Today, Portalarium, the company headed up by Ultima creator Richard Garriott, announced a new equity crowdfunding campaign for its Kickstarted MMO, Shroud of the Avatar. In doing so, it disclosed financials and future plans that caught fans and backers off guard, leaving them feeling uneasy about the game’s future. But Garriott says there’s no reason to worry.
Image credit: Shroud of the Avatar.
Fans on Reddit and Shroud of the Avatar‘s official forums were surprised by the equity crowdfunding site‘s disclosure of Portalarium’s financial state, which stands at $US528,000 ($709,689) in the bank with monthly expenses of around $US230,000 ($309,145). That seems rather low, considering that the game managed to raise $US11,614,524 ($15,611,175) since the initial crowdfunding drive in 2013, via a mix of Kickstarter, early access game sales, pledges, and special events such as telethons.
“Where is all the money?” asked the topic starter of a thread on Reddit. “What happened to all our pledge money?!”
Garriott, speaking with Kotaku over the phone today, said that those numbers don’t tell the full story. While the project hit the ground running with nearly $US2 million ($2.7 million), Portalarium has generally had around the same amount it has in the bank right now at any given moment, he said.
“We earn about the same amount as we spend every month,” Garriott said, “and that has been true for the majority of the existence of this company.”
“Our company has about 30 people in it, some full-time, some contractors,” he said. “We size our company based on the trend lines we see in our revenue growth. We have a great deal of comfort in saying we could continue to develop the game as a small company with a relatively small player base.”
Garriott says the point of this round of funding is not an attempt to save the company from going broke, but to scale Portalarium up to allow it to do marketing and perform the other functions of a publisher — first for the PC version of Shroud of the Avatar, and then perhaps someday, for versions of the game on other platforms.
Beyond that, Garriott told me he’d even like to publish other games, though he has no concrete plans along those lines at the moment.
Fans were also surprised to see the SeedInvest site state that the full game, currently in early access, would launch in July. This, Garriott says, was a mistake that has since been corrected: Although the game’s main story mode will launch in July, the full game will launch later in the year.
Fans also raised issue with some of the features described on the new funding page. “What choices? What changes? What game are they describing?” wrote a poster on the game’s forums. “Establish trade routes? Conquer a town? In what game?”
Garriott said that most of those things are indeed in the game in some form, and Portalarium regularly keeps backers abreast of which features are incoming and how and why they’re being implemented. “There was never a plan to ‘conquer a town’,” he says. But he went on to explain that the game’s villain faction, the Obsidian Cabalists, can lay siege to towns, and players can lift those sieges by defeating them.
“The other thing [‘conquer a town’] could be construed with,” he said, “is ownership of a control point. To pass through them, you’ve gotta fight your way through. They can also be cleared.”
It’s definitely a little strange that Garriott himself wasn’t quite sure to what the text on his own game’s funding page is referring. Even if, in the grand scheme of things, a small detail like that isn’t a deal-breaker, it’s easy to see why fans find the game’s messaging to be sloppy.
Some fans fear that Portalarium was deliberately trying to mislead people, and they want to see the funding page taken down. Seeing a game that earned a generous amount of crowdfunding looking for more money is always apt to deal a blow to one’s faith in the project, and to hear recent Steam reviews and discussions tell it, some fans’ faith was already hanging by a thread. It’s been four years, and the game is still pre-alpha. It’s far from feature-complete despite a plan to launch later this year. It’s also running on a tight budget, even if Garriott says it’s self-sustaining.
For his part, Lord British says there’s no cause for alarm. “We keep doing what we’re doing,” he said. “That’s how we’ve been operating for four years. We’ve been continuing to sell stuff online, periodically running telethons, and adjusting the size of our company to match the revenue from contributions. So that’s how we’ll continue.”