I said drama, though. Targeting hardly qualifies as dramatic, but a 70+ page forum thread in the Dev+ forums certainly does. The thread started with a post about changing how deeds were handled, and the conversation exploded hours after the first post. As I’ve found to be common with Shroud of the Avatar fans, there was no one opinion, but several competing ideas and a lot of passion.
The problem, at its root, stems from a divide over the importance of player-owned towns in the game. Plenty of backers put their money towards Shroud of the Avatar for the single-player experience, and those people are justified in questioning the legitimacy of player-owned towns.
After all, any time invested in working on player-owned towns is time that those single-player backers don’t get any advantage from. They’re also justified in pointing out how those towns weren’t deliverables in the original crowdfunding campaign. Points the developers absolutely own up to when I’ve talked with them about it.
Player-owned towns are also critical to growing a supportive online community around the game, and a great example are the Hospitaller organization started by players to help new players get introduced to the game.
That said, I honestly didn’t know that player-owned towns weren’t part of the plan, or realize that some backers didn’t want it to be, until quite a bit after the project had been funded. Shroud of the Avatar is the spiritual successor to Ultima Online, and housing was such a big part of that game, it seemed pretty obvious that some sort of player-owned town system would be a part of the game.
Whether or not they’re good for the game is immaterial at the moment. In fact, it might make for a cool article, so you might see that one coming out at some point in the near future. What’s important here is that those divides were a core part of why the deed question spawned such an emotional conversation in the forums.
The new model for player-owned towns creates a lot of land than can dynamically host a random number of all sorts of lots. One player might make a whole town of nothing but the largest plots, while another loads his up with row housing to become a virtual slum lord. A third town owner may even decide to only place a couple plots out of the hundred available in order to create a more rural setting.
The variable nature of those towns makes it harder for the team to predict the number of deeds that need to be in circulation. That number matters, because as Starr Long says, “it’s absolutely unfair to allow someone to purchase something (via in-game means or otherwise) that they won’t be able to use.” It’s a problem Starr says he noted with UO and wants to make sure they don’t have in Shroud of the Avatar, but it was the proposed solution that caused a stir. The devs proposed selling deeds that are only good for lots in player-owned towns.
You buy the deeds knowing you’ll only be able to use them if town-owners open enough land, but you have a shot at deeds that are otherwise sold out. Also, it doesn’t impact the value of lots in towns that aren’t player-owned, so it preserves the value of what earlier backers paid for. There were plenty of players who were fine with that idea. However, some backers saw the proposal as another example of player-owned towns sucking resources from the single-player experience. Yet other players felt owners of those towns should have unlimited deeds in their towns to pass around at will.
What followed is precisely why I backed this project, and why I’ve been so supportive of it. For over 70 pages, backers and developers conversed (often passionately) about the best way to make sure people had access to deeds who wanted them, that those deeds retained value, and it was done in a way to help support the project by creating revenue. The developers didn’t dictate a policy sans feedback, and backers were sensitive to the company’s need to maintain revenue. The developer/community team found a solution that was better than any of the initial proposals.
I find this whole situation absolutely incredible. The blowup over how to handle the additional deeds in Shroud of the Avatar is the sort of thing that can grind production to a halt. You may only see some devs on the forums, but others are talking about it at their desks or over the coffee pot. It syphons momentum from development like a much younger me used to sneak diesel from my dad’s truck to fuel my own.
That didn’t happen here, though. The laundry list of additions in this release, some of them pretty seriously heavy, demonstrates professionalism of this incredibly small team. It’s a list of updates and changes that I haven’t even remotely done justice. Though, there’s rarely room in any of these articles to really detail all the work that goes into each release.
Not only is that impressive, but the ability of a team of devs to engage, as they did, with their Dev+ community on an explosive issue and find resolution is just something I’ve never heard of with any other team. Also, don’t think I’m the only one impressed by what’s going on here. I’ve seen Starr Long pop up on several industry panels to discuss what they’re calling “co-development.” These aren’t the sorts of panels fans go to, but rather ones other developers attend. It suggests that other industry professionals are taking a serious look at what’s happening at Portalarium with an eye to emulate it elsewhere.
Like other teams, these guys do make their mistakes and sometimes they hold over-long to bad ideas, but they put their faults right out in front of their community and take feedback. I think the result is really promising for Shroud, and very beneficial for the industry as a whole. Yeah, I backed because I’m a Richard Garriott fanboy, but that 70-page forum thread is why I support this project.