Shroud of the Avatar, Virtual Real Estate, and Keeping Control

We do not, to my knowledge at least, have a live MMORPG that has started life financed via Kickstarter as yet.  There are a few on their way, such as Shroud of the Avatar and Camelot Unchained, but we still seem to be a long way from a state of “this is how these things work.”  A trend does seem to be forming, or two trends really.

The first uses Kickstarter as a marketing scheme and litmus test for the popularity and financial viability of a given project.  That a project can raise a given amount of cash from its Kickstarter campaign is used to secure further financing after the campaign.  You can often pledge money afterwards for the same reward tiers as during the campaign, but player pledges were not, nor were ever planned to be, the primary financing for development.  Oculus Rift is a good example of this.  It had a successful Kickstarter that helped the project get off the ground.  The ask was for $250K, and it came back with nearly ten times that much, falling shy of $2.5 million raised.  But other financing based on that success helped it carry on, and the project raised a total of $91 million in capital before it was bought out.  And while not everybody is happy that Facebook stepped in to buy up the whole thing, that is the way things work in what is essentially a very traditional way to raise capital.

On the Kickstarter MMORPG front, Camelot Unchained appears to be using this method.  Their Kickstarter was very aggressive, setting a $2 million goal which they achieved with less than a day left to run on their campaign.  But the promise was that if they could make that goal, other financing would be forthcoming, including Mark Jacobs himself kicking in a substantial amount of cash.  So there was the new Kickstarter front end to what seems to me to be an otherwise traditional financing process;  seed capital leads to further funding.

The other trend eschews traditional financing in a bid to maintain control over the project.  As much as John Carmack has tried to sooth people, the idea that Mark Zuckerberg has the final say on what Occulus Rift becomes drives some up the wall.  There is a great tradition of large companies buying smaller ones and just screwing them up and into extinction.  To avoid this, you don’t sell out and you don’t give up control.  That means after the Kickstarter campaign is done, you keep going after people to give you money.   You keep taking money for same pledge tiers you had in the Kickstarter.  You start up a cash store to sell additional special items to your fans.  And you keep banging the drum, marketing hard, selling a dream or what might be the result.

The poster child for this trend is, without question, Star Citizen.


With $44 million already raised, Chris Roberts is selling the hell out of his vision of a space combat simulation RPG with MMO and single player elements, which is pretty damn good for somebody who hasn’t shipped a game in over a decade.  And while you may believe that this will be the killer space sim app that will destroy EVE Online and every other space game or that this is the most spectacularly public long con in the video game industry ever, Chris Roberts has been able to both get funding and keep control of his baby.

And, in what I take as a blessing on some of my posts from last year, Richard “Lord British” Garriott de Cayeux appears to be taking this route.  I spent some time comparing and contrasting Lord British and Mark Jacobs and their respective visions and Kickstarter campaigns because they feel, to me, like two very different personalities with different views.  And now I get to carry on with that as their projects head down their separate paths. (Though, to be honest, I am probably making more out of this that is really there, but it keeps me amused.)

While we have been getting updates on Camelot Unchained, money is not something that gets brought up.  They are much more likely to mention Nerf gun wars than money raised.  Not that you cannot give them more money.  They have that setup on their site.  But it isn’t being played up as much as it could be. (So they have “only” raised another half million dollars since their Kickstarter at this point.)

Shroud of the Avatar, taking the control path, is becoming more focused on raising money.  There is the usual running tally of funding.  The project ended its Kickstarter campaign with just over $2 million, but now boasts of having raised over $4 million total for the project.  And then there are the offers for backers such as the “add-ons” that people can purchase for use in New Britannia.  These were enhanced considerably with the latest “Epic” project update, which looks to buy heavily into the Chris Roberts approach to raising more money.  There are new pledge tiers, new stretch goals (ever the siren’s song with Star Citizen), and new add-ons.

And while the stretch goals (mounts and elves and boats and such) are supposed to help move along the funding, it is the add-ons that grab your eye.

Or, rather, it is the price of some of the add-ons.

Among the items added to the add-on store are whole towns, which run between $750 for a “Holdfast” to $4,000 for a whole “City.”

Your Town Options

Your Town Options

And while towns will be purchasable with gold in-game at some point (QFT: “There will be a path to achieve this in game via in game gold purchase but the ownership of the scene will incur a rental fee.”) there will be ongoing rental overhead for the in-game option.  So if you want to run your own town free and clear, real world cash is your option.  Money talks and bullshit rents month to month.

And what do you get for your $750, assuming you are a cheapskate and just want a Holdfast?  The add-on store says:

  • 12,600 m2 of player lots
  • A design session with the Dev Team to define details including:
    • Name of Town
    • Location: Roughly which quadrant of the map. (Exact hex will be determined by Portalarium, Inc.)
    • Biome: Forest, Mountains, Grasslands, Swamp, etc.
    • NPC Building Definition (inn, smithy, etc.)
    • NPC names and stories
    • Lot Selection: Determine which lots of which size you want. For example at this size:
      • 21 Village Lots
      • 5 Village Lots + 1 Castle Lot
      • 20 Row Lots + 1 Castle Lot
      • 13 Village Lots + 1 Keep
      • 13 Village Lots + 4 Town Lots
      • etc.
  • X Keys to X Locked Lots:Central Square with 1 NPC owned building
    • Keys equal to the number of lots chosen
    • Owner of the keys can lock and unlock lots at will so they can actively control who gets to live there
    • The key owner can evict an occupant and lock the lot using the key
    • Players will still need lot deeds to claim the lots once the town owner unlocks the lots
  • 1 Add On Store House

That is a considerable amount of “stuff” I suppose, including developer interaction.  I wonder if naming is going to be more flexible for those who pay in real world cash versus coin of the realm.  And, note, lot deeds are not included.

And while the comic/drama potential of being able to lock people out of lots in a town  is intriguing (do you get a title like “Dictator for Life” when you buy one?), the sticker price makes me recoil in horror.  WildStar plus a year’s worth of subscription ($60 + $180) is less than a third of that price, and will probably go down with time.  But I can be a notorious cheapskate.  I am sure somebody out there is happy/amazed/ready to lay down the dollars for a town to call their own at that price.

And real estate, done akin to the real world variety, as it is being approached in SotA, is a limited resource I suppose, unlike the fancy space ships and lifetime free repairs that Star Citizen is selling to an eager audience, so should be priced accordingly.  But that price makes me cringe. (Not to mention the “bought the farm” metaphors that spring up.)

What do you think?  Is this the right direction for SotA?  While I would bet that Lord British has greater name recognition than Chris Roberts, the Wing Commander series, on which Chris Roberts’ reputation is largely built, was the biggest franchise to come out of Lord British’s own studio.  The Ultima series was a clear second place. (Which one got an animated series? Hint: It wasn’t anything set in Britannia.)  You can say, “Chris Roberts” and get no response, but say, “Wing Commander,” which Chris Roberts does as often as is polite, and suddenly things are different.

With that in mind, can Lord British reasonably aspire to be a “sword and sorcery” Star Citizen in terms of funding?

5 thoughts on “Shroud of the Avatar, Virtual Real Estate, and Keeping Control

  1. zaphod6502

    The housing/village model SotA is using is very similar to that of Entropia Universe. ie. invest a lot of money and then sub-lease it to other players for profit. It is unclear if you can convert ingame currency back to real dollars though (I assume not). Entropia does support conversion back in to real world money.

    I am not sure it is a good or bad direction for SotA to take. I assume it was the best option for Garriott to continue to generate funding. Whilst I did buy into the Kickstarter I have not purchased any additional items – housing or otherwise.

    As for Star Citizen this project shows no signs of slowing down. Just this past weekend with the final of TNGS competition broadcast and the release of the Freelancer variants has netted Cloud Imperium another easy $800,000 or so. Whilst the majority of pledges are less than $100 there are players who have pledged more than $50,000. Players are continuing to buy full price virtual ships even without the LTI component.

    What this shows is the huge pent up demand for a decent space simulation / walking in spaceship simulator. Roberts has been extremely clever in the way he has directed this campaign. The Hangar Module release is a very clever marketing tactic. I can imagine there are many other developers/publishers green with envy over what Star Citizen has achieved.


  2. SynCaine

    Wing Commander vs Ultima would be an interesting debate. Mass market I’d lean towards Wing Commander, although I’m not sure a horrid movie helps as much as it hurts. Amongst ‘core gamers’, I could easily make a case for Ultima being the much bigger name due to volume and quality, though both are old. Among MMO players I think its no contest Ultima.

    Will do my own blog post about the pricing stuff.


  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @SynCaine – The thing is, while Ultima is probably bigger for the MMO and/or core gamer crowd (over a certain age at least), it does face a lot of alternatives. Having tinkered with the early SotA releases, I do feel a bit of “So, what does this give me that I cannot get elsewhere?”

    The Wing Commander legacy doesn’t have a similar set of competitors. And I am not sure if the movie helps or hurts… probably neither, as with the D&D movies… but the fact that the franchise was big enough to make an animated TV series and a movie, that seems to speak towards a wider audience.

    But it does make for an interesting debate. For me Ultima was huge… for about 10 years, starting about 30 years ago… and Wing Commander was barely a thing at all. I think Mark Hamil did the voice for one of the characters. That is all that sticks out for me. But I was already playing MUDs and stuff back then.


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