6 Crowdunfded MMOs to Watch For
by Tyler Edwards, January 20, 2014
Crowdfunding has made a big splash in the world of MMOs lately. Game publishers, quite understandably, tend to be a cautious lot. They won't fund a game if they don't believe it will bring a strong return on investment. This makes good business sense, but playing it safe can stifle creativity. By going straight to the fans for funding, MMO developers can skip this hurdle, allowing them go beyond what's "safe" to create unusual and intriguing games. Of course, crowdfunding is still a new process, and we should be cautious about getting too excited about such projects before they pan out, but there are definitely some intriguing projects out there that are worth keeping an eye on.
6: Starcraft Universe
StarCraft Universe is not actually a standalone game, but a fan made mod for StarCraft II, but it's such an intriguing project that it deserves a mention regardless.
Ever since the breakout success of World of Warcraft, people have fantasized about MMOs based on Blizzard Entertainment's other franchises, but none have ever been forthcoming. One ambitious group of fans became tired of waiting and decided to produce their own StarCraft MMO using StarCraft II's robust modding tools.
StarCraft Universe is the result. With Blizzard's blessing and a small budget of fan donations, the mod team is hard at work producing a series of maps that will offer dungeon content, questing, and PvP reminiscent of that found in WoW. SC: Universe also boasts two playable races, the Terrans and the Protoss, and four unique classes for each race based on iconic units from the StarCraft games, such as firebats and ghosts for Terrans and zealots and dark templar for Protoss.
SC: Universe is still in an unfinished state, but what has currently been released already shows impressive potential, with deep game mechanics, rich lore, and professional level voice acting. It even has a few features that would be impressive in a professional MMO, such as robust vehicle mechanics and a modified version of the "holy trinity" that replaces the tank role with a damage mitigator.
5: Ever, Jane
At the start, I mentioned that crowdfunding can allow developers to release unusual games that might not get the green light from cagey publishers. Ever, Jane might just be the poster child for that fact.
Ever, Jane is an MMO based on the romantic literature of Jane Austen. Completely eschewing the combat and loot-centric gameplay of virtually every MMO to date, Ever, Jane's gameplay is centered on social politics. Instead of strength, stamina, agility, and the like, stats are things like gentility, beauty, and wealth. But just like a standard MMO, building a character the right combination of stats is crucial to success.
Don't expect dungeons or raids in Ever, Jane, either. Instead, players will attend balls and other social events that encourage players to roleplay and immerse themselves in their characters' lives.
Ever, Jane is not an MMO that anyone would have expected to succeed, but yet it's already met its funding goal, showing that there may be more desire for niche titles than publishers realize.
4: Pathfinder Online
Based on the Pathfinder tabletop RPG, Pathfinder Online is a part of a growing resurgence of sandbox MMOs. This means that it will be as much a virtual world as a video game in the traditional sense. Players who are merchants and craftsmen have as much value to the game as warriors and adventurers.
Much of the focus of Pathfinder Online is given to player interaction. The standard adventuring party is far from the pinnacle of player cooperation in this game; players can band together to form settlements, cities, or even entire nations, and vie against over groups of players to claim and control territories and valuable resources.
But Pathfinder Online is not purely reliant on sandbox systems. There will also be scripted adventures inspired by those of the tabletop game.
Overall, Pathfinder Online is shaping up to be a game to appeal to the more old school sandbox and pen and paper RPG fans.
3: Camelot Unchained
Created by Mark Jacobs, the man behind games like Dark Age of Camelot and Warhammer Online, Camelot Unchained is another MMO that would never have been approved by publishers, a fact that Jacobs and his team wear as a badge of honor.
The official site for Camelot Unchained offers a lengthy list of foundational principles, which also serves as a scathing indictment of the current state of the MMO industry. Jacobs and his team are none too fond of trends like the growing push to appeal to casual players and the explosion of free to play, and they're not at all shy about expressing those opinions.
But rather than simply complaining, they've set out to put their money where their mouth is and create an old school, hardcore, subscription based MMO with massive realm versus realm versus realm PvP battles at its center and little concessions to casual gameplay or "hand-holding."
For people who share their frustration with the current state of things, such refusal to play it safe is a breath of fresh air. What remains to be seen is whether there enough people who feel this way for Camelot Unchained to prove successful, but the fact it met its crowdfunding goal is cause for hope.
2: City of Titans
The sudden and unexpected closure of City of Heroes left a gaping hole in the MMO community. As the first, longest running, and arguably greatest superhero MMO, it had a fond place in many people's hearts and still enjoyed a strong and loyal fan base right up until its final moments.
Fans weren't about to take the end of their beloved game lying down. Showing a bit of their own heroic spirit, several of the most passionate and talented fans decided that they would build their own superhero game, a spiritual successor to City of Heroes that would capture much of what made that game special. This effort was known as the Phoenix Project.
Flash forward a few months, and the Phoenix Project concept has become City of Titans. City of Titans is intended to emulate the colorful comic book feel of its predecessor, as well as its flexible customization and tools for players to create their own content. There are even plans to allow players to import saved characters from City of Heroes, with certain limitations.
It's early going for City of Titans, and it may well prove that its reach exceeds its grasp, but for now, it's hard not to root for this game. It's a true underdog story, a game built by fans and for fans, and there's something inspiring about that.
1: Star Citizen:
You can't talk about crowdfunding and video games without talking about Star Citizen. Since the beginning of its crowdfunding efforts, the space sim has been raking in money hand over fist, shattering expectations and records alike. It is not only the most successful video game crowdfunding project ever, but the most successful crowdfunding project project period.
As of the time of this writing, it has raised over thirty five million dollars, and with the way things are going, that number might be significantly higher by the time this article makes it to publication.
Star Citizen is helmed by Chris Roberts, a legendary name in the field of space simulations, having previously created games like Wing Commander and Freelancer. Players of Star Citizen will take on the role of star ship pilots in the distant future and attempt to make a name for themselves in its interstellar sandbox.
Star Citizen places a heavy emphasis on player freedom. Trading, piracy, military service, and exploration are all viable progression routes, and there are no rigid character classes to limit a player's potential. Even more interesting is the fact that it's actually two games. In addition to the MMO, there will also be a tie-in single player game called Squadron 42 that will use the same general mechanics.
It's not hard to see the appeal of Star Citizen, but its success has already made it a subject of much controversy. Many believe its runaway success has set it up to fail by creating an utterly unrealistic set of expectations. Some even go so far as to claim it's nothing but vaporware, a scam to harvest money from gamers until they stop paying.
These more dire predictions may not come to pass, but it is true that Star Citizen's hype has already reached messianic levels, and even if it turns out to be an excellent game, it's pretty much a guarantee that there will be many very angry people who are disappointed it didn't turn out exactly as they expected.