2012: The year of the MMO Kickstarter

2012 Kickstarters
Kickstarter is perhaps the biggest story in the world of gaming since the birth of the home video console or the integration of online components into consumer entertainment. No new product, innovation, or invention has carried with it such immense potential for shifting the way the industry plans, builds, and delivers its products. And with projects covering everything from hardware to companion apps, it's almost impossible now to imagine a gaming world without Kickstarter, even though it was our reality just a few short months ago.

The legacy of Kickstarter is one that we're witnessing in real-time. Most of the major successful projects are slated for late 2013/early 2014 releases, giving us plenty of time to speculate on what may or may not go wrong with the crowd-funding model and the products it bears. Over the next year, games will either make it to market or they won't. Developers will squander their budgets or release on time. It's all up in the air.

With that in mind, we thought now would be a good time to look back on some of the biggest MMO Kickstarter projects of 2012. The fate of some of these titles is inexorably tied to the fate of Kickstarter as a viable game-creating platform -- and maybe even crowd-sourcing as a whole.

Guns of Icarus Online
Guns of Icarus Online
Funding Goal: $10,000
Amount Funded: $35,237

The Kickstarter campaign for Guns of Icarus Online promised steampunk airships, co-op gameplay, and epic mid-air battles. Muse Games, the team behind the project, had an established record of building smaller titles, and the popularity of the existing Guns of Icarus game no doubt helped to put this campaign over the top. Guns of Icarus Online has already seen a successful launch, and Muse continues to keep the game updated with special events and holiday-themed patches. Nicely done.

Pathfinder Online
Pathfinder Online: A Fantasy Sandbox MMO
Funding Goal: $1,000,000
Amount Funded: $647,720 as of press time

This is a curious campaign and certainly one to watch as it edges closer to its deadline. Pathfinder is a successful tabletop game, and a tech demo for the MMO version absolutely crushed its funding goal ($307,843 raised of $50,000), but with six days to go, the supplementary project meant to speed production has raised just over half of what it needs to find success. There could be a last-minute push from fans, but it's possible Goblinworks Inc., the team behind the project, may have aimed a little too high and split its potential totals with two projects instead of one.

The Repopulation
The Repopulation
Funding Goal: $25,000
Amount Funded: $53,169

If there's one thing Kickstarter has shown us about MMO fans, it's that they love sandboxes. At least, they love the idea of sandboxes. The Repopulation is a sci-fi sandbox MMO with on-planet gameplay and a focus on player agency and freedom. The latest update from the team indicates the successful launch of a new game engine and a planned beta release for spring of this year, so everything appears to be in order regarding an eventual final launch. This is a team that has earned high praise from backers regarding transparency and open communication, both which seem to be critical for the success of big projects.

Greed Monger
Greed Monger
Funding Goal: $30,000
Amount Funded: $90,132

Greed Monger's Kickstarter campaign reads like a laundry list of every player-requested feature from modern MMOs: deep crafting systems, sandbox gameplay, player housing, open PvP and land ownership. The game is currently in rough alpha and promises a return to the Ultima Online days of devs rampaging through the countryside as monsters and players making real-life money via in-game real estate. According to the team, a somewhat-launch is due in April, to be followed by another Kickstarter campaign for additional features and the title's initial launch bandwidth.

ARG Zombies
ARG Zombies
Funding Goal: $15,000
Amount Funded: $16,638

ARG Zombies is an alternate reality MMO played from a smartphone. The big "get" of the game is that uses your current location to dictate what you can and can't do. For instance, you can trade only with other players who are within 200 meters of your actual location, and playing the game from different locations yields different results in terms of loot and supplies. Development seems to be humming along, with the team teasing a CES visit ahead. The one real question is how interesting an ARG game can be if it doesn't see widespread success -- some of the proximity rules may need to be loosened.

Furcadia
Furcadia: The Second Dreaming
Funding Goal: $55,000
Amount Funded: $106,835

In Furcadia, levels and maps are referred to as "dreams." These dreams are mostly player-created using the game's Dream Editor. And no matter how silly the project's main image of a kitty with angel wings and a halo may be, something about the title clicked solidly with players, causing it to smash through its initial funding goal. As for current status? Furcadia is already up and running; the Kickstarter project was in place to help build a web-based version of the game that could be run from a browser. The campaign ended just a couple of weeks ago, so updates should be forthcoming.

Embers of Caerus
Embers of Caerus Investor Prototype
Funding Goal: $25,000
Amount Funded: $46,050

Another potential sandbox title, Embers of Caerus promises you, the player, a chance to "be whatever you want to be." This Kickstarter is similar to the original Pathfinder project in that it's not for a game but for a prototype that can be shown off to potential investors in the hopes of securing full funding. The project has been humming along since the Kickstarter campaign ended, with regular blog updates showing off concept art, lore additions, pieces of the musical score, and even a web comic. It appears as though development is moving forward full steam.

Island Forge
Island Forge
Funding Goal: $4,000
Amount Funded: $4,556

Island Forge, a single-developer game with a notably low budget, is another title focusing on player-created content and old-school MMO mechanics. The basic gist is that using the game's tools you can build your own islands and towns, then pack those towns with characters and your own dialogue for other players to explore. Island Forge did see a successful launch, though the last official update was offered in November. It will be interesting to see whether the game's author can keep it moving forward in the months to come, especially considering that the title is free-to-play.

Astronaut: Moon, Mars & Beyond
Astronaut: Moon, Mars & Beyond: The NASA MMO
Funding Goal: $25,000
Amount Funded: $46,719

Astronaut, which is being developed in concert with NASA thanks to the "Space Act Agreement" signed by the dev team, puts the player in the shoes of an astronaut in the year 2035. The game demands that you complete bold missions of adventure, science, and exploration, and it's designed with children and educators in mind. Funding ended in October, but it's unclear exactly what is happening with the title. The last official Tweet, dated December 17th, reads, "Project Whitecard will have an announcement of some import - and I hope it's this week - finishing paperwork in this corner; so watch for it."

Elite: Dangerous
Elite: Dangerous
Funding Goal: £1,250,000 goal
Amount Funded: £1,578,316

Elite: Dangerous, a project from Frontier Developments, is a procedurally generated space game that can be played as an almost solitary experience or an MMO. The game, like many others on this list, offers sandbox-like freedoms and player-chosen paths, along with pretty graphics and the to-be-expected in-space combat. Elite: Dangerous has an expected release of spring 2014, but beyond a teaser trailer and some screenshots, we haven't really seen or heard much from the game. Funding ended on January 4th (breaking a Kickstarter record along the way), so backers can expect an update soon if all is well.

Star Citizen
Star Citizen
Funding Goal: $500,000
Amount Funded: $2,134,374

Star Citizen has pretty much dominated all Kickstarter-related coverage for the last couple of months, thanks in large part to the massive haul the project raked in for creator Chris Roberts (of Wing Commander fame). According the to the project description, Star Citizen is a single player/co-op experience, but there are hints of MMO in its trading, combat, and 100-players-per-zone persistent world. Star Citizen, like Elite: Dangerous, won't see release until 2014, but with a record-breaking $7 million and change in crowd funds (Roberts didn't rely exclusively on Kickstarter) and a detailed update every Friday, things appear to be on the right path for the expected playable alpha by the end of this year.

The also-rans

This is Kickstarter we're talking about here, which means that for every one successful project, there were around 10 failures. We don't have the time or space to cover them all, but we did handpick three that highlight common Kickstarter mistakes.

FORGE
FORGE
Funding Goal: $300,000
Amount Funded: $76,211

FORGE's failure to launch on Kickstarter is representative of a common mistake on the platform: asking for too much money in the hopes of hitting the jackpot (see: Pathfinder Online [maybe]). Dark Vale is an experienced studio and has a working, beta-mode prototype of a game (good enough to land clearance on Steam Greenlight), but the studio aimed too high with its funding goal. A lower goal ($100,00ish) might have succeeded, and since Dark Vale doesn't seem to have been depending entirely on Kickstarter, it would have been smarter to aim low and grab the cash rather than shoot high and miss. Even $50,000 would have helped more than the $0 this campaign yielded.

Kingdoms of Mythic Might
Kingdoms of Mythic Might
Funding Goal: $100,000
Amount Funded: $105

The Kickstarter campaign for Kingdoms of Mythic Might reads like an instruction manual on how to fail at Kickstarter. Begin with descriptions like "This game will be a unique blend of buildup strategy [sic] and LIVE ACTION!" and end with the fact that all we see of the game is a screenshot set to music and you're not looking at success in a bottle. This is one of many game Kickstarters that seem to be created by people with big ideas but no real development expertise, leading to paper-thin campaigns with only concept art or high-dreaming promises to show. If you can't build at least a demo of what you're trying to sell, you may want to go back to the drawing board.

Astronaut: Moon, Mars and Beyond
Astronaut: Moon, Mars and Beyond: The Official NASA MMO
Funding Goal: $50,000
Amount Funded: $2,843

If the name of this project sounds familiar, that's because you read about it in this article roughly six paragraphs ago. Here we have the absolute best lesson that Kickstarter has to offer, which is if your project doesn't work the first time around, re-work your pitch, do some more brainstorming, and try again. Astronaut failed to raise even 10% of its goal on the first attempt thanks to a lackluster project pitch and zero information about the actual game, but a more professional and detailed campaign helped its makers to raise $46,719 on the second try.

Kickstarter is an amazing tool for shouting creative ideas to the world and hoping they register with people. There are pitfalls on both sides, to be certain, but the site is quickly becoming the main avenue for intrepid developers seeking support to build the games they want to build. We're looking forward to the Kickstarters of 2013; the latest video game gold rush has officially begun.

Did you contribute to any MMO Kickstarters this year? Which ones, and why?

This article was originally published on Massively.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.