Chronicles of Elyria: Wherefore Art Thou?
On an occasion I have a thousand or more words typed up, proofread and ready to go to the presses! (Contrary to appearances it takes me quite a while to fill my little corner of internet real estate with words and I do in fact proofread them, sometimes...) Then I delete all of them because I was being dishonest with myself, and by proxy breaking the number one rule of writing by being dishonest with my readers.
While this is the first time I’ve had to do this I suspect it will not be the last. I don’t write this as a columnist for MMORPG.com but as a backer of a game that regrets their purchase. Despite that fact, I’m still cheering for the studio (and the good people that work there) to find success and get to launch and not just because they don’t offer refunds! I cheer for them the way I cheer for almost every unique MMORPG in development be them PVP, PVE or even RP. Our genre has been stagnant for too long and it will take another brave game kicking down the door and lighting the house on fire to rekindle the interest, the people, the money and finally the publishers again.
I suppose that’s enough of a lead. I always knew Chronicles of Elyria was going to be a dramatic ride. That was part of its appeal! It had a fiery studio lead that was mad at the current system and wanted to rebuild it from the ground up! They called out other MMORPG devs for not having the guts to do the same and they made no apologies! The pitch for the game was as audacious as any I’d seen brought to Kickstarter. I went in cautiously with the assumption they would either pull a Han Solo, damn the odds and find a way, or go down in flames. Either way, I was willing to observe and lend a hand (or a handful of money).
I’m not saying Elyria has failed. It’s too soon for me to make that call. This isn’t about that. It’s about being a backer of a concept you loved but finding yourself increasingly frustrated with it’s creation. When we buy a crowd-funded game, we are guaranteed nothing. The most assured item we purchase is the developmental journey from the crowd-funded campaign to launch. The development-to-backer experience for Elyria has been inconsistent and frustrating at best.
I’d like to say to started smoothly but it didn’t. The launch time was widely considered undoable but rumors of a finished engine and new technology from SpatialOS provided hope. The engine is as much a mystery now as it was three years ago, SpatialOS is no longer involved with the game and the duplicitously deemed “minimally viable product” is years past its December 2017 launch date that fans were denounced for having the audacity to question.
In the beginning development updates were impressive in depth and breadth. I often called them the best in the business, and I meant it! Soulbound said they were going to set the bar for transparency, and they meant it! Then the updates stopped. After a long uncommunicated hiatus, they re-emerged with a promise of doing better on a consistent schedule again. While they have provided consistency, the content of the updates themselves has declined.
Rather than giving us an idea of how development is going, they focus first and foremost on the cash shop and the newest exclusive limited time offer they are selling. With every new pixel sold the core of the game drifts closer to pay to win. The caveat is, based on the launch concept, no person or item will be entirely safe. But when someone has literally spent thousands of dollars on in-game items what they are really doing is buying security and further protection their purchases. The more you spend the safer you are. Technically your subordinates could overthrow you but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say I’m skeptical. I fail to imagine a sustainable business model where-in your whales, the lifeblood of your game, see thousands of digital purchases go up in flames and don’t rage quit. MMORPGers have long quit games for far, far less.
Soulbound has always done role play oriented community events. Part of the studio's charm is their line blurring roleplay development format and these events were a great example of the core philosophy behind the game in practice. Then came the latest community event. It was built entirely to utilize and sell the digital currency in the said cash shop. When I read about the MUD-like role play development the studio was planning, I didn’t imagine it would be based on coming up with new ways to get me to pay more money for the intangible.
That brings me to another old lady at the service desk in Kmart that you’re pretty sure is hiding a chihuahua in her purse, complaint. As a person waiting for a product they were promised two years ago, continually being asked to give more while receiving increasingly less doesn’t bode well. This was supposed to be a game development, not a marriage! I get it. Funds are unrelenting stress on every studio. Living a race. Trying to get to launch before the money runs out. Unfortunately, every crowd-funded game turns into that former friend that always asks for a few more dollars but never repays any of it.
The difference here is consistency in development and seeing gameplay results. I’m not receiving either from this experience. I don’t envy that position, then again, I didn’t put myself in it. I’m not bold enough for that move, that’s why I sit alone in dark places and type for a living. (I did put myself in this position and the chihuahua’s name is Tuco and I’m returning her treats because she didn’t like them and yeah, I opened them; they can deal with that!)
By far the most telling issue I’ve seen, and the very reason I moved from uncertainty to regret, is when the studio’s owner shouts down the MMORPG community and most unfortunately, Elyria's own supporters. The product we traded trust and money for is years behind and in a state of unknown and constructive criticism is shouted down and deemed the problem, but the cause is never addressed. The only word I have or that kind of behavior is regret.
I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m shutting a casket door. I’m not saying that because I can’t because I simply don’t know. After this long, that shouldn’t be the position I’m in. Soulbound was once the most transparent, in-depth studio I’d covered. There isn’t any reason they can’t be again but looking at the timetable and the experience over the last few years I believe it will take something significant to give Elyria a res in the eyes of former fans. A course correction of the backer content, a humble update and a look at what Elyria currently is come to mind as first steps. Fortunately for studios, MMORPG fans are as forgiving as a rescued stray. Some of us don’t even bite!
I wrote this out of concern as a backer and as a MMORPGer that worries yet another game feature crept off the rails, fell into a slough and is treading water trying to find a way out before hypothermia sets in. I fail to understand why Chronicles of Elyria is as much a mystery today as it was three years ago. I know they have a rich lore and concept art. Their role play community engagement is charming, and their most ardent fans love their community games. But where is the game I backed? How playable is it? I understand there is an NDA but surely by now there should be something that resembles a minimally viable product to preview?