To say that Chronicles of Elyria, and Soulbound Studios at large has had an up and down year is, well, an understatement. From less than stellar turnout for their last fundraising event earlier this year, to releasing a small alpha to backers before announcing the studio had been closed down, only to retract that a month later is just the tip of the iceberg. Legal proceedings have dominated much of the discussion surrounding Elyria, with the Washington State Attorney General's office getting involved in a class-action suit against Soulbound Studios. Meanwhile, Walsh and his team have been working on Elyria in the background this year, and they are finally ready to start talking about their MMO again.
Heading into the new year, Soulbound Studios is releasing the first of its Developer diary videos, titled "Inside Chronicles of Elyria" to explain what exactly is going on with the crowdfunded MMORPG. We've embedded the video here for your reference - and I urge you to watch it ahead of reading the attached interview, as some of the questions asked are a result of some of the things touched on by Walsh in his video to his customers.
We had the chance to talk with Jeromy about the events of the year, and what his team is planning on doing moving forward to rebuild any trust they can with the consumers who invested in SSB's vision of Elyria.
MMORPG: First the giant elephant in the room: Soulbound Studios was announced to have been shuttering this year, with Chronicles of Elyria ceasing development, only to have that retracted by you in a subsequent blog post, stating that the development of the game is still ongoing and nothing shut down. There were also claims that many developers agreed to continue development while you found solutions. Many in the community saw this as an attempt to deflect concerns rising as part of the lawsuit brought forth by backers and the WA Attorney General. Can you explain your thinking and decision in shuttering the studio, reopening, and the current situation at the studio (number of employees working on CoE compared to before March 2020, etc)?
Jeromy Walsh, Soulbound Studios: There’s quite a lot to unpack here, with some of it covered in our first episode. But just to touch on it again, the letter we released on April 9th was a necessary clarification to our backers, to what turned out to be a poorly worded prior announcement. Where the studio is concerned, I’m pleased to say we’ve been continuing with development, establishing a smarter roadmap going forwards, recently begun re-hires, and are positive about the future of Chronicles of Elyria. We’ll shine more light on what we’ve been working on in the months ahead, and will be letting our backers know as soon as we need their feedback and input. Lastly, I’m unfortunately unable to talk about any ongoing or potential legal matters at this time.
MMORPG: Much of the legal proceedings have been, at least on the outside looking in, centered on the money CoE has raised over the years and how it's been allocated. The very real fears of consumers who invested in this game and vision and their investment not being used wisely is at the heart of many backer’s furor over the development of CoE. In the video, you discuss an independent auditor that came in to verify how the studios finances and raised funds were being used. Firstly, how are consumers and backers expected to trust you on this statement, given the level of communication and lack of true, meaningful answers to questions raised by your supporters going largely unanswered or ignored, and second, are you willing to make that independent audit public to ensure that the people who invested in your product and vision have zero doubts as to how their money was being used?
JW: Our FAQ was recently updated to cover some of these points, but to address it as much as I’m able, sadly we aren’t in a position to share the forensic audit of our studio. I think at the heart of your question, our backers want to know that the funds they contributed to development were appropriately spent - I totally get that - and all I can say on the subject is that an independent external auditor evaluated Soulbound Studio’s accounts and was entirely satisfied with our companies statements, expenditure and recorded use of funds. For us, our primary aim is to deliver Chronicles of Elyria as quickly as possible, in line with the original vision. We think that’s the best way of restoring our backers’ faith in the project.
MMORPG: Can you update how the studio is operating moving forward with the fallout from the legal proceedings, as well as how it will be funding the continued development of Chronicles of Elyria? Will SSB be offering refunds to those who requested them after the events of this year?
JW: Sadly we’re unable to discuss the details of ongoing or potential legal claims against the studio, and we’ve recently spoken about refunds in our updated FAQ. Our primary goal is to deliver Chronicles of Elyria to all our backers as soon as possible. It remains the best way of satisfying our fans and those who’ve supported Chronicles of Elyria’s development for all this time.
MMORPG: In the video you listed multiple areas the team has built over the years, from Account Management to crafting items, such as bottles and other containers. Are there any plans to share a build of the product thus far to your backers to give them a hands on example of exactly where their money went the last four years, moreso than the parkour demo that was delivered earlier this year before the initial statement that development was ceasing was released?
JW: While I can’t give firm dates at this time, we’ll absolutely be seeking input from our community and backers, and they’ll be the first in line to provide feedback on what we’ve been working on in recent months. We’ve heavily revised our roadmap, and reprioritized what we’re capable of delivering and when the time is right, we’ll be sharing what we’ve been developing so that they can see first hand.
MMORPG: How do you plan on updating and keeping your customers in the loop in terms of the situation surrounding not just the actual active development of Chronicles of Elyria (as the video states you’ll be doing more of these, as well as dev blogs), but also information surrounding the running of the studio they’ve invested their hard earned money? Is there going to be more transparency on the part of SSB to the community and backers?
JW: We absolutely want more transparency and interviews like this, alongside our Inside Chronicles of Elyria series as a starting point. Combined with development blog posts, eventually returning our forums, alongside an open inbox, we feel it’s a good place to start. If our community wants more, we’re more than happy to listen and react to that feedback.
MMORPG: During the course of CoE’s development, there has been the perception that the studio cannot take criticism, whether it be from backers on our forums, or even writers across various sites giving their critiques of the development trajectory and its multitude of missed milestones. One theme I see when reading posts and comments is that to critique CoE, you are inherently “against” CoE. How do you respond to that, and how will communication between your team and the community around your game, regardless of where they are based, change to shake that perception?
JW: I’m sad to hear that there’s such a perception. At Soulbound Studios we believe when developing any game you absolutely must receive and internalize criticism of your product. It’s the only way to recognize your assumptions and find the real fun. This is especially true on a project you’re so close to, as it’s easy to get tunnel vision. I feel we’re receptive to feedback of the game itself, but when that strays into personal attacks, it becomes a different matter altogether. That said, and moving forwards, we want far greater transparency and we hope as development continues and we reveal more about what we’ve been working on, people will feel comfortable providing their honest feedback of the game. We know that our supporters and critics alike have strong feelings, and it’s only through constructive criticism that CoE will reach its full potential.
MMORPG: In terms of the overall vision of Chronicles of Elyria, has the scope or scale of the game you’re looking to make changed with the recent events behind the scenes this year? The video mentions a reduced development team – how does that affect the product the Kickstarter promised, and how do you envision even this will change moving forward?
JW: The scope of Chronicles of Elyria very much remains the same, but we’ve had to revise what we’re capable of delivering in the short term. In recent months we’ve reworked our internal planning and adapted what we can accomplish with our reduced team size. We’ll be in a position to share more in the coming months, and in future videos. However, for now, this path forward not only allows us to quickly develop on key areas of Chronicles of Elyria, but hopefully get something into the hands of backers as soon as possible.
MMORPG: As we look to 2021, are you willing to talk about the milestones you’re hoping to hit in the coming year, as well as when backers can start to expect hands on builds of the game in progress, in the forum of either closed alphas and more?
JW: Over the coming months and as we reveal more of our Inside Chronicles of Elyria video series, you'll get to know what we’ve been working on and how that impacts our milestones heading into 2021. While I’m reluctant to give any firm dates, we’re hoping to reach out to backers as soon as possible so that we can begin to gather feedback.
MMORPG: How much of the original vision of players were sold on Kickstarter is driving the development of CoE? How much has changed? Do you plan on having a place backers and interested parties can go to see exactly where you are in the development of the game, in order to increase the transparency?
JW: We still stand by our original vision and the scope of Chronicles of Elyria hasn’t changed. We may have had to shuffle development priorities, but will be involving backers as soon as possible. Their input has always been highly valued, and we’ll seek it out when we’re in a position to get something into their hands. Our website will remain a core anchor for all information on the game, and when we’re in a position to reopen our forums for our community to discuss the game and what we’ve been working on, we’ll do so.
MMORPG: Obviously, we know game dev is volatile, especially with a small studio, even though a lot of money was raised through the backers and community. Are there plans on securing private investment as well to help continue the development without needing to rely on the backers to pump in more capital before a product has shipped?
JW: There’s no plans to seek reward-based crowdfunding in the future. Right now costs of development are being met by the studio budget and our small team size allows us to remain fairly nimble. We’ve adopted our internal roadmap to meet our goals, and can continue to drive development forward over the coming months. More information on our long-term funding strategy will be shared throughout future episodes of Inside Chronicles of Elyria.
MMORPG: As we await the next video in this series, what are some steps the studio is taking to welcome back those willing to give SSB another chance, and what do you say to those who want nothing to do with the development of CoE any longer?
JW: Inside Chronicles of Elyria is a big step for the studio in reopening a dialogue with our backers and sites like MMORPG. We’re doing things a little differently, with much more transparency. Our videos, coupled with blog posts and an open inbox we feel is a good start. Most of all, and to rebuild that trust in the project, we’re driving development forwards so we can share what we’ve been working on.