Million Dollar Goblins

Million Dollar Goblins

Kicking My Thoughts Out There

This post has been one that I’ve debated for a while now. I’ve debated using my blog for more than writing about writing and I think I’m finally taking that plunge with this post here. Anyway, I’ve had thoughts on Kickstarter in general, and about Kickstarters that I don’t think needed to happen for a while now. With the launch of the second Pathfinder Online Kickstarter I’ve decided to finally go ahead and just spill some of my thoughts on Kickstarter in general as well as the doubts I have for Pathfinder Online. Please know that I’m not wishing ill of Paizo or trying to call them crooks or something but this whole thing just doesn’t sit right with me. Here are my reasons why.

Wait, Didn’t This Already Happen?

Yes. No. Well, yes and no. The Kickstarter that already happened wasn’t paying for the MMO itself but rather just a single piece in its development process – the tech demo. This was made to show investors that they actually had something on their hands, a proof of concept, and a really great (or dirty, depending on how you look at things) business idea by the Goblinworks team. Do you have enough interest to raise money to put this together? Sure fans weren’t really getting a game but they were offering exclusive Pathfinder adventures as part of the backing, which I’m sure landed hook line and sinker for lots of die hard Paizo/Pathfinder fans.

What about this time around though, what funds are they asking for now? They’ve proved the concept, proved that there is interest, and stated that the game will get made regardless of whether the project funds. This block of funding is to create the actual game, which is part of their ‘revolutionary’ game development process. There’s an FAQ list as long as the Nile but many of the answers given are fuzzy ones at best. Of course the project is infantile at this point so the answers can’t be too concrete, I still just don’t understand why this whole endeavor is necessary.

Stretch Armstrong Goals

A 2.5 year investment before you even see a beta? Sorry but no thanks.We’re already talking about a million dollars here aren’t we? When Kickstarters have stretch goals planned ahead I’m always put off a little – especially when the goal is a million fucking dollars. I’m not talking about “if we go beyond our goal, we’ll come up with some stretch goal ideas, here’s a few we already have in mind”. I’m talking about the road map to thousands and tens of thousands of dollars over their goal. There’s nothing wrong with confidence but in some cases I just feel like I’m getting a sack pulled over my head and beaten silly just because the kickstarter creators are so full of themselves.

What about the return investment on backing this kickstarter? Sure you get access to input on the game and the community, but you’re waiting 2+ years to play anything tangible if they keep on track and you have to spend 100$ or more to get into said beta? The other less expensive backer levels only offer access to open enrollment. I’m sorry but I don’t have the kind of money to drop and wait around a few years to hope something turns out. If anything I’ll wait for the game to be out for 6 months before I throw money at it.

Do Big Companies Really Need Kickstarter?

Double Fine? Penny Arcade? Really? I’m not sure where Kickstarter is headed but somewhere along the line they lost sight of their vision of community and getting indie projects off the ground and just started seeing dollar signs. Kickstarter is loaded with crap. Literally. I’m not sure where Paizo falls in line here, obviously they’re not a Double Fine or a Penny Arcadebut they are a successful company that I think would have enough capital do to this on their own, or at least enough interested investors that they shouldn’t need to be crowd funding a million dollars. It just seems like a money grab to me. Why spend a million of your own (or your investors) dollars when you can spend a million of someone else’s dollars?

Room for New Adventurers On The Block?

Is there a payment model beyond “there will be subscriptions”? What type of game are they aiming for here as far as avoiding power creep and number games that almost every MMO in existence faces? How will they compete? Launching an MMO is a tough race to run in, and especially hard to not fall flat on your face while running. Obviously, I’m not alone in my thoughts on this after seeing this tumblr from Chris Pramas of Green Ronin pop up today. I”ve been playing MMO’s since the tail end of Everquest 1 and I’ve purchased a lot of games that I played for the initial free month and never looked back after that. I either returned to my MMO of choice, or stopped playing for large chunks of time entirely. No offense to Paizo but they don’t make video games, they make tabletop games and despite the numerous paralells between those two things there are far more disparities than you might think.

The medium of electronic vs tabletop is one that is closing more and more as time goes by (with board games, card games, etc.) but I’m not sure that full blown RPG to MMO is something that’s still yet to be done right. Look at D&D Online’s numbers (last checked 1-2 years ago), they aren’t great and they only got better after the game became FREE. That is the most popular tabletop RPG to ever exist and it has 1 million users, compared to Warcraft’s 10? I’m not sure how Pathfinder is going to stack up.

Listen, I’m a gamer through and through, I’ve been playing video games long before I was ever rolling dice, so I can at least vouch for being knowledgeable in the video game facet of gaming more than any other. However there is so much “this is a really bad idea” lurking in my mind about this whole project that I just can’t shake and I wish that I could. I wish I could get excited about yet another possible gateway for people to transfer into the tabletop gaming world. I don’t wish Paizo harm by any means, but I just don’t see this ending well…at least not for the people who want to play Pathfinder Online.

Money Doesn’t Make Good Games, Great Designers Do

I don’t understand the mentality behind “More Money = Better Game, Faster To Shelves”. Perhaps it will get it out faster but I seriously doubt any amount of money can make a game good. When you create things you take a risk, you put yourself out there in hopes that other people like the thing that you made and that they want to pay you for it.

That’s how the arts work, art is only worth whatever people want to pay for it and if you don’t have much to lose…let’s say oh…a million dollars…then what are you risking? Sure you’re risking your reputation but by how much? I just think that most awesome things come from blood, sweat, tears, and a gamble. In this case it seems they are wanting to gamble with the wallets of their adoring fans and I just can’t get behind that. Pardon my pun here but the whole thing really just seems like one huge roll of the dice if you ask me.

Stretch Goal: Your Commentary

There’s a lot more I’d like to touch on here but at this point I’d like to open this up for discussion now. Micah and I just podcasted about this last night on Haste. If you don’t feel like heading over there, you can do it right here, give it a shot right here and then drop me your thoughts. I welcome any oncoming debate!

(from the Haste Podcast, Subscribe!)

Please note that my opinion are only mine and do not reflect my employer (Obsidian Portal) by any means. These are my personal stances on these things.

 

31 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing. I share your distrust of large successful companies using Kickstarter – I didn’t think that was what that site was for. I also think this project is asking loyal fans to stump up cash a second time for something they thought they’d already helped get off the ground. It just doesn’t feel right.

  2. I like Paizo and I like Pathfinder. I wish them the best in all their endeavors. But, I’m with you on this Kickstarter. I didn’t like the idea of Kickstarting a tech demo and I don’t like this second Kickstarter. It just feels wrong. (I didn’t like the PA Kickstarter, either and reported it to Kickstarter, for all the good that did.)

    It just seems like a cash grab on the enthusiasm of the die hard fans who will throw money at Paizo as long as something has the Pathfinder logo on it. I don’t have any business acumen whatsoever, so when I see something that makes me go “What the fuck?”, it really upsets me when that WTF moment is associated with a company I like and respect.

    • I agree, the Pathfinder community is a great one. Their message boards are full of awesomely enthusiastic people who love their game. To me it seems like they are just bleeding those same amazing folks for their cash. I don’t like it.

  3. @jasonseas /

    I have been picky about some of the things I have participated on with Kickstarter, but one of items I look at personally, is return time on my investment. I have a hard time deciding where I am going to for a vacation in 6 months, I am not real comfortable giving someone money for a product that they’re not going to deliver in more then 6 months or a year down the road. That is, if they even deliver it, or are still in business for that matter a year down the road. That is just my personal viewpoint. It also puts the thought into my mind, if larger companies are going to Kickstarter to raise money to put out new products, how well is their business really doing? Shouldn’t their operating budget for the coming year account for things like this? And yes, I know business plans change. You decide to do X, Y, and Z this year, and decide, let’s do R, but you had not budgeted for it, so you turn to kickstarter. I guess it can be an easy out in some cases.

  4. 1. Paizo is not publishing or creating the game. Goblinworks is a separate company that licensed the product.

    2. They have the funding from investors to already complete the game, which was the whole point of the tech demo kickstarter, so it succeeded in what it was supposed to do.

    3. Donating to kickstarter projects is voluntary, so Paizo, who isn’t Goblinworks, is not bleeding their customers and fans of money.

    • Isn’t Goblinworks comprised of mostly Paizo employees? How many programmers/artist/musicians are working on this product? All I see is a handful of headshots from Paizo employees who have zero track record for making video games.

    • 1. Goblinworks exists because Paizo needs to shield itself against the MMO’s possible failure. It is a legal shell, a typical and necessary practice. While the RPG staff won’t likely be working on the MMO much, the management team will be constantly concerned with the MMO and it is all Paizo in the end.

      2. They have some investors and some funding. Clearly that funding either wasn’t enough or came with conditions they didn’t like. If they had all of the funding to make the MMO the way they wanted, this Kickstarter wouldn’t exist.

      Keep in mind they had some investors and some funding before the first Kickstarter. They needed more, now they need more again because the first ‘more’ didn’t produce enough.

      3. I don’t see anything suggesting the Kickstarter is drawing a new audience. If it is mostly the same RPG audience (very likely), and the audience has limited money (a given), then this payment reduces money available for other purchases, such as actual tabletop RPG products. If either Kickstarter were focused on non-RPG customers, that would be different.

  5. Kendrick /

    MMOs are not Paizos core business, and it’s unlikely that a business (especially a publishing company) the size of Paizo has millions of dollars and three years of man power sitting around in this economy to invest in non core products.

    Kickstarter is not about buying products as much as it is about supporting ideas that probably would not see the light of day without community funding. Community funding for this project allows Paizo to reduce financial risk by collecting/gauging support for a product that would not happen if they did not have access to community funding.

    I don’t really understand the naysayers trashing kickstarter or products listed on their service. At the end of the day, the community decides and drives the market for products in demand… and if there’s not a market, then there’s not a product. We’ve already seen this in a number of cases where bandwagoners looking to make a quick buck have listed their ideas only to have them fail to reach their goal. Maybe Paizo’s is this way, maybe not… the beauty of Kickstarter is that the community decides.

    I read your comment twice, and while I understand and agree with much of what you’ve said, the bottom line for me is ‘who cares?’ If people are interested enough in the product and think the wait is worth the risk, then so be it.

    • If it’s not their core business then why bother with all of this DIY stuff? Why not license Pathfinder out to a reputable and strong game developer and work hand in hand with them to ensure the authenticity/quality Paizo demands while leaving the business of building an MMO to those with experience? I understand that this is all a matter of choice and no one is forcing anyone to do anything here, but it just seems like there are so many other roads they could be going down to make this thing become a reality.

    • Kendrick /

      Sure, I agree. There are lots of roads. Ultimately that’s a company decision and we won’t know until after if they chose the correct road.

      But the question is easily flipped? Why license Pathfinder out to a ‘reputable game developer’ when you believe you have (or can get) the assets and Kickstarter gives you the financial ability to do/try it yourself? Why let someone else get their meathooks on your property when KS gives you the option to do it yourself.

      Also, what ‘reputable game company’ did you have in mind?

      Turbine – Fail
      Funcom – Fail
      Cryptic – Fail

      Also, it should be noted that I am not a support of this project, I’m just not understanding the negative attitude towards it.

    • Definitely not those guys, but everyone can’t be WoW. There’s a middle ground out there. Honestly Turbine makes good games but they lost their marks on both DDO & LOTR. They are solidly supported titles that look stunning in DirectX10/11.

      I know I’m being negative but, I’ve seen dozens of MMO’s that promise to revolutionize the genre that make sweeping statements about how different their game is – only to fail miserably. The whole thing just reeks of doom.

  6. I agree 100%. I’m glad someone put their thoughts out there on this.
    I thought the first Kickstarter was incredibly stupid and this one feels even worse. I know pathfinder has some really dedicated fans, and this just seems like a way to bilk them for some extra cash.
    What I got from the Kickstarter is “we don’t really need the extra money, but figured we’d try and get it anyway.” Shame on them.

    • Kendrick /

      Bilking for cash is putting a new cover on an old product and selling it as an updated product without due effort to inform the consumer of how little has changed.

      Paizo has floated an idea, and allowed you to participate if you want to spend the money to do so. You know up front what you’re (supposed to be) getting, and the level of commitment to get it. How is the onus on anyone other than the supporter at this point?

      I’m failing to see how this is dirty when all KS does is gauge support for an idea.

    • I thought surveys and focus groups gauged support and interest. I suppose money does too, but that’s a whole other ball game.

    • Kendrick /

      Sure. They gauge support and interest about as well as a weed-eater mows your lawn.

      Focus Group: Put 50 random people in a room lured by the enticement of a $10 gift certificate to Bed Bath & Beyond, who know nothing about your product and may or may not even be interested in your product and then ask them if they’d by your product.

      Survey: Ask 10,000 people who have purchased a product from you if they would be interested in a new product that you have not yet secured funding for. Receive 100 responses back from your most die hard fans who bothered to take the time to indicate “Yes”… but you still have to go secure private funding.

      Of course the cost of doing either takes longer and costs more to produce.

      Kickstarter: I have an idea. Here’s my idea. Here’s how you can support if you like my idea. Here’s what you get if you support. I get near instant financial support without the need to secure private investment.

      Kickstarter = Targeted focus group + Survey + Direct proposal to potential buyers all in one.

      And Kickstarter absolutely can produce the game faster because it’s instant access to funding if the campaign is successful. Securing private funding (especially for a project of this magnitude) is both time consuming and costly. If this is successful they’ll have their money in 40 days. If they had to do this privately, it would be months at least before all the legalize was established.

      Also, fail to see how the size of the business has anything to do with whether a company should solicit via KS or not. This is especially true when companies like Paizo are trying to develop a non core product.

      Anyway, just my .02.

    • I see where you’re coming from, and I appreciate your .02 cents! I definitely agree with the non-core product argument too, I just think there are better roads they could be traveling to get from point A to B here.

    • Survey design is a science/approach. You can study it. There are many pitfalls, but good survey design is a known thing. Problems with survey design are avoidable. (My wife has taken coursework. The benefits are substantial and have even helped me significantly on projects when I survey customers).

  7. Anyone who thinks throwing money at a project will get it released faster is deluded. Can you make nine women deliver a baby in one month? NO! That is the premise of The Mythical Man Month, a book which any half competent software developer/project manager should have read at least once.

    I have other issues with their KickStarter campaign, but I think you have definitely summed up my attitude to “big companies on KickStarter” and totally agree with your “Wait, they already have stretch goals planned?” attitude!

    However, I understand where KickStarter is coming from. Less than 50% of projects are successful so a few big ones will keep the service going very comfortably. They let the big ones pay for all the other KickStarters (that are likely to fail) so that indie folk at least have a chance to get their projects funded.

  8. Paizo has huge risk for launching an MMO. In that sense, it can do what it wants to minimize risk and Kickstarter surely seems appropriate from their perspective. Investors want conditions and ownership: say in the approach, say in what is and isn’t included, say in staff and board members, input in meetings, stock options and percentages and future ownership, etc. The less the investors give, the fewer the conditions they impose.

    BUT, Paizo really is trading that risk for the risk of offending its RPG customers. Nearly all MMOs fail. If this fails, how will fans react to having shelled out so much? No game can please everyone, so even if the game is okay, some will be really unhappy. The game isn’t truly Pathfinder Online… it is a fantasy MMO using a new corner of Golarion and using different rules (not the RPG rules) for its base. It won’t be like playing PF RPG online. It won’t be a way to experience the world you play at the table online in 3D. That’s a lot of risk, all shifted from Paizo onto its customers.

    It could undermine the vision of Paizo as a small, focused, customer-centric company. The same is true of their efforts to launch a virtual tabletop and perhaps their venture into board/card games, along with RPG releases that are getting dangerously close to Ultimate Book of Stuff We Already Covered II. Comparisons to some of the rough years at TSR and WotC aren’t yet fully valid, and will hopefully be avoided.

    I’m a fan of all RPG companies. I hugely admire many of the incredible staff members at Paizo. I want those fantastic people to make RPGs, not MMOs. I want the millions to go to RPGs, not MMOs.

    • The end of this comment needs to be in bold. Look, we agree on something wholeheartedly! Mark your calendar!

    • Jerry, I’m an opinionated guy. Every time I didn’t say anything? I was agreeing! ;-)

    • Also, I’m sorry for all the excess opinions I toss out. I really try to contain myself and not keep sounding off on everything, especially other people’s really good ideas. I try to focus my responses into useful info/stimulating ideas. Sorry to everyone for all the times I fail at that!

  9. @thetwixt /

    This really does feel like they expect the MMO project to eventually fail.
    All the KS is doing is to ensure folks get paid ahead of time, even if the game turns out terrible or a flop. They are entering a VERY difficult market, it’s over-saturated with competition, almost all of which are doing very poorly. Even the success stories like WoW are having difficulties with subscriber bases. It’s not going to get better over the next four years, and most certainly will be worse.

  10. Kitastrophe /

    You’re right. It does feel shady and I wonder why anyone would sign up for the right to test something and then to later be a subscriber. Then again, people paid 5K to be an intern at Penny Arcade for one day, so the Stupid is still out there and is mighty. I’m sure Paizo figures ‘hey, why should we give away a piece of the action if we can have others give us commitment-free money?’, but it does have a level of ookieness (<—scientifically measured!).

    • I’m okay with one-off crazy stuff like the intern for a day. Gamers include people with amazing jobs, including four-digit earners. Anything out there has someone who is a #1 fan. Companies are smart to offer something for that individual. That isn’t stupid on either part, because to both parties it is worth it, IMHO. But, it is different if the Kickstarter plays a trick shell game with customers. Is the MMO under here? Oh, it wasn’t, sorry. Pay to try again?

      It can also get a bit shady if what you get isn’t the product. That first Kickstarter is one I would have paid for had I been a PF player, because the benefits were collectible RPG benefits even though the Kickstarter was for an investor demo. Adventure by an awesome ex-TSR/WotC author I love? Sign me up if it were in an edition I currently play! Wait, what was I actually buying, again? It was all smart, and I don’t think anyone was being illogical, but it was a bit of a shell game. I prefer Kickstarter benefits to be the product or very closely associated with the product.

  11. I think that first one was iffy to some people as well, but the Pathfinder stuff that accompanied it really helped reel people in. At the time I was experimenting with pathfinder and tempted to buy in myself to be perfectly honest.

    • Any idea why some people thought that the first one was iffy? I thought that they made it fairly clear what the money was for and that they were separating the tech demo from the game subscription/buy-in. Your language implies that there was some form of hoodwinkery involved that I’m just not seeing, so I’m genuinely interested in hearing why the first one was iffy.

      I bought in on the first Kickstarter for Pathfinder Online because I got a bunch of different RPG related stuff that I can use. I did, however, pay a premium for the sum total of the RPG kit (adventures, gaming mats, etc) and consider the “above and beyond” costs as supporting the tech demo, which I was absolutely fine with, because it was to support Goblinworks/Paizo to get the serious funding that they needed to get the game happening. The above said, while I’m not as suspicious or derisive of this second Kickstarter as others appear to be, I’m also not interested in dropping a pile of my entertainment dollars into something that may not eventuate in four to six years time. This last point is one reason why I don’t play MMOs – I like to replay games every few years, even ones from years ago (still playing Elite 2 and System Shock 2 when I can) and MMOs have a bad history of dying within a few years.

      As you say, good luck to them, I hope it works out for everyone involved, but it just won’t happen with my entertainment dollars.

  12. To me the biggest thing that feels weird about it all is that there was a Pathfinder MMO kickstarter (yea, for a tech demo, but still) and then there’s ANOTHER Pathfinder MMO kickstarter. You can break it down however you like, but I feel it is counter to the purpose of Kickstarter for companies to start doing a separate KS campaign for the Alpha, Beta, and then Retail version of a game. That’s not a kick-start, that’s building a hill to keep you rolling!

  13. I just got an e-mail (well, it arrived yesterday around Midnight) from Paizo, Lisa Stevens, CEO, in fact talking up the MMO Kickstarter and pimping the Emerald Spire Superdungeon. If the Goblinworks is not Paizo (and I think it is 100% Paizo, regardless of the legal separation between the companies), then Paizo is sure pimpin’ someone else’s product HARD.

    Paizo can pimp it all they want, I don’t care. I just think it flies in the face of all evidence to suggest that Goblinworks is not Paizo. It might be a different entity legally, but creatively, it’s Paizo and all business decisions are vetted by Paizo. I guarantee we won’t see anything from Goblinworks that isn’t 100% Paizo approved & encouraged.

    • “Goblinworks” is a legal shield for when/if this whole thing falls apart. Pretending like they are a separate entity is just silly. Offering tabletop RPG schwag to fund an MMO seems counterproductive. As Alphastream said on twitter today “I’m gonna Kickstart poop, to prove people want it. My reward is rare collectible RPGs. Result = people love poop?”

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