Richard Garriott: Crowd Sourcing Helps Players "Guide" Development
Ultima-creator Richard Garriott believes that sharing Shroud of the Avatar with players throughout its development cycle has helped its developers explore and refine different ideas.
Portalarium's Shroud of the Avatar has come a long way since it was first entered the crowdfunding arena back in 2013. Now nearing $6 million in total contributions, the game has grown at an impressively consistent rate, offering substantial monthly updates for more than a year now. According to studio founder Richard Garriott however, Portalarium's habit of delivering regular updates isn't just about giving fans something to look forward to. It's become an integral part of the studio's own development process.
Speaking to The Escapist, Garriott stated that Portalarium initially decided to release early versions of Shroud as something of a preemptive defense. "Stepping over the line into crowdfunding is a scary step," he explained. "You don't know if it will work. You hope it will work. But if it does not, the key people involved will have a harder time getting corporate support in the future," It was the studio's hope, in turn, that giving players even a "barely functional game" would help them maintain "transparency" so that contributors could see exactly where their money was going and might feel less burned if things eventually fell apart.
Much to the studio's surprise however, this strategy wound up having value outside of just staving off torch-wielding mobs of angry crowdfunders. Having players available to play the unfinished product gave the studio the ability to respond to complaints and suggestions while still in the midst of development. "Now we know, as soon as we have a half-baked idea going in, just what people think of it. Players can weigh in and help guide the creation we are making for them." This open method of development likewise made it possible for players to help directly by supplying resources and assets beyond cold hard cash. "[It] also let them know where we might need help," he stated, "The crowd sourcing of everything from music, to art to even code has grown out of this foundation."
Garriott would go on to describe this process as a "joy" that's helped Portalarium achieve a level of enthusiasm sometimes lacking in publisher directed development. While he affirmed that there can be "lots of long term comfort" to having "an eventual distributor," he stated that "being independent... has really helped make sure we fire on all cylinders." Garriott and Portalarium hope to have the first full version of Shroud of the Avatar released by the end of 2015.
I would suggest asking Frontier( developers of Elite: Dangerous) about their DDF. Through the DDF players who backed them on Kickstarter past a certain point had input on how certain things were developed and even came up with ideas that were put into the game.
Including players throughout the development process is a great way to keep up confidence that the game is indeed on its way to being released, when it is a crowd funded game. Much better then meeting your goal and then posting the occasional update that becomes all the more rare the farther into development the game gets.
I like the direction Shroud of the Avatar is taking at the moment and while I haven't been playing the pre-alpha release builds, watching things get fleshed out is pretty entertaining. The only downside to the whole affair is that it's hard to convey the entertainment factor through screenshots and visuals alone: Especially since the level of graphics being used in Shroud of the Avatar at the moment feels a generation behind what is currently being done in the more visible published titles. Also, I still got fears that SotA might be stepping into a very crowded pool at the moment, being a nostalgia bomb classic fantasy role playing game. Not because the game itself isn't unique, but because the fantasy style setting has been getting done quite a bit lately.
Garriott is notorious for taking ideas that may sound interesting, but logistically not that great or fun in design. However his ideas are/were platforms for better designers to make them work. I think listen to the general public is a double edged sword for design. Players are not designers, they don't understand the concepts that make a well balanced game. However if a game not fun and your not taking advantage of player feedback, your not going to have a product that sells.
Can't help but think it's a bad idea in general, even if it has benefited this particular game.
Gamers are good for feedback as they will sure as shit figure out what's unbalanced or outright broken in a game and let the developer know about it. Repeatedly.
Why would you seek the customer's input before you have a fully developed product, though? Every asshole has an opinion and not many of them are worth listening to. The majority of them center around trivialities. Better off trusting your own experience and the input of your team members than sifting through the rubbish pile for that one gem.
Radically changing your game at the behest of crowd-funding patrons tells me that the original concept was shit, not that the patrons are game design geniuses.
By no means should the above be taken as a defense of games writers and developers as all-knowing geniuses. Plenty of times I've felt like the only way certain aspects of a game could possibly have made it to the final release was an echo chamber environment and clueless playtesters. Still, I find it unbelievable that "ask the audience" could be a viable game development strategy.