Dark or Light

An Early Roadmap

Red Thomas Posted:
Columns 0

Crowfall is rolling right into development after making it through the Kickstarter campaign, and that may actually be a break for many of the ArtCraft folks.  Crowdfunding campaigns tend to suck the life force right out of developers, which I think is something many crowdfunding neophytes fail to really account for until they’re up to their eyeballs in the campaign.  After the frantic pace of engineered excitement, dropping back into deep hack mode is actually a vacation for many.

While I half-jokingly make the above point, Crowfall’s Gordon Walton pointed out in a recent email that some developers have actually had their heads down and been working on the game this whole time.  He began by noting that the design, community, and management teams were pulled entirely into the campaign, and the art team lost nearly all their cycles to it, as well.  However, while those teams were more focused over on the campaign, the programmers have been hard at work on the actual game code.

Mounts and caravans will now be in the game, a core feature that should add a lot of economic depth to Crowfall.

That’s actually a pretty cool bit of knowledge, and I like hearing it.  I expected ArtCraft to be a couple months behind where they could have been development-wise, as the gravity of the crowdfunding rush slurped up time like a quantum juicebox.  It’s a good thing, too.  One of the common problems with going to the crowd to get a triple-A game off the ground is keeping the information and content coming fast enough for folks to stay interested.

With that in mind, I asked Gordon how they planned to keep the community excited about the game and engaged.  He answered by saying that the team plans to put specific effort into releasing information about what they’re doing, and work to do so with a regular cadence.  Gordon specifically pointed out that they’ll be releasing design ideas for feedback, along with testing schedules as things firm up.  Backers can also expect the increasingly common developer chats as the game switches from funding mode and into what will be a more persistent mode focused on development.

Lest you think they plan to take a little time to recover from the last month, Mr. Walton suggests you think again.  I asked about near-term plans and Gordon replied that the team is “mostly getting organized for the development to our first test this summer.”  I believe that’s indicative of a strength this team has at their disposal with this project.  That strength is that their whole design revolves around allowing backers access to an incredibly iterative game structure.

Where pretty much any other game would require most of its systems be in place to consider themselves “persistent and released,” Crowfall should be able to claim a “released” state much earlier.  I doubt they’ll put those words on it, but I’m fairly certain it’ll be true unofficially.  Of course, that dove-tails with the fact that ArtCraft will probably never make it to a state of “done” due to the flexibility their Dying Worlds will offer the game.

With the Eternal Kingdoms resource-poor and strictly PvE, making them an easier part of the game to build, the first piece of the game that we’ll likely see will be our personal stomping grounds.  Then as the team wants to bring new mechanics online, they simply provide for them in one of the new campaigns among the Dying Worlds.  Each campaign is kind of a beta in itself, and since there’s a bottleneck on returning items from the campaign (which remember is more restricted in the less hardcore campaigns), they have ready-made test servers on demand and a way to control their impact on the persistent realms.

If maintaining their momentum with the crowd weren’t an issue, I would have encouraged the team at ArtCraft to focus much more economy, crafting, and character design off the bat.  The things that exist at character creation and which impact the Eternal Kingdoms were that the case would be the most important pieces towards establishing the firm foundation for resting continued development on.  For historical perspective, we might look to something like the early development of EVE Online to demonstrate the strength a deep and complex economic simulation lends to the early game experience, for instance.

Without stretch goals, the team will now need to produce if they’re to keep the crowd’s interest.

The problem is that maintaining their current pace with the crowd will be important to the team moving forward, and for a number of reasons.  The main one is the obvious issue of revenue.  Gordon Walton says that they already have their cash shop up and are selling the post-Kickstarter game bundles, and plan to “bring up some unbundled items as soon as practical.”  That likely means getting players into something they can play as soon as possible, and creating a market for cosmetics and consumables.  Both are proven solid sellers, but of course do better when there’s a game-reason for the purchase.

Gordon’s answer actually gave me a bit of peace about what they’re doing.  There are certainly examples of early development games out there selling items that can’t remotely be used in-game, but his caveat of waiting to introduce items until it’s practical suggests a more customer-focused approach to the problem.  They do need to establish a continuing revenue stream soon, though.  I’m thinking that’ll mean they develop core components in parallel to some early campaign rulesets, rather than focusing on the foundation as would have otherwise be the better.

That suggests that you’ll probably get into the game a little sooner than you might have otherwise, and see server wipes a little later, as well.  Though, it also means a game with purpose earlier, and less of a playground like EQN’s Landmark.  It’ll also mean that we get to see more of the game’s bones as they’re being built, and that has its own advantages.  As the team working on Shroud of the Avatar has found, and as Gordon echoed in our email exchange, getting that early and frequent player feedback on the game will be hugely beneficial in spotting bad design decisions and bugs early on.

We’ll most likely see the Eternal Kingdoms first, though maybe not all they have to offer.

While ArtCraft hasn’t come right out with a solid schedule, we can make some educated guesses about what we’ll see over the next several weeks and months.  Schedules get easier to predict once the team establishes their standard pace, but then we’ll likely have an official schedule to look at by the time that happens.  As I see it, their main challenge will be maintaining the current level of interest over the next few months, but I suspect they’ll find it a lot easier once they start rolling out pieces of the game that backers can actually experience.

Frankly, I’m pretty excited about this project, and I think for what they’re doing, the advantages of crowdfunding far exceed the limitations it creates.  Though, it’s entirely possible that I’m just glossing over the truth in my eagerness to experience the awesome ideas I think Crowfall brings to the table.  Their economic concept sounds really innovative to me, and it strikes me as likely to add a lot to the game. 

I’m curious to know what you think, though.  Post a comment below and let me know what part of Crowfall you’re most excited to see and why!


Red Thomas

A veteran of the US Army, raging geek, and avid gamer, Red Thomas is that cool uncle all the kids in the family like to spend their summers with. Red lives in San Antonio with his wife where he runs his company and works with the city government to promote geek culture.