Now we have the answer to the earlier tease, and why I think so highly of this studio. I like their policies, and I certainly have enjoyed their game. I’m impressed by their professionalism and their guts in taking such a wide step away from where the easy money in the industry right now. All those things are awesome, but they all play second fiddle to something even more impressive.
This studio is fantastic because they have the best community on the planet. It’s really that simple. It’s a community that’s certainly been nurtured by the team at Portalarium, and there’s no doubt about that. The standard development process was partially reworked in order to make it more transparent in an effort to create just the sort of relationship these guys have with their fans. With the leadership at Portalarium having come from companies like Lucas Arts and Disney, this was definitely not a decision anywhere near anyone’s comfort zone.
Great fans visited Portalarium offices in Austin, Texas to ensure the team didn’t work through the holidays without realizing it.
It’s a decision that’s paid off in spades, though. I decided I wanted to highlight this subject again in this article because as I was leaving Portalarium, several members of the community were showing up to help decorate the office for the holidays. I don’t know that I know another studio that would allow it, nor have a community that would offer.
Starr tells me the team wasn’t going to decorate the offive for the holidays. They didn’t feel it would be appropriate to spend backer money on anything that didn’t directly contribute to the game. Their fans were appreciative enough of their integrity to offer a solution. Interestingly, the date picked for the community decorating party was also the last day before code freeze.
Lock-down is the last chance for developers to finalize content for the upcoming release. Anything not down by the end of the day doesn’t make it into the next build, so it’s a big deal and not a little stressful. Despite this, the developers were excited enough to have their fans in the office, that Starr had to firmly remind them to focus on wrapping up their projects for release. It’s just another example of how close the bond is between the team of developers behind Shroud of the Avatar and the community surrounding the game.
A Finish Line?
Their bond with their community also impacted what might have been the most important conversation of the day, though. That conversation centered on the official release date for Shroud, and what exactly release means. Like any MMO, Shroud of the Avatar will continue seeing updates well beyond any official release date, and there are plans for other major chapters for the game, as well.
As I sat at the table with Starr, Chris Spears, and the virtual presence of Richard via his robot, the conversation was incredibly frank. Richard pointed out that they have plenty of reserve cash to go through the end of 2016, but that there is a definite desire to get the game to a completed state well before then. Completed, as Starr commented, means that they’ve delivered on all their Kickstarter promises, players have access to their rewards, and the game has the appropriate security hardening and customer service tools needed to maintain it in a production state.
The question is what path is the best route there, and this is where the loyalty of their player-base comes into the conversation. When faced with allocating resources, they have the choice of going full tilt at the either building content or management and security systems. The problem with the latter is that while critical to a well-run game in production, they take away from folks working on new content. New content is sexy, and tends to drive sales.
Let’s face is, no matter how noble the folks at Port at, they’re still running a business and need revenue to stay healthy. That said, my belief is that it’s better to invest everything in one hard push at getting the management suites up and running. The minute that’s done, the game is ready to be live. Only whether or not the Starr and Richard feel they’ve met their promises to backers stands between them and an official announcement.
I think that with this community, a couple months with less new content would be do-able. With other communities, the lack of tangible development would probably be much a harder to course to navigate. Because this community generates nearly as much content as the development team does from a story perspective, I think the difference would be much less apparent, and most certainly less of a problem.
I believe Portalarium is going to shoot for something closer to the middle. They’ll start devoting more cycles to the less visible work, but will still be cranking out more art and content. Even if they do go that route, I suspect that players are unlikely to notice much difference over the next few months thanks to all the new hires. If players do, it’ll be to simply note that they’re getting more scenes and creatures, and that there are fewer changes to the major mechanics of the game.
Whatever route the team decides on to get there, they’re close enough that it’s a serious conversation. I get the impression that they’re looking at mere months, though with the sort of release schedule they run on and how these early access programs tend to go, I think it’ll feel like much less. There’s at least one more wipe coming up, but is there anything else on the horizon that really demands another?
Whether the next wipe is the last, or there’s a dozen more probably matters about as much to their community as when Richard and Starr decide to call the game released does. As honorable people do, they’re concerned with ensuring they haven’t misrepresented the game, and their messaging is a part of that. However, I think that if you asked their fans when they officially released, you’d probably hear a lot of people saying that they’ve been live for just over two years. At least, backers have been playing that game like it has been.