Now that we’ve watched over a decade of MMORPG crowdfunding from platforms like Kickstarter and seen how the ensuing development’s gone, we’ve seen some tank, some succeed, some fall into development hell, and some still working toward a release. But one thing that’s been different about crowdfunded MMOs is the sheer length of time that it takes for most of these projects to go from announcement/conception to delivery.
Looking back at the earlier MMORPGs in the first few generations, studios pumped them out far more quickly than today. EverQuest took two years to make, World of Warcraft about five, and Star Wars Galaxies three years. But with advances in graphics, technology, and feature expectation, those times started to lengthen while the industry started to pull back on making them altogether. Smaller teams with more limited budgets are going to require more time to produce a comparable product, that’s for sure.
But after the initial flurry of fundraising and excitement, crowfunded MMOs always seemed to sink down into many, many, many years of subsequent development. One example of this is Star Citizen, which began development in 2010 and opened up for crowdfunding in 2012. It’s now been over a decade since we first heard of this game, and it’s still a long way off from release.
I guess the question that’s been coming up in my mind as I’ve watched these crowdfunded titles is also a concern of mine. Namely, how long will players wait for these games? At what point does a backer or a potential player simply lose interest in the project altogether? Because I truly fear that these super-long development times (which are also ballooned by feature creep) are doing just that — and working against the studio by diminishing its Day One playerbase to the point that when it comes out, nobody will care.
I mean, look at Shroud of the Avatar or Crowfall. These projects worked so hard to deliver regular dev updates to the community, tried to keep the interest going, but after too much time you could tell that nobody but the most hardcore cared any longer. Both games released and just about nobody showed up to play them. Compare that with Albion Online, which came out just a few years after its crowdfunding, and that title enjoys a healthy population.
I don’t want to put a hard number on it, but I’d say that if you announce a game — and especially if you ask fans to provide funds for it — you need to get your product on the shelf within five years of that. Any longer, and you’re just not going to have the fans left who want to play it. It’s why I look with nervousness at titles like Camelot Unchained, Pantheon, or Ashes of Creation, because they’re all pushing past that five-year mark with nary a finished game in sight.
It stinks to develop with a time limit over your head, but I’m afraid that’s what you get when you go crowdfunding. You simply don’t get the luxury of puttering about “until it’s done.” You’ve got a certain window where your game will be relevant — after which it won’t.