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City State Entertainment | Official Site
MMORPG | Setting:Fantasy | Status:Development  (est.rel 2018)  | Pub:City State Entertainment
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The Evolution of CU's Updates

By Tim Eisen on October 17, 2016 | Columns | Comments

The Evolution of CU's Updates

I’ve always said we entered uncharted water when we backed Camelot Unchained (CU) on Kickstarter. Watching this process evolve in real time was part of the allure for me. Like anything done for the first time mistakes would happen and knowledge would be gained through them. Many developers made games before but few had ever made on by starting out in debt to thousands of hardcore fans.

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I’m sure that aspect adds as much, if not more pressure in some ways, than even the nastiest of publishers. The trade off is that we are likely far less stressful in other ways. Still, keeping thousands of people each with their own individual desires and interpretations informed as you scramble to develop a game has to be taxing at times.

Below is an unofficial CU update guideline based on triggers that pushed the weekly game updates to change over time. I want to be clear; I’m not saying City State Entertainment uses them, rather these are things I’ve observed that I think have shaped the game updates.

NEVER, under ANY circumstances ever, and I mean EVER, let the fans know a deadline for anything!

Did I say ever? Ok good. This one transcends CU and crowd funded games and applies to all of gaming! Deadlines are like Pandora’s box for developers. As soon as one is set the entire universe begins to work against it. Even “soon” is dangerous. The classic “when its ready” is the most effective deadline I’ve seen utilized. Internally you have to have them or nothing would ever get priority but externally they will gank you more often than not! It’s a huge frustration for a backer but the difference between frustrated and raging ball of flame hate is within a missed deadline.

Communicate clearly especially when it’s sarcasm that needs clarity.

Understated sarcasm doesn’t translate well to written word and most people seem to expect written word to be true. Ironically the expectation for spoken seems to be at an all-time low! #Election2016. When thousands of eyes are going to be reading your update a misunderstood spot of sarcasm can create and ember. Making your updates and your tone clear helps prevent that ember from being fanned by misinterpretation.

Its better to say too little than to say too much and it’s better to say too much than to say too little.

“What the...this is a direct contradiction!” Exactly. My point is you are damned either way, you simply have to accept that. If you do enough game updates you will eventually have one that doesn’t say enough about something and the response will be an ocean of fire rage. The same can be said about saying too much about something.

Developers have to accept that its part of the process and get good at extinguishing those flames. CSE, specifically owner Mark Jacobs himself excels at this by sacrificing his time when a flare up happens. He doesn’t send his community manager or delegate the task, he dives in among us, answer questions and clarifies confusion. Speaking of evolution, the man is one of the finest e-fire fighters I’ve ever seen in action! A skill honed over 30 years in the field no doubt.

Only talk conclusively about something after its finished.

That is the secure way. Given its less exciting for your backers as many of us tend to live on the excitement of the unknown it prevents our passion from turning into the always contagious fear. All things in game development are in motion, especially with MMORPGs. If a developer gets too conclusive about a mechanic that isn’t already tested, stamped and ready for launch, and that mechanic changes (or worse yet gets removed) a flame fountain will burst from the ground engulfing everything in its path! (Note; this rule came from my time following many past games in development not CU but I think City State Entertainment is aware of it.)

My rules were learned over time. Their effect on the updates has been slow but the first updates held next to the current updates look about as similar as a human and an orangutan! Both capable and lacking in our own unique ways.

Three years ago the updates were long form featuring hope and bold ideas to discuss. Often they looked more like development journals than progression updates. They left us with a lot to dream about and often just as much to worry about!

The core of the current update is now a development check list of completed items, concept art and a few more personal notes. It’s nice to see things being completed but at times I miss the anticipated potential of the early versions. It’s a personal preference but speculating about the unknown future intrigued me more than the certainty of the past.

Somewhere between I recall a few updates that were a balance of both early and current versions, maybe over time we will get back to that format? It was, for me, the best of both worlds. A brief about what was going to happen and what everyone in the studio was working on as well as a check list about what had happened. The present, past and the future existing all at once featuring just enough of all three. 

Tim Eisen / In my columns I walk the line between fan and critic as I document the development of Camelot Unchained, Crowfall, and Chronicles of Elyria.
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