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Vanguard – All Sagas Must End August 1, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment, Vanguard SOH.
Tags: , , ,
18 comments

Decades from now it seems likely that Vanguard: Saga of Heroes will be little more than a footnote in the history of the genre.  Facing at best lukewarm reviews and launching into the teeth of World of Warcraft’s expansion The Burning Crusade, some future investigator might not even feel the need to look into the myriad technical problems the game had or the daunting system requirements it took to run it.  As for SOE buying the game at the point when it would have otherwise shut down, I suspect that will be dismissed, along with the purchase of The Matrix Online, as a vain attempt to stay in the big leagues by trying to bulk up its offerings in the face of Blizzard’s Azerothian juggernaut.

Play Vanguard - Ride a Dragon

Play Vanguard – Ride a Dragon?

My theoretical future researcher, reviewing what passes for the Internet Archive in 2080, will probably conclude that the game should have closed down in 2007 because it could not have made enough money for SOE to be worth the diversion of resources from other projects. (Assuming said researcher doesn’t run across references to SOEmote, that EQ voice command thing, or the unified launcher and discover what SOE has a history of doing with its extra development cycles.)

And a more casual investigator might just look at the timeline of the genre and see a game that ran for seven years.  It must have been okay, good but not great, as it outlasted many other titles. While not as good as that Anarchy Online game, it certainly must have been much better than any of those NCsoft offerings that only lasted a couple of years, or even it stablemate Wizardry Online, which didn’t even make it to the two year mark.

Time and distance from events will do that.  Far down the road the timeline from Ultima Online or Meridian 59 out to whatever will be another decade hence will merge into a series of very close dates, which will wring out much of the emotion of the time from the equation.

But back in 2005 and 2006 things were different; they were different than there are now… quite palpably so… and will be practically Bizarro World alien fifty years down the road.

2006 especially was a turning point in the genre.  Before 2006, there was a series of successes, Ultima Online, which was then trumped by EverQuest, which was in turn trumped by World of Warcraft, that seemed to define a pattern.  It seemed like any MMO could make it, even if it suffered from a bad launch, and that subscription growth was a long term organic thing.  The idea of a “three monther” would have been completely foreign.

There also were not that many games.  I bemoan the long slumber of the VirginWorlds MMO podcast, but in a way it feels like perhaps its time has passed.  During its heyday, from early 2006 into late 2008, the MMORPG market what from what I would call a “knowable thing,” where you could keep track of, and develop opinions about, the majority of the titles in the genre.  WoW was big, but it didn’t seem insurmountable, and the idea of a game suffering for not being WoW would have been odd.

The genre was also evolving, in a very Darwinian, natural selection sort of way as it turns out.  Not that we saw it that was at the time.

While the genre seemed to be moving towards WoW at the time, there was a theory that was widely held in certain parts of the fanbase that WoW was but a stepping stone and that all those WoW players would, one day, desire a deeper, more fulfilling, and necessarily more hardcore MMORPG.  WoW was merely the training ground for a mass of “real” players.  If you dig around blogs and forums from the time frame, you will find that theme recurring over and over.

And in the midst of all of that strode Brad McQuaid.  I called his a “name to conjure with” back when he was kicking off Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.  Back then he was a force to be reckoned with, the keeper of the secret flame, the spirit of what made EverQuest great, and the hope for the salvation of the genre.  Having left SOE in alleged disgust over the direction the company was going with EverQuest and EverQuest II, he struck out with a few like-minded individuals in order to re-imagine the MMORPG genre, steering it back to its more satisfying and hardcore roots.

That sounds like a lot of smoke, but I recall night after night being on Teamspeak with my Knights of the Cataclysm guild mates, a group made up mostly of people from EverQuest or TorilMUD… both training grounds for hardcore purists… and hearing them go on and on with Dorfman-like “this is going to be great!” enthusiasm as to how Brad McQuaid… Brad, who understood us and who rejected easy death penalties and instancing… and his game, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, was going drain players from all of these other pretend, pre-school MMOs.

I had not even heard of Vanguard up until then.  In my post-EverQuest “can’t get broadband in the middle of Silicon Valley” era, I had lost touch with the genre, so that first year in EverQuest II included a lot of catching up on what had happened.

Vanguard was going to be it.  The antidote.  The next coming.  The savior.

Of course, all of that talk was based on forum chatter and rosy statements from Sigil about their vision.

Later, when the game was in closed beta, and then in open beta, feelings started to change.

Not that there wasn’t hope.  Not that the vision was seen as wrong or that Sigil had deviated from it.  But it did start to seem like the company might not have the capital to cash all the checks written by their vision.

I first got into Telon, the world of Vanguard, back in open beta, and things were a mess.  Or a relative mess at least.  The 16GB download, quite a chore in early 2007, was just the start.

If it had been 1997… or even 2002… people might have stuck with the game and its myriad of technical problems and huge system requirements.  But by the time it launched at the end of January 2007, the world was proving to be a different place with many options for those who wanted to swing a virtual sword.

Sigil was working hard fixing and polishing the game well into January.  That helped some, but it wasn’t enough.  At the same time SOE decided to jack up the price of its all-you-can-eat Station Access subscription plan, effectively making it more expensive than subscribing to two SOE MMOs directly, which couldn’t have helped.

What looked like a respectable start, with something like 200K players buying a box and joining the game, quickly turned into a route as game issues large and small soured people.  By April Brad was issuing updates about the problems and how they were going to address them and how 2008 Vanguard would be much better than the 2007 version.  But you were still going to need a bigger processor as well as a current graphics card to play the game very well.

The big problem that remains is that you still pretty much need a new system as opposed to, say, simply a new graphics card…

The game is simply not CPU bound, nor just graphics card bound, but rather mostly bound by the data that it needs to constantly move from the CPU to main memory to the graphics card, and then all the way back again.  It’s all about the various bus speeds and caches – moving data around efficiently is arguably more important than processing that data on the CPU or GPU…

-Brad McQuaid, SOE Vanguard forums

Things were clearly not going well.  As April 2007 came to a close, there were rumors and speculation as to what might happen as subscription numbers sagged while technical issues persisted.  SOE started to get mentioned as possibly taking a bigger role with the game.

I came up with my own list of possible future avenues for Vanguard, at least two of which eventually came to pass.

Then came the parking lot layoffs as SOE officially announced it was taking over Sigil and Vanguard.

Then came the SOE years.  They were heroes initially at least, but hard work and hard choices remained.  Servers were merged shortly to try and make the most of Telons dwindling population.  The quiet years began, where SOE spent resources stabilizing the game, fixing the crashes, simplifying the character models, and generally making it run well.  And, as always happens, the march of time and improvements in computer performance washed away many of the woes of 2007.

There was the long, long neglect, as Vanguard sat, barely tended, home to a few dedicated players.  People like Karen at Journeys with Jaye kept the Vanguard spirit alive.  Her blog is home to a wealth of information and images related to the game.

Then, in late 2011, much to everybody’s surprise, SOE suddenly took an interest in Vanguard again.  This led to the game following its SOE stablemates in going free to play in 2012, leaving the original PlanetSide as the only subscription MMO at SOE.

The cash shop in Vanguard sold all sorts of things, especially equipment, that would had raised howls of protest in EverQuest II.  But there wasn’t much protest.  I couldn’t tell if Vanguard players didn’t care, or if there just were not enough of them left for their complaints to be audible.

Free lasted less than two years before the end was announced.  Smed said that the game had not been paying its own way for a few months by then, even after it was put back in benign neglect mode.  Vanguard, along with Free Realms, Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures, and Wizardry Online were to be closed in 2014.  The kids games went faster, done by the end of March, while Vanguard and Wizardry Online were left to run until yesterday.

And so the end has come.  At 6pm Pacific Time last night the servers were shut down.  Vanguard has passed into history, joining many other titles in the genre.

In the end, for me, the ending doesn’t mean much.  I never played the game much.  I gave it a shot early on, I actually still have the retail box on my bookshelf, and then again when it went free to play.

Vanguard Box

Vanguard Box

I did not spend much time playing at either point.  I barely took any screen shots, which is odd for me.  In digging through them, I found a couple of characters.

Fomu from 2007

Fomu from 2007

Teresten from 2013

Teresten from 2013

Both look a bit awkward, as character models in Vanguard tended to.  Neither brought back any memories of adventure.

Instead of a game I played, like EverQuest or LOTRO or whatever, Vanguard is more like a signpost in the history of the genre for me.  Its creation was a sign of its times, and its demise a warning to all who would come later.  The dream that WoW players would evolve and seek greater challenges in games that were more hardcore was debunked, and the idea that WoW could be eclipsed started to slip.

Yes, it wasn’t until Star Wars: The Old Republic that the industry as a whole finally agreed that WoW was an outlier rather than the next hurdle to clear to claim success.  But Vanguard was a warning, a sign that in a world with popular choices that work, the “I’m different” card wasn’t enough.

And so it goes.  Vanguard, which was going to bring back the EverQuest vision, look good, and be all things to all people failed to materialize, ending up a small niche game with too much overhead to survive.  And now we’re looking at a series of lean, niche games pursuing the old school MMO feel; Camelot Unchained, Shroud of the Avatar, Project Gorgon, and of course Brad McQuaid’s own Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.  Small is back, and they are targeting audiences of a size that Blizzard gains or loses between the average quarterly report.

And, in its way, Vanguard was sort of the end of innocence in the genre.  As I said above, before Vanguard the genre seemed small and knowable by a single person.  Since then it has sprawled, with games coming and going at a rapid pace.  The world has changed since we were sitting on TeamSpeak telling ourselves how great the game was going to be.

What an aptly named game, if nothing else.  It was in the vanguard of the genre, in its own failing way, and its tale is certainly a saga.

Other posts remembering Vanguard around the blogesphere:

 

 

Pantheon: Just Brad has Fallen May 4, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.
Tags:
23 comments

Money is always an issue.

PROTF04

This link was sent to me by Kaderre and I am starting to see it pop up in a few other places, so I will add it to the tale of Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.  The central quote in the post:

The money- It’s widely agreed upon by all parties that this project took in roughly 145 thousand dollars. A large chunk of that money, 35k, came from a single individual who promised another couple hundred thousand once he cleared it with his trust. Brad was having personal problems at the time and needed to take a cash advance from the project. He took roughly three months pay in advance which equaled roughly 38% of the funds that were left. Brad thought the rest of the money would come in, but the trust supervisor declined without even looking into the project.

-Over in the Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen forums on Rerolled.

Basically, the fear of donating to a failed Kickstarter that cannot make critical mass continues to bear itself out.  Well that and those who had a low opinion of Brad will feel vindicated in their belief.  This looks like a bullet in the head for the game at this point, what with Brad making sure he got paid first and apparently valuing himself as worth $220K a year in a company in start-up mode.

As the news cycle goes, one day up on a forum, next up on Reddit, and the next after that it will be on the gaming news sites.  Look for a fun comment thread over at Massively soon.

Pantheon: Mostly Fallen… for Now April 14, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.
Tags: ,
3 comments

A few weeks back I took a look at the Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen and the state of affairs since it failed to meet its goal on Kickstarter.

PROTF04

I was particularly interested in how crowd funding would work in and environment where there was no critical mass to achieve.  My guess was that people would feel differently about just handing money over versus pledging money in a system where it would not be taken unless some minimum value was achieved.

The Kickstarter campaign was pledged $460,657 from 3,157 potential backers.  As of last night the post-Kickstarter campaign stood a this:

PRotFApr13

That is half as many people pledging, and they are pledging almost a third less per person than during the Kickstarter campaign.   And the numbers have not been growing substantially since shortly after the Kickstarter ended, which lead to this announcement on the Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen site yesterday.

In the past few months we have seen some of the most passion bubble up from the Internet than we have in some time; all for an idea of a game we all want to see happen. It has been an exciting time for all of us.

Over the first month of development through crowdfunding, we’ve been able to achieve what was needed to be done in order to gain investor interest. That is, we’ve shown there is interest in a game like Pantheon, we’ve built the term sheets and business plan, and now have a prototype we can show to potential investors.The downside now is that our initial resources have depleted, which regrettably means that development is going to slow down until finances can be secured. It’s not something we want to do by any means, but as we cannot guarantee paychecks to the team, they each need to be able to spend time on other things to pay the bills.Once we’re able to get that level of funding we can then secure much-needed studio space and be able to pick up the pace of production dramatically. We are deeply thankful to this community for getting Pantheon to this critical point, where we have been able to put together an attractive package to present to potential investors.

In the interim, any donations made at this point until further notice will be going directly to maintaining the website during this phase, and not towards development.

So there it sits.  You can now donate to keep the web site functioning while they seek further financing, but work on the actual game has pretty much ceased.  I suppose one must commend them for honesty, but it does make it difficult to see how Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen will progress from here.  A failed Kickstarter campaign followed by an unsuccessful attempt to crowd fund directly cannot be helping their case.

Is this the end for the game?

Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen a Month Past Kickstarter March 24, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.
Tags: ,
6 comments

It has been 30 days since the Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter campaign came to a close.

PROTF04

In its 40 day run, the campaign managed to drum up $460,657 in pledges from 3,157 potential backers.  While shy of the $800,000 target of the campaign, that is still a fair amount of cash to have been pledged.  We tend to hear about things like Torment or Project Eternity, which brought in millions of dollars, but Kickstarter is full of little campaigns for $10,000 or less.  According to Kickstarter, projects that raise $100,000 or more represent just 2% of successful campaigns.

Basically, raising close to half a million dollars is a pretty decent achievement.  If the target of the campaign had been $500,000, we might even now be speaking of a successful campaign and stretch goals and, if not Chris Robert’s levels of post campaign funding, then maybe at least Lord British levels.  Shroud of the Avatar has managed to rake in post campaign donations to the tune of nearly 50% of what they raised in that first 30 days.

But the campaign was not a success.  The 40 day run wound up with Brad McQuaid and his team getting no money from Kickstarter.  So the question quickly became, “Where do they go from here?”  There was talk of relaunching another Kickstarter campaign a bit further down the road.  That would address some of the errors made early on in the initial campaign, like the whole “Hey, surprise! We have a Kickstarter campaign without any real press build up!” aspect.

The choice that was eventually made was to self-fund raise.  You can head on over to the Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen web site and pledge money to the project.  Well, give money to the project.  This isn’t Kickstarter any more.  You let go of your money the moment you click the final button.  There are no goals to meet or critical mass to achieve.

That last bit seemed like an important tidbit to me.  There is an aspect of “we’re all in this together” when it comes to Kickstarter, where success means a lump sum for the team and failure means nobody gets billed.  It protects the early enthusiast from handing over his money too soon, only to find out that the project isn’t popular enough.

So I was curious to see how well Pantheon would do once it lacked that aspect of the Kickstarter campaign.  As of this morning, donations to the project are:

PROTF_Mar24

That’s not… bad.  Those numbers would still put the project in the top 2% when it comes to Kickstarter.

But it is also less than half the supporters and roughly a third of the money pledged at the end of the Kickstarter campaign.

So what happened?

Is this a failure of communication?  I am not sure how Kickstarter works when your campaign does not fund.  Are you allowed to continue doing updates to the project, or is it closed down hard?  Because the last update was at the end of the project, 30 days back, and nothing since.  If you missed that terminal “you can now give us money at our site” update, you might think things are done.  And it is pretty much a reality of the universe that some percentage of a group won’t get the message no matter how directly you send it out.

Is it the missing Kickstarter aspect of the fundraising that is holding things back?  Does being on Kickstarter give not only more exposure but also an adding sense of legitimacy?

Did the fact that campaign failed to hit its goal turn a bunch of people away from the campaign?

Or is this a matter of reality striking home, where we are no longer being asked to pledge to a funding effort that may or may not come to pass but being asked to part with actual coin of the realm in pursuit of the stated project goals?

Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter Campaign Winds Down February 22, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.
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9 comments

The Kickstarter for Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen finished up earlier today.

PROTF04

While there was a surge of pledges at the end, the final total came in at $460,657, well shy of the $800,000 goal. (But about where I predicted back on January 1st.)

PROTFfinalNumber

The daily numbers ended up looking like this according to Kicktraq:

Daily figures for the campaign

Daily figures for the campaign

With that result, Visionary Realms and Brad McQuaid are now moving into a new dimension of crowd funding, going it alone and asking for donations.  Their site is up and ready to take PayPal.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, going that route really changes, to my mind, the whole funding dynamic.  There is no minimum threshold for funding.  You pledge and they have your cash.  And while that has worked well for other games, Star Citizen has gone insane in it post-Kickstarter financing and even Lord British has managed to come up with another million for Shroud of the Avatar, I am not sure how things will play out in the absence of successful Kickstarter campaign.

Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen – Kickstarter and Beyond February 21, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.
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11 comments

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?

Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Half-time Report February 2, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, Shroud of the Avatar.
Tags: , ,
4 comments

Not the Super Bowl half-time.

No, we have now reached Day 20 of the 40 day Kickstarter campaign for Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.  It is half way through its run.

PROTF04

And looking at the raw numbers this morning, you might feel justified in some skepticism about whether the campaign will reach its goal.  Things currently stand at:

Feb. 2, 2014 - 9am PST

Feb. 2, 2014 – 9am PST

Half way through and not quite at the 40% mark.  In a lot of campaigns that would be a serious cause for concern. Kicktraq shows that the average pledge per backer is $131 and that the average pledged per day stands at $14,876, well shy of the $20,000 a day required to make the goal.

But this campaign isn’t unfolding in the smooth, inverted bell curve way that I described in an earlier post, the way that Camelot Unchained and Shroud of the Avatar did.  That it is different can be seen as something of a mixed bag.

First there was the campaign launch, which was preceded by very little fanfare.  This turned what might have been a psychologically useful big first day into a scramble to catch up and get the word out.  And while the work on that has been going apace, it would have been nice to point at a big opening day for that.

The campaign did get a couple of boosts.  The first came when SOE announced that Vanguard: Saga of Heroes would be shut down this summer.  If nothing else, that seemed to answer the musical question, “Why would I want this new thing when I am happy enough with Brad’s past work?”  That past work is going away.

Then there was the Reddit Ask Me Anything that Brad got through pretty well.  Those can be tough runs.  I recall the first one John Smedley did, where he had to go through the whole Star Wars Galaxies NGE thing again, along with a few other unfun episodes in SOE history.  If anything, I think the questions that Brad got were not tough enough.  There was a lot of fanboy questions about this feature or that and a couple about Vanguard and what happened at Sigil.  But he has that last down to a nice sound bite at this point, so it was a lot more kumbaya than inquisition.

I would have liked to have heard… and would still like hear… a run through by him about the evolution of EverQuest from its roots to today.  He wants to get back to the old school days of 1999, dispensing with the new crap. (For me, “new crap” is pretty much defined as “everything after Ruins of Kunark,” which was the only truly all good MMO expansion ever, in my rose tinted view of the world.)  But EverQuest didn’t change and evolve in a vacuum.  Things were done for reasons, and often to solve specific problems.  I would like to hear how Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen will handle this.  (And I don’t think “smaller audience” is a sufficient answer.)

And then there was the latest item to get out the pledges, a tie-in with Lord British’s Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtue.  If you support both projects at a specific level or higher… and you can still get in on Shroud of the Avatar, Lord British is past the $3 million mark… you will receive a cloak in each game with that features the crest of the other.

The Respective Crests

The Respective Crests

That is a nifty incentive.  But the real win for Pantheon is that it included a direct message from Lord British to all 27,000+ supported of Shroud of the Avatar about the Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter campaign.  That is some serious targeted marketing, getting the word out to that many nostalgia focused gamers.  And while the cross-over between Ultima fans and EverQuest fans won’t be anywhere close to 100%, even a 10% hit rate would do wonders for Brad’s funding effort.

So that is a big wildcard that won’t be fully played until we get to the final days of the campaign.  There is almost always a spike in pledges at the end, which can be all the more frantic if it looks like a last minute push can be make or break.  We shall see.

And I also wonder if there isn’t more to the talks between Brad and Lord British.  Only a fool would pin all his hopes on a single throw of the dice on Kickstarter, and I do not think Brad is a fool.  Could Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen end up under the Portalarium banner next to Shroud of the Avatar?  That seems like a long shot, but it would make Portalarium more of an adventure game nostalgia power house.  We shall see.  We still have 20 more days to go.

Will Vanguard’s Closure Help Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen? January 27, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, Sony Online Entertainment, Vanguard SOH.
Tags: , ,
11 comments

On Friday afternoon SOE chucked a huge stone into the lake of MMOs, and now we are watching how the ripples spread and wondering what they will impact.

more titles in the past than in the future

more titles in the past than in the future

What does Friday’s blood letting say about SOE’s all-in attitude on free to play, or about one company running more than a couple of MMO titles?  Should we avoid the niche titles from SOE and NCSOFT, as they appear vulnerable to closure at a whim compared to similar titles where that is all a given company has going for it? You seem safe playing in Norrath (on Windows) and in whatever the PlanetSide universe is called, but other titles… not so much.  How long does the contract for the DC Universe Online IP go?

Will people who invested a lot in cosmetic gear in Clone War Adventures or Free Realms feel burned and thus be less likely to spend money now that these two cosmetic funded titles are being shut down with 9 weeks notice?  Has SOE poisoned the well on this front?  And what does Smed’s “no more titles for kids” pronouncement mean?  I guess the myth that many MMO players were kids with daddy’s credit card has been dispelled.

Have we seen enough Asian MMOs ported to the US market only to languish and fade yet?

Can Smed be naive enough to believe that a vague promise to former Star Wars Galaxies players about SOE’s next, unannounced title being for them, that they can come “home,” means anything?  I am sure that those driven out by the stick that was the NGE are pretty sure that their home is elsewhere these days.  And as for those who remained, how many stuck with the game just because it was set in the Episodes IV-V era of Star Wars?  Is a different IP going to scratch that itch?

And then there is Vanguard and Brad McQuaid and the kickstarter for his new game, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.

PROTF04

On the one hand, part of his “trust me” appeal for the Kickstarter campaign is his leadership in producing two enduring MMORPGs, EverQuest and Vanguard.  Sure, Vanguard had a tough launch.  That was just the situation at the time and he had to roll with it.  But once it was “fixed,” the game was good.

So SOE “sunsetting” (Because that makes us all feel better than just saying “closing” or “shutting down” right?) Vanguard kind of puts a pin to the balloon of that argument.  *POP*

Because if Vanguard was good enough, popular enough, and profitable enough, SOE wouldn’t have found security updates to be too difficult.  Money talks, and enough money gets your fixes done.  So we can assume there wasn’t enough.

So Brad now has one successful, still running MMO on his resume, even if it has been drastically changed from back in the day, and one that is being shut down… the announcement for which went out during his Kickstarter.

And then there was the talk about Brad buying Vanguard from SOE.  Fine, I know a small crowd of fans were really for that, but for me that was a red flag moment.  My concern for Pantheon, should it fund successfully, is that it will end up being another case of trying to do too much and ending up launching with an unready product.  A small team really needs to pare down projects to the essentials to deliver.  I still cringe that PvP is on the stretch goals, as that seems like a distraction, something totally outside of the vision set out for the game.  And it doesn’t matter that they will likely not make it to that stretch goal, it is the fact that they even consider it an option that worries me.

So, in the middle of a campaign for a new game, sudden talk about buying up the old game seems like a moment where somebody should be saying in Brad’s ear, “Stay on target!”

On the flip side, I wonder if the timing of this announcement from SOE… delivered after lunch on Friday, the time slot chosen by PR people who hope the news will be too late to make a splash in the news cycle and will end up forgotten by Monday… might turn to something of a boon for the Pantheon Kickstarter campaign.

Certainly, there is the potential to get the news about the Kickstarter in front of a few more faces.  The coverage of the closure of Vanguard inevitably rolls around to what Brad is up to now.

And Vanguard shutting down puts paid to some of the comments I have seen about the Pantheon up to this point, which basically amount to “Why do I want this when I already have Vanguard available?”  Well, you won’t have Vanguard around for much longer.

Will these two points help boost the Kickstarter campaign?  It currently sits at just over $238,000 of the $800,000 initial goal, with 26 days left to go.  That seems like a lot, but pledges have fallen short of the daily minimum to make goal since the initial surge of support.  So the campaign clearly needs a shot in the arm.

Can this news do the job?  It looks like there was already a small uptick in people supporting the project over the weekend, and there is some sentiment about for supporting Pantheon as a replacement for Vanguard.  But is it enough?

Brad McQuaid on Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen and Project Focus January 16, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.
Tags: ,
6 comments

The Kickstarter campaign for Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen launched earlier this week and, as an old school Sojourn/TorilMUD and EverQuest player, I have been quite interested in this project.  Long time visitors know I am big on nostalgia for past games, returning to things like Leuthilspar tales or Fippy Darkpaw Progression Server coverage on a regular basis.  So a game promising to reignite some of that style of play is right up my alley.

PROTF04

As part of the campaign there has naturally been a lot said about various aspects of the game.  There is a list of game design tenets that will guide the project.  There has also been a lot said about very tactical things, like combat and grouping and exploration.  And all of that is both necessary and good.  But I felt something was missing from the mix.  I wanted to hear about how he expects his team to get from funding to a finished product that we will want to play.  My specific question was this:

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?

For me, that question needs a good answer.  After more than 20 years in software, I am well aware that good ideas are never in short supply, but time and the skill to implement them are.  During my career I’ve gone from idealism to being the guy in the room that wants to eliminate any open-ended, ill-defined feature.

Fortunately, I was in luck with my question.  Brad McQuaid, taking on the endless work that is driving a Kickstarter campaign, showed up in the comment thread on my post about the realities of Kickstarter, so I was able to pose that question to him directly.  This was his response:

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.

That does answer my question.  The stretch goal thing still makes me a little squeamish.  I am not sure I would have PvP listed as a possibility in any form, as it feels like a distraction from the core vision of the game, something that contradicts the attempt to not be all things to all people.

Then again, I do not have fond memories of PvP in EverQuest. As amusing as tales of Fansy the Famous Bard were, PvP held no interest for me in EQ.  And EverQuest II is still struggling with the idea of PvP to this day.  The last time I checked, they had gone to a system where every skill has a PvE and a PvP effect, successfully making each skill tool tip just that much more complex.

Crafting is also one of those things that I imagine can swallow a lot of development time for little real benefit.  I am guilty of always indulging in whatever crafting model an MMO offers, but I am not sure I have come out the better for it.  Except for fishing.  I still love fishing.  But I’d be willing to give that up and live the TorilMUD model, where all gear comes from drops and the rare epic quest.

But the other aspects, the use of the Unity Engine, which will limit the amount of heavy lifting to be done, and having an experienced team (I hope we’ll see bios soon) do move towards what I was driving at.  And we may never hit the stretch goals, so unless additional funding is needed and can only be secured by adding something like PvP, they may not enter into the equation.

As for now, the Kickstarter campaign has reached about 15% of the $800,000 needed to make the basic funding goal, with nearly 1,000 backers so far.  The campaign has another 37 days to run.

Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen and the Realities of Kickstarter Funding January 14, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Camelot Unchained, entertainment, EverQuest, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, Shroud of the Avatar.
Tags: , , , , ,
20 comments

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?