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The Devil's Advocate: Pausing before Pledging

Column By Victor Barreiro Jr. on November 30, 2012

Back in June, I wrote about why using Kickstarter to fund an MMO seemed cool as an idea, but not entirely pleasing upon further inspection. Sanya Weathers also had an enlightening talk on the topic for Developer Perspectives in May.

A little over five months later, and a lot has changed in the Kickstarter landscape. With single-player games making mad bank, at least in terms of crowd-funding, it seemed like a good time to discuss things about Kickstarter that should make you pause before making that pledge to that dream MMO you're thinking of.

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Unrealistic Timeframes

There are a number of games, single-player or otherwise, that get their release dates pushed back in the AAA game space. If you take note of those timeframes, make smart comparisons to indie titles, and add some extra time just to be generous, you should come up with the realization that an MMO is probably not going to hit its targets all that accurately unless you've got some seriously talented people working themselves silly for you.

As such, look into recent games that have been pushed back, such as the issues with LOTRO and End of Nations. Either expect that to happen with a crowd-funded MMO and be pleasantly surprised if your MMO dream machine hits its timeframe target, or consider not funding or making a less substantial pledge.

The Perception of Silence as Ineptitude

When a Kickstarter project does not update its backers (or even the people interested in knowing how the progress is going), either because it simply doesn't puts its updates on its swanky new webpage and not the very page that got it funded or because it wants to keep mum, it looks really, really bad.

In the online world, the perception of silence on a developer's side is the perception of ineptitude, and you seriously do not want to seem inept if you're trying to earn people's trust.

The Perception of Frequency as Promise

Similarly, consumers must be able to curb their excitement when updates are frequent. As my friend on Levelcapped noticed, Greed Monger has a rather active update system. Some of it is fluff, and some of the updates are substantial, but the assumption that the frequency of an update is a promise of future delivery is an idea that must also be tempered.

For the Greed Monger Kickstarter project to earn the trust of people beyond initial funding, it must provide substantive proof that it can deliver.

Tech Demos and Trials

Of course, even with substantive proof, you can't promise the moon and stars. One other thing that people should note is that tech demos and trials ought to matter, though how they should matter in the ability to inspire trust in people is subject to debate.

Project Gorgon, which had an alpha phase for itself but did not get funded, is still actively continuing its development. Perhaps when the game has progressed further in development, people will be more likely to give the developers funding to help get the ball rolling.

I was considering getting angry at the Pathfinder Online team for coming up with a second Kickstarter to continue the development of the game, but then I read the fine print. Their first Kickstarter was for a tech demo so they could find outside backers.

People liked that idea and they supported it, and now that development on the game has come in with outside backers, the potential for Pathfinder Online to actually deliver something for gamers (provided their timeframe for development is reasonable) is pretty good. They could spin it as a second funding round with new perks for later entrants into the funding process, but the idea that they're honest with the development phase is refreshing.

To Shava

Before I take my leave, I wanted to say something about last week's Devil's Advocate on SWTOR's new payment paradigm.

I read every comment on that piece, and normally, I tend to send private messages to respond to really insightful comments, especially those that manage to make me think about my position. Needless to say, Shava's comment on that post really got to me, but I wanted to make my response public.

As much as I am am happy to maintain a column called The Devil's Advocate, sometimes I write things from a point of view that is very laser-focused based on my experiences. I played on Sanctum of the Exalted (I think that's what it was called) on SWTOR's launch day, and if you check my Devil's Advocate columns in December 2011, you'll find that I even went so far as to go through a third-party grey market service to acquire a product key and time card code to play the game.

I had high expectations for this game at launch. They were not met. I had hope for the game in its payment model-revised incarnation, but the game's new practices, when I decided to start looking through it, did not appeal to me.

While I tried to make my opinion focus solely on my experience of finding the free-to-play matrix and the restrictions I have experienced or have found proof of through tweets from people, I cannot say with certainty that my past disappointment with the game did not fuel my writing during the latter half of the write-up.

This paragraph of Shava's really resounded with me:

Y'all would rather just grouse about it all, like a bunch of armchair quarterbacks.  Most of you can't program and don't know how to run a business, but you're cocksure you know everything that's wrong with every technical and business decision that's made with every MMO.  What you need to do is spend more time learning and less time in an echo chamber.  Try writing more articles that teach people *why* EA is making these decisions and fewer articles poking the hornet's nest, or you're just part of the problem and MMORPG is WHY the game industry is breeding a generation of people who will tear down EVERY NEW GAME.

I respect your opinion here, and you're right. I know little about how to run a business or how to perform anything inclined towards coding or actual game design. I was supposed to discuss what I had experienced as a gamer looking for information and attempting to experience the game without paying a cent, and what that experience feels like for myself as a consumer. I got too emotional about it, and fell into the trap of turning a simple opinion piece into a railing diatribe that showed intense displeasure with SWTOR as a game experience.

The fact that Shava mentioned a sort of collaborative metagame out of enjoying the game without paying a cent intrigued me. It's that kind of out-of-the-box thinking that got me this position to serve as a Devil's Advocate, and honestly, you've done an excellent job at being my Devil's Advocate. Moreover, as someone who now struggles to earn the journalism title on a daily basis, I will admit this: she is right in asking me to provide a better context for future write-ups.

I cannot promise I will be able to do that in every article and, in fact, between my day job writing news about technology and the Internet and this job sharing my opinions about MMO gaming, I don't think attempts to get multiple sides to a story will be feasible in every column. I will, however, try to provide balance when I can, and I will be upfront in the future about any lack of balance I see in my articles in the future.

That said, barring any unforeseen difficulties; expect something about the teardown generation of gamers in a coming Devil's Advocate. /salute


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The Devil's Advocate is an opportunity for the oft-shunned and little discussed “Other Side of the Story” to be heard, promoting open discussion on a heavily contested subject.
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