Richard Garriott’s Ultima series, including one the most important MMORPGs ever released (Ultima Online), is legendary in gaming history. Few questioned whether or not a Kickstarter to get a spiritual successor would be successful. Garriott’s new company, Portalarium, successfully ended its Kickstarter in April 2013 for Shroud of the Avatar, a multiplayer RPG intended to bridge the gap between fans of the Ultima series and fans of Ultima Online. The campaign raised more than $1.9 million from over 22,000 backers, but how have things gone for the game since then?
I had a chance to chat with a few of the game’s original Kickstarter backers to find out.
Who did I interview?
- Ocho, long-time blogger at Casual Aggro and expert on the Ultima series. You can also find him @BigMikeyOcho on Twitter.
- Maric, a former blogger who has decided to dedicate more time to games like Shroud of the Avatar. He has already logged more than a hundred hours into the game with his guild (Moongate Travelers 470) and pledged more than $500 to its Kickstarter campaign. You can find him on Twitter: @PaganRites.
- Evan, a seasoned MMORPG player, albeit when he has time, which is becoming increasingly rarer with his schedule. His Twitter handle is @othnieltcs.
Ocho, Seasoned RPG Blogger
Why did you decide to invest in Shroud of the Avatar?
The Ultima games were where I really started appreciating games. I had an Atari growing up, but I never realized how powerful of a medium gaming could be until I played Ultima 6 and then Ultima 7. Both of these games were almost fully under the direction of Richard Garriott, so when he came out and said “Hey, we’re making a spiritual successor to the Ultimas,” how could I not jump in?
Have you followed the game since the Kickstarter ended? Have you tried it? How do you feel about its progress so far?
I’ve been following Shroud’s development very loosely. I jumped in when they had the first town up and running and very little features, and being so rough I was still impressed. More than anything else, it *felt* like an Ultima. It felt like a return to the games of old, but with a new skin. That feels good. But really, the next time I will jump in is when it’s “done.” I like playing games, not being a guinea pig in a perpetual beta.
What feature or features are you looking forward to most?
All the different modes of play. I like that they are attempting to make the game into a Single Player/MMO simultaneously. You could play single player offline and have access to the story, the world, and NPC companions. You can also play single player online and see what others are doing with the world but not being forced to partake in it, or you can play it like an MMO and all the nonsense that comes with that.
You seem less sold on the MMO aspects of the game. Do you believe the nature of the MMO genre is antithetical to what makes an Ultima game? Do you think Shroud’s approach will be better than past attempts?
To the first question: yes, but it’s complicated. The Ultima series, over the years, has been about trying to bend what people believe are the “rules” and breaking them. Ultima IV, for example, is lauded as one of the greats, but there is no “bad guy.” There is no great evil. The whole point of Ultima IV is to become a paragon of virtue. Ultima V was about the perversion of the virtues, and when virtue is taken to extreme, and Ultima VI was about reconciling racial tensions. I feel that single-player games have a lot more flexibility in story telling to go in-depth with exploring shades of grey where MMOs have always felt very black and white. The Ultima games had depth. Shroud, I’m really not sure. Shroud has brought on some talented writers and there will hopefully be an attempt at it, but sticking to their MMO guns I feel will ultimately hinder the story. To what extent, though, we’ll have to see.
Do you have any worries or concerns?
I am worried about how they plan on monetizing the game. Seeing virtual property being sold for ludicrous amounts of real money is disheartening. I’m fully expecting now that I’ll never partake in that part of the game because of it, even after dropping over $100 on it. I mean, I get it, they have to make money, but a game that has a part of it that you can’t play just builds resentment. But who knows, it may be easy to buy property with in-game monies, we just don’t know yet.
Are you happy you backed the game? Would you do anything differently knowing what you do now?
I am happy I backed the game, very much so, and I’m happy with my pledge tier. If anything I regret not jumping on it sooner, in the 1st or 2nd responder tiers. I usually find myself having cravings to play the old Ultima games again so having a new Ultima outlet is very exciting to me. And with the old Ultima games still holding up VERY well, I know what sort of quality Garriott and his team is striving for, and it’s one I’m happy to get behind.
Maric, Shroud of the Avatar Super Fan
What ultimately sold you on backing Shroud of the Avatar? How much did you have to spend?
Richard Garriott’s games are very nostalgic for me. His previously run gaming company Origin Systems published some of my favorite games of all time. I credit the Ultima RPGs for bringing me into PC gaming. When I heard Garriott was looking to crowdfund a spiritual successor to Ultima, there was no question I was going to back the project. I originally pledged the Citizen level at $500.00. I love owning property in games I play. Three years later I have a little more invested in the game. SotA’s housing system is remarkable. Probably the best I’ve seen in the genre in terms of customization.
What do you think about the game’s progress so far? Any concerns?
I am happy with the progress. The across the board improvements to the game in the last 6 months have been fairly significant.
I have a few complaints. My main complaint is what I perceive to be limitations of the Unity engine and the developer’s use of heavy instancing. The game world is broken up into (for lack of a better description) a series of very large ‘rooms.’ While these areas are fairly large, I really wish SotA had a more persistent, sandbox world without so much instancing. Over time (I’ve been playing for a couple of years now in test) I have grown to accept it and it does not bug me too much. But if I have an irk with the game, that’s it.
Secondly, combat could be a little less clunky. I think combat may be the design aspect that today’s gamer will most likely have issues with. I will say combat has very much improved and I think refining it is a priority of Portalarium. Since combat was never really a focus in Ultima (other than maybe UO) and U8 Pagan, it’s not a deal breaker for me in any way. The game has dedicated PvPers. So that says something. It’s not bad, it could just be better in my opinion. I think they will get there.
The last issue I had with SotA was avatars. Avatars were pretty horrible looking. However, both male and female avatars received a complete overhaul recently and I’m happy with the results.
Have you had a chance to play it?
I have close to 100 hours in the game. I have avoided the storyline because I did not want to experience it in pieces before it was complete. With the game going live soon (there is only one more server wipe), I stopped playing to go in fresh and excited.
Any second thoughts or doubts about investing in the game?
No. I have backed several high profile Kickstarters and have been burned a couple of times. In the end, SotA feels like an Ultima game to me. That is what I looked to gain when I backed the Kickstarter. The community is hands down the best I’ve played with in many years of online gaming. While not quite a true UO sequel, in terms of community SotA definitely feels like a continuation. I’ll be very curious to see where Garriott takes the game from here. If SotA fizzles out in just a couple of years I might have a different opinion. Although I think at one point Garriott stated he would allow private servers if he were ever to sunset the game. Time will tell.
Evan, Casual MMO Gamer
What made the difference between backing and not backing Shroud of the Avatar?
Honestly, as shallow and anti-indie as it sounds, it was the celebrity of Richard Garriott and the Ultima brand name. These were things I felt more confident putting some trust in than other projects that seemed interesting at the time.
Have you followed the game’s progress? What do you think so far?
I followed it very closely for the first several months, logging into the “game thus far” a few times to check progress. It was around the 6 month mark that I realized this was going to take a few years to get anywhere close to finished, and the many stories of “beta burnout” out there convinced me that a quick glance through the monthly updates was all the effort I needed/wanted to put into keeping up with it.
Are you playing any of the game’s betas? Do you think it is better to wait for the final product or are you trying to make it a better game by providing feedback?
I guess I already started to answer this in the previous question. I have not logged into any beta for at least a year. As far as making it a better game through feedback, additional voices shouting things that may or may not be different from others does not necessarily lead to better chances for improvement. I suppose I might be able to provide a new angle or different perspective on something, but it’s doubtful and ultimately not worth my time.
I spent over a year bouncing from MMO to MMO with some friends, but I was never the kind of person who could max level in a week and get bored by endgame in a month. I’m more the kind of person who piddles around with several alts at mid level and eventually gets one or two to max level. Through necessity AND choice I seem to have very limited gaming time compared to many other “gamers” including most whom I call friends. MMO bouncing proved very frustrating to me; I could never keep up with everyone else and each game became a ghost town when I was just hitting my stride.
Now I limit myself to MMOs I truly know I enjoy, which for me happen to be WoW and SWTOR. All that to reinforce the idea that I was never compelled to spend gobs of time in something that was clearly in very early development and therefore hard to build strong passion & affection for.
Any second thoughts about backing it so far?
Yes, but not because of the game itself. It looks like it is progressing very well, delivering on most if not all of its promises. As I mentioned earlier, I made a conscious decision to limit the scope of MMOs I participate in, so I am really wondering how much time I will ultimately put into yet another MMO release.
I have doubts as to whether Shroud of the Avatar will ever gain much more of a following than it already has, but I am more than okay with niche games that stay true to what they are after being disappointed by so many games swinging for the WoW fence and making messes of themselves.
You can find more coverage of Shroud of the Avatar here on MMOGames.com. Shroud of the Avatar profile page for more information.Related: Backer Survey, Column, Kickstarter, MMORPG, Richard Garriott, Shroud of the Avatar, Ultima Online