Pantheon: Just Brad has Fallen

Money is always an issue.

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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

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.

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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

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

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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:

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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

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

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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.)

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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

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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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?

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.

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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

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.

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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

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?

Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter Started

Brad “Aradune” McQuaid has launched his Kickstarter campaign to fund his planned game Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.  I did not see much build-up to it, but maybe I wasn’t paying attention to the right sources.

Aradune's new project

The Project

Aradune, who came through TorilMUD back in the day, is best known for being one of the primary drivers of EverQuest and Vanguard.

Of course, everybody (or everybody reading this) remembers EverQuest, while Vanguard hasn’t always been… appreciated?  I hate to say winner/loser, but one was king of the genre pre-WoW and remains influential today and the other…

So this is the third try.  Can Aradune and his cohorts at Visionary Realms, Inc. (there is that “vision” word again) take what has been learned over the years and craft an MMORPG that brings back the hardcore days of EverQuest while running well and feeling up-to-date?  That certainly seems to be the target.

Pantheon emphasizes the need to adventure with others. The world is dangerous and full of unexpected challenges making it unwise to travel alone. We feel that the best memories are those shared with fellow adventurers and friends. Thus, we are aiming to create a world where grouping is paramount.

He is asking for $800,000 in funding, which if you read my predictions for 2014, means I think he won’t make it.  I figured his name and reputation was good for half a million tops, so I guess we will see if I am wrong in the next 40 days. (The timer runs down on Saturday Feb 22, 11:40am PST.  I’m in for $75.  If the ride starts, I want to be on board.)

I expect it will be a hard fight to make it there no matter what and Brad will have to be out and about and getting people interested pretty much full time.  Remember how hard Mark Jacobs worked to get to two million dollars for Camelot Unchained?

There are the usual aspects of a Kickstarter campaign in place, including stretch goals out beyond the 6 million dollar mark.  You can find all the details on the Kickstarter page for the project.  I expect we will see interviews with Brad coming up where he will have to answer some hard questions about what he learned from the Vanguard project and where something like Pantheon fits in today’s market.

The target date for the game is pegged at three years out, January 2017.

I thought I would copy these bullet points to ponder as the campaign moves on.

Game Details

  • An MMO developed by gamers who aren’t afraid to target an audience of like-minded gamers.
  • A fantasy themed Massively Multiplayer Role Playing game (MMO) with a heavy focus on character development, an immersive world, and teamwork.
  • An MMO for players wanting a challenging and rewarding experience.
  • An open world in which you explore to obtain not only more powerful items but also new spells and abilities.
  • Travel where and when you want to in a non-linear world.
  • A huge world to explore, trade, and adventure in.
  • A complex back-story that players may gradually discover as they grow in power and explore the world.
  • A constantly expanding and evolving world.
  • Group-focused social gameplay using a class based system to encourage teamwork.
  • Customize your class by bonding with the spirits of fallen warriors.
  • Reactive combat where you can determine what the NPC is doing and react to it. (move, counter, deflect, etc.) .
  • Combat will be challenging and involved — your decisions will matter and directly affect the battle’s outcome.
  • Travel the world and profit from selling exotic items collected from distant realms. Different cities and outposts may have local Bazaars.
  • Limited and class based teleportation may get you close, but in order to reach many destinations you will have to traverse the planar scarred lands of Terminus through the use of your own two feet or on the back of your mighty steed.
  • Earning experience is only part of what it takes to level up. Exploring the world you will gain knowledge and power allowing you to overcome more powerful enemies.
  • The game will run on PC, Mac, and possibly other platforms in the future.

Game Tenents

  • An awareness that content is king
  • A belief that game economies should be predicated on delaying and minimizing item value deflation
  • A commitment to a style of play that focuses on immersive combat, and engaging group mechanics.
  • An understanding that a truly challenging game is truly rewarding
  • An expectation that the path of least resistance should also be the most entertaining
  • A mindset that Designed Downtime should be a part of the game to ensure players have time to form important social bonds.
  • A belief that an immersive world requires intelligent inhabitants
  • An understanding that faction should be an integral part of interacting with the world and its citizenry.
  • A commitment to creating a world where a focus on group play will attract those seeking a challenge
  • A belief that the greatest sense of accomplishment comes when it is shared