I’m a Skeptic: Pathfinder Online
I’m a big fan of the Pathfinder RPG. I’m a supporter of Paizo Publishing (with my hard-earned dollars and my preciously limited gaming time), and I truly admire how they leveraged the d20 SRD to make a game that is light-years ahead of their competition (Trials and Termagants 9th edition, right?). I’ve even backed projects that leverage the Pathfinder SRD on Kickstarter. I’m also an online gamer who has played his shares of MMORPG titles. So imagine my surprise and delight when I caught wind of a Pathfinder MMO on Kickstarter!
I was poised to back it. And then I started having second thoughts. Peek below the fold to find out why.
When I say that I was poised to back Pathfinder Online, I’m actually referring to this summer’s Kickstarter campaign, launched by Goblinworks Inc., to fund a tech demo for the game. After some consideration, I decided to decline. First of all, it sounded like a long shot—I mean, a major MMO takes a lot of scratch, and crowdfunding the tech demo didn’t sound like a strong start. I thought the rewards were a little lackluster too (believe me, there is no shortage of official or unofficial Pathfinder modules, and I wasn’t particularly excited by their attached polemic on video game design).
I suppose it just seemed a little off, asking backers to fund a tool that would be leveraged to garner more funding. In the end, I declined to give them my support—but I may have been alone in that, since they ultimately raised 600% of their $50k goal. I resolved to keep my eyes on the game’s development—after all, Ryan Dancey is no stranger to sandbox games, and if they delivered an experience the blends the best of EVE Online with Neverwinter Nights, I could hardly complain.
But then they came back to the crowd.
Last week, Goblinworks Inc. launched a Kickstarter to raise a million dollars in additional funding for Pathfinder Online. I didn’t think too much of it at first but as I looked over the project I my doubts began to multiply.
First, it seems a bit like double dipping to come back to the crowd for a cash infusion after having so recently asked it for money to fuel what is essentially the same enterprise. Secondly, it’s the sums involved. I mean, a million bucks is lot to ask for, but it’s a drop in the bucket of even a modest MMO’s budget. Consider how much talent a million bucks can really buy, and you start to understand why mega-blockbuster games are reaching Michael Bay level budgets. And then there are the time frames involved. Beta in 2014? Release in 2016? That’s a long commitment to ask of your supporters—but they’re cognizant of that, if their “Risks and Challenges” can be taken at face value.
Honestly, I’m torn. Not every game needs a mega budget, to be sure, but MMO’s are perhaps an exception to that rule. I mean, the systems, the art assets, the sheer size that players expect nowadays… You can’t half-ass an MMO and expect people to stick around after that first month expires (looking you square in the face, SWTOR. Yeah, I went there). I don’t mean to imply that Goblinworks plans to half-ass anything. On the contrary, they have quite a lot talent in their corner that I trust to build a quality project. But from where I’m standing this Kickstarter looks like an attempt to build buzz more than making their game a success. If that’s the case, then I think they’ve jumped the gun by coming back to the well so soon. Even with the participatory design approach they’re promising, I feel like they should’ve come to the party with more than the tech-demo that the community already funded. Doing the same thing six months or a year into development—now that’s a different story…
All that said I strongly suspect they’ll get their funding. And it’s actually pretty likely that they’ll end up with some of my money on the deal as well (I’m an MMO dilettante, a Pathfinder aficionado, and I like spending money, so…). What I can say, as a representative of the game’s target audience, is that what I’ve seen has left me frankly skeptical. But I cleave to two hopes. First, that they succeed in making a game that I’ll want to play (so that I may play it), and second, that if they don’t, that it doesn’t irrevocably injure a brand I love and a company I respect.
At the moment, I have well over a month to mull on my decision whether or not to support them, so I’ll be keeping my eye on the update page and weigh my options. I will say this—even with the double dipping, it’ll be tough for me to pass this one up. If not now, then at launch… in 2016.
What I wondered was if their need was for a million dollars, or $1.25 million. If it’s the former, then they’re fucking with us. If they raised $250K over their original amount, and they’re coming back for more money, I want something IN WRITING, right there on the project, telling me where that extra $250K went, and why they’re not asking for $750K instead.
Admittedly, even if they did spell that out, I wouldn’t back this. I’m willing to wait a few months for a comic or game that really interests me, but the timelines necessary for video game development just aren’t worth the Kickstarter-exclusive in-game +3 Melon Baller or Golden Short Pants of Victory. With a three-year development cycle, they can’t have much done at this point. And if they don’t have much done (besides, HOPEFULLY, a functional “tech demo”), then there are lots of potential landmines that could drag out development indefinitely. I’m certainly not throwing my money at something that could just as easily turn into the next “Duke Nukem Forever” as it could “World of Warcraft”.
So, yeah, this one may be legit, but it stinks.
” just aren’t worth the Kickstarter-exclusive in-game +3 Melon Baller or Golden Short Pants of Victory”
Your concerns definitely parallel my own, Brian. They got a lot out of the pinata on the first swing. It’d be nice to know how those additional funds have made this a better project overall. And I share your sentiments re: video game timelines and Kickstarter. Obviously, some of the smaller games have gone to market (FTL for instance), but I pledged to Project Eternity in the last hours of their campaign, and I often wonder if I’ll be kicking myself two years from now for throwing money down a hole…
Double dipping? More like triple-dipping – they’ve already secured investors after their tech demo Kickstarter. I was going to write about this, and still may. This is from their (current) Kickstarter page:
“We have secured the financing we need to put the game into production.”
Then why another Kickstarter?
“We want to build Pathfinder Online quicker and with more content than our current financing will allow.”
No. No way. It’s stupid enough to fund a tech demo, but if they get the funding this time, I will be writing a public letter to Kickstarter backers telling them how retarded they are. They got six times their tech demo budget, got funding from investors for the full title, and now want an extra million? Has there ever been a more blatant example of greed?
My outlook is thus: the first campaign was fair game. They got people excited about the concept of a Pathfinder MMO and they funded their tech-demo, which they leveraged to get private capital. I mean, that’s great. What better way to drum up capital for your game than to point to all the people who are willing to invest in personal monies in it when it’s still just a vague concept? It worked and they apparently got the money they needed.
What sticks in my craw is 1) going back for more so quickly, when they’ve practically said they don’t reeeeally need to, and 2) the vagueness of what they’re promising. Bigger? Faster? An MMO can’t buy a lot of either with a million bucks. And they have people on their team who KNOW that already. So the whole thing seems a little disingenuous.
If only you wrote about these sorts of things – on a weekly basis, for instance. 🙂
Excellent post Chris. Apparently I am the only one that took umbrage with their bit about not wiping the beta. I’m not going to play a game that give a year+ head start to the people at the front of the line. That is just plain silly.
As to the rest though, I think you, Brian, and Davidgaames covered it.
Edited for fever induced omission.
What am I, chopped liver?
Lol. No, certainly not.
Yesterday I was running a significant fever, and it made focusing a little difficult. This conversation simply would not have been possible without magical melon ballers and short pants.
Side note: is it wrong that I am slightly tempted to give them money now that they are offering dungeons and miniatures? I do love me some swag… Damn them for knowing my weakness!
I didn’t know this:
“When we reach $250,000 in pledges, Paizo CEO and Goblinworks COO Lisa Stevens will come out of game design semi-retirement to pen an original dungeon level.”
Does that make goblinworks a separate entity in name only, or a conflict of interest?
(For some reason, I can’t reply to your comment, so I’m replying to mine.)
You’re tempted to give them money now that they’re offering dungeons and miniatures? Perfectly reasonable. Are you tempted to give them a hundred bucks, because that’s the level at which they start offering the miniatures.
Of course, these are the kinds of things they usually save for stretch goals, and they are, instead offering them as something more like milestone goals. I’m not sure how I feel about that. It feels clever, but manipulative at the same time. Which, I guess, makes it marketing.
No, I’m not $100 tempted. I’m more like $10 tempted for the PDFs and $25 tempted for the minis, although when I first read the email I thought they were ‘bones’ minis; finding out they were prepainted WizKids minis reduced that part of my primal-nerd-urges to near-zero.
The add-on of spend a $100 and we’ll print our PDF for you cracked me up though. That dungeon would have to get pretty deep to justify that. Not that I buy much in the way of printed products these days.
To be fair to them, they’re printing out quite a bit more than just the one PDF. Looks like several print-quality books. Which, if they’d SAID that, would be more impressive.
I swear, the more they add to this thing, the more it starts to feel like we’re being pranked, and that this is some wicked subtle parody of a Kickstarter campaign.
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