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Deception or Belief: A Crowd Funded Paradox

By Tim Eisen on August 11, 2017 | Columns | Comments

Deception or Belief: A Crowd Funded Paradox

With every delay and additional round of fundraising. With every new ask and every pixel sale in a store for a game that won’t be out for another five years it becomes more obvious that the crowd funded MMORPG experiment as we knew it is dead. The process has evolved into something hardly recognizable meanwhile the games continue to fail. In fact, they failed the very day they funded but none of us knew it.

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Kickstarter, by its requirements, creates a scenario MMORPG studios cannot win. It asks them to set a budget that pays for the product and it asks them to set an estimated deadline by which the product will be available. In those two requirements MMORPG history is not on their side. No MMORPG has ever come out on time and on budget! This does not stop them. They convince themselves they have something special. They figured out something 20 years of MMORPG development never conceived! They found the one ring and with it they will make their own MMORPG history by launching in record time on a shoe string budget! At least that is the plan during the campaign. Reality, that’s never stopped anyone from daring to dream. History, that’s never informed a decision. Reason, that’s never defeated determination.

The day Kickstarter funds the clock starts ticking and studios enter the paradox. Humans have an uncanny ability to cling to hope even in the direst of times. They cling to the idea that they can meet the deadline with the funds they acquired. They enter a realm of long hours, red watery eyes and aching fingers. No matter how hard they work setbacks abound. This is MMORPG development after all.

The greatest PVPer of them all father time is always breathing on their neck sending chills down their spine. No matter what they do, how many they hire or how hard they work they cannot win because the circumstances won’t allow it. Eventually they will have to face their backers. The launch date must be changed. Eventually they will seek more funding if they haven’t already. They all do.

The cold hard truth is moving launch, changing the very definition of the word launch, being in testing well past the projected launch and asking for more money all equate to failure of the original Kickstarter concept. I don’t care what the fine print says. The inference of Kickstarter and the MMORPGs that have used it is always the same. The ask is for the advertised product. The date is when the product arrives. When either of those two things change the project has failed. It can come back from this failure, but it’s still a failure.

The blood from the death of this idea is on us as much as it is the studios. They proposed unrealistic notions and we bought them despite knowing better. We allowed ourselves to be deceived because we wanted to. We knew the history of this genre. We saw the warnings from fans that had experience in development. The facts were set before us but we behaved the way people do in 2017, we refused to let an uncomfortable truth compromise our idealistic desires.

At its inception crowd funding was supposed give the power back to the studios and their fans. It was a way to get the games we wanted without the oversight of big publishers! It was raging against the machine and after years of theme park clones it felt like a MMORPG resurrection! We were as naïve as the developers that thought they could overcome the paradox.

Crowd funded games have become the very thing we railed against by funding them. They’ve evolved into slick marketing with charismatic manipulation. We no longer pay to fund an entire game, we pay for a piece of it (read the extra fine print) but what we are really doing is providing a low risk market test. That test will be used to gather data and more importantly, people. Like pixels, people are currency. Now Kickstarter is used to show bigger investors and even publishers how much potential a game has for growth. Once again, the backers on the forums looked from investor to publisher to studio, and from studio to publisher to investor, and from investor to publisher to studio again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

As you read this it might have occurred to you that I don’t have any examples. That is because in most cases this future hasn’t happened yet, at least not entirely. It soon will. Like Rafiki after eating one of those fermenting melons, I see these things. The message is in the wind. The writing is already on the limited-edition tombstone which can be purchased in the pixel store for the exclusive short-term sale price of $9.99!

Despite this forecast I expect nothing to change. The gods of marketing and advertising conditioned us long ago. We will continue to like, share and kneel with our heads down and arms outstretched at the end of which our wallets tremble. We whisper it under our breath “take my money, please”

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.