By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW), OnRPG Editor-in-Chief
Camelot Unchained, The Lighthouse in a Bleak Ocean
If you follow OnRPG you may have heard of a little project I’ve been backing since the early days of its announcement. From the proverbial dark ages for Fantasy MMORPGs came a shining light when one of the Pre-WoW Innovators of the online gaming industry emerged from his retirement to announce a title so full of risky untested features, major publishers like EA wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole. I’m talking about Mark Jacobs and his newest venture, City State Entertainment, now finished with their mobile title and ready to push the limits of what defines an MMORPG with Camelot Unchained’s kickstarter goal.
Now I’m not here to educate our readers on what this game is. Hell I’ve been doing that for a full month, offering a 50 minute interview with the man, reposting countless video discussions on the various topics, and summing up the thirteen founding principles to anyone that would listen on our forums. No if you aren’t knowledgeable about this game at this point, it was obviously by choice and there’s no point trying to reach out to convince you otherwise that this game is for you. It was made clear from day 1 by Mark that he isn't designing it for everyone. This article is directed at the fence sitters, the MMORPG industry enthusiasts, and even the luke warm backers that put some money down but haven’t mentioned it to others.
As things currently stand, Camelot Unchained will not fund. The income has slowed to a trickle with the only hope coming from a decent bump when Larian Studios (designers of a title I'm currently truly excited for: Dragon Commander) officially backed them in a mutual partnership. The project literally needs double what it’s bringing in daily though to have a chance of making the remaining $500,000 required to hit their goal. And while you might say ‘hey $1.5 million is pretty good. They should be proud.’ I say nay to that!
The Bigger Picture – An Online Gaming Industry in Decline
This Kickstart has moved beyond a simple industry veteran trying to put together a tiny elite team to make a pet project MMORPG. That died out when the comment stream on their page became a 24/7 chat room. When every major MMORPG press veteran dropped their coverage priority on major publishers with advertising dollars oozing out of their pockets to focus on this title with lofty goals and slim to nill chances of success. As my co-worker wrote about in her Top 9 Features you miss in an MMORPG, the most powerful element of an MMORPG was born with a vengeance. The Camelot Unchained community.
Akin to the never give up and never surrender spirit that followed City of Heroes, this type of community shouldn’t seem like such a big deal. Heck back in the early days of the industry, every popular game had dedicated communities like this. Just look at Ultima, Everquest, EVE, hell even World of Warcraft to a lesser extent. They’ve survived the MMORPG graveyard of 2012 with flying colors thanks to the dedication of their community surmounting outdated features, weaker development engines, and lesser aesthetics compared to modern MMORPGs. But this sense of community in recent years has begun to die. MMORPGs have become Single-player Wars Tackling Outdated Rituals. The emphasis on players as the hero of their own tale, a tale crafted and forced down their throat by developers has replaced any sense of community. Any sense of needing other players. “Just run your treadmill” they told us. “More content awaits you at the end to keep your track from breaking.” “You ran it too fast. Slow down and visit the cash shop to kill some time.”
It’s honestly nauseating thinking about it. And I get dizzy looking at the new reality… why build a community? The game you’re joining will be closed in 2 years or less anyway. No one you know now will be there in the next game but don’t worry… we’ll refund 30% of your cash shop purchases in our next treadmill so don’t break the habit! Blinders on!
The industry essentially has gone from the content treadmill to the game treadmill, finding it more profitable to close down old games the minute a slightly more advanced engine becomes available and transition as much of their userbase to the next big thing in a never ending cycle. There’s no time for innovation or risk. If your next treadmill isn’t done before they tire of the current run, the players will simply run on any of the numerous other treadmills publishers on the market spouting their hype machines at full blast.
So you might think I’m getting vastly off topic from Camelot Unchained at this point? No I couldn’t be more focused on the topic of this kickstarter campaign. The age of the game treadmill is at its limit. Those that are members of our forum community can attest to this. When was the last time our forum was united to play a game seriously for more than a 2 month period? Eden Eternal in 2011. Our community no longer stands united to a game. Players stuck in this single player mentality have returned to PC gaming because let’s face it, it’s superior if you’re seeking a single player experience to begin with. Yet… despite the death of the unified community for any new titles coming out, just look at the comment section of Camelot Unchained’s Kickstarter page.
Given the impossible mountain that stands before them, do you see uncertainty? Doubt in the legitimacy of this project? Call it naivety, but this community has no doubt that this game will happen. Rings a bell doesn’t it? Perhaps the City of Heroes community facing the closing of their title by NCSoft while to the end never believing it would actually happen. And then it happened and to this day there is no sign of City of Heroes ever returning. The CoH community continues to reel. They still stand strong as a community, but without their unified focus, i.e. the actual game, it will slowly dwindle down and disappear. So what is in store for Camelot Unchained’s future when it doesn’t fund?
A Look into the Future
It’s now May 30th. The Camelot Unchained kickstarter round 2 is now funded. The goal? $1.3 million. It barely reaches it before the deadline with a strong community effort pushing it through. Media hype has severely cut down on coverage of the game following its disappointing failure to reach its original goal despite having such lofty extended goals teased that may never become a reality. Mark Jacobs sees the writing on the wall and realizes he either has to make the painstaking decision to cut back on certain features, or make concessions in investment partnerships to make up for the loss of roughly 15% of their original funding goal. He of course will side with the content cutbacks over compromising his goal to remain independent. The game will still be made, but a somber knowledge that this title the CU community was so excited for, a title that once topped MMORPG.com’s hype list, was unable to even reach its original Kickstarter goal. And that they will be receiving a slightly watered down rendition of Mark’s original vision, despite his team putting in destructive levels of overtime in an attempt to compensate for both the delay in funding and decrease in funding.
The Ripple Effect
Other potential indie developers without a powerful name brand in the industry like Mark Jacobs will shudder. A title with backing from MMOHut, Massively, MMORPG, Eurogamer, Ten Ton Hammer, and countless other general coverage sites with one of the most publicly open development processes ever seen couldn’t reach funding. What chance do these lesser indie titles have of making any impact? Best to scale down as well. Best to sacrifice on the full vision of their dreams. Reality sets in. Some scrap their dreams and apply to work for the big publishers for a more secure future. Talent infuses into larger companies still pushing the MMO Treadmill to the end of its lifecycle. Others with more foresight compliment console companies where they realize all the money is heading back to currently. A scarce few ignore the facts and push forward with their kickstarter. It goes nowhere and they bend to a larger publisher and their business practices.
In memory of a truly amazing indie experiment that made it further than most
If you’re reading this and have been watching the MMORPG industry as closely as I have, you know what I’m saying is reality. Camelot Unchained is an anomaly in an industry that's become filled with recycled ideas and dying profits. If it funds successfully (through a miracle at this point), it will show that the strength of the MMORPG community still stands together strong enough to overcome the bottom line power of the 1%. Of the NCSofts. Of the EAs. If it fails well.. Nexon knows they’ve won. Perfect World Entertainment will continue acquiring smaller talented studios to improve the gaming mill of releases. Jack Emmert will walk around gaming conventions looking like a zombie as he interviews gaming press like us with a paid smile on his face.
The Future Isn't Written in Stone
So tell me, does it make me a hero to put my money behind a project I truly believe in for my personal enjoyment? Not in any way. But if someone who doesn’t even want to play Camelot Unchained sees the bigger picture and throws a small donation behind it anyway… then something bigger than ourselves begins to occur. This game has the power to make a statement. To change everything. To bring back gaming communities the way they were known in the late 90s and early 2000s. A return to indie studios like the original Mythic Entertainment forged by 80s style game devs uniting to accomplish their vision of fun. The original Cryptic Studios formed by two guys that just “wanted to do an online role-playing game… with superheroes.” Risk takers like Origin Systems that will put their company name on the line for an untested experiment like Ultima just because a handful of developers knew they could make it work. CCP games that weren't daunted when everyone said copying World of Warcraft was the only way to make it in the online world, and stuck to their SciFi guns until it paid off.
Or do you want to stare at shiny graphics and games offering a single innovation about as often as consoles release new generations. To continue staring at your forum signature stating you’re ‘waiting for: nothing.’ To endure the toxicity of MOBA communities rather than the camaraderie each of us older gamers have at one point felt in our online gaming history. Your move.