Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen – Kickstarter and Beyond

Well, here we are with about a day left to go and the Kickstarter campaign for Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen is well shy of its $800,000 funding goal.  At this late date I think we can all agree that the project would need a Kickstarter Christmas miracle to fund.

PROTF04

A look at Kicktraq this morning shows the last 24 hours of the campaign faces a hill… well, a mountain… representing 46% of the funding goal.

PRotFOneDayLeft

And so it goes.

The campaign has been a mixed bag.  On the downside, I think that the groundwork done by Brad McQuaid and his Visionary Realms team before they set off down the Kickstarter path was woefully inadequate.  One does not simply *something something* into Kickstarter.

I also think (based on my 2014 prediction) that they asked for too much money.   I know that the idea was to set the groundwork for other funding by showing that the project had legs, but asking for $500K and getting it (which I think they could have) would have been better than asking for $800K and not getting much beyond the half way point.  There is also a tipping point after you hit your goal where you can open things up to other funding sources.

And I remain concerned about the focus of the project.  A key statement early on was that this was not going to be an attempt to be all things to all people.  But seeming acquiescence by Brad, both in the project stretch goals and the Reddit AMAs, to a variety of things I would consider out of scope for an initial release made me wonder if they could keep things on a single track.  The problem in software development never involves with coming up with ideas.  The problem is always paring things down to essentials so that the team can deliver quality.

But all was not bad.

I think that the overall message is one that a select group of players wanted to hear.  I think there is room in the world for a niche MMORPG focused on grouping and group content in the TorilMUD and EverQuest tradition. (Though I had to walk away from forum discussions when the “EQ PvP, Best PvP” squad hunkered down to stay.  Absolutely the wrong group of players for this, in my opinion.)

I think Brad handled the Reddit AMA’s well, aside from a couple of “I don’t see why not” answers to things I felt were really out of scope. (I will not get off the focus wagon, will I?)  There were a lot of good answers to question about views and details about Pantheon.  But I think the whole thing was best served by his answers around Vanguard,  what happened there, and how things are being run differently with Pantheon.

And, finally, I think that the cross-promotion between Pantheon and Shroud of the Avatar that came at the halfway point of the campaign was brilliant.  That was a really slick idea to find the cross-over appeal between two different projects.

The Respective Crests

The Respective Crests

Of course, once that was in play, any number of people wanted to know if Brad could work a similar deal with Chris Roberts to maybe get a boost from his Star Citizen funding success.  I am not sure that would see the same sort of overlap of interests as Shroud of the Avatar and Patheon: Rise of the Fallen, and it did not seem likely to come about in any case.

In the end though, it wasn’t enough.

Aside from looking for an angel investor, what now?

Well, it looks like Visionary Realms is going to take on the funding effort themselves.  They have updated their web site and have announced their post-Kickstarter plans.

The New Campaign

The New Campaign

And there are some advantages to going this route.  They are not beholden to Kickstarter and do not have to give them a cut.  They are not hemmed in by a time limit.  They can offer a wider variety of funding options.  Even now Visionary Realms has a subscription option listed with special benefits.

Will you subscribe to this theory?

Will you subscribe to this theory?

So the funding effort goes on.

The question is, will it have the same impact?

Despite the occasional pedantic view on the subject, the goal of funding efforts like this are not to obtain 100% of the money required to complete the project.  The idea is to get enough initial funding to demonstrate that there is interest in your project so that you can get further investment.  Brad McQuaid has said as much about Pantheon.

So Kickstarter is a funding exercise in part, but even more a marketing exercise.  But if you fail the funding part of Kickstarter, how much is the marketing exercise constrained?  And even if a company can turn around and go do their own fundraising effort post-Kickstarter, will that have the same impact?

And, the biggest question for me, how long will it take Visionary Realms be able to catch up to where they left off with Kickstarter and will people be as willing to pledge?  Because they have lost a few valuable assets that Kickstarter provides.

The first is, of course, the Kickstarter name itself.  People have a range of opinions about Kickstarter and the wisdom of giving people money through it, but they know what Kickstarter is and as a service it seems reasonably well respected.  There will be no Kickstarter cachet to bring people to the table any more.

Then there is the time limit aspect of the campaign.  While Visionary Realms won’t make their goal in the time frame, I would be willing to bet that the mere fact that there was a time limit got people to pledge.  There is nothing like a deadline to get people to focus.  Campaigns that succeed, or which are close to success, often have a large surge of pledges at the last minute.

Now though, there is no time limit.  There is no boundary to make people get off the fence one way or another.  I suspect that will hurt funding in the short term.

And then there is what I will call, for lack of a better term, the “Kickstarter Deal.”  In the case of Brad McQuaid and Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, the deal was that if he could raise $800,000, he would make this game happen.  You can believe him or not, but that was what he was offering.  So I put up some money along with about 3,000 other people.  But the effort will fall shy of the mark, so none of us will end up paying out any money.  Our pledge cost us nothing because the threshold for funding… the threshold at which Brad said he could make it happen… was not met.

Now that threshold is gone.

If I go over to the Visionary Realms web site and pledge $100 they have it that day, and if nobody else pledges I have just wasted my money.  It is much easier to throw in some cash if you think you are part of a group that will meet the threshold for funding.  But in the absence of that, I am probably not going to rush out on day one to give them some cash.  I am much more likely to sit on my hands, to wait and see how things are going, before I think about donating.

While Kickstarter does not in anyway guarantee that a funded project will actually do what it says in the end, it does at least give the illusion of a concentration of pledges that, if a pre-determined threshold is met, will make the project possible.  Unless I am missing something here, going to self-funding removes that aspect of the campaign.

So there we stand.  The Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter will run out the clock in less than a day and will not meet its goal.

Did you pledge any money to the Kickstarter and will you, in turn, donate to the self-run funding campaign for the project?

Is this the beginning of the end, or just the end of the beginning?

11 thoughts on “Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen – Kickstarter and Beyond

  1. HarbingerZero

    I pledged, obviously. I’m a little surprised, I would have figured you would have thanked people, promisted to ramp up the PR, and try again in six months with a lower goal. I don’t think self-funding is the way to go, for all the concerns you listed here.

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  2. bhagpuss

    Much though I’d like Pantheon to get made I’m not going to put money into it at this stage. I agree, having the project on Kickstarter seemed to give it parameters I understood and from which I could make a reasonable decision, even if those parameters were more psychological than practical. Open-ended funding through the website feels much looser and vaguer and this is a project that already felt about as loose as it could stand to be.

    The whole “subscribe to our forums – $5 a month to post in blue, $15 a month to post in orange” thing seems almost like a parody. I don’t begrudge Brad and his team whatever money they can get from people who think that’s a good deal but they won’t be getting any of mine!

    In the end, I’m not sure the future of Pantheon will matter much to many other than the folks relying on a Visionary Realms paycheck to feed their families. It wasn’t going to be playable in anything like a finished form for about three years, by which time we will likely have half a dozen quasi-old school MMOs to choose from, not to mention EQNext. That it hasn’t funded will probably have little effect on any similar current or future projects.

    Hmm, thinking of future projects, are there any more old-time MMO superstar devs yet to come up with a retro project? Isn’t it about time we heard from David Allen? What d’you reckon his name might be worth on Kickstarter?

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  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – David Allen? That was a name that I couldn’t quite put to anything… aside from Dave Allen at Large, which wasn’t right at all… but which I felt I should know.

    But the search field here on the site indicated that I had blogged about him and his fun times with Quest Online and Derek Smart. So that guy.

    How much would his name alone be worth? I wouldn’t guess much beyond $100,000. But Derek Smart badmouthing him and his project would probably boost that to $500,000.

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  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Pendan – After more that 20 years in software development, it kind of warms my heart to see somebody actually putting emphasis on design first and getting code written second. And the post seems to assume writing things from scratch (ala Vanguard, on which to poster worked) as opposed to going in with the Unity engine as a platform, which takes a lot of problems off the table.

    Still, it is a serious, if somewhat academic at this point question. It could be answered by who is on the “waiting in the wings” team, ready to step in once there is funding.

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  5. Pendan

    Vanguard used the Unreal engine. A very successful engine for single player and up to 64 players on a small map. They tried to modify it to work for a MMORPG and failed miserably. Terrible performance and very buggy zone lines. Vanguard out designed the technology and programming.

    Unity is a great engine for multi-platform development. PC, web based, and pads games but I don’t know how well it will work for a MMORPG. Without programming skill this project will be the same as Vanguard.

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  6. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Pendan – Unity has a lot of mileage on it, including MMOs usage. (Battlestar Galactica Online, City of Steam) Using it is nothing like trying to adapt a 3D engine to your own specific use, so I am not sure why you would bring that up. If anything, Unity removes that as an issue.

    Meanwhile, Vanguard had a lot of programmers and it still ended up being what it was. So that link is an interesting data point, but considering the source, it isn’t exactly an unassailable “this project was doomed to fail” argument.

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  7. Pendan

    Is Pantheon being designed as a web based game like the two examples of Unity games you gave? This is why I bring it up because I don’t know the answer to that and I really have my suspicions about Unity for a MMORPG. I too have 20+ years of experience in software development. My current company has considered using Unity for our web, pad, and phone games but have not looked into it deeply.

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  8. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Pendan – Well, it is being used for Shroud of the Avatar (which might be another Lord British link to the project) and Shadowrun Online, but neither of those are live yet. Neither is a browser game though. And Obsidion’s Pillars of Eternity looks to be using it as well, though that will be a single player RPG.

    Even when you use it in a browser, you have to download a plugin to use the 3D aspect of the engine, which makes it feel less like a thin client than you might think. My daughter played the Fusion Fall game that Cartoon Network did about five years back. It was built on Unity and it was surprisingly good. At least as good as Free Realms in performance.

    I am sure it is like any other platform. I’ve spent most of my career working on development environments, and there is nothing stopping the guy using it from being stupid. Oh, sooo much stupidity… IBM Global Consulting Services… the black hole of stupidity in the universe.

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  9. Stabs

    “Rise of the Fallen” is a rather unfortunate addendum, For me it emphasises that the team made a dog’s breakfast of Vanguard and are back for another go, hopefully at our expense and in any event on 1% of the budget they had last time.

    Maybe they should go for “Rise of itwasntactuallyallthatbad” or “Rise of wellthelandscapeswerepretty.”

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  10. Solf

    Whatever else, I would like to congratulate you, Wilhelm, on calling the worth of Brad’s name exactly.

    Based on what he had reached on Kickstarter, I think he would’ve reached 500k (due to last minute pledge) and no more — exactly like you had called it!

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