Tag Archives: Lord British

Shroud of the Avatar Goes… Whatever You Call It After a Long Early Access

When I saw the email from Potalarium… well, I saw it several times as I end up getting updates on three different email addresses… I was a bit taken aback at the message.  Shroud of the Avatar was on the eve of launching finally.

March 27 Launch – That is Today

I couldn’t remember if there had been some build up to this in the weekly email updates, which at this point I just skim for headlines then delete, or if this was a brand new twist.

Well, at least I moved Shroud of the Avatar to the “will ship” list on my predictions this year.  I am up at least five points today.

The suddenness flustered me a bit, and I half expected to see a follow on message announcing a delay.  But there was only a follow up about Release 52 that went through in detail what was going into this release build and linked out to the whole how to get started document for the release.

Of course here we are, just shy of five years after the Kickstarter for the project closed, having secured a little over $2 million, and I am trying to recall what this was all about again.

There was that whole Madness of Lord British season where he was talking at (not to) EA about wanting his IP back, thinking a line about great fondness might help I guess.  EA chose that moment to launch Ultima Forever, which seemed to answer the question.  So it was just Lord British talking about his Ultimate RPG, set in a land which could not yet be named. (His comment at the end of that about “ville” clones was doubly amusing given his then recent attempts to get into bed with Zynga, complete with comedy quote.)

Eventually though he seemed to get back on the rails in the right direction and launched the kickstarter to fund his project, Lord British’s Shroud of the Avatar; Forsaken Virtues.   Aside from that whole “game designers suck and/or are lazy” thing (later he explained that when he said people he worked with were essentially shit he was taken out of context) the whole thing went very well.  Lord British still has name recognition and the whole nostalgia factor going for him and was able to haul in double the amount of money he was asking for.

From the official site

Since then however… I haven’t really been paying all that much attention.  By late 2014 there was something you could download and tinker with, but it was a very rough cut.  I tried it for a bit and then let it be.  There was also something about virtual real estate that came up at one point.  But other than putting it on my possible list of games to play every year for a few years, only to have it still be in development, I haven’t paid much attention to it.  Somewhere along the line I got a Steam key and activated it there, but otherwise it has just been news about the game coming along.  Even Lord British, with something to occupy his attentions, has kept his crazy side out of the news.

But today it is live.  The server status declares it ready.

Launch version has launched

I checked over at Steam and the early access warnings have all been removed and there is a launch day sale for 15% off the $39.99 price, which keeps it higher than the $30 I pledged five years back.

It looks like the the four modes originally promised are there, offline solo, online solo, online friends, and online in an MMO-esque setting.  It is also available on Windows, Mac OS, and Linux.  The reviews, however, are mixed, something that seems to come from the cash shop.

And now to see how big the launch will be.  I have speculated in the past that doing crowd funding and early access means that a game’s core audience has likely already bought in by the time that launch comes, so there is no big boost at launch.  That is what we saw with Landmark certainly, and H1Z1′s recent transition out of early access was pretty much a yawn until they made the game free.  And even that only got it back up to its December numbers as opposed to its peak over the summer.  But H1Z1 has better competitors now in PUBG and Fortnite.  Still, launch alone didn’t seem to do much.

So how will launch affect Shroud of the Avatar? 

Also, when am I going to find time to play it?   I am currently still noodling around with Rift Prime, and there is Project: Gorgon now available on Steam.  It seems like 2018 is the year of stuff from five years ago.  Maybe Camelot Unchained will stir this year as well.

Quote of the Day – Lord British and Sandbox Newsworthiness

If you look at what Blizzard does really well, like Diablo.

Lord British, to The Observer on sandbox games

We haven’t had a good Lord British quotable article for a while.  He hasn’t flirted with EA or Zynga or called his fellow game designers lazy for quite a while.  But here he is, finally back, and with a sick burn on Blizzard.

#winning

Yeah, yeah, am I right?

Okay, I snipped that quote out of its context and you could take it in a number of possible ways, but that is still Lord British, speaking in an interview about his sandbox MMORPG, mentioning what Blizzard does well, and then going for what I might have ranked as the third item on the list, after StarCraft, which was an esport before esports were a thing, and perhaps World of Warcraft, which is actually in the MMORPG genre he is attempting to re-enter and which has been eating everybody’s lunch for a decade now.

Something of an “Elephant? What elephant? No elephant in this room!” moment for me.

And lest you think he just has words for Blizzard, he also takes a shot at NCsofts Lineage, a game still more popular today than Ultima Online at its peak.

Anyway, a bit of silliness that made me chuckle.

Still, there is some merit in the article.  It gets into sandbox MMORPGs and Lord British is very quick to equate Shroud of the Avatar with EVE Online, which ranks pretty high on the “successful sandbox MMORPG” list for most people, aside from Tobold.  And in the next breath he puts SotA up there with Star Citizen as an important sandbox game slated to release in the next year.  Also, did you know he’s been in space?  A clear head start into the heads of the EVE Online team!

Okay, maybe I haven’t gotten to the merit part yet.

But there is an interesting thread in the whole thing about reporting on events that happen in-game that is largely the preserve of the sandbox end of the genre.  This is why Lord British wants his game to be equated with EVE Online, because things that happen in New Eden actually make the news in the non-gaming press now and again.

To get that sort of thing going in SotA, Lord British mentions that they are working on a way to enable “reporters” to be able to cover live events with special views.  This contrasts with the approach CCP has taken, which was the subject of another Observer article that asked why they were not supplying special ships so reporters could cover battles…. to which CCP essentially responded by gesturing at its player base, rolling its eyes knowingly, and shaking its head.  We would exploit that in a heart beat.

And all of that ties into another article at The Observer… I had no idea they paid this much attention to video games… which interviewed The Mittani about his news site and which has its own thread about what games are structured so that interesting, newsworthy things can happen and be reported on.  EVE Online is a natural for that, as we have seen, but Mittens also brings up H1Z1… though given the tight relationship between TMC and Daybreak I am not sure how much credence to give that.

The machete is the clincher

The machete is the clincher

But he also throws out the potential for SotA, having its roots in Ultima Online and such.

So I guess the question of the day what other MMORPG has as much potential as EVE Online for the newsworthiness of in-game events?  Will the BBC and other non-gaming news organizations be covering player events in Shroud of the Avatar… or Star Citizen… or any other sandbox MMORPG the way they have EVE?

Anyway, hat tip to Neville Smit who got me started on this with a tweet:

 

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.

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.

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?

Camelot Unchained Kickstarter Campaign Complete

The 30 day run is over and Mark Jacobs and team have made their goal and then some.  The final count on Kickstarter is $2,232,933.

NOT the official drink of Kickstarter

NOT the official drink of Kickstarter

As I pointed out as part of the Kickstarter pattern, the campaign hauled in about as much in the last two days of the run as they did during the first big day.  More people showed up for a last minute contribution.  You can see how that played out with this chart over at Kicktraq.

Or you can just go with this.

Plus, once they met their $2 million goal, they were able to open up PayPal donations as well, which accrued nearly another $30K up to this point and which will no doubt remain open for those who want in on the founder deals.

And on top of all of that, there is the additional million dollars from other investors and the $2 million dollars that Mark Jacobs is personally kicking in, giving City State Entertainment more than $5 million to create its niche, RvR, no-PvE focused MMORPG.

So now it is time for them to go build a game.

And, as usual, I cannot help but compare how this campaign went with how Lord British and his Shroud of the Avatar Kickstart finished.  While the two games are different in substance as planned, they were both what I would call personality driven campaigns, Lord British on one hand and Mark Jacobs on the other, around proposed fantasy games that hearkened back to their roots as designers and which were both squarely aimed and their long term fans.

Lord British had a more modest goal, one million dollars, and ended up just past the two million dollar mark at the end.  Mark Jacobs set a more aggressive goal, one that was in question with only three days left in the campaign, but which ended up just shy of 2.3 million dollars.  (PayPal contributions as they stood at campaign end included for both.)

Lord British brought in more backers, with 22,322 pitching in on Kickstarter, compared to 14,873 for CU.  But the average pledge per backer was $151 for CU, while Lord British fans gave an average of $86.

Over at Kicktraq you can look at the Shroud of the Avatar and Camelot Unchained numbers to see how things shaped up in each campaign.

Both campaigns were examples of how is being viewed by larger projects.  Rather than being a primary source of funding, these were marketing campaigns that raised awareness, identified a core audience, got data and buy-in from them, and made a pile of money in the process.  How else can a company do that before they have actually made a serious start on a game?

And success in Kickstarter, and delivering on promises, can make a difference in funding.  I got a note… well, it was really a link to a video… last week from Hidden Path Entertainment that they got funding to go ahead with Defense Grid 2, largely based on their Kickstarter performance.  So it can make a difference.  And I’ll get a copy of that when it comes out for free, having been a supporter.

There are still plenty of small campaigns out there for projects that could otherwise not find funding along with fundraising efforts and the like.  Jason Scott wasn’t going to get funding any other way for his documentaries (or his storage unit), and Planet Money, a podcast I enjoy, is doing a T-shirt fundraiser on Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is just becoming more things to more people as time goes on and people get used to it.

Anyway, now comes the long wait for the games that were funded.  But at least I will likely shut up about Kickstarter for a while.

Shroud of the Avatar Comes in Just Over Two Million Dollars

Lord British is no doubt celebrating this morning, having finished up his 30 day run on Kickstarter with a last minute surge of donations, bringing the grand total of donations to $2,030,676, averaging about $88 per backer.  That is double is initial $1 million goal.

NOT the official drink of Kickstarter

NOT the official drink of Kickstarter

That number includes the totals from the Kickstarter page and money raised on the official game site from those who wanted to use PayPal.

From the official site

From the official site

I am not sure why somebody would find Amazon payments objectionable, but then be fine with PayPal, but I guess at least 775 people could answer that question, and they have 111,401 reasons on their side.

Anyway, this means that the $2 million stretch goal has been met.

That is a long list

That is a long list

And, as these things now go, just because it is over doesn’t mean it is actually over.  Obsidian Entertainment’s Project Eternity Kickstarter funded, but then let people put in some money late with their “slack backer” program on their official site. so you can get in on some aspect of the action on a Kickstarter than funded back in October.

I have also seen several Kickstarter campaigns that let you upgrade your tier after the fact, raking in a few extra dollars.   And, even as I am writing this, people have added more money to the Shroud of the Avatar project via PayPal.  But I have updated the dollar amount above three times already.  I am just going to leave it where it is for now.

And speaking of now, now is when the wait begins.  The money is being collected.  The goals are set.

When will something come of all of this?

One of the more common complaints about Kickstarter is about projects not meeting their timeline.  The estimated date for the launch of the first of five episodes of the game is October 2014.  I guess we will see in about 18 months how accurate that estimate was along with how much communication continues from Lord British and company post-campaign.  Communication can alleviate some of the frustration people will feel when the project inevitably slips.

And, most important of all, with the unwieldy name of Lord British’s Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues, can we just shorten that to “SotA” and pronounce is as “soda?”

Meanwhile, the Camelot Unchained Kickstarted campaign is five days in and just shy of the $900K mark on the path to the $2 million goal as I write this.  It is bringing in an average of $157 per back at this point, but appears to have hit that first plateau after a very quick initial run up.  We will have to see what Mark Jacobs and team has up their sleeve to keep that dollar amount climbing.

Camelot Unchained Kickstarter Unleashed!

Mark Jacobs and his team were wise enough to pass on an April 1st start date for his Camelot Unchained Kickstarter.

(Though I think the whole thing started before the timer on the Camelot Unchained home page finished counting down.  Probably a good idea to make sure it was going strong before sending people over.)

But the day of fools has passed, and now it is back to marketing as usual.

As Lord British and his Shroud of the Avatar Kickstarter winds down its last few days, having crossed the $1.3 million mark, getting it to the interactive musical instruments stretch goal (did anybody believe that those stretch goals wouldn’t make it into the game?), Mark Jacobs and Camelot Unchained begin their campaign.

CamelotUnchained_450px

And Mark wants two million dollars.

He’ll see Lord British’s million and raise him a million.

SupportCU_450

That seems like an aggressive goal.  As I said before, I think Lord British has better general name recognition and is a bigger draw because of that.  So the City State Entertainment team is going to have to work hard to make that goal.

All of the now standard Kickstarter bits and pieces are in place.  There are tiers from $5 to $10,000 with splashy graphics to illustrate what you get with each tier and charts to compare tier.  It is a lot of graphics.  The page seems to go on forever.  But you pretty much need the picture to see what you are getting because the text about the tiers in the side bar is cramped and goes on forever as well.  And I have already spotted a couple of discrepancies between charts and pictures.  There is a game in that alone I think.

There are mission statements and what makes the game unique and, of course, the requisite “why Kickstarter” apologia.

As a “niche” and RvR-focused MMORPG, CU is a very risky venture for most traditional game publishers. Even if we did find one willing to take the risk, it would come with so many strings attached we couldn’t make the game we want to, or would face constant battling to ensure our vision remains intact. That’s why we’re attempting to fund some, but not all, of this project’s costs through Kickstarter.

While we at CSE believe in Camelot Unchained, we could be wrong about it having even enough appeal for backers to fund this Kickstarter. We will create this game only if there is a demand for it, so if we can’t get the partial funding we seek, we will not go ahead. OTOH, if we do successfully fund, Mark Jacobs will add $2M dollars to the development budget himself. This is covered in more detail below.

I suppose it is refreshing to see the founder, who in this case doesn’t live in a castle and hasn’t paid his way into space, publicly matching the funds raised.  I am not sure how meaningful that is, but it is there.

And there is a succinct statement about where the money is going.

Every dollar we raise from this Kickstarter campaign will go towards development. Our staffing plan includes hiring three additional engineers, two artists, one designer and one part-time writer immediately. The MMO engine will be developed in-house with one purpose, to make a great RvR MMORPG; the engineers will work with Andrew on it, and our existing programmers on the server tech. While this game won’t require the amount of content as Dark Age of Camelot, we still need to hire a few more artists in-house and a writer so, dragons be praised, Mark can go back to his day job and stop writing all these documents.

I think that is a pretty reasonable statement.

There is a chart that lists out what you can buy with those Founder Points you get for this and that.  That seems to be a mildly new twist.  I am still not sure how many points I would get for any given tier, or how I actually spend them, but at least I can see that there is a use for them.

There are, however, no explicit stretch goals yet, though there are several statement about other platforms depending on making such goals.  But I get the feeling it will be a stretch to get to the main goal.  And it is easier to communicate a specific goal rather than a series of hurdles past what people thought was the finish line.

And there is a nice new graphic of the team.

City State Entertainment

City State Entertainment

I like that a lot.  And now I am even more likely to think of The City State of the Invincible Overlord every time I see that company name.

I also like that the name of the product is just two words, Camelot Unchained, and didn’t end up as Mark Jacob’s Camelot Unchained: Conflict of Three Lands Who Have Been At It Before or some such.

And the estimated delivery date for the final product?  December 2015.

Now, the big question is, will Mark Jacobs and the City State Entertainment team make it to $2,000,000 by Thursday May 2, 11:56am EDT?  We’re at the fast out of the gate stage where the true believers kick in, so the numbers are rising fast.  The $300K mark is close as of this time.  But when will that first plateau arrive?

And will we get an interview from Mark Jacobs where he insults people in order to draw attention to the whole thing when pledges do slow down?

The Kickstarter page is here for your viewing pleasure.