignite what was great about Dark Age of Camelot and Richard Garriott is clearly after the spirit of the Ultima franchise.  The problem is that while Jacobs and Garriott spent many days before their Kickstarters talking about visions and lessons learned and what is important and where they want to focus, the Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen preamble was pretty much this:

And I got what he meant by that, at least in spirit.  The problem is that this isn’t a big enough nail to hang a project on, in my opinion.  There wasn’t a lot of build up to the Kickstarter, the game details and tenets are bullet point lists (copied in my previous post), and there is very little on the whole “lessons learned” front.  I know Brad has said that he clearly bit off more than he could chew with Vanguard.  The game had way too many goals.  But what is the take-away from that?  How is this project, being taken on by a small team, going to pare down the possibilities to the key essentials so that they can deliver both to the vision and at an acceptable level of functionality and polish?

It is here I think that we see the key difference between Mark Jacobs and Richard Garriott, both long time game designers who founded their own companies, lead teams, and delivered many titles over the years, and Brad McQuaid, who has EverQuest (which got a nurturing hand from Sony and John Smedley), Vanguard, and a couple of small efforts he worked on before EverQuest.  This aspect of his skill and experience could be the make or break with the Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter.

If Brad McQuaid cannot get people engaged by articulating both the vision he has for the game and how it is going to come together, then my guess is that the funding is going to dry up pretty quickly after the “I want another EverQuest” faction kicks in.  And that time is going to come very quickly.  The first 48 hours of a Kickstarter set the tone.  That is where critical mass is assembled, where you get your true believers to become your evangelists.  Because after that, every dollar is a fight.  Look at the patterns for Camelot Unchained and Shroud of the Avatar from Kicktraq:

Camelot Unchained

Camelot Unchained

Shroud of the Avatar

Shroud of the Avatar

Both of those graphs are very front loaded.  Camelot Unchained got 35% of its $2 million goal in the first two days, while Shroud of the Avatar got 55% of its $1 million goal in the same period.  After that, there was the long dry spell where Mark Jacobs and Richard Garriott got out and did interviews and spoke to everybody who would listen.  Hell, Mark Jacobs came HERE and left a comment on my first post about the Camelot Unchained Kickstarter, acknowledging my statement that it was going to be a tough fight to get to $2 million.  The man was a communications machine, and he continues to be one in the project updates.

Brad McQuaid will need to do the same, because the easy money will dry up soon.  Will he be able to take it to the streets and get people interested?  We will see.  He will have to do more than make comments on Twitter and Facebook supported by a company web site that currently does little more than act as a pointer to the Kickstarter page.  This needs to be a political campaign, a marketing event, and an old fashioned spiritual revival meeting all wrapped up into one to succeed, and Brother Brad needs to step up and testify.  If he is going to bang the nostalgia drum, he needs to bang it loud and often.  He cannot be the lone monarch on the throne.  He has to be out and about.  We need to see him in the press and doing updates and a dozen things in between.

The spirit can't pledge...

The spirit can’t pledge…

While the project “only” needs $20K a day to fund fully, and it will no doubt make more that $50K in its first 24 hours, it has to do a lot better out of the gate to carry things forward.  There will be a last minute rush of people pledging, but that will only matter if there is a big enough base of funding in place.  In looking through a bunch of projects, the last day rarely ever exceeds the first.

What do you think?  Is Brad up to the task of getting out the faithful and getting them to pony up for another run at the EverQuest vision?  Are bullet points enough, or does this whole thing need more substance?

20 thoughts on “Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen and the Realities of Kickstarter Funding

  1. roguekish

    Tbh if the project only needed 800k I would answer that with a yes. But look at the stretch goals some really basic features (and what I feel are basic classes) are really high on the stretch goal list: Crafting: 2.5 mill, PVP: 3.8 mill, Druid class: 1.8 mill, Ranger: 1 mill, Bard: 3.2 mill (after player housing: 3 mill) etc.

    So even if I make a compromise of no PVP (which is a hard one the project would realistically need 2.5 mill to get crafting which is really something I think the game needs without feeling shallow. Maybe the stretch goals are added in later patches and expansions if it gets that far but still some of them personally raise a few doubts.

    Also in the Q&A video Brad answered a question regarding how the game will be financed thus: “First round of funding is KickStarter obviously. We may need more funding after that but we will cross that bridge when we come to it” Does not sound like a rock solid plan that I’d like to invest in even if the initial funding is met.

    For me these at least are the main concerns why I will not fund the project unless I see a huge support (and I’d love to fund it). And I can think many others might feel similarly esppecially after having a look at the stretch goals and thus I don’t think the project will fund or will get a very slow start which in the end might mean it whithers and dies because of it.

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  2. Joe

    Great post. Yea based on the funding as of this afternoon they are toast. Chances of them making up for the lost momentum are very slim.

    What ever skills Brad might have had as a designer (I played a ton of EQ in the day but looking back now it was a pretty poor game overall.) he is obviously a terrible businessman. Just because you can get funding for your own game does not mean you should. Some people need a corporate environment to do all the ugly grunt work and enforce discipline.

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  3. bhagpuss

    I hope he gets the funding but I’ll be surprised if he does. His name is well-known in the circles from which he hopes to draw an audience but not entirely for the reasons he might wish. I personally love Vanguard and had relatively little trouble running and playing it but that was by no means the common opinion or experience at the time. Perhaps he has been forgiven. Perhaps the problems that were laid at his door then have even been forgotten. We’ll see.

    The proposed game itself is certainly something I’d like to try, should it ever actually come to exist, but like Camelot Unchained, which also interests me, I don’t really see it as an MMO where I’d be likely to end up spending the months and years I gratefully and happily gave up to EQ. The world moves on, tastes change, we all get older.

    Whatever, I wish him luck with it. Better there are developers at least aiming for these niche markets even if they don;t all manage to hit the target. God knows the big corporations aren’t likely to come up with anything better.

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  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    I had to go make the stub Wikipedia page for Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen because nobody had gotten around to it yet. We’ll see if somebody else will flesh it out. As a comparison, and EverQuest expansion will get a page within minutes of it being announced. I think this speaks to the communications issue.

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  5. Codeblue

    I just dont get the sense of excitement like I did when I heard Marc Jacobs talk about Warhammer Online. I just HAD to play Warhammer …we know what the story ended up being …..I wish instead of remaking movies people would reboot some of these games that failed and make them correctly. This game will fail (imo) due to the fact that it is by players for players and the ideas will get torn to shreds by only catering to a small percentage of players – at what point is a game not a MMO (massive multiplayer online) but a MO (multipleplayer online)?

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  6. zaphod6502

    “What do you think? Is Brad up to the task of getting out the faithful and getting them to pony up for another run at the EverQuest vision? Are bullet points enough, or does this whole thing need more substance?”

    What do I think? Mr McQuaid is no Chris Roberts. It remains to be seen if any of these latest Kickstarters generate even a medium amount of interest. Most of these MMORPG devs are hoping for a lot more than their initial Kickstarter goals. Breaking even simply isn’t enough especially for the funds required to develop a half decent MMORPG.

    On a side note Star Citizen continues to generate $400,000 A WEEK after more than a year after the Kickstarter ended. I bet some of these other devs would love like some of that magic.

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  7. Liore

    I think it was Bhagpuss in his post today who mentioned that Rise of the Fallen (sidenote: that is a really really silly name) looked like Everquest 3, which almost got me to contribute to the Kickstarter because oh man I would love an Everquest 3.

    Then I read about the totally bizarre stretch goals, and it just screamed “poor business acumen” to me so loudly that I decided not to bother.

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  8. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @zaphod6502 – Yeah, Brad could use some Chris Roberts magic. He could be playing the “old school, no game like this” card a lot better. I would like to see where he will go with the game. Again, as with my other comparisons, Chris Roberts has a long history of shipping products relative to Brad, and it shows.

    @Liore – Silly name indeed, but EverQuest 2017 is clearly the intent. And part of the reason I want to hear more on lessons learned is see if the whole business acumen thing has improved any since Vanguard.

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  9. C. T. Murphy

    I am going to back it. I have no hope or faith in it, but bad business aside, it is what I want in a new MMORPG.

    I want one that is niche; one that doesn’t feel compelled to add PvP just because when their real focus is a solid leveling experience. I do not want every new MMORPG to be tied down by the burden of a genre fandom that is almost constantly at odds with itself over the simplest of issues.

    I think I will offer my services, actually. Let me front this bastard!

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  10. Smidgit

    What did Brad really learn from Vanguard? From what I’ve read, nothing.

    What is Pantheon going to bring to the table that EQ1/VG doesn’t do? What gap is he going to close? I don’t have enough time in my life to work, sleep and play the games I currently play.

    That said, I’m sure I’ll be buying it when it comes out. I am wincing already. Fool me once, blah, fool me twice, blah blah, fool me three times, HERE TAKE MY MONEY!

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  11. Stropp

    What about the team?

    There’s a list of names on the bio page for kickstarter, but the bio is pretty much all about Brad. Are these fine folks all developers/artists/etc, or are there some business types in there?

    As mentioned Brad doesn’t seem to be all that flash with the business and management aspects. He may have indeed learned some lessons, but I hope one of those is to bring in people that have strengths in the areas where he’s weak.

    Having said that, this doesn’t seem to be the sort of game that will interest me in any case. The emphasis on grouping makes me concerned that solo play will be marginalised, and since I do spend a lot of time soloing… Of course that’s okay. I don’t care for romantic comedies either,

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  12. Brad McQuaid

    What a great thread — very educational for me. We are constantly learning about Kickstarter and how to reach out to people. One of the challenges is to reach people who used to play MMOs but don’t read all of the web sites, don’t use twitter, and don’t even know what kickstarter is.

    Anyway, I appreciate this feedback, even if a lot of it is critical.

    We will be revisiting our stretch goals soon — I agree they need some tweaking for sure.

    I will keep monitoring this blog. Don’t be afraid of being critical or even abrasive — your feedback is very important.

    -Brad

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  13. tad

    Brad will probably make it – but just barely. Biggest difference between CU/SotA and Pantheon is both Jacobs and Garriott had a ton more pre-kickstarter publicity so their fans knew it was coming. Visionary needs to do a lot of marketing via Reddit/SA as well as MMORPG/Massivley/IGN to get the word out that the kickstarter exists.

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  14. Brad McQuaid

    Yes, we should have hyped it up more before hand, but we were worried about getting people excited too early. I think we were wrong so we’re out here posting like crazy now :)

    Like

  15. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Brad – Full points for tracking down the post. Yes, I was bouncing around a lot of stuff, and not all of it was warm and fuzzy. But I am going to guess you have seen a lot worse.

    If I had to pick one sentence that I wanted you to take seriously, it would be this one.

    “How is this project, being taken on by a small team, going to pare down the possibilities to the key essentials so that they can deliver both to the vision and at an acceptable level of functionality and polish?”

    I think a good answer to that would buy a mountain of credibility. I will double my pledge for a good answer to that question.

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  16. Brad McQuaid

    “How is this project, being taken on by a small team, going to pare down the possibilities to the key essentials so that they can deliver both to the vision and at an acceptable level of functionality and polish?”

    The main response I have to this is that EQ 1 was made by 23 people in 3 years for $8M. Now I realize that was in the late ’90s and it’s a different world. But we have some advantages now that did not exist with EQ 1 (and even Vanguard).

    1. We are using the Unity engine which makes it orders of magnitude faster to develop. The game is already being developed, and we have a rough prototype up right now, with our new combat system already working. 10 years ago it would have been impossible for 3-4 guys to do that.

    2. This is a game with a targeted audience. We are not trying to make a game that is all things for all people (WoW, SWTOR, etc.). We don’t need 10s of millions of dollars to do this.

    3. Take a look at our stretch goals (which need some work — we’re going to have a revised and better set of stretch goals up by next week). You can see that big systems, like crafting, PvP, etc. are all stretch goals. We’d love for these systems to be in the game, but we can also make a great game without those systems.

    4. Our team is very experienced (we have 10 or so on the team now, but another 10-15 ready to jump ship once we have funding). This isn’t their first BBQ. We’ve learned a lot about building MMOs and this allows us to work smarter, making fewer errors, and to be more efficient.

    So, if we make the $800k, we will likely have to get additional funding elsewhere (this is addressed in the FAQ on the KS site). We may reach out to a publisher, or investors, or both. But having $800k will make this much easier, because we’ve shown that there is definitely a demand for a more ‘niche’ game. I’d prefer to fund the entire game via Kickstarter, but I’m also being realistic about it.

    Let me know if that makes any sense and if it has addressed your concerns. I’m more than happy to answer additional questions and issues and appreciate this site very much.

    -Brad

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  17. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Brad – That is good enough for me to go from $75 to $150. (And I get to name a weapon.)

    But I don’t want to leave your response buried 16 posts into a comment thread, so I am going to turn it into a post on its own. I hope you do not mind.

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  18. Pingback: McQuaid: Rise of the Fallen | Pumping Irony

  19. Doone

    I had these same thoughts when I saw the Kickstarter and the same concerns. Thanks for writing this up.

    Also, thanks Brad for fearlessly joining the discussion, not that you haven’t always done so (even to your great detriment back in the days of FoH ;) ). Your responses inspired some confidence in me, but not enough to back the project.

    I will definitely keep my eye on this. It would be a great game indeed if the team can deliver. Keep an eye on him for us, Arcturus :)

    Like

  20. Pingback: Speaking of Pantheon | Stropp's World

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