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The Great Cash-Grab Debate

By Shawn Schuster on October 01, 2015 | Columns | Comments

The Great Cash-Grab Debate

As a crowdfunded game, Crowfall is enjoying the benefits of production without a publisher, allowing the team at ArtCraft Entertainment to actually make the game they want, along with input from those who shell out a few bucks. This is the new face of media investment, and it's been working (fairly) well for all forms of entertainment for several years now.

But, as with any new thing that reinvents the wheel more quickly than expected, there are growing pains along the way. With crowdfunding, the drawback that many people probably didn't anticipate involves more cooks in the kitchen, as the saying goes. With more people throwing down their hard-earned money to help a project become a reality, you may have a million different expectations until (and after) a game launches.

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As of this article's writing, Crowfall has nearly 23,000 backers with a total budget reaching close to $2.4 million. That's 23,000 opinions, each with an average of $104 on the line. While managing player expectation is nothing new for online game developers, the pre-launch aspect seems to be a whole other can of worms.

When the Crowfall Collector's Edition was revealed earlier this month, we got to see a first taste of the physical side of what our pledge money can buy. The CE includes the game DVD, an art book, the game's soundtrack, behind-the-scenes footage, a comic book, and 21 tabletop miniatures of the Crowfall archetypes.

On the digital side of things, everyone who buys the CE gets two guest VIP trial passes, three months VIP subscription for this new account (the CE is an additional account for those already pledging $38 or more), a special yet-announced digital exclusive item, and everything offered at the Contributor's Level (access to Beta 2, forum access with special badges, and a thanks in the credits).

These all sound like great incentives to shell out for that CE, but it's the inclusion of exclusive digital items and VIP packages that have rubbed some potential players the wrong way.

If you skip over to the Crowfall store page (https://crowfall.com/#/store) on the game's official website, you'll see everything from $10 pets to $600 castles (on sale from the $800 regular price). Again, nothing new to MMOs from the last few years, but the increasing cost of these in-game items and package deals is starting to become more and more aggravating to those who just want to buy a game and play it.

But the way I see it, this is just something that we have to deal with because it's a) nothing new, b) not as nefarious as some might think, and c) helping to support the game for everyone.

But at this point, the words "cash grab" get thrown around to represent how some feel that the game might be set up to take all of our money without actually giving us anything real in return. This is a scary reality for many crowdfunded games, but it's always been a risk that developers have shouldered. And despite the high price of in-game items already being revealed, ArtCraft is very forthcoming with information stating that these high-dollar store items will not affect the overall game (Campaigns), and they are there mainly as cosmetics for the Eternal Kingdoms.

I mean, there is a $10,000 pledge level for this game. For some of us, that's the price of a vehicle that we hope to drive for the next 10-15 years. But for those high rollers who pledged at this level, this is serious business. And for those of us barely scraping out $38 for the Contributor's pledge level, we should be happy that there are $10,000 pledgers and people buying $600 digital castles.

I grew up near south Chicago right off Lake Michigan (this will be quick, I promise), and during my formidable years, the town I lived in was a trash heap. But right about the time I was getting ready to spread my wings and move away, the city brought in riverboat casinos that flooded the area's economy. This helped the city completely restructure and become a viable place to live once again.

And where did all of this money come from? It came from those people willing to throw down loads of cash in exchange for what they saw as a good time. OK, so gambling addiction is a tragic thing, but I digress. The point is, the city in which I grew up was rebuilt from that casino money and the small percentage of people who chose to take part in that activity. It's like a voluntary tax of sorts, and with the highest tiers of crowdfunding, you're getting something along those same lines.

I've always been the type to ignore cosmetic item purchases, so I understand how some may not fully understand that there are people out there willing to pay incredible amounts of money for said cosmetic items. But we need to thank those people for their part in these games.

To me, it's not about being a cash grab because spending a lot of money for in-game cosmetic items makes some people very happy. I say more power to those people because they're doing what they enjoy with a reward that obviously pleases them. Just because we may not all be at that level doesn't make it wrong. No one is forcing those $5k or $10k pledgers to contribute that much money, so you can't blame the game developers and economists for providing that option.

As the game's crowdfunding goal reaches its next stretch goal (hiring an experienced QA Lead at the $2.415 million mark), we should really be thanking every single contributor for their part in making Crowfall the best game it can be. As annoying as it might sound for me to be that optimistic about it, the truth is that Crowfall might be your next favorite game, and much of that is thanks to the option to purchase cosmetic items.

Shawn Schuster / Shawn Schuster is the former Editor-in-Chief at Massively.com and founder of the indie gaming review site Shoost.co. Shawn has been writing professionally about video games since 2008 and podcasting about games since 2005. When he's not leveling yet another alt, he's running his organic farm with his wife and four kids.
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