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General Article: Did Pantheon Suffer Kickstarter Burnout?

By Shannon Doyle on February 28, 2014

Recently the Kickstarter campaign for Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen failed to reach their $800,000 goal. In fact they barely made it to the half way point. Being run by Brad McQuaid, one of the original creators of Everquest many in the community assumed it would easily reach the funding goal. As the 40 day campaign began to wear on whispers in forums spoke not of what a terrible idea Pantheon was, but that something much more serious was behind the slow growth in funding: Kickstarter fatigue. Are gamers, particularly MMO players, burned out on the Kickstarter model?

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Perhaps MMOs and Kickstarter were never really meant to go together. Due to the massive scale of MMOs these projects take years to complete. In the past MMOs were often on a five year development cycle at the very least, most of which was done behind the scenes without ever being announced to the public. But now the public is being invited to be part of the development process. Not only finding out about game very early in the development cycle but also being asked to invest in something that has really yet to prove itself. Attention spans just can’t last that long. We are naturally impatient people.

Something that was reinforced just a couple of years ago with near complete silence about an MMO until the closed beta processes started. The industry taught us that from the time you hear about an MMO for the first time to the time you can actually get your hands on it is really only a matter of months. Nevermind the years of development time that took place behind the curtain. We’re seeing issues with this in games that aren’t going to Kickstarter as well. ArcheAge has been on our radar for four years now, and though there has been promise very recently to step up news about the game there has been little excitement as many have simply grown bored and tired of waiting. When money gets thrown into the mix as well it suddenly becomes much more personal. And that is where Kickstarter comes back in.

There has yet to be a release of a major MMO that was funded by a Kickstarter campaign. Guns of Icarus Online was a very early success on the MMO Kickstarter train. And though the game has released there has been very little press about it. And most of the success that the game has seen took place before the MMO masses climbed aboard the Kickstarter train. So even though Guns of Icarus Online is a testament to the Kickstarter methodology and a complete success, it is ignored. So in the eyes of most people Kickstarter has yet to prove itself to be successful because the development times these games have are so large they’re still going on more than a year later. This means that once an MMO does actually have something to prove the success of Kickstarter campaigns it is very likely that there will be a renewed surge in Kickstarter interest. Star Citizen, another early success is quickly approaching the original deadlines that were set for the game’s launch. If Chris Roberts and his team make that deadline we could very well see Kickstarter go back into style. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean anything for Pantheon which really is simply a victim of poor timing.

The problem may be made even bigger by MMOs that never go anywhere near Kickstarter and yet are still asking for large sums of money. Founder’s Packs are like Kickstarter campaigns for games that are already complete. Yes, you get exclusive items, and yes, you often get early access to the game of some sort. The money is really only going into the bank accounts of the developers and publishers. But it is because of the successes with Kickstarter that these Founder’s Packs have become so wide spread. Everyone wants in on that multi-million dollar cash cow. Including the big boys with all the money they could ever need. But it is this widespread adoption of Founder’s Packs, exclusive bundles and even cash shops that has resulted in the overwhelming feeling that the developers are only after your money. Rarely does a day go by when there isn’t news on new DLC, or something new in a game’s cash shop. There is only the constant barrage of “Give me money, give me money.” Are we as consumers getting overwhelmed by all these cries for us to reach for our wallets? Absolutely, yes! And this is a direct cause of the Kickstarter fatigue that so many are feeling.

So how do we combat these feelings of Kickstarter burnout? One way would be to think of it less as a purchase and more as an investment. MMOs are by their very nature investments. Be that in time or money, and everyone knows that time equals money. By Kickstarting a project you are investing in the future of not only that game but also in the company and the people working in it. It may seem like a fine line, but it is an important one that will help fund future projects. And by thinking of yourself more as an investor than a customer you will look at these projects differently. They won’t have the same impact as Founder’s Packs, DLC, or cash shops. Instead you will feel like you’re doing charity, helping a worthy cause so that one day, you can become one of their consumers.

The issue of Kickstarter burnout is one that is mostly ignored. Pantheon has already suffered because of it and who knows how many more projects will have to suffer for the very same reasons. A Kickstarted MMO needs to come out soon, for the sake of future Kickstarted games. Thankfully for Pantheon, the developers prepared ahead of time for the eventuality that their campaign wouldn’t make it. So now everyone can back Pantheon on their official website without concern for time limits and goals. But until Kickstarter is a proven part of the development process there will likely be many more failures, and many more games looking for alternatives in places like Steam Early Access. 

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