What will likely be the last post on the topic of Camelot Unchained here for some time.
I got a refund on my Kickstarter pledge. I got it very quickly and with no deductions for processing charges at the CSE end of things, just the money transfer fee from PayPal, a mere $3.49. Op success. I should be very happy.
And yet I am still a little prickly about the whole thing. I still think that a transaction ID for a credit charge remains a pretty unlikely thing for people to have around nearly seven years later. Mark Jacobs says that the company needs to use that to protect themselves from scammers, but it sure can make it hard on people who didn’t keep one specific email from that far back.
I am also a bit prickly about the fact that I got a refund so very quickly. I have an egalitarian streak, and getting jumped to the head of the line and getting an expedited refund straight from the CEO for being the loud mouth doesn’t make necessarily make me feel good about myself. I’m not giving the money back… dollar votes are still a thing in my mind, and that was a motivation here… but I don’t have to like the fact that others are going to be stuck. I don’t want to be special, I just want to be part of a system that works. But that is so rarely the case.
Before you declare this a victory proving that blogs are still relevant, I have to stop you. They aren’t. Blogging remains a backwater in the world of social media. If Bree at Massively OP had not mentioned me to Mark Jacobs I might still be waiting for the Pony Express to deliver my request to the archives department of my credit card company in Wichita in the hope that they would be able to find a transaction ID somewhere in the Indiana Jones warehouse where I imagine they store their old paper records and other such these treasures.
I did not ask Bree to do this for me. She had asked me to forward the email blast that CSE sent out to everybody asking for refunds last week, and I followed that up with the next message from CSE just to keep her in the loop. Next thing I knew Mark Jacobs had taken up residence in my comment section. It was a bit of a shock.
As for why I wanted a refund, there are a couple of reasons. The first, as I mentioned above, is dollar votes, the idea that you spend your money on things you support and believe in and withhold it from things that you do not. After years of delays and updates and things that have not come to pass, I began to feel my support was not warranted. There is a whole story of a startup I worked for in the 90s that plays into this, but I will just say that enthusiasm fatigue is a thing. Given enough changes, updates, delays, and excuses and your capacity to give a shit will eventually fade.
This is why I try not to get invested in games too early in their development cycle. It rarely ends well as all surprise and sense of accomplishment tends to be broken by early familiarity.
I also pledged more for this campaign than I did for many other, largely due to Mark Jacobs visiting my blog back during the Kickstarter campaign. This week was not his first visit. Blogs were still mildly relevant in 2013 I guess. And while $110 isn’t going to make a huge difference in my life, I pledged that much only because of him.
And then there is the fact that almost seven years down the road I am not sure I care about the game any more. Part of that is the enthusiasm fatigue I mentioned above. I unsubscribed from the updates email list because it was tiring to read after a few years. (For whatever reason I have not unsubscribe from the Star Citizen weekly updates. I suppose their brevity makes them less wearing.)
But part of it is my, my life, my friends, and what I enjoy have all changed over time. Seven years changes people. What CSE is selling doesn’t really thrill me now, so a chance to redirect a bit of money into something that I might enjoy is something worth doing.
Now to figure out what that is.
Anyway, I won’t harp on this or be one of those people who has to post something negative every time Camelot Unchained gets mentioned. That isn’t my style. I got my money back and I can move on to something else and leave this in the past.
I received a response from the Camelot Unchained about my refund request.
As I expected, and despite a comment from Mark Jacobs over at Massively OP about matching up email addresses or whatever, City State Entertainment’s official line to me is that they require transaction IDs for all refunds. The text of their response:
Thank you for sending the information. All purchases have TransactionIDs, it acts as a receipt for your purchase. We do need the transactionID to process the refund. It is a long alphanumeric ID. If you cannot locate it, please contact Kickstarter or Paypal and they will retrieve it for you.
CSE Support Team
As I explained in my previous post on this, there were no transaction IDs provided at the time of my Kickstarter pledge and that my credit card company does not keep such records past the six year mark, and we’re coming up on the seventh anniversary of the funding of the Kickstarter.
I suppose it is possible Kickstarter might have be able to provide the transaction ID. I will contact them next to see if they keep records that old. I will not be surprised if they do not.
But this continues to confirm my suspicion that they will stonewall people on the transaction ID front, with the added bonus that we now know that what Mark Jacobs says in comments over at Massively OP may not necessarily reflect reality. Another reason to call into question what he is pitching now.
Addendum: Have you tried contacting Kickstarter? They do not want to be contacted, something which I suspect City State Entertainment knows. (Their email is email@example.com, which wasn’t anywhere on their site but which worked all the same.)
Addendum 2: Article at Massively OP where Mark Jacobs responded in comments that transaction IDs were not required. Post update incorporating Mark’s comment:
[Update: MOP tipster Wilhelm has noted that some of the info might be difficult to come by, given that some credit card companies do not keep transaction IDs that old, but Jacobs says that people should send in what they do have and support will try to match you by email address.]
Last week Mark Jacobs dropped the bombshell that his company, seven years into the Camelot Unchained project and more than four years after the promised delivery date, had taken it upon itself to work on a different game, Final Stand: Ragnarok.
He did say that backers of the Kickstarter campaign would get the new game, but since there isn’t anything like a ship date for either the new game or Camelot Unchained, that seems like a pretty easy promise to make. Backers now have double the non-available games, which still totals up to zero games.
He was also quite clear that he and his company were under no legal obligation to give backers access to the new game nor even to finish Camelot Unchained. This came in a context that makes me think he wants us to be grateful to him that he’s giving us anything at all.
(It is firstname.lastname@example.org if you want it.)
What I got in response was a form letter from Mark. I love it when you take the time to put together information and the company just ignores it and sends you something you didn’t ask for instead.
In this case it was a plea from Mark Jacobs for another chance. He is going to give another interview later today. He’ll have a schedule for us. He is sure we’ll like what we see. He is ignoring requests for a refund in hopes that we’ll be taken in yet again.
Basically, after having had to take everything on faith for almost seven years it is a plea to continue to take things on faith, because the track record so far say that any dates he announces today will end up being slipped later on.
I know that software development is art rather than science. But I also resent being taken for a gullible sucker when somebody tells me things over and over and they consistently and repeatedly fail to come to pass. And when somebody starts reminding me that they’re not legally obligated to live up to what they say big red flashing lights start going off.
The only useful bit of information in the whole email was what they would need to process a refund.
In order to process your refund, please send us all transaction ID(s), address and phone number. All refunds are processed by PayPal, can take 90 days to process, and can carry fees (per our refund policy https://store.camelotunchained.com/faq )
That is actually considerably less information than I sent them in my first email message, save for the “transaction ID” request.
What transaction ID? I assume it is the transaction ID for the credit card charge. But the original email from Kickstarter does not have a transaction ID attached, just the usual last four digits of an otherwise obfuscated credit card number. If I had used PayPal or Amazon payments, I might be able to find it via that route, except that back in 2013 Kickstarter didn’t use either of those. You had to put up your own credit card.
My credit card statement for the charge, which I do still have, does not show a transaction ID.
I tried calling up the credit card company to see if they could get a transaction ID for the charge, however they only keep records back for six years, so a charge on May 2, 2013 isn’t available in their system any more.
The agent was mildly impressed I was trying to get a refund on such an old transaction and suggested that I could write the the archives department to ask if they could find something. When I asked for their email address I was told they only transact via postal mail or fax.
I will write something out and send it off and maybe I will get something back some day, but I doubt it.
I strongly suspect that Mark Jacobs has the transaction ID requirement in there because it isn’t something to which people have easy access. He can go on claiming that refunds are available while not having to worry about actually having to give refunds.
I will respond again with the information I do have, but I expect no refund will be forthcoming.
It looks like my only recourse is to give the project a frowny face over on Kickstarter.
That empty box is where you mark when what you backed has been delivered
That and to try not to such a gullible sucker again.
In which I prove I can be both cranky and cynical at the same time.
I seem to have two standard sort of Friday posts. One is a set of succinct bullet points. The other is a rambling wall of words that never quite gets to a real conclusion. This is Friday post is the latter. You have been warned.
So the topic du jour lately has been Black Something Online. I honestly cannot remember as I write this, and I have probably read the name five dozen times over the last two weeks. So I suppose you can add “jaded” to the my blogging super powers. (The missing word is “Desert,” but I had to tab out and look Feedly to find it. Black Desert Online. I kept wanting to write Black Diamond Online.)
Anyway, since it is free to play, the cash shop became an issue… once everybody was done gushing about the character creator at least… though there is some contention as to what the actual issue is. Is it that the cash shop is too expensive or that people are too cheap or that the whole thing lacks ethics or what?
I think only Bhagpuss has spent much time talking about actual game play, and even he seemed to be tiring a bit.
But game play isn’t where I want to go. I want to join in on the cash shop fun.
Random internet picture captures the morality…
I have my own view on cash shops and free to play, which I generally sum up as tired resignation. They are the reality of the MMORPG market today. What started as an attempt to by troubled titles like Anarchy Online, Silk Road Online, and eventually Dungeons & Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online, to grab some sort of competitive advantage over their monthly subscription based rivals quickly became the default method of operation.
Remember back during the pre-launch hype around Warhammer Online when Mark Jacobs said he was considering charging MORE than the then industry standard $14.99 a month for the game’s subscription? Those not caught up in the hype dismissed the idea while even those who were looking forward to the game seemed to think that Mark had better have something pretty fucking special up his sleeve in order to go that route.
He didn’t and that whole idea sank quietly into the swamp, foreshadowing the story of the game itself.
But that is sort of how things are today. If somebody comes along and says they want to launch a fantasy MMORPG with a $14.99 a month subscription as the only option, you would be right to dismiss that as crazy talk. The Edler Scrolls Online and WildStar certainly got schooled on that front, both admitting defeat in under a year.
Only three games seem to be good enough for that route, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, World of Warcraft, and EVE Online. Basically, the new champion of the fanatsy MMO experience, the old favorite, and the odd-ball that doesn’t fit nicely into the genre. And the latter two have the WoW Token and PLEX, so you can play for free so long as you can get somebody else to pay.
As a business model the “monthly subscription only” idea is nearly extinct.
But now the cash shop is the market default. Free is no long a competitive advantage, it is now a requirement to even sit at the table. Everybody is free. Everybody has a cash shop. And most MMORPGs seem to be able to eke out some sort of livelihood in that market… which is a problem in and of itself.
MMOs don’t die very easily. They linger on and on. They don’t necessarily attract new players or grow, but they figure out how to hold onto their core players and get them to cough up enough money to keep the servers on and development going. EverQuest and EverQuest II still have expansions for their core base. Star Wars: The Old Republic has gotten past hot bars and seems to be doing okay selling content… and the forcing people to subscribe to access it. (But a new Star Wars movie probably helped a lot as well.) Hey man, whatever you have to do. DDO still have levels to add and new classes to sell. LOTRO has… erm… let me think about that… no more expansions… no more Euro data center… oh, yeah, Tolkien!
But the market has grown, there are a lot more MMOs out there than back in 2004 when WoW and EQII launched. Go look at the list of games that launched back in 2004. It feels like ancient history. Battlefield: Vietnam! Half-Life 2! Halo 2! Katamari Damancy!Pokemon FireRed & LeafGreen… on the GameBoy Advance!
Imagine a market when you wanted to launch a new shooter but people wouldn’t stop playing something that went live 12 years ago? And not just a few cranky hold outs on old hardware who couldn’t run your game even if they wanted to, but the mainstream of your market. This is sort of what SWTOR launched into and for all of its faults, it was in large part fighting for market share of an audience that tends to stay fairly loyal to their favored game for years.
We’ve heard and dismissed past estimates of how big the potential MMO market is. People thought it was 100,000 players big or 500,000 or a million or five million or whatever. Those estimates turned out to be far too low. But there was an effective upper limit out there somewhere, a hard stop where the genre simply ran out of players willing to commit the time and effort that MMOs demand. I don’t know how big that number is, but it feels like it has stopped growing and may even have begun to shrink.
This was another Mark Jabobs thing, that the MMO market was going to be bigger than anybody thought… which was true enough. But maybe not as true as he hoped, as he has gone from ironically saying “MMOs are a niche market” to making a niche title because the market isn’t all that big after all.
So in a genre where there are only so many people who will even hear about any new MMO coming out (MMOs are no longer news unless EVE Online has another big space battle or WoW launches an expansion), a subset of which would be willing to commit the time that an MMO requires, and where a good number of those players are already in a long term relationship with their favored MMO, any new title shows up has a steep hill to climb for success.
I am therefore not surprised that any new MMO that comes along goes straight for the cash shop antics that piss a lot of people off. Any MMO that launches eventually has to buy into the trifecta of annoyance with over-priced items (to harvest whales), lock boxes or random card packs (to prey on those with poor self control), and constant reminders about the cash shop and sales and what is new and hot (to cajole the rest of us to buy and keep buying) because that is what it takes to survive and they don’t yet have the luxury of a core audience that would buy things like expansions.
What does surprise me is that anybody thinks they can wander into the MMO market with a game that is a rehash of WoW (2004)… which itself was just a rehash of EQ (1999)… with a few cosmetic differences (as I noted, most of the non-cash shop things I have seen about BDO has been about character models) and some slightly different game play (which is true to anybody besides the connoisseur) and expect market success. It boggles the mind.
Of course, there is no doubt a message in the fact that the last few attempts have been Asian imports warmed over for the western market. Nobody who has to pay salaries in US Dollars or Euros seems interested in going there from scratch. (And just on cue, EverQuest Next has been cancelled. More on that in another post.)
The right move seems to be to go niche, stay small, and build a following around a specific vision, as with Shroud of the Avatar, Project: Gorgon, Camelot Unchained, Crowfall, or Star Citizen… and then maybe gouge the whales on the real estate or spaceship market. Even Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen and its plan to farm the failed mechanics of the past seems to be a better plan in today’s MMO market than going for a release with broad appeal.
Of course, we have yet to see any of those titles… aside from Project: Gorgon, which may be the smallest of the lot… actually deliver on their vision in any substantial way yet. We shall see if that ends up being a good path forward when… and if… those titles reach a salable product state.
So that was about a twelve hundred word stream of consciousness ramble. But at least I linked out to a few people. Hi blog neighbors!
I suppose I need a point of some sort to sum up now. Let me see… here are a few. Pick one you like.
(There is an oh-so-clever poll below this, which sometimes gets eaten by AdBlock, in case you don’t see it.)
I look forward to a few angry comments about completely tangential items that I brought up briefly along the way. Early guesses include “BDO isn’t like WoW,” “LOTRO is doing great,” “Game X has changed/will change everything,” and something about Star Citizen.
…because of wow, and all the dumb money and all the publisher pressure, there’ll be lots of games that shouldn’t have been MMOs but would have been great boxed products. Lots of publishers are pushing for that subscription pie, but they’ll fail.
-Rob Pardo, MMOs Past, Present, and Future Panel at GDC 2007
Back in early March of 2007 I wandered up to the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. I grabbed an expo pass to go up and meet up with Brent from VirginWorlds and a couple of other people, as well as scouting around to see what I could see on the expo floor.
It wasn’t a great expedition on my part. I was coming down with a cold or something. I spoke to a few people, but did not hang around very long. It wasn’t a GDC where I hung around to have dinner with anybody.
But on the way out I happened by the booth where they were selling what was essentially a pre-purchase of the audio from various panels. There were a couple of different career tracks that you could order, and one looked particularly interesting, so I put down my credit card and ordered it.
Some time later I received it, ripped it to iTunes, and listed to the whole thing. And then I forgot about it. My iTunes library has more than 7,000 various items in it, so things can get lost.
Last weekend I was running through a list of tracks, looking for something interesting when I came across the audio I ordered for 17 panels on the whatever track it was and started listening to bits of it. There was a panel on Korean MMOs and how they succeed and rant session that really laid open some astounding day one problems with Windows Vista.
And then there was the panel titled MMOs Past, Present, and Future.
Just looking at the list of names on the panel… Raph Koster, Gordon Walton, Mark Jacobs, Rob Pardo, Mark Kern, and Daniel James… and you have to marvel at the breadth of experience and influence thay have had on the MMO world. All that was missing is somebody from SOE to represent EverQuest. And they were there to talk about lessons learned and the future of MMOs at what was something of a transition point in the genre.
Right then, in March 2007, Blizzard had recently launched their first expansion for World of Warcraft and sales were booming. Star Wars Galaxies had launched a few years back and had done well, but had not eclipsed EverQuest, a crime for which it was then was put through the NGE. Vanguard was faltering, but still wasn’t part of SOE yet. The Wii was still a big deal. Lord of the Rings Online had yet to launch and was just in open beta. It was that age of expectation I wrote about the other day in reference to Vanguard, where we were getting a new top dog every few years.
And this group of heavy hitters who all influenced the genre in their own ways, chose to wade in on the subject, leading to some great quotes. The Rob Pardo quote at the top seemed the most prescient, though Daniel James seemed to have a good sense of things as well. There was also a lot of focus on polish, echoing what Rob Pardo said six months before at the Austin Game Conference. (I remembered off the cuff that Brent had transcribed that 8 years back.) And lest you think Rob Pardo was the only one hitting that note, there is this:
I don’t think big media companies will be able to execute their way out of a paper bag. A lot of people will lose their shirt in this space.
Here come the mass media, and they’re shouting, omg we wanna be just like World of Warcraft. Here’s a lot of money, make a great game, but there’s only a handful of people who know how to make it really well. I’m predicting disaster.
Though that one might be a bit mitigated by his statements that there will be another WoW, that an MMO will come along and beat WoW. And that could still happen, but I get the sense that Mark had a shorter time frame in mind. At least he said that he didn’t think Warhamer Online would be the game that beat WoW. And there was Gordon Walton on the panel, listening to all of this, who then went off to Star Wars: The Old Republic which at one point EA said was going to hit 11 million subscriptions. a clear “beat WoW” number financed by a dump truck of money. SWTOR has been a success in the long term, just not by any metric EA chose in advance.
All and all it was a good panel to listen to, both back then and seven years down the road. But how to share it with people?
If you are a GDC member, which costs a hefty $500 a year, you can find it in the GDC Vault. There are some free sessions available, but this one is a members only selection.
So I dug around for transcripts, and found a pretty good one over at Wonderland Blog, which covers most of the key quotes. It is missing some of the intro and clips Raph’s quote about how people keep just remaking Diku MUD and Lambda MOO, but most of the meat is there.
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
His is also a name tied with a pretty public meltdown of vision versus follow-through.
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:
The game is high fantasy and if you've played EQ 1 and/or Vanguard, you've got a general idea of what the game's about and what kind of…
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:
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…
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?
Brad McQuaid is putting together a project for Kickstarter, which he describes:
The game is high fantasy and if you’ve played EQ 1 and/or Vanguard, you’ve got a general idea of what the game’s about…
And part of me reads that and goes, “Whoo-haaa!” or some other loudly affirmative interjection.
After all, there was a time and place where we were clearly on the same page when it came to online gaming. We both were playing TorilMUD back in the day and he, along with a group of talented people, many of whom also played TorilMUD, and created EverQuest.
To this day I cannot describe the combined feeling of newness and amazement mixed in with equally strong feelings of comfort and a sense of being exactly where I wanted to be when I first started playing EverQuest.
And that is what springs to mind right away when I think about Brad McQuaid.
Unfortunately, he also brings up Vanguard, which is sort of the antithesis of EverQuest to me.
What has he done for us lately?
There were certainly a lot of things that went wrong on that path. The list of mistakes… with I can sort of sum up as “too much breadth, not enough depth” or “too much big picture ambition, not enough focus on the details”… was long. And it was crowed with arrogance that I found off-putting. It was the spiritual forefather of Tabula Rasa or Warhammer Online, the big draw based on a reputation that failed to pan out.
I suppose that Brad McQuaid can get a little satisfaction out of the fact that his creation outlasted those two titles. But it damn near did not. While I was happy enough for SOE to step in and save Vanguard, I couldn’t tell you if that was the best business decision for SOE. It is certainly not obvious if SOE made much money with the game relative to the effort it took to fix it, and less certain is what SOE could have done with that money. Finish The Agency maybe? who knows?
Anyway, I bring up those two other titles, Warhammer Online and Tabula Rasa for a pretty obvious reason. Mark Jacobs and Richard Garriott both had initial successes in the early MMO market, turned that into big projects that failed to meet expectations, and then turned around years later to do smaller, Kickstarter focused projects allegedly based on what they learned on their respective roads through life.
That, in turn, required them to come clean on what they actually learned in their failures and how they would apply that to the current projects, Camelot Unchained in the case of Mark Jacobs and Lord British’s Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues, which they did with mixed results.
Richard Garriott spent a lot more time blaming EA, NCSOFT, and people less talented than him along with playing the nostalgia card rather than going into much detail. Mark Jacobs was more forthcoming, especially in terms of focus and what the Kickstarter financing really meant to the project. But then he had to mention how Warhammer Online still had a great rating on Metacritic, which was something of a face palm moment, as well as a reminder of the value of pre-release reviews around something like an MMO.
So that time is coming for Brad McQuaid.
He is going to have to stand up and not only be able to talk about his new project and where he wants to go with it, but also what he learned from Vanguard and how those lessons will be applied to this project. I realize that he has spoken frankly before about what he felt went wrong at Sigil Games when they were working on Vanguard. But that is always the easy part. Now is the time to talk about practical application of the lessons learned. How will he keep these things from happening again.
And I am expecting to hear a lot about focus and managing expectations and keeping things small to start with and then building upon a solid foundation.
Anyway, that should make for some interesting reading when it comes to pass.
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.
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.
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.
The Camelot Unchained Kickstarter campaign is at the halfway point today, with 15 of 30 days having passed. The campaign is sitting at the $1.2 million mark, which means that it has picked up an additional $200K since it hit the million dollar point a week ago. At that rate of funding, the project needs another four weeks, and it only has two.
Last night the third Camelot Unchained newsletter went out to those of us who signed up for the mailing list. It opened with a personal appeal from Mark Jacobs.
We knew that our Kickstarter campaign wasn’t going to be an easy sell. We are asking for $2M which isn’t the largest Kickstarter ask but it is still very significant. Even though I am putting up $2M of my own money (and an additional $1M from investors) to fund completion, we know that many of you are still nervous about committing.
If you are among those who are waiting to see if we get closer to funding before committing to our Kickstarter, I have to ask you why?
Kickstarter, unlike PayPal, doesn’t charge your credit card until the project funds. Thus, you can back us without worrying about being charged for a project that doesn’t fund. This is why we can’t use PayPal until after Camelot Unchained funds.
Also, by pledging now you help us as we pass through the Kickstarter doldrums that very often happen in the middle of a project. I’m hesitant to use any gimmicks (“Pledge now and receive a pony!”) but I will simply say this, if you believe in what you’ve seen so far from Camelot Unchained and have not currently pledged, it’s time to show your support. Doing so costs you nothing and in the meantime, it may help encourage other people to pledge as well.
If everyone who signed up for our newsletter pledged now we would be a lot closer to making our goal. So please, if you like what you’ve seen and heard from myself and CSE, now’s the time for getting off that fence before it leaves a permanent mark!
That text is unchanged by myself except for fixing “smart” quotes that did not copy/paste correctly (those are Microsoft’s curse on the world in my opinion) and inserting line breaks to make the text more readable. (That is where my mind inserted line breaks when reading it, which probably says more about how I think that what was written.)
And the message is, essentially, “don’t wait.” Certainly a last minute push to the final goal is more likely, and more likely to be successful, the closer to the actual goal the campaign is. And that last minute push can be important. Look at how much the last day or so brought in for Shroud of the Avatar.
This was followed up by a reminder about The Depths, the plan for an RvR dungeon in Camelot Unchained.
I am not sure that going from a message about trying to make it to an ambitious base goal to a discussion of a stretch goal, which assumes funding above and beyond the asked for amount, is really the best one-two marketing punch. But it is possible I am missing something there.
The newsletter then launches into an interview with author, former Dark Age of Camelot player, member of the Stellar Emperor fraternity, and Camelot Unchained backer Mark Sumner, who, according to the interview, learned about the Camelot Unchained Kickstarter from “the spiffy blog of the Ancient Gaming Noob.”
Then the newsletter closes with a thank you for people who have supported the project and a final statement about the future.
…I look forward to the day that we are not talking about pledges, backing, etc. but rather how together we can make Camelot Unchained the game that many of us have been waiting so long for, an RvR-focused MMORPG that is willing to take chances, break rules in order to dare to be great.
So here we sit, with 15 days left to go, the funding about 60% complete, and probably all the easy dollars pledged at this point. There are no more islands or inns available. (25 people pledged $5,000 a piece for those.) So a lot of people need to show up and buy in to make this happen.
As I wrote about the Lord British “most game designers really just suck” interview, there seems to come a point in Kickstarter campaigns where pledges start to slow down, where all the likely suspects are on board, and now the whole things needs a spark to get more attention.
One way to get attention is to give an interview with some juicy quotes that will generate some mild controversy.
So Lord British happily and knowingly pissed all over a bunch of people in the games industry in pursuit of that attention. That he came back and rather unconvincingly claimed he was taken out of context was a clear indication that he went too far for that goal.
When I posted about the Camelot Unchained Kickstarter launching, I asked, in more of a poke at Lord British than in a serious expectation that it would occur, if we were going to an interview from Mark Jacobs where he insulted people. He was kind enough to post a comment here that such behavior was not his style. But I still wondered if an interview with a good, headline generating quote might not be in the offing for that time when the momentum started to slack.
Well, the time seems to have arrived. After hitting the halfway point, the million dollar mark if you will, earlier this week, there has been a noticeable tapering off of pledges. Time to stir the pot. Time for Mark Jacobs to speak to the press.
And what headline we get?
Free-to-Play Headed Towards an “Apocalypse” in 3-5 Years Time
Certainly that was a good quote. It implies a disaster for what has become the MMO industry’s dominant business model.
And the interview certainly goes into some things that have been covered before. The days of free-to-play being a differentiator are gone. The first blush success of DDO and LOTRO going to the model has been replaced by the need to constantly escalate the pitch to get people to buy things from the cash shop.
And by saying that Camelot Unchained wants to focus on the people willing to put up the money to subscribe, he brings up by implication one of the more annoying bits about free-to-play.
Free-to-play games also focus on those willing to put up money… but that is usually through the inevitable cash shop. And so games on that model have to keep coming up with the next big thing to push, and it becomes harder and harder not to just sell game impacting power.
As for the apocalypse of the quote, I think we are already on the cusp. Games following that business model are already folding up, some before they even launch in North America and Europe. It is no longer good enough just to be free-to-play.
What I think we will see in 3-5 years is an actual good understanding of what it takes to make a successful free-to-play game. Knocking off WoW and bolting on a cash shop will no longer cut it. We will understand when somebody says “free-to-play” what it really means, or at least what various flavors of the business model mean.
As for the purpose of the interview, bringing attention to the Camelot Unchained Kickstarter, do you think this is going to be enough? Two million dollars is still a long march away.