[Kickstarter] Camelot, t’is a silly place

With only 10 days left to go until the end of the kickstarter, Camelot Unchained (Mark Jacob’s proposed new niche PvP MMO)  is looking on shaky ground. All the updates, stretch goals, interaction on reddit and other forums, press interviews and media rounds cannot hide the fact that the kickstarter still needs to make over 700k to become funded (and that of course will not include any stretch goals such as the fancy updated version of Darkness Falls).

The kicktraq chart shows them being on track to hit $1.9m – a huge amount, but still  short of the $2m goal. MJ et al have responded by adding more high end kickstarter tiers, a reasonable response given that CUs higher tiers have sold out rapidly to keen fans.  It’s not all over until the fat lady sings and there’s still time for more pledges to come in, but I want to talk today about the problems I see with the project and with the kickstarter.

Maybe niche projects should have niche targets

The main problem CU has is that there simply aren’t enough backers. Compare their current 8350 backers to the numbers who backed other recent successful big gaming kickstarters like  Torment or Project Eternity  (around 73k-74k people each), or Shroud of the Avatar (22k people, more modest goal than CU). As you might expect from this type of project, individual backers have been prepared to spend big on their fantasy heartbreaker (an old tabletop term for people who design their PERFECT game but the games are never quite different enough to grab an audience). But CSE set a high, ambitious goal – they may be asking just too much of their niche. It does speak well for the project speaking to a moneyed fanbase that it is getting as close to the goal as it currently is.

The high tiers have been selling like hotcakes, it’s quite astounding how many people are willing to throw $5k or so at a niche product that won’t be out for a couple of years at best. If nothing else, CSE have shown that the niche exists and it has cash to spend. At the same time, unlike other gaming kickstarters, this one is for a subscription game. This is one reason why the lower tiers don’t look as enticing to people with a mild interest  – even getting a good discount on the base game, there will be more to pay.

And while kickstarters often see a rush at the end, I think it’s just as likely for a project like this that some backers will have been overcome by the excitement and pledged more than they can afford in the hope of making the project attractive to others. Expect to see them cancelling or reducing pledges if the thing looks as though it might actually fund (and they might have to pay), or even trying to issue a chargeback.

This is not unknown on kickstarter either – there is at least one case where Paypal froze a project account from a kickstarter because some donors had been threatening chargebacks.

Incidentally, I remember commenting on Syncaine’s blog when I first heard about the project that I predicted they would set their goal too high and not make it. I still think that.

What do players actually want out of a pure PvP MMO?

For me, I felt MJ had dropped the ball when I listened to the description of the stretch goal (he also didn’t actually mention what the stretch goal is to unlock the new dungeon, but they’re not going to make it anyway so it may be irrelevant). He has often historically been very focussed on what players want from this type of game but I felt something was off in the description.

He had a very strong focus on how fun it will be to make your enemy suffer, watch your enemy suffer, lay traps and inhabit monsters to inflict misery on your opponent. ie. Have fun griefing the dungeon!

Now while there are plenty of players who will enjoy that, it is a sideshow. The main appeal for players in a permaworld with PvP is the opportunity to BUILD, not just to destroy. People want to know they can hold territory with their guild, stamp their authority on the landscape of the game, invest time and effort to be a part of the story of that gameworld that will go down in gamer history.

EVE gets this right. CU does not. Sure, “haha, that dude fell in the lava trap!” is good for a laugh in a Dungeon Keeper kind of way, but it isn’t the draw that being able to stake out your claim to a part of the world and defend it will be. CU certainly offers possibilities for the latter type of play too, but that wasn’t what MJ was hyping. I think he’s losing touch with his niche. Presenting high end tiers which involve custom build bases for guilds also impinges on the model – they will be cool for people, but they mean the design has to allow for bases to be in safe areas. That means guilds will be limited in how far they can take over each other’s bases or territory.

There is no reason this won’t be fun, and it does mean the higher tier purchases don’t have an undue advantage, but it will not be the no holds barred PvP-a-thon of EVE or even Darkfall. So you don’t get all-in PvP, but there are also no plans for a PvE game. People are excited about the project now, but I wonder if that is really what this niche want.

So what needs to happen for CU to fund?

One of two things needs to happen: either existing funders (plus anyone who was hanging in there until the very end to pitch in) need to all stick more money into the fund, or else a bunch of new funders show up.

CSE is betting on the former, with the introduction of new high end tiers for anyone who … just feels like throwing in an extra $10k or so.

Even if Camelot Unchained fails to fund, I wouldn’t call it a failure. They’ve raised a lot of pledges from a small player base so far. I just don’t think they’ll make their goal.

10 thoughts on “[Kickstarter] Camelot, t’is a silly place

  1. I’m curious about what happens to projects that just fail to hit their Kickstarter targets. MJ has $2m of his own money to invest and another $1m from private backers. Those eight thousand or so Kickstarter backers are ready to give him another $1.3m.

    Let’s say that when the Kickstarter closes it has $1.75m pledged. It failed to reach the target but in total Mark nominally has $4.75m of the $5m he wanted. I’d guess that if he could have made the basic, solid MMO (no stretch goals) with $5m he could shave a few bells and whistles and make it for 5% less. But is he allowed to?

    Does Kickstarter have any mechanism for allowing a project to go forward after missing its target, should the proposers and backers all want it to do so? It would seem somewhat ridiculous, having gotten so close, to have to simply give up altogether.

    I agree with you that the target was too ambitious and 8,000 people is really not very many, especially when you consider that at the bottom end of viability MJ says he needs around 50k subs. I think making a big deal about having absolutely no PvE has probably hurt he project more than it’s helped it, too.

    I hope it goes ahead in some form, whether or not the Kickstarter succeeds.

    • From the Kickstarter FAQ, funds aren’t taken from the backers unless the project is successful. But an unsuccessful project can always try again with a new goal, even with an identical Kickstarter.

      And that might be the way they go with this one.

    • @Bhagpuss

      I suppose MJ can always do what Roberts did with StarCitizen did (and is still doing). Just run your own crowd funding campaign from your own website, and i suppose there’s no reason to have the campaign only run a month. The game is only bound for end of 2015, so he can technically accept “donations” all the way until then. Kickstarter should give MJ an indication what the interest and the market he is working with at least.

      Either way, while i pledged as i was liking the basic idea, i did feel MJ was definitely talking to a very niche audience. You kinda get the feeling if you didn’t play DAOC, then you’re not quite part of the gang and don’t quite understand what MJ is on about. So it’s tricky.

      Richard Garriot, while also hinging on his past games, have alot more mainstream RPG appeal, hence the larger amount of pledges. RvR PvP or WvWvW as the later generations probably know it as, is not exactly the type of game that has had alot of exposure on its own in this sort of way. Almost every MMO who had sieges/rvr type of options had it as “options” , not as the main attraction.

      Warhammer supposedly had it as a main attraction, and while i played it, i never felt RvR was the main attraction. I spent more time in the PvP “Scenarios” and the PvE than RvR. The RvR wasn’t bad per-se, they just made it very difficult to actually go do it, there wasn’t really a big “strategy” behind the whole thing, it was like they dumped GW2’s WvWvW in the open world and figured players will just go do it for some loot. Kinda like those towers in Hellfire Peninsula in WoW, it’s open world, it’s up for grabs, but no one gives a crap.

      Only after they went F2P did they actually put in functionality to allow you to know where the action is and to get there fast, but still there was no compelling reason to participate on a regular basis.

  2. Kickstarter is a marketing exercise. The campaign has at least gotten a lot of attention, even if it isn’t successfully funded. Plus, Storybricks had an unsuccessful KS campaign, but we’re still kicking, just not in the same format we pitched before; I suspect CU will happen, maybe just not to the scope it could have if the campaign had been a runaway success.

    I think that there’s still a good chance for the CU campaign to complete. Pathfinder had a sudden flurry of activity at the end that pushed it over its goal. The funny part is that if Mark had just asked for $1M, they’d probably be over $2M. It’s the strange psychology of KS where people are hesitant to support a campaign not yet at its goal even though they don’t get charged until it does reach its goal. I think Mark did the ethical thing in setting the goal to what he knew he’d need to accomplish what was promised, even if it wasn’t the thing that would guarantee success.

    • The marketing exercise angle is precisely what worries me about MMO kickstarters in general and this one in particular. To get thousands of customers to pay two years out for a concept of an MMO, you need hype. To keep the scope of the project to what you can actually deliver, it’s critically important that you not over-promise. If anything, I have the opposite concern – I’m worried that Jacobs is not asking for enough. He told Massively:

      “The total budget will be over $10 million, of which we need about half to launch the game.”

      Even with this large ask, his stated plan is to launch a game that is half done in terms of what’s on his undisclosed “total budget”. I have no doubt that CU, if funded, will launch in whatever state it’s in when the funds run out – that appears to be the plan. But how well can it expect to be received if it launches with at best half of what its creator envisioned – assuming that it doesn’t run over budget? At what point are you doing a disservice to your backers by taking their money with no legitimate chance of delivering what you’re promising?

      I have a lot of skepticism on the feasibility of this project in general, but I tip my cap to Mark’s at least token willingness to set a (hopefully) realistic ask.

      • Oh I’m happy to let people who get drawn in by hype fund games so that I can try them when they come out as F2P and decide I don’t like them after 10 minutes and move on 🙂

        Too cynical, you think?

  3. Having read through the Pathfinder, SotA and CU kickstarters, I agree with many of your points. of the three, CU sounded the least appealing to me personally. it felt like the least balanced game attempting the ‘revival of the oldschool’ (for better or worse), very focused on a select demographic within the niche. when reading the lines on waylaying and griefing others, I scratched my head a little at what is apparently very selective memory and nostalgia? when I think of the days of UO and EQ, there’s a lot more that comes to mind especially in terms of playstyle variety, which is what made these games so deep and long lasting.

    Of course, anyone is free to limit their target audience even further but if the CU kickstarter fails, MJ might need to do some second guessing himself and question if their product was really so well-presented on KS. the sub certainly plays a role too, however payment model becomes very secondary once gamers believe that this “is it” – that their personal fantasy heartbreaker is around the corner. appealing to that and knowing what today’s players are looking for in the fantasy MMO niche, is to succeed on kickstarter.

  4. I played WAR and despite some of its major problems, I had more fun playing it over any other MMO. However I think I’m an anomaly because I’m not a PvP person. I gravitate toward PvE which is the norm.

    What I liked about WAR was not causing pain or humiliation to another player. The people I played with weren’t interested in that either. What PvP was akin to was a huge game of TAG. Some people complain about zergs but large groups of people crashing into each other and chasing one another was fun. What people wanted was more of that feeling. I find it interesting that Jacobs seems to think that it was about humiliation. Indeed WAR started adding more humiliation to the game and now it dwindled even more.

  5. “Even if Camelot Unchained fails to fund, I wouldn’t call it a failure.”

    Even if Titanic hit an iceberg and sunk, you wouldn’t call it a failure.

    Even if Hindemburg explode in fire, you wouldn’t call it a failure.

    Stop to delude yourselves. The “old good golden age” of UO pvp will never come back from the dead. Sheep have too many MMO for go play now, so they cannot be forced to stay playing a MMO for be preyed by wolves. And wolves preying on wolves will never be a “fun” pvp…

    Anyway, there are too few wolves for pay for a creation of a pvp full loot MMO or for mantain its cousts of mantainance. Anyone trying will just lose money. Like the “space cadet” Lord British…

  6. So I guess my takeaway is this… I don’t think most players WANT a pure PVP game. I have glowing memories of my time playing DAoC… but I will say 90% of those memories were of things we did in PVE. For all its lack of focus on it, the game had some pretty phenomenal dungeons and world bosses (especially after Shrouded Isles). Mostly it was me and my friends, doing things we weren’t supposed to be able to do with our current group size.

    I dabble in PVP from time to time, but I am not terribly competitive and seem to lack that “killer instinct”. I find it overall pretty draining. I have been pulled into League of Legends with some friends, but I find I can play no more than 2 matches in a row without needing a break. In a purely PVP game, what is there to do then? Stand around in a town and talk to people?

    Conceptually I think it is an awesome idea, and I am sure there are some die-hard DAoC frontiers types that are dying for this type of game. However I just feel like that group is relatively small, and potentially too small to fund a 2 million dollar project. Out of the gate I knew this was “not for me”. I love PVE bosses, I love PVE loot drops, I love PVE leveling… I am so not the target audience. But by the way this project has stalled out, and based on my experiences in the past with PVP centric games…. I doubt how big the target audience really is.

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