A little while ago Goblinwork’s Pathfinder Online (PathO) launched a Kickstarter aimed at funding its investor demo. In my opinion, that was a particularly ill-advised project to support, but given it took only about a day for it to be fully funded and finished up with 6x its target, obviously 4000-odd people thought differently.
And now PathO is back, but this time for US$1m to top up their development budget that means “the difference between a 4 year development plan and a much faster, much larger plan.” I’m curious that this extra funding will mean that PathO is delivered faster AND bigger, since those two things seem opposed to each other. (And again please note that the majority of this title’s budget is being covered by investor funds, not crowdsourced funds – this particular initiative is about extra funding, not core development. PathO is already fully funded: “We have sufficient resources to continue to operate the team in its current configuration, plus a few more staff members, for as long as necessary to achieve our development goals and to release the game”.) It’s safe to say I’m not a fan of what’s going on here.
PathO leveraged their previous Kickstarter to promote their current one, releasing the long view of the technology demo to backers the day before this new crowdfunding effort started. They also detailed how the money they’d received from the first Kickstarter had been spent – it was all gone, with only 90% of the original $308k in pledges being received and about half of all money collected spent on wages. How easily all that money was spent certainly raises a query about what would have happened if PathO had only raised the US$50k they initially asked for – Goblinworks spent that much in rent and the same again in travel costs over just four months. That’s quite a burn rate on a technology demo.
What strikes me as most off is the use of early access to beta as a backer reward. This title is estimated to be four years before release and two years before beta actually starts, but it is being used to encourage people to pledge larger amounts.
I remember the mass objection years ago to pay-for-betas, where players refused to consider having to pay money to access an unfinished title. And that was after the title had actually been developed and alpha / beta tested. For a while there players accepted the role of unpaid QA service in exchange for early access to the game. Crowdfunding appears to have shifted things to the point that it’s now considered acceptable to pay-for-beta years before the beta is actually ready and THEN serve as a QA service. If you don’t like what you see at the time the title launches, too late – your money was spent a long time ago.
And of course PathO faces the same challenges that every MMO – and indeed, every video game title – does: it’s very easy to talk a big game, about all the flexibility the play will have, but it’s an entirely different thing to actually deliver it. Systems that are fun on paper don’t work in practise. Features get cut or delayed. Watching players run through a game reveals a number of flaws that the developers hadn’t thought of and have to spend time fixing up / implementing. It happens all the time in publisher-backed MMOs; I don’t believe indie MMOs will be more immune to these problems.
At this point it looks like there is enough interest that this second PathO Kickstarter that it will be funded – after collecting about 10% of the target in the first day or so, this project appears on target to raise close to US$2m. It certainly looks like this is a case where having a recognised nerd IP in Pathfinder is helping a project, since I can’t see a lot of the higher pledges (e.g. at this point in time it has received 16 $1000 pledges) being driven by the materials shown in the Kickstarter and the completely untested studio behind it. I know some people will say, “But look at their MMO experience!”, but studios can be filled with top tier talent only to find that they can’t work together.
Interestingly, this Kickstarter points to PathO launching in 2016 under a subscription payment model. That’s a very curious choice, given how much difficulty subscription models have had recently in keeping players. Maybe the sub model will have come back into fashion in four years time, but I’m not so sure. Of course, by having a sub-based model, PathO has been able to fill the Kickstarter reward levels with pre-paid subscription lengths and copies of the game to gift to others – something they couldn’t do under a free-to-play approach. It will be interesting to see if Gobllinworks keeps with this sub-based approach when PathO launches, or if they will go for a less restrictive payment scheme (that may make these early backer rewards worthless).
Diverted Off The Beaten Path
Looking at PathO’s second Kickstarter made me curious to see which other MMOs have sought crowdfunding. I came up with:
- Island Forge – Funded September 13, 2012 for $4.5k.
- The Repopulation – Funded July 2, 2012 for $53k.
- Embers of Caerus – Funded June 19, 2012 for $46k
- Pathfinder Online Technology Demo – Funded June 8, 2012 for $308k.
- Guns of Icarus Online – Funded February 21, 2012 for $35k.
- Astronaut: Moon, Mars & Beyond, The NASA MMO Online Game – Funded October 11, 2011 for $47k. More recently changed its name to Starlite.
- 2D Space MMO – Failed on November 29, 2012. Wanted £35,000, raised £570.
- Project Gorgon – Failed on November 3, 2012. Wanted $55k, raised $14k.
- Citadel of Sorcery – Failed on 11 August 2012. Wanted $700k, raised $44k.
- MyWorld – Failed on July 5, 2012. Wanted $600k, raised $1.5k.
- Your World – Failed on May 3, 2012. Wanted US$1.1m, raised $21k.
Actually, there are pages and pages of failed Kickstarter MMOs – I’ll let you go through them all at your own leisure.
- Gloria Victis dark medieval MMORPG – unlikely to be funded.
- Greed Monger – A Crafting Focused Sandbox MMORPG – will be funded.
- Xsyon: Apocalypse – early days, but a long way from being funded.
- F-35 Lightning II, Modern Combat Sim: Single Player and MMOG – unlikely to be funded.
- Dynasty of the Magi – unlikely to be funded.
- Furcadia: The Second Dreaming – will be funded.
So it’s safe to say that Kickstarter isn’t a particularly friendly ground for MMO titles. None of these titles have actually launched, either.
Back On Path
PathO benefits from its known IP, which comes with a fanbase who’d love to see a MMO released, but the nature of this project just reinforces to me why I can’t get behind crowdfunding. Here’s a studio with a lot of promises about what the game will contain when finished four years from now, and you can get in on the ground floor if you put your money in now. As an added attraction, if you spend $100 or more, you’ll get into early beta.
I’m sorry, but I’ve spent too much time seeing what devs say they’ll put into a title compared to what they actually end up delivering to help fund them… especially when they are already funded through private means.
Note the FAQ entry asking about refunds if the game never launches. The answer is that Kickstarter’s Terms and Conditions mandate a refund in the event that promised rewards – which in this case include the retail game four years from now – are not delivered. I wonder if anyone has ever successfully pressed such a claim on any other other projects that have not materialized.
One issue is that it is up to Kickstarter to enforce Kickstarter’s own terms and conditions. If PathO fails four years from now, will they be interested in trying to reverse charges or similar, given that all the money may have been spent by then?
There’s a case where I believe backers were recognised as unsecured creditors to a bankruptcy hearing (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/831303939/hanfree-ipad-accessory-use-the-ipad-hands-free/comments) but that involved the person in question going through that particular legal process and backers getting involved in it, not something that Kickstarter did for those backers.
Actually, if you read through those comments for that crowdfunding project a number got quite irritated at Kickstarter’s inaction.
Action costs money.
Very true. And Kickstarter is a big fan of caveat emptor – they are just a channel for raising the money, not for vetting the projects or ensuring that that backers are going to be protected outside of the 30-odd days of fundraising.
I wrote about this a couple of days ago as well. There are two key concepts for me here:
Why raise money for a tech demo to get investors when you don’t trust investors to share your game vision? Thus necessitating the second fund-raising drive. When you break it down the first kickstarter was essentially to get support for … the second kickstarter. From the same target fund-raisers. It beggars belief.
The second concept is that they actually had the gonads to start the second kickstarter before they had sent out the pledge rewards from the first one.
There is a distinct lack of accountability here, and it all adds up to something rather fishy.
I’m also curious to see what the original backers actually got to see. It is easy to cut in-game footage to make it look exciting, but the kind of thing shown in the PathO video reminds me of Shadowbane. Also, it shows off none of the supposed innovation this project is going to contain.