Catching up: Kickstarters

I don’t know about any of you but I’m getting to a place with gaming kickstarters which is much closer to how I buy regular published games. I read the kickstarter, think “Sounds cool” and then “I’ll wait till it’s released and then pick up a copy if it’s any good.”

To get me to contribute these days, I’d need more emotional attachment to the project than just “Oh neat.” It would either have to sound like something I really want to play, involve a creator of whom I am a fan, or support a cause I care about. Maybe the sheen has just gone. Creators are finding new ways to use kickstarters – sometimes to raise awareness or for publicity more than for the kickstarter cash itself. This wasn’t really the original idea, but that doesn’t mean it’s terrible.

It’s just that in the grim dark future, instead of applying for a beta or preordering (or prepaying) to get your beta spot, it’ll only be open to people who paid more than $X in the kickstarter.  But the equating of “how much cash are you willing to put up” as a measure of your dedication as a fan is a trend that is only going to increase. It is also inherent in the F2P mindset. That’s more of a topic for a future post. For now, lets just say that fan enthusiasm is a commodity to be monetised. Fun times.

Anyhow, there have been a few large gaming kickstarters in the mix lately. Terra Silverspar sees this as a sign that kickstarter is going to be a bad thing for gaming in the longterm.

Many of big name developers using Kickstarter are furthest from strapped for cash to be able to produce the titles they are looking to produce, but they threw out these rather large figures at what they feel would need to be to create these games, some of them with not even a demo or name of the product to be seen, and even threw out shameless incentives to get people to pay more.

((…))

All they have to say is remember my one good game and they know their fans will jump on it, especially if said big name makes large promises that claim their in development product you’ve never seen will be like one of their famous games of the past.

This isn’t fundamentally different from the way hype works anyway. “New game X will be like old game Y that you really liked” is a fairly basic argument, especially if it’s backed up by having some of the same team involved. You pays your money and takes your chances.

However, phrases like “harkening back to his innovative early work,” “the team will revisit X’s design roots”, “this game is counter-revolutionary” et al lean towards a current view of kickstarter where it is getting used to support revolutionary (or not)  little indie games and old school (ie. not revolutionary) larger games. Except that the indie games struggle more with publicity than a big name celeb game designer.

Anyhow, I’m going to scan over some of the projects that I have either backed or been following.

Shroud of the Avatar (Lord British)

I know Arb is fond of this one, for sentimental reasons. This successful kickstarter has been controversial because Lord British (yeah I know, his real name is Richard Garriot) is wealthy enough in his own right that punters wonder why he can’t pitch a game to publishers without needing $1m of funding from the public first. Also controversial as the man is a dab hand at giving controversial interviews. Or in other words, he gives good media.

On the other hand, he is proposing making an open world RPG of the type he became famous for with the Ultima series. Shroud of the Avatar is a direct callback to Ultima, as your character was called “the avatar” in many of those games, although for legal reasons it won’t be using any of the Ultima IP (last seen being cast onto iOS via Ultima Forever). It is going to be a PC game. He is calling it a multiplayer game rather than an MMO so there is going to be some overlap with solo play and group play.

So if you liked that sort of game – which Arb and I did very much – it will be one to keep an eye on. I like open world RPGs, and that is what I expect this to be. The kickstarter almost doubled its $1m goal, so let’s see how it goes.

Jane Jensen (Moebius)

This is one of the first kickstarters that I backed, and I liked it because I admire Jane very much as a game writer and have fond memories of the Gabriel Knight games. Her studio has already put out an extra mini graphic adventure aimed at 5-9 year olds – which wasn’t anything I was interested in, but free perks are always nice and if I knew anyone with a kid and an iPad I’d happily give it to them. But the main attraction is Moebius, an adventure game which does not stray far from its Gabriel Knight roots.

RPG didn’t think much of the trailer but as a backer I’m happy, it looks pretty much to be what I would have expected. I look forwards to playing it on release and am happy I was able to support it.

Also she’s been great about monthly updates, free wallpapers, and generally being in touch and available.

Camelot Unchained

As a fan of DaoC (and Warhammer Online) I am always interested to see any project that Mark Jacobs is behind. He spent a few months building up publicity for this kickstarter before it launched, and is currently almost halfway to his $2m goal. It is a large goal, especially for a fairly niche type of game, so this will be an interesting one to watch.

Mark is doing a lot of publicity for this at the moment via interviews. He also has been quite active in the reddit, and I recall he always seemed to quite enjoy interacting on forums et al during DaoC also.

Although I really liked DaoC I am not backing this one, because all PvP all of the time isn’t for me. I do think it was a good idea to limit the scope of the game – PvE content in MMOs is expensive and there is definitely an audience for a smaller PvP focussed game. If it is your thing, feel free to go pledge them some cash as this kickstarter has just under a month to go.

A friend of mine commented that he thought this kickstarter was very jargon heavy and would be hard to follow for anyone who wasn’t into MMOs. I don’t think they are trying to get new players into the genre, the people who want to back this game will know what the jargon means.  I do wonder a bit about how developing their own game engine is going to impact on things. It isn’t that it is a terrible idea, just that having the core of your game as a new untried and untested piece of code adds some risk to the endeavour.

Double Fine

This is the kickstarter which really kicked off the phenomenon for gaming, raising $3m on an initial goal of $400k. The game now has a name (Broken Age), a website, a trailer, and you can preorder. They have also been releasing regular video updates for backers giving some insight into the development process.

I am looking forwards to seeing the game, and I like the concept a lot. The videos have been fun and it feels like a fun, different way to support a game genre that I like and get a cool game at the end.

Torment (Numenera)

This is the Planescape Torment sequel that isn’t set in Planescape. The concept of that confused me enough that I decided not to back it – I did however back Monte Cook’s Numenera pen and paper game so at least I’ll be able to decide if I like the setting before putting any money down for a computer game. (Oh and also I can wait for the game to be released to see if I want to play it.)

Fortunately, Torment isn’t dependent on my backing as the kickstarter raised a whopping $4m off an original goal of $900k. Planescape really was that popular. They’ve recruited Chris Avellone (original Planescape: Torment designer) onto the design team, among other experienced designers, and have already turned out some cool looking screenshots.

I’ll look forwards to seeing what they can do with the money. But I’m perfectly happy to wait until release before deciding if I want it.

Here’s an interview with Brian Fargo where he talks about his experiences with successfully running kickstarters for Torment and Wasteland.

Project Eternity

Another RPG (I have straightforwards tastes in gaming), this time to be developed by Obsidium Entertainment with the help of just under $4m raised via kickstarter off an initial goal of £1.1m. Chris Avellone is going to be busy with both this and Torment, and they’re likely to be quite similar games.

This one I did support, I liked the idea of knowing a bit about the team going into the project at the start. And I want to see what Obsidian can come up with. They have been sending out regular updates, and we’ll just have to see how it goes.

I also like that although they’ve been clear about their influences and what type of game it’s going to be, it doesn’t feel like so much of a namecheck as the Torment game. I will of course play both if they’re any good.

[Links] Death of an MMO, Obsidian Kickstarter, Backlash for GW2

We are just coming up on one of the traditionally busy times of the year for the gaming industry, and this year is busier than most for MMOs with a slew of big new releases, new expansions and media blitz. You might almost think that the traditional (whatever that means) MMO is not in fact dead.

Unless, like City of Heroes, it is dead in the water. One of the reasons the news about CoH inspires such emotion around many of the blogs I read is that it is an older MMO, from an era where social networking was not as widespread as it is now. Back then, if you played an MMO, it may well have represented a much more important part of your online social life and online support network, at a time when these things didn’t greatly exist anywhere else.

Welshtroll notes some memories about the UK CoH community. Bree thinks about how this will affect how she plays MMOs  in the future, and how she feels about GW2 now. Strawfellow writes about what CoH meant to him and why the news that it is closing has hit him so hard.

What I am left with is a profound sense that no part of my life is sacred from the feeling of loss. Online games used to be my refuge, and now I am acutely aware that this ground is not safe either. It is difficult for me to trust to begin with, and investing myself in a new game will be significantly harder. You never do trust as easily as you do the first time.

Peter @ Markovia also reflects on what it means when a virtual world shuts down that had been active for so long (relatively).

… I’ve heard from people who have grown up there, who have proposed to wives and husbands in-game, or who have introduced their children to it as they become old enough. These people face losing their old haunts, places they often regard as an extension of their hometown. The community faces being torn apart.

<…> this isn’t a game anymore; the ‘game’ aspect of it is, at this point, something of a vestigial organ connected to the body of something much larger.

Unsubject analyses the state of NCSoft to think about why they made this decision.

NCsoft wants big successes, not titles that have limited future potential for growth. If the money might be better off going to ArenaNet (you bet NCsoft wants Guild Wars 2 to an incredible success) or Carbine Studios (Wildstar is on its way) than staying with Paragon Studios, then it makes sense to divert the cash.

Another game that has had a rough ride recently is The Secret World. Funcom announced that the game failed to meet their (crazily high) expectations, and that they have laid off some staff, and the promised monthly update is also running late.

A former Funcom CEO is also under investigation for insider trading.  Tobold suggests that figuring out that the game would not meet Funcom’s expectations and that this would affect share price, and therefore selling ones shares before launch may not indicate insider trading so much as common sense.

But I am sympathetic to all the players who really love the game and hoped for it to have a long and prosperous future. It’s far too early to announce doom and gloom, but clearly things aren’t going to well at the moment, and they’ll have to make do with the players they have.

lonomonkey argues that players who want MMOs to go places other than fantasy need to back new ideas with their money by supporting games like TSW when they are released. I would rather give the industry the message that if they make fun games, I will buy them.

A word from our developers

Alexander Brazie (who is a WoW designer) has a great blog on game design, and his post this week touched a nerve with me.

If you consider the pacing the macro level of a game, dungeon or encounter, you don’t want players to be going balls-to-the-wall nonstop for the entire experience. To cater to their human nature, you want luls, breaks and breathing periods between moments of intensity. Players, however will continue to naturally seek higher and higher levels of intensity until they breakdown from exhaustion.

You need to give them a hint that pushing forward harder is wrong.

Although I think I’m fairly good at knowing when to stop, I’ve definitely played games that felt like the gaming equivalent of a sugar rush. It was exciting, there was so much to do, and I played to where I was (mentally, if not physically) exhausted. So I appreciate efforts by designers to design in this type of lull as a pacing mechanism.

Because sometimes you want chilled out fun and not balls to the wall fun.

Whatever you think of GW2, the trading post/ auction house/ economy is shaping up to be one of the most exciting parts of the game (in my opinion). John Smith, the house economist, writes a great blog on the state of the economy that I hope is going to become a regular update. And incidentally, why don’t other MMOs other than EVE have their own economists?

We’ve noticed several markets that are clearly out of sync in terms of supply and demand. It isn’t interesting or fun to have a market flooded with items that contain very little value, so we’re making adjustments to the game every day. Players can expect to see these markets even out over time.

While adjusting the supply and demand will bring markets closer to non-vendor based equilibrium, there is still the matter of massive surplus of some items. To address the surplus, we’ve created some new, limited-time Mystic Forge recipes that use these items. These recipes create boxes that give chances for gold and some cool items.

It’s the fact that they are making constant adjustments in a way that players can respond immediately (via trading, naturally) that makes this so interesting. The day after he posted this, the ‘massively surplus items’ shown in the screenshot on the blog saw a huge increase in value, presumably because some players decided to stock up so that they could gamble on the new limited-time Mystic Forge recipes.

I realise this won’t be new to anyone who plays EVE, but it is entirely possible that Anet will do a better job of ‘balancing’ the economy than CCP. They also have an easier task because GW2 isn’t a completely sandbox game so they can tweak elements like the Mystic Forge and what is sold by NPCs in a way that CCP can’t. I think it will be interesting to watch, and interesting to play if you are economy-minded. I’m already loving the buy orders.

Smith also discusses economic issues around gold making ‘exploits’ in MMOs, and the karma vendor exploit in GW2.

The game has gotten to a point in size where there is no such thing as a single player discovering an exploit. Exploits come in waves of mass participation and in the end, if they aren’t dealt with, the economy becomes hyper-inflated. After mass exploitation, your wealth is only relative to how good you were at exploiting, rather than your success in the game. This damages the integrity of the game and makes it unfriendly to new and honest players. There have been cases where exploits have severely damaged and arguably killed a game.

Exploits are mostly generated by a mistake on our end and are really hard on players. When an exploit is discovered, players are tempted to participate by the draw of becoming wealthy and out of fear of being left behind the massively wealthy players who do participate. We take a harsh stance on exploiters because this decision should be easy: find an exploit, report the exploit and move on. It isn’t worth the risk to the player or the game.

Let me give you all my money

If you are one of the 36k players who have already thrown some money into the Kickstarter hat for Obsidian Entertainment, you probably know all about Project Eternity.

If you are like me, you got as far as the first paragraph of blurb ….

Obsidian Entertainment and our legendary game designers Chris Avellone, Tim Cain, and Josh Sawyer are excited to bring you a new role-playing game for the PC. Project Eternity (working title) pays homage to the great Infinity Engine games of years past: Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment.

… and then gave them some money immediately, before finding out what this game is actually intended to be about or when it might be released (2014 is the current estimate.) I do not pretend that this is either sensible or smart, but what is life without a little risk? I hope it’s more like Planescape than Baldur’s Gate but I won’t quibble either way.

The Kickstarter still has 29 days to go and, amazingly, made it’s $1.1m goal in about the first day. What makes me excited as a player (and pundit) is that with the success of games like Skyrim, GW2, and this kickstarter, I hope the industry is getting a strong message that there is a really solid audience for open world fantasy games and that we would like more of them.

Guild Wars 2 – backlash edition

So the game has now been out for a few weeks, plenty of  time for bloggers to get stuck in and come out with a stronger idea of what they do and don’t like about it.

Syncaine describes the game as ‘enjoyably meh’ and feels that it lacks meaningful decisions. Or at least the sort of decisions and challenges that would feel meaningful to him. It feels as though he can’t quite summon the energy for a full blown rant, but knows that something isn’t right.

Keen explains that he really enjoyed the levelling experience, and talks about what he and his guild are doing at level 80, with suggestions for other players. (Mull around, get bored and/or burned out, write an insightful post about flaws in the game and hop on the next hype train?)

Verene at Under the Pale Tree gives her two week summary and  touches on something Arb brought up while we were playing. The game is like crack for people with short attention spans.

Nearly every time I set out to do something, I spot another thing going on, and then another, and so on and so forth. Suddenly it’s three hours later, I’ve leveled up several times, and I realize I never got to what I was going to do in the first place!

Ravious is looking forwards to giving Arenanet more of his money in return for fun toys, like a pirate outfit that comes with its own emotes (we thought that looked quite fun when we saw it in the store too.) He also writes about his attempts to slow down and smell the roses in game – this is related to what Brazie wrote (see link above) about the natural lulls.

One of the cool things about being British, apart from the Olympics/Paralympics and having a weather system that isn’t trying to kill us, is that “afk 5 mins to get tea” is one of the great universal codes among British MMO players for “need a lull/ slow the pace.”

smakendahead also touches on the pacing of the game.

Dusty writes about roles in GW2 and discusses dungeon tactics. Since my main takeaway from the one dungeon we did run was “That wasn’t really very fun compared to roaming in PvE/WvW,” I’m trying to be open to the possibility that I was just doing it wrong. However, he does conclude that it would be useful to have a plate wearer around to take damage, which doesn’t quite gell with the whole ‘no trinity’ vibe.

Jeromai describes why he loves the underwater environments so much in GW2. I think I’d love them more if they were less full of barracudas.

Doone summarises some of the rest of the feedback from bloggers.

It’s interesting that I don’t have a lot of bloggers on my reader discussing WvW or sPvP in GW2. Feel free to recommend any blogs that cover those in more detail (or if you have written about them, feel free to add links in the comments, I’ll post them up here.)

On another note

Lord British (Richard Garriot) is getting Zynga to publish his new Ultimate Collector game. Don’t hate me but it sounds kind of fun and I think both of them are going to have a big success on their hands. You heard it here first.

Although I will probably be too busy playing on the GW2 auction house.