Site Launch Letter from Brad

  • Hello again!


    Please allow me to welcome you to Pantheon’s new home! And please also indulge me as I take some time to talk about this new site, Pantheon in general, fund raising, and all sorts of other related and hopefully interesting details and explanations. It’s a long read, but please bear with me.


    A Quick Re-Cap


    In my previous welcome letter back in January, I told you all about the emails I’ve been receiving for years. People have made it abundantly clear to me that they want an MMO that brings back memorable experiences. They want to be challenged again. They want to make new friends and reunite with old friends to work together as a team to overcome difficult environments and encounters. They want us to not forget what made EverQuest and other early MMOs so great. They, like us, strongly believe there’s a real demand for an MMO that builds solidly on the principles of the past, reaching back to EQ 1 and even the MUDs before it. But they also believe, as do we, that such a game must still be modern… modern in terms of the technology used and modern in terms of new ideas, approaches, features and mechanics. On one hand they’re not looking for a game that attempts to be all things to all people, but on the other hand they also don’t want a just re-hash of an earlier MMO with some new graphics thrown into the mix.


    So what I did, as many of you know already, was to form a new company called Visionary Realms, Inc. I reached out to the right people and the right people reached out to me. We’re now a small but incredibly dedicated group of veteran MMO developers and we’ve been working on a game called Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen since September of last year. And we’ve made quite a bit of progress (due both to the team’s efforts as well as the technology we chose, the Unity 3D engine). We also have another larger group of veteran developers waiting to join us when we have the funding to bring them on board. In fact, we actually have more people who want to be part of this effort than we will end up truly needing.


    In January of this year we announced publicly that we were done just listening and we started spreading the word about Pantheon, an MMO with a well defined target audience, including features and game mechanics with a focus. Pantheon indeed uses as a foundation games we’ve worked on in the past, including EverQuest 1 and Vanguard, but it also takes advantage of modern technology and ideas. We want to make sure that what made those older games so compelling and rewarding is preserved, but we also don’t want to simply rehash the past.


    The Funding Plan(s)


    We also made some decisions as to how we would like to fund the game, especially given that we’d been working since September completely pro-bono. We ended up deciding that crowdfunding made the most sense short term. It would hopefully allow us to bring in some much needed money while we continued development, enabling us to reach out to investors and publishers if needed, at a later date when the game was farther along in development. We ended up choosing Kickstarter as our crowdfunding vehicle of choice. We also came up with several different possible scenarios, and, depending on which scenario came true, created several short-term plans.


    Our first plan we knew was a long shot: develop the entire game using Kickstarter money first and then money raised on our own web site after that. We knew, of course, that only a couple of other campaigns had achieved anything like this (Star Citizen being the big one that comes to everyone’s mind). They used Kickstarter quite literally, as a vehicle to ‘kick’ them off, after which they have done an amazing job raising money on their own web site. In fact, the vast majority of funds they’ve put together came after the Kickstarter campaign was over. Raising $10M or $20M via Kickstarter only in ~40 days simply isn’t realistic.


    Our plan #2 was to raise several million dollars on Kickstarter, enabling us to lease an office and then work together daily for the rest of the year, and when we were ready, show off a playable alpha of the game to investors and publishers. The alpha would include the game described on the Kickstarter site as well as many/most of the stretch goals. Plan #3 was to raise the Kickstarter goal of $800k, after which we would build the playable alpha during the remainder of the year, and try to fit as many of the stretch goals in as possible. Regardless of the plan, we knew that the bulk of money would be brought in using our own web site and then, after that, by reaching out to investors and publishers as needed.


    As you probably know by now, we were able to bring in a little over half of our Kickstarter goal during our 40 day campaign (~3100 people pledged, ~$450,000 raised at the time of this writing). Obviously, we would have preferred to have met our goal of $800k because the way Kickstarter works, if you don’t achieve at minimum your goal, you end up with nothing. In 20/20 hindsight we should have both used a smaller goal and also one of the other crowdfunding sites out there that lets you keep the money, even if it’s short of the original goal. A smaller goal would have been fine – we came up with $800k as it would have given us a good amount of time to find some office space, get the game itself further along, and then issue some much needed paychecks to the team. That said, $400k would still have been great. Isn’t 20/20 hindsight a wonderful thing?


    Why Didn’t the Kickstarter Fund?


    As to why we didn’t reach the $800k, there are a lot of theories and opinions and I’m sure many of them are correct. We think there are three main points:


    1. People are leery about investing in three+ year projects and we should have broken the development process down into smaller chunks instead of simply talking about the full three-year development cycle.


    2. We approached Kickstarter as if we were revealing an MMO to the press and public much closer to the game’s release date. We didn’t launch the Kickstarter with enough game info, with the intent of revealing a lot of details over time as well as using feedback from the community to help us come up with some of the features and mechanics as well. While this is the way you build excitement up with the public and press towards the end of an MMO’s development cycle (something we’ve all done with the MMOs we’ve worked on to completion in the past), it is not how you conduct a crowdfunding campaign. Potential funders want to know as much about the game as possible up front and right away.


    3. People who pledge also want, and rightfully so, very attractive, well thought out, and meaningful rewards for their pledges.


    We had done some research into Kickstarter campaigns, but clearly not enough. Our efforts and focus since September were on building Pantheon, not getting ready for a Kickstarter campaign. Experts we were and are at building MMOs, but Kickstarter campaigns? Not so much, at least not back in January, but you’ve taught us a lot.


    So What’s Next?


    Which brings us to today. We are now moving onto the next phase of crowdfunding: setting up our own website with all of the info we’ve put together thus far and enabling people to fund us directly. And, because we don’t have that initial money we’d hoped to have, we’re also simultaneously moving into the ‘reach out to investors and publishers’ phase. We would have preferred to stay completely crowdfunded, but this is by no means a showstopper. We’ll have to scrape by without personal income for a while longer, and we’ll have to keep working at home for a while longer. No paychecks or offices quite yet. It’s tough, but then the entire process of creating a start-up company and raising money is tough. A lot of developers don’t want to do it and are content to work for larger publishers and the like. We’ve been there, and certainly respect everyone’s personal choices and the risks they are willing to accept or not. But we’re committed to the path we chose back in September: a small, focused, lean and mean studio dedicated to turning the dream that is Pantheon into a reality.


    What about investors (angels, VCs, etc.)?   Those with whom we’ve spoken don’t seem to care as much if our goal was $800k and we didn’t reach it, or if it were $300k, in which case we would have exceeded it. They are looking at the raw numbers and know from experience that for every person who is willing to pledge in support of a game in its early stages that there are then significantly more who will pay for a completed product. What exact metrics are they using? They’re not telling, but I think most people would agree there is a big difference between how many people are willing to pledge money on a project that is three years out vs. how many people are willing to pay to play a game that is not only out, but they’ve been able to play the first several levels for free and are having a great time.


    What is the Team Feeling? What about the Press and the Public?


    Honestly, we’re more excited and convinced that Pantheon needs to be made than ever before. Yes, we really are. When we look at the number of people who pledged and the amount you all were willing to commit to a game you’ve never seen and don’t know an awful lot about (especially early on before we released more detail), we are extremely encouraged. Additionally, Pantheon has an amazing amount of momentum and critical mass. Over 155 very positive write-ups (not just a re-post of the press release) were posted over the last 40 days, including articles by PC Gamer, IGN, Massively, Destructoid, MMORPG, Kotaku, Ten Ton Hammer, Gamasutra, ZAM, Rock Paper Shotgun, Curse, Polygon, VG247, GamesBeat and many more.


    Pantheon is also the topic of conversation just about anywhere you look on the Internet that has anything to do with massively multiplayer games. People are talking about the game, whether they are personally interested in it or not, and why. There’s a debate now out there about mass-market big budget MMOs vs. smaller projects with target audiences. ‘Niche’ is no longer a bad word. People are wondering where the 10s and 100s of millions are going and if such expenditures are necessary (I had a potential investor ask me just that: where is the money going and is it being spent on the right thing?). Also, Pantheon is not being looked at as if it were just some indie game; rather, it’s talked about in the same circles as EQ Next, ESO, etc.


    So here we are, starting this next phase of our journey. We want to welcome you to our new web site and humbly encourage you to pledge or re-pledge your support (remember that no money will be taken from you by Kickstarter in that the goal was not achieved). This money you pledge or re-pledge now will be invested immediately into helping us find some office space, to continue work on Pantheon, and to help our team members pay some bills.


    What’s Up with this Crazy Web Site?


    Allow me a moment to switch gears then and talk a bit about the new web site and our overall goals that include not only making a great game but also creating a fantastic community and a development environment where YOU can be involved – I mean really involved. Take a good look at the site. There’s a lot of information there, and we will continue to add more. The pledge tiers we think are better thought out now. I still don’t think we are masters at crowdfunding, but I do think we are learning fast. Do you? If we’d launched this site back in January as opposed to what we had on Kickstarter, would you look at the project any differently? Would you have more confidence in what we’re doing and more understanding of why and how we’re doing it? Please let us know.


    We are very serious about wanting to involve our future players and customers in the development process. Rather than simply creating a site where you can find out about the game and pledge money, with perhaps a message board tacked on for good measure, we’ve gone much farther. We’ve created a real portal into Pantheon’s development. We’ve created a Think Tank where you can run ideas by the developers and where we developers can run ideas by you. We’ve included community-building features where you can write blogs, create guilds and friendships, upload videos, contribute to the Wiki, and much more.


    Personally, I’ve always been hesitant to add forums to an official site, especially early on, because it can actually hurt community. If we have our own forums, and that’s where we’re posting, then why should any of our future players spend time making fan sites and forums of their own? Or, conversely, if we have our own forums, but we only post on fan site forums, then why did we waste our time putting forums on the official site in the first place? So this is what we are doing: we are identifying fan sites with forums who are committed to helping us get the word out about Pantheon and who are also willing and capable of moderating their boards so we can post there too and have the discussions be constructive and beneficial to everyone. Then we’ve taken our own site and implemented a fully featured forum with direct access to the team, where participants can up or down vote ideas and suggestions. Instead of general forums where anybody interested in Pantheon can post, well, really anything the moderators of those sites permit, we’ve created specific forums for those future players who really want to be part of the development process. Access to the Think Tank is given either to those willing to pay a monthly fee or to those who’ve pledged for one of the higher tiers. This not only helps ensure that participants are very serious about being involved and contributing, but it also helps us pay our hard-working team. And, of course, it also helps us to continue Pantheon’s development in general.


    We realize a lot of this is relatively new. We understand that some people might initially react with some suspicion, wondering if this is just another way for us to get another dollar out of them. We get that and that’s why we encourage you to take a closer look at what our website offers – it is certainly one of the most sophisticated and powerful sites out there related to game development. We also ask that you watch what we’re up to going forward as well (you can view most of the site for free – the subscription or pledge is what allows you to contribute). The bottom line is that if we do not make the Think Tank and other web features worth the subscription fee, then it’s simply our fault and we don’t deserve your help, involvement, or money. It’s on us to make sure we are adding value above and beyond what you find on a typical MMO fan site and forums.


    I know that I am personally very happy about how this has all come together. I love interacting with players in forums, answering questions and discussing next-gen MMO ideas. But it’s hard oftentimes, because when I go and devote a lot of time to one site or another, people from all over show up. Most are friendly and add to the experience, but then the inevitable trolls show up as well and really hurt the signal to noise ratio. Eventually I have to move on. Or, if we are hosting our own forums, we end up having to implement strict rules and assigning a small army of moderators to keep things productive. Then, of course, you end up limiting and discouraging the majority in an attempt to control that small minority of troublemakers.


    With our web site in general and the Think Tank specifically, we’ve set up an environment that will hopefully help limit the problems and scenarios I just described. By charging a subscription and/or requiring a significant pledge we know that only those very serious about being part of our process will sign up. By allowing subscribers to vote and give feedback regarding others and what they post, the ideas with true merit should rise to the top, the result hopefully being a MUCH better signal to noise situation. I know this is a set up where I will thrive and totally enjoy interacting with people, and we hope you check it all out and come to the same conclusion.


    And, of course, if this isn’t for you and you’re just looking for information and updates and the like, then you can get as involved or uninvolved as you’d like. We are also most certainly not abandoning fan sites, as they are just as important for community building. Fan sites that register with us (more on this soon – we’ve not set this up yet) and commit to implementing themselves reasonable moderation efforts will continue to get our attention. We will happily continue to support you, provide you with the latest news, and the dev team will continue to show up and interact.


    In Closing


    So that’s really where we’re at now. We remain as stoked as ever about Pantheon. We continue to look forward to interacting with our future players and customers. We can’t wait to see how people like this new site and all of its features and functionality. We remained undeterred and as committed as ever to building and delivering one of the first MMOs ever to target a specific audience of gamers, ensuring that the gameplay experience will not be watered down in an attempt to appeal to everyone. The Kickstarter experience was extremely helpful and we’ve learned some invaluable lessons. Sure, we wish we could have raised the dollar amount we targeted and it would have made things easier in the short term, but ultimately it will have very little negative affect on our future fund raising efforts, and it most certainly will have no effect on our commitment and promise that, no matter what, we will do whatever it takes to make Pantheon a reality. We want this game big time, just like you do. It’s a part of our lives now, not just a job. And we don’t just want to have a great time developing it – we want to play it along with the rest of you. I remember playing EQ 1 after release with a bunch of people who’d worked with me on the game… that was an experience so rewarding I don’t even know how to verbalize it.


    -Brad “Aradune Mithara” McQuaid

    February 22nd, 2014

  • kallafon
    kallafon Cheers Brad and team I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to stepping into the world on Pantheon. Eq1 and vanguard are my 2 favourite mmo's. None others come anywhere close to them.
    February 23, 2014 - 3 like this
  • Rezar
    Rezar Keep it up Brad, let's keep this "vision" alive. You've got my support 100%.
    February 23, 2014 - 3 like this
  • Semper
    Semper Thank you, Brad! A game that WE build, not just You but we as a community, will make people more invested, also in the long run.
    February 23, 2014 - 2 like this
  • CountessCrow
    CountessCrow Cheers to the greatest game developer in the history of gaming! I believe 100 percent that this will be your most epic game ever Brad!
    February 27, 2014 - 2 like this