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.