With the dust settling on Visionary Realm's first unsuccessful Kickstarter, players around the internet have found themselves wondering: just where does this leave Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen? We wondered too, so over the weekend we sat down with Chief Creative Officer and company founder, Brad McQuaid, to answer a few simple questions: what happened, what's next for Pantheon, and what players can do to help.
Be sure to listen to the full audio on the Game On Podcast!
When Pantheon was first announced, it was to substantial fanfare but there was no question about its niche roots. This was a game with a very targeted audience: players who wanted to rewind the clock, group with other players, and experience a game world that demanded cooperation. It was a game for the now older EverQuest fan and players who wanted more than today's themepark models could offer.
But despite a substantial press push, Pantheon just couldn't cross the finish line. In fact, the game came in just shy of 60% of its total, raising $460k of its $800k goal.
“We approached this as MMO developers... We should have taken at least an extra two-to-four weeks and put together all of that [gameplay] information in a way that people expect to see it conveyed, and we should have then launched with everything up and available and viewable from the beginning.”
That didn't happen. Instead, they were “scrambling from day one” to make game details available to the public. It was not a total loss, however, as this information has allowed the Visionary Realms team to create the website they wish they would have had from the beginning. The site, now the official home for the game's crowdfunding efforts, has managed to already raise another 118k, funds which go directly to the developer and the production of the game.
But what about that 800k? In early interviews, Brad had made it clear that the Kickstarter campaign was a way to gauge interest; the campaign was Visionary's way to see if the MMO community even wanted a game like Pantheon anymore.
“Why did we choose eight-hundred thousand dollars? Because it was a number. It was a number we thought we could achieve and exceed but... there was nothing magical about that number.”
They could have chosen a lower figure – 300k, 400k – and succeeded, but that wasn't what Brad and his team took away from the experience. Instead, what mattered most is that they saw a level of success that proved there was enough interest to make their game a reality. It also reinforced one of Brad's beliefs about MMO development in 2014.
“People are talking about Pantheon. Both Pantheon specifically and this idea that we're kind of trailblazing in, that the future of MMOs needs to be many more smaller games that are focused. I think the day of making a massive MMO for a massive dollar amount and then trying to make it appeal to everybody... I just don't see that as sustainable.”
Brad wants readers to know that this isn't the end for Pantheon. It's a new beginning. It may just take a little while longer before they can rent their own office space.
All of this raises the question, without the Kickstarter and or firm investors, just how will a game so feature heavy and dense as an MMO ever come to see the light of day?
The answer comes in two forms: public and private funding. Public funding comes from you and I, the interested player, and Brad is encouraging anyone who donated to the Kickstarter to visit the official site and reinvest. Though the team is ten industry veterans strong, there are more than two dozen developers “waiting in the wings” that just couldn't sign on pro-bono.
Unlike Kickstarter, the funds they receive privately will be sent right away and not only on completion of a goal. Donations help the game right now and Visionary has cooked up a number of juicy benefits, including the ability to create and join clans, interact with developers, play alpha builds, and receive multiple copies of the game.
Interestingly, one of these donation options copies the popular subscription model for MMORPGs: a recurring $14.95 monthly fee. This tier, as well as several larger one-time donation options above it, rewards backers with Apprentice Developer access. This privilege will allow folks to participate in weekly development roundtables streamed live over the internet.
We asked Brad what his inspiration was for this tier and how he felt it would influence the development of the game. Recalling his past interactions with fans, he surprised us.
“I'm a huge comic book fan and I remember reading in Marvel Comics how people would write in to Stan Lee and how he would print their letter and have a cool response. The way that he handled his customers, the respect he had for his readers..."
“I remember looking at Raph Koster interacting with his customers and I was inspired by that.”
But since those early days of EverQuest, he was challenged with allowing that same level of access without falling into the pitfalls of modern, flame-heavy internet channels. The Apprentice Developer tier, as well as the other communication channels for supporters, are Visionary Realm's answer to that.
“If we can harness even a small percentage of our future playerbase and their ideas, that would be huge. I think it would be pretty unprecedented and I know it would be hugely helpful to us as we make this game.”
Do we need to worry about feature creep with all of these competing voices?
“First of all, the danger of feature creep is always there, no matter what you're talking about... where I'm getting at is that we have a very veteran team and just about everybody has experienced the pain that's a result of feature creep and we're not going to let it happen again.”
Brad and his team at Visionary make no bones about it, they want and embrace player's ideas, but they're sticking to their high level production plan. Pantheon is a game they intend to ship in the next three years and they already know what they'll need to sustain it after launch. Player contributions are a part of that but they won't be radically redesigning the game as a result.