Tobold's Blog
Friday, February 21, 2014
Kickstarting MMOs

Syp is looking at MMOs on Kickstarter and wonder whether any of them are interesting to him. Personally I have a related but different question: Is it actually possible to finance a good MMO via Kickstarter? To the best of my knowledge the biggest funding a computer game ever got was around $4 million, and from there to the development cost of a triple-A MMO there is still at least a factor of 10, if not 50.

I do have high hopes for Star Citizen, which recently reported getting $38 million by crowdfunding. But only $2 million of that is from Kickstarter. Other games have mixed funding schemes, where some of the money comes from investors and some comes from crowdfunding. But if you get the majority of the development money from investors, how is that still a crowdfunded game? Isn't it likely that the devs are beholden to the people who put the most money into the project? And if that isn't the fans, then the Kickstarter minority funding part to me looks very much like a cynical attempt to get some free money from eager fans.

I do believe that good games can come from Kickstarter. Or from systems like Steam Greenlight, where the fans don't have to pledge money, but at least get to express their interest in a game before it is made. But I do think that those systems are more for indie games, and less for huge and expensive games like MMORPGs. What do you think?

I've always thought that kickstarters were risky investments. You've got go into them knowing that there is a fair chance of not seeing the end product you expect (or one at all). To kick-start for an mmo is even more risky. So many get canned or change mid-stream. At least with proper investers you can tell them, "I threw away feature X because it wasn't working and something else will get you a better return" It is hard to say that to a kickstart funder who only invested for product X.

Where kickstarters might work mmos might work is in specific features. For example, raise $X and we'll hire a Choreographer to design some dance move. Raise $Y and we'll get some writers/animators to do some spin-off media. Raise Z and we'll hire new graphics people for 3 months to do a new skin for some items.
Everquest cost $3m to develop up to launch in 1999. Adjusted for inflation that's about $4.25m today. Kickstarter MMO teams also have the option of licensing game engines for very reasonable sums (check the Unity price list on their website). Shroud of the Avatar and Gloria Victis are using that one. There are others that are even more affordable.

Just because large corporations spend money like water doesn't mean others have to copy them to get results as good or better. How much did A Tale In The Desert cost to bring to launch, for example, or Wurm Online?

I don't imagine we'll be getting John Cleese or Christopher Lee doing the voice acting for MMOs that cost a couple of million dollars to produce, or I hope not at least, but is that going to make them worse MMOs?
Indeed, it's the AAA production values that really suck up the dollars. A niche game, probably running in a browser, doesn't need to spend monstrous amounts.
How many indie MMORPGs running in a browser have you played for longer than a month?
I thought 100% of SC money was crowdsourced, it is just the initial KS rules are for one time requests and getting money at SC is an ongoing way of life.

But $3mm games from a decade ago would be very hard to sustain now. The competition and expectations have grown so much.

(The usual arguments are Game X is bad, it does not have A,B,C. defenders say WoW did not have those at its launch; attackers say that this does not matter, people are looking at alternatives to what they can get now.)

I have donated to a couple of KS in moments of low self control and high hopes but I don't expect they will succeed.

A great game idea is required but I think you also need to be able to manage products, money, people, and marketing to make a largeish game work and I think it is a rare group on KS that can do all of those.


The only way I could see KS MMO working is if Google were to develop a browser based infrastructure where the developers got a world with engine, mail, ah, chat, guilds, etc so a lot of "required" infrastructure that is not key to why the new game is special.
I think that if triple A companies were to ask the fans "Would you buy this game if we made it?" in the form of "tentative pre-orders" they would save a lot of money trying to guess what the public wanted.
I haven't played a lot of MMORPGs period. That's not to say that a good one can't be developed.

Everyone likens Eve to 'spreadsheets in space'. If the core gameplay is not graphics intensive, a game like that would work fine in a browser.

I'm playing Mush now for about a month, which is not really an MMO (there are instances with 16 players).

I'm not saying cool-looking 3D worlds aren't a good thing, and probably games with low production values will always be either poor casual games or niche. I'm just saying there is room for the niche games IMO.
Kickstarter bothers me because it's a way for developers to capitalize on the "hype" that surrounds new games far far earlier than previously possible.

Jacobs, Garriot, and other popular pitchmen are now able to profit from new pet projects and the person left holding the bag are the people who believe most in them.

It's a free market and people can do what they will with their money, but I guess I want to see something more tangible for my money than a hope and a dream.
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My thoughts on this intriguing topic can be found here
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