A few weeks ago, I backed my very first crowd funded game in the shape of Richard Garriot’s Shroud of the Avatar. I first became aware of the game on Massively around about a year ago, but only really examined it in detail very recently. Now, the game is currently only available for play testing on limited pre-alpha weekends which occur at roughly monthly intervals, so I’ve really only had the chance to mess about in it for a few hours, and those few hours were fraught with poor performance, crashes and bugs, which are all to be expected at this stage. It’s very rough and only a few of the core ideas are currently implemented, but I’m interested in what it could become in time. Yet, I’ve begun to have some regrets about my purchase.
Now, I purchased the game quite cheaply, as I managed to receive a voucher which knocked the backer level price down to $25 so it’s not the monetary aspect that bothers me so much. Nor is it a regret about the current state of the game; I went into this with what I consider to be the right attitude for crowd funding. Namely, that I effectively consider my financial backing a donation to a project I’m interested in, and whether I get a game I like from that is rather secondary as I realise what is released may be very different from what is being proposed now. What is bothering me is a general feeling of discomfort with the apparent business model which is being used to fund the game.
Like many crowd funded games, Shroud of the Avatar features many different tiers of backer pledges. From $45 to become a backer and receive access to the game when the servers are online, through a further 24 tiers right up to the ‘Lord of the Manor 2’ tier, which requires an investment of $12,000. Now, clearly some people who get this heavily invested in the game must have that kind of money to spare, although I begin to question how any game could ever be worth that much money to anyone. On top of this, which so far it has to be said is a pretty normal occurrence in most crowd funded games, Shroud of the Avatar also features a great many ‘add-ons’, where backers can up their current pledge in order to receive in game awards.
The most important ‘add-ons’ available are undoubtedly the housing plots and houses themselves, and these run up to some pretty hefty prices. A deed that allows you to create a player city for example, will set you back $1050. Now it’s possible if you go into that purchase with a dedicated group of gaming friends, and you legitimately think you’ll play this game for years, you might consider this a worthwhile purchase. And ultimately I have no right to judge how people spend their money.
What really concerns me about this however, is the feeling that the player base for a game which doesn’t even exist yet in any real sense is all ready being heavily divided into different tiers of haves and have-nots. You can’t help but feel that as a lowly backer you’re missing out on the supposedly fairly limited housing plots, and a large chunk of the sandbox play that the game is going to be all about. It is said that whilst housing is not going to be something everybody has once the game goes live, you will be able to purchase it through in game means. Now I’ve played enough MMOs in my time to know that just because something is technically available through in game means, it does not necessarily mean it is going to be available for anyone but the most hardcore and dedicated players. And even then it can often involve an extremely unpalatable amount of grinding.
All of this makes me very uncomfortable, and I feel that whilst I did my due diligence on what the game actually is now, and what it may become, I failed to look adequately into the way it was being funded. Maybe none of this will matter in the end, and Shroud of the Avatar will be a fine game in which housing is achievable for everyone, but I also worry that no game can live up to thousands of dollars of investment for those that are in that deep.