Tobold's Blog
Thursday, May 02, 2013
Camelot got unchained

Brian Green a.k.a. Psychochild believes that we all need Camelot Unchained to succeed, so he'll be happy to hear that the Kickstarter campaign succeeded with $2.2 million achieved from the $2 million goal. I always find those last minute huge donations on Kickstarter somewhat suspicious, but anyway, the game is funded.

Unfortunately getting people to believe you can succeed is a lot easier than actually succeeding. Psychochild says "We need someone experienced like Mark Jacobs who has shown he can deliver a game limited in scope to pull this off. We need an antidote to the repeated failures we've seen.. And I would say that the odds are against Camelot Unchained actually becoming "a success" in any kind of reasonable measure that the investors Psychochild mentions would recognize. I mean yes, maybe there will one day be a game with ten or twenty thousand players. But what investor beyond some starry-eyed Kickstarter donator is going to be impressed by that?

Dark Age of Camelot had okay success in an extremely limited market, with few competitors. But this isn't 2001 any more! Camelot Unchained will compete with hundreds of MMORPGs. And Darkfall and Mortal Online showed that there isn't much of a market at that end of the spectrum. So grats to Mark Jacobs for having talked the Internet into giving him a job for some years, but I'll believe in the game's success when I see it.
Given that Mark Jacobs put in $2m of his own money I think it's reasonable to assume he didn't need to troll the internet for a job. Honestly, if you can't say something nice as my old granny used to say...
I'd say an Internet with nothing but positive opinions about everything would be downright useless. Has everybody forgotten WAR already?
I definitely have not forgotten WAR. I was surprised that it was mentioned so rarely. When the last project a guy was in charge of crashed and burned so gloriously that he subsequently lost his job I think that is a rather important factor in deciding whether or not to give him my money.

I passed on the Shroud of the Avatar kickstarter for much the same reason as Tabula Rasa had not yet faded from my memory.
What is it that you would consider a success?

If they fail to launch a game, then that's clearly a failure. North of that, they'll probably make some money, perhaps even enough to demonstrate decent return on investment. Perhaps it'll even be reviewed decently well. That's sort of a success.

I certainly didn't contribute to CU (I'm a bit of a carebear in terms of pvp), but I do like the idea of more smaller-scale mmo development. I like the smaller games like Myst Online, Wurm Online, etc. It wouldn't be too hard to get more subscribers than ever payed for either of those. XD

A healthy mmo environment should have niches for both a few huge games with millions of subscribers and also a few hundred thousand small mmo's with under 50 players. And the long tail/smaller end of things has been getting strangled by the transition from text MUDs to graphics.
The sort of investor who will be impressed is one who does the maths instead of buying into hype. If Camelot Unchained costs $10 million to make and then has 20,000 subscribers each paying $15 per month, then you've got $3.6 million per year revenue even if you never charged a penny for box sales. Allowing for running costs, that's a solid if not OMG spectacular return. Given that the Kickstarter had just shy of 15,000 backers, people who are willing to put money up front over two years before we actually get the game, I'd say that getting 30,000 people to subscribe to an actual finished product wouldn't be at all hard, at which point we definitely have a rate of return I'd be willing to invest in (if only I had spare money lying around looking to be invested).
What is it that you would consider a success?

I wasn't talking about me. Read Psychochild's blog on how he wants the success of CU make an impression on investors, so they start funding MMOs again. How many players would a game need to impress investors these days? More than what is needed to get some standard return on investment, I believe.
I wonder if 20k subscribers is realistic. They had about 12k backers for the KS of whom I bet at least 10% were putting money in because they want to support more MMOs even if they don't personally want to play them (ie. people who agree with Psychochild or Syncaine's thinking), plus many of the higher tier backers will be in beta for at least a year before relase -- plenty of time to get bored... before they're asked to pay any sub fees.

We'll see. I wish them success with it (the only MMOs I actively wish failure on are games like Tera with obnoxiously sexist design -- they can DIAF)
I am conflicted.

I disagree with the extent of making things unpleasant/time consuming "because it was the way we did it last decade" and to "weed out the casuals" designs.

But I strongly support the targeted niche market.


I am far more skeptical of the "probably will make some money" and "solid return". Economies of scale mean the cost/user is so much smaller for large games. If you start out at $10m spent and 20k subscribers then say that means averaging 15k over a say 5 year product life with 100k/month expenses (which I think is way low) then that means 60*15k*$15 or 12.5 mill revenue, 6 mill expenses. So the 6.5 mil in contribution does not recoup the $10mm in development costs. And this assumes very modest advertising expenses.


I also think that there is nearly zero chance this can affect investor perception. If it succeeds, it could embolden other people to launch niche titles funded mostly by "sweat equity" (founders working for little salary). Which is a good thing and I hope it does succeed. But by the time you get big enough to be talking to investors and RoI, they just aren't going to be that excited to risk money that they could easily lose all of it for the chance at a modest return.

Forget 10-20K subscribers, Jacobs is on the record saying he needs 50K for the thing to be viable. I don't think you can conclude that the market is limited to the number of KS backers because I assume there are some people somewhere who want to play the game but not pre-purchase it two years in advance. OTOH, I'm really curious what the effects will be of having the most dedicated portion of the player base in the beta as much as a year and a half pre-launch - will folks be burned out or disillusioned before the first bill date?

As to Warhammer, I think where the precedent matters is in that Jacobs will launch whatever he's got rather than let the company go under because they ran out of money, Schilling-style. I don't fault him for this. However, if the game isn't ready - bear in mind that he told Massively he ultimately wants to spend $10 million, the $5 million he has today is what he considers the minimum he can launch with - that's not going to help him retain players.

TL;DR: The hard part of this project is beginning, not ending.
I've always been pretty quick to dismiss any PVP-focused sandboxes, primarily because it's a type of game I simply don't enjoy playing.

The fact that they tend to be critically-panned and largely unpopular with the exception of small, rabid fan-bases (which is like saying your Mum thinks you're special) has always been vindication of that. These things fail, I shrug and complain, "What is wrong with game devs that the only ones making sandbox games seem to be trying to cater to sociopathic griefers?"

So. Now there's a test case out which will test that theory.

Non-PVP-focused, crafting/exploration sandbox. I hope this thing succeeds and wildly so, but if it doesn't I'll probably have to seriously adjust my impressions of what the market wants.
Hagu's numbers are a bit off, but he's on the right track.

I'm not sure where $10 million development cost comes from, I'm under the impression we already know exactly what their budget is. They have $2.2 million from kickstarter, and another $2 million of Mark Jacobs' own money. It's also questionable how to count the kickstarter money because those aren't actual "investors," you don't need to pay them anything back on "return."

And $100k per month costs actually seems on the high end to me. Bandwidth and server costs are not what they once were. A Google Fiber Gigabit home account could arguably handle this game for under $100 a month (at the very least, it's in the ballpark, so I can't see the cost being much over $1k or so). What we're really talking about are salaries, but those are obviously totally scalable (just lay off workers).

This is also ignoring any money from box sales, but I'm not sure how to count that given that it presumably won't apply to anyone that funded the kickstarter.

Even if we stick to Hagu's cost structure and wind up with $6.5 million gross income over 5 years, it does cover the actual budget of $4.2 million with a nice bit of profit on top.

So what is really at stake here is if you can really make a playable MMMORPG with only $4.2 million budget. And this is where I somewhat agree with Psychochild about Mark Jacobs specifically. If he can't manage it, it can't be done.
Not my game, but I wish them success. I'd like to see more successful niche games of all types.
Mark told Massively the following when the game was announced:

"The total budget will be over $10 million, of which we need about half to launch the game. "
Mark Jacobs is a savvy business person. He's not some pie-in-the-sky wannabe developer with no experience. I trust his experience, although I think he's hobbling himself by trying to stick to subscriptions.

As I've said before, WoW has skewed expectations excessively. 50k is a very approachable number. Hell, I think the original DAoC did at least that well, and it was competing directly with the juggernaut of its time, EQ1. And, make no mistake, DAoC was amazingly profitable for the time.

What about Warhammer? On one hand there were a lot of other circumstances that dealt with that. I've heard there was some particularly nasty infighting between managers. And, remember it was EA calling the shots then, not Mark Jacobs. Even if he was at fault, he's hopefully learned. And Camelot Unchained is a lot more like DAoC than Warhammer.

As Green Armadillo said, the hard part here is getting the damn thing off the ground. Once you get the foundation in place, it's about managing the business. But, you have no business if you don't get that first push. I think CU will be successful. We'll see if it's enough of a success to spark longer term interest and investment in niche MMOs. The success of the KS campaign is something valuable in the short term, though.
And Camelot Unchained is a lot more like DAoC than Warhammer.

Yes, but Dark Age of Camelot is actually still around and few people play it any more. In today's crowded market it isn't as if there were a lot of people just waiting for another DAoC.
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