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Independency: Crowfall and Looking Forward

Columns By Shannon Doyle on March 24, 2015

Crowfall and Looking Forward

Kickstarter is great for games. There is still occasionally trouble in getting delivery of those Kickstarted properties but Kickstarter itself continues to bring in backers with money in their pocket and creators with that dream game.

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2013 in particular was one of those years. Between mid January and the end of May 2013, there were three popular Kickstarted projects. That five month period saw the funding of Camelot Unchained, Shroud of the Avatar and Pathfinder Online. Two years on from those campaigns more or less and we have Crowfall nearing the end of funding.

Of those three, you can get your hands on a Steam Greenlight release of Shroud of the Avatar, you can pay for Early Enrollment for Pathfinder and ... you can wait for Camelot Unchained. That's fair in all three cases, they are being made and MMOs do take time. It would be interesting to see if Crowfall can keep its end of 2016 date for launch.

If it can, I wonder will we see a shift in the battle of the niche MMOs. It says something when the new kids on the block are still the old kids, but simply trying something else.

Right now as it stands we are in a weird place in gaming where famous faces come out with their passion projects and look for funding. Lord British has Shroud, Mark Jacobs promised to put a serious amount of money into Camelot Unchained himself and now the familiar faces behind Crowfall are doing the same. We are funding the games on the back of faith in people to deliver what they have promised. I don't think that they are going to fail, I am just wondering if they are prepared for competition.

The idea behind the funded games in 2013 was simple. Niche products for niche audiences. No more chasing the run away success that World of Warcraft had and no one has yet replicated. Instead there was a return to the roots so to speak. Products created to fill that need left behind by the games of our youth. No one can look at Camelot Unchained, for example, and tell me it is anything but a reboot of Dark Age of Camelot. That doesn't make it less or make it a problem. If that's what you want, that should be what you fund and play. No one is required to put time in on games that they do not enjoy, no matter what the crowd currently finds popular.

What sets Crowfall apart for me though isn't the people. We've seen popular names from gaming history come back to varying levels of success on Kickstarter. It isn't the snappy video or the disappointment I may be harboring over 2014s AAA releases... It is the look forward. 

We are approaching new technologies and options in the gaming scene. Between the sudden open options for game engines (Anyone want to create in Unity 5?) and the slow rise and promise of VR, there are new things that can be done with MMOs.

I'm not saying for certain that Crowfall will go for virtual reality headset support. The options are there in Unity 5, but as a stretch goal it's about a thousand people away with three days to go. Nor am I saying that VoxelFarm is the tool of choice for upcoming MMOs... though it certainly appears to be at the moment. Destructible and changeable worlds are something we really don't have outside of instances in MMOs. Phasing in the Elder Scrolls Online, and others, can move you from a village on fire to a pacified one. It can't give you the chance to blow a hole in a wall unless that's been scripted into the choices.

Crowfall has come out swinging and is offering the same sorts of things we heard two years ago. A niche appeal, a particular style, creators we're familiar with and trust for things they have done before. The difference in my eyes is where the others are paring back the experience (Pathfinder Online) or rehashing great hits (Shroud and Camelot Unchained), Crowfall appears to be looking forward. Design and innovation is sometimes taken in great leaps and is sometimes purely iterative.

Instead of taking the tools on offer nowadays and making something like we already have, they are shooting for something different. This may all be their PR speaking though. The idea that is, not this article. Maybe that next leap in MMOs isn't here but it isn't far off generally speaking, at least technologically. Landmark for all its gorgeous user created wonders may not be anything like an MMO. Everquest Next is .... somewhere in the future. The future for the first time is mostly empty where AAA titles and launches are concerned. Unless something makes the leap from East to West to surprise us, the next official launches will all be crowd funded niche MMOs finally sinking or swimming on their own virtues. Those early days will be full of tourists trying out things to see what all the fuss is about but the idea it to wait until those fair weather friends and subscriptions have moved on. To be left with the core audience, the core fans; the backers.

I just wonder how 2016 will go. After all the four games should theoretically be all "live" and launched then. Does the future of the MMO landscape belong to creators looking back on what they did before, no matter how well it was done, or does it belong to a new type of game in the genre? One that has all the advantages of the latest technology and VR to call on. One that may be billed "It's like Game of Thrones meets EVE Online". Is there room enough for them all in the shadow of the Warcraft beast? Or finally, is this something that we'll fund and enjoy ... but something that serves as a stepping stone only to the next real shift in the genre?