Some Assembly Required: Mark Jacobs on Camelot Unchained's Kickstarter

MJ Guthrie
M. Guthrie|11.01.13

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Some Assembly Required: Mark Jacobs on Camelot Unchained's Kickstarter
Some Assembly Required Mark Jacobs' musings on CU's Kickstarter
Given all the MMO-hopefuls flocking to it, you'd think that Kickstarter is the only way to make a game these days. And in some ways, it is. Indie companies and niche games now have a real chance to see the light of day, whereas previously only the "sure sells" got financial backing.

For developers like Mark Jacobs, who as City State Entertainment's CEO spearheads the development of upcoming sandbox Camelot Unchained, Kickstarter is a way to bypass those detached investors and appeal to the gamers themselves. As he told us, "Kickstarter is the perfect platform for an indie developer both to gauge interest in a concept and to receive either all or part of the funding necessary to make the game." Jacobs offered other musings and insights about the role of Kickstarter and updated us on the development of Camelot Unchained in our exclusive interview.

The joys of Kickstarter
So is Kickstarter really all that and a bag of chips for aspiring developers wanting to see their game come to fruition? It certainly can be according to Jacobs. When asked whether Camelot Unchained would have happened without the Kickstarter campaign, he answered, "Realistically, not a chance." He went on to explain that while some publishers might have been interested in dishing out some capital for the development of the game, he didn't even want to go that route.

Instead, Jacobs is happy focusing on giving the players what they want, not what a publisher wants. "Our backers themselves have clearly signaled with their support that they want us to make the game we are making, which is truly exciting," he continued. "This type of opportunity hasn't come around very often in the more than 30 years I have been making games."

Some Assembly Required Mark Jacobs' musings on CU's Kickstarter
And what do players want? They want the sandbox RvR that the game is pitching. Jacobs indicated that he is most excited about the same thing that he feels will resonate most with the players: "The ability to focus on RvR only and not having to worry about trying to balance the needs of the PvE and RvR players." Will Jacobs ever relent and slip PvE into CU? These were his thoughts:
"I love PvE, and maybe I'll even do a PvE-only game sometime. I've got some ideas on how to attack a lot of the problems that PvE MMORPGs are having at moment with retention in a non-F2P model. But first I have to prove, both to players and future backers, that I'm not totally BSC."
But even though the campaign was successful and development on the game is forging ahead, the experience wasn't without its challenges. Even though he prepared with plenty of research prior to the campaign, Jacobs acknowledged there were still some hiccups as the process played out. He then offered some advice to those who may consider using the crowdfunding platform in the future. Number one: Don't tease a Kickstarter start date!
"My first mistake was when we started to promote the KS with our teasers. While they did draw people's interest, I put a date on the one for the KS opening that painted us into a little bit of a corner as it would not be good to miss our first announced date! The second mistake, related to the first, was that we didn't have nearly as much content ready for our daily updates as I had initially hoped to have. The 30 days can be a real grind, and if you have to create a lot of material on the fly, it's that much harder."
Additionally, he counsels future crowdfunders to be sure to update the page to add a nice big link that will redirect interested parties to where they can keep up on continued development before the campaign ends and the page is locked.

Life after Kickstarter
Camelot Unchained artAlthough none of the games that have utilized Kickstarter has yet to launch, Camelot Unchained is in the position of having many months of post-campaign development behind it. So what kind of progress has the funding bought? Players can keep tabs on development through the regular roadmap updates that City State publishes. Called "sprints" internally, these approximately two-week periods have a defined set of goals. The updates then give a straight up accounting of what was completed and what was not during the current sprint, then lays out a list of what is planned for the next development round.

The most recent update published a week ago notes only two late and two missed goals out of more than 25. That's a pretty good success rate! Jacobs noted that the team generally meets 90% of the goals each sprint. The current sprint has 28 goals and is full of a lot of new game features, and in the words of Jacobs, it "will be a challenging one to meet."

Those who really enjoyed the previous animation tests can rest assured that more are en route. He said, "We should have one new model/animation for each of the next few sprints, and you will be soon able to see them running in the game's engine."

So what's next in the cards for CU? We asked what the next hot topic was for the game will be, and Jacobs responded,
"Reaching the point where our Founders can log into the game, choose a model, and then attack each other in the world as they did in our Smackhammer demo -- but this time, with more bells and whistles including encrypted packets, better smoothing, etc."
Reflecting on F2P
Camelot unchained artJacobs also offered some comments about his views on business models, referring back to some controversial statements that he's made previously about what will happen with subscription games, F2P games, and so on.

In short, his feelings have not really changed on the matter, and he is glad to see other games such as The Elder Scrolls Online and WildStar embracing subscription or subscription-like models. He admits that some MMOs find success in moving to free-to-play, but he's "been thrilled to see companies such as Supercell and others benefit by their huge success in the mobile market using different models." He continued, "That was one of the things I called out during the interview and follow-up -- that certain companies were going to do very well and unfortunately, more would not."

Conversely, Jacobs pointed out the number of studios that were centered on mobile and/or F2P have been shuttered. Basically, he sees everything as in flux now, but hopes that the industry has room for multiple payment models when things settle. He added,
"I have consistently spoken out for a diversity of models since the more successful ones there are, the better for the industry and for gamers, who can then decide which ones they wish to support. Like every other model/platform/game genre, it's a bit of a roller coaster ride. Right now, mobile and F2P are on still on the upward slope, but as has been the case for games over the last 30+ years, there's always the descent once the crest is reached."
In closing, Jacobs wanted to leave one last thought with readers: "As always, I thank our backers among your readers for their support, and for those who are interested in joining us, we'll be redoing the website and reopening pledges before the end of the fall."

Every two weeks, Jef Reahard and MJ Guthrie take a break from their themepark day jobs to delve into the world of player-generated content. Comments, suggestions, and coverage ideas are welcome, and Some Assembly Required is always looking for players who'd like to show off their MMO creativity. Contact us!
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