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Invading Europe

Red Thomas Posted:
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As I mentioned in a previous article, Portalarium has been seeking a publishing deal to pull in the European and Asian markets.  This last quarter, the team secured a contract with European-based Travian Games to expand the Shroud’s reach into those less tapped markets.

Publishing deals can be a good way to assess the health of a game, because the new publisher will sometimes request priority focus in key areas.  The areas highlighted in the change of direction may be short-comings in the project, or they could just be areas that the publisher feels will make the game an easier sell in their market.

We’ll be taking a look at some of what’s changing in the Shroud of the Avatar development schedule to accommodate the new publisher and talk a bit about what it means for the game.  Starr’s post detailing 4th quarter focus also seems to echo a fairly significant change in development focus, and that offers some additional suggestions about where the game is currently at with respect to health and release.

Pivotal Publisher

Travian Games’ publishing deal for Shroud of the Avatar is a great opportunity to assess the project’s momentum.  I’m clearly not unbiased on the matter as a fan of the project and having covered it for the last several years, so it’s good to have Travian signal the game’s health from a more neutral point of view.

Traivian Games is better known for browser-based games, but have decided to enter the MMO market.

The entry of Travian Games into the equation is actually more telling than it might appear on the surface.  In some ways, the timing suggests a lot of good things for Shroud.  The same company just launched a publishing deal supporting Crowfall, another Austin-based project.  That means in the latter part of this year, the company has had to make a significant cash outlay in order to secure those deals.

Publishing deals typically mean a sum up front for the right to take the game to market, and then some sort of shared revenue as the game sells.  Backing two projects within months of each other is the sort of thing that gets a lot of oversight and wouldn’t be done lightly by a company.  A strong case had to be made for both games to folks who stand to lose a lot of money on a bad call, and that assessment committee apparently greenlit both games.

On the other hand, backers will have noticed that there’s no longer a listed release date for Shroud immediately following the publisher coming on board.  It could be that the team has a bit of housekeeping before the publisher is comfortable with launch, or it could suggest that earlier estimates were just off.

Posted Signs

Starr Long’s posted roadmap for the 4th quarter tells us a lot about Travian’s feedback to the team as the deal was signed.  The post starts with a list of top priorities for the developers, though Starr notes this has been a list the team’s been using for a while.  I can’t say that I’ve heard them refer to the list before now, but I have attended plenty of Portalarium standups over the last few years.  There’s nothing on the list that I haven’t heard in nearly every SCRUM I’ve attended, so I’m pretty confident it’s existed in some form or another.

Continued expansion of crafting has a lot of cool surprises in store for those who pay attention to the Virtues.

The main thing to note being that this list is nearly all end-of-project types of items.  None of the top items are major game systems, but instead mostly optimization.  A lot of which requires player-data in order to really troubleshoot effectively, and the rest is more of a time issue than technical.  Improving player introduction to game concepts and polish to the story being things that just take more time than actual core development.

Starr’s quarterly forecast is actually pretty boring, which suggests developer effort has been refocused to polish and fixing performance issues.  That’s probably a good thing, but it’s fair to note the lack of release date and ask a few questions about it.  I don’t find it particularly surprising that launch dates would suddenly become a sensitive topic with a new publisher coming on board.  That said, I do wonder if the original schedule was aggressive to begin with and needed to be revised, or if the slip is to implement more of the backend requirements the game may need for multi-regional support.

Patching Performance

A glance at the roadmap for Shroud of the Avatar tells you that performance and polish are going to be dirty words at Portalarium by the end of the quarter.  Every month is focused effort on tracking down load time problems and frame rate issues.  I haven’t had many issues, but I have a pretty beefy system and spend very little time in towns, which is where Chris Spears has told me they still have issues to address.

Load times are a top issue for the team, as are framerates and general playability issues.

There’s a good bit of story work listed, but it appears to be mostly side-quests and updates to scenes.  Starr Long had pointed out during my recent visit that the team specifically wanted to expand the stable of virtue-themed quests and rewards, which apparently have been lacking.  I’ve been waiting for the story to be in better shape before digging in, so most of my time online has revolved around crafting.

Though, my infatuation with all things industrial will be fed over the next quarter, too.  Crafting components will be showing up in loot soon, and crafting should continue getting a little more unique over time.  Virtue-themed gear and more complex crafting will continue the process of adding more diversity to the game.

Expect improvement to AI behavior because clockwork dragons shouldn’t behave the same as say… vicious ambushing shrubbery.

Postulated Conclusion

How will the Travian Games/Portalarium partnership prosper?  It’s just hard to say.  The European and Asian markets aren’t ones I have a whole lot of experience with, but companies don’t invest back-to-back publishing deals with MMOs if they don’t see a profit.  That would suggest good things, but Richard Garriott’s games have been around for some time and I hadn’t noticed a particularly strong European movement in the forums.

That said, I do know that Starr and Richard have a fairly active talk circuit in Europe, so there’s clearly a significant enough following of the pair that they get those consistent invites.  To me, it all seems to be a wash, so I tend to fall back on the business angle and trust that Travian board members wouldn’t allow the company to make a poor investment.

The results should be fairly clear over the next couple quarters as Travian seeks to capitalize on their end of the deal.  If successful, concurrent players in Shroud should go up by a measurable number.  How regions interact with each other, and what new problems or player-created content pops up will all be interesting to watch.

In the end, this seems to have been a pretty successful quarter for Shroud of the Avatar and the team at Portalarium.  The injection of revenue into a project is always a welcome event, and the support with acquiring new audiences could be a pretty critical opportunity for the game’s success in the long term.  How big an opportunity and whether or not it’s capitalized on will just be one of those things we have to wait to see.


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.