Illustrious Ultima creator, Richard “Lord British” Garriott’s celebrated return to the fantasy role playing genre has suffered greatly from setbacks and miserly money grabs. Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues raised an immense $1,919,275 with Kickstarter back in 2013.
The game touted itself as the first title in the new five-part, Shroud of Avatar series, with a new full-length stand alone title being released each year. Backers were promised a detailed, interactive world with a fully immersive single player off-line experience, to be supplemented with additional online capabilities. The star power of “Lord British” drew in a staggering 22,322 fans willing to support the development of Shroud of the Avatar. People were excited for this game, but over time that excitement has soured for many.
Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues is currently available as an “Early Pre-Access” Alpha build on Steam. For a title that promised to be the first of five I think it’s a little disappointing that they haven’t managed to advance to a complete version of the first game yet. How many years will it be before the story finds a conclusion at this rate? Despite the lack of polish, the game retails for $44.99 and is updated frequently, though many promised features are still noticeably lacking.
This seems to own in large part to Portalarium Inc.’s focus on the MMO aspects of the game over the solo experience that role playing fans were so passionate about when they backed Shroud of the Avatar.
Portalarium has stated that they needed to fully build the infrastructure for the multiplayer mode first, then go back and layer the single-player narrative on top of that. This may very well be true, I’m no game developer, but some of the things they’ve allotted time and resources to working on don’t seem necessary, except as a means of squeezing more funds out of their player-base.
The in-game item shop is especially troubling. While the Kickstarter made it clear that there would not be a monthly subscription fee to enjoy the online aspects of the game, there is a heavy emphasis on purchasing add-ons for the incomplete game. Most of the add-ons seem to be merely aesthetic in nature, but I find it difficult to justify selling a $700 digital airship for a game that isn’t even in Beta yet. Let’s be clear, these are digital assets, they cost the developers nothing to implement, yet they are perfectly willing to charge their players real money for the privilege of digitally owning them. Want to own a house? You have to spend real money on a deed for a plot of digital land, which you will in turn have to pay in-game tax money on. The worst part? Some people are willing to pay, and in many cases keep paying for Shroud of the Avatar, despite its glacial progress.
More troubling perhaps is the developers hosting telethons for themselves, using whatever goodwill the old Ultima community might still have to drag in more money for a game that seems to never be any closer to completion. I get that in the development process, money can run out and sometimes you have to ask for more, but this just seems like a shady way to keep the Kickstarter going indefinitely. The seeds of backer discontent are evident, not only in the comments bemoaning the lack of solo gameplay updates, but also on Shroud of the Avatar’s own forums where players are selling pledge tier rewards and accounts as they lose interest in the game.
These aren’t modest pledges either, backer reward tiers went all the way up to $10,000, which at least 2 people paid. I’m a bit amazed by how much Portalarium is able to convince people to keep shelling out just to participate in their increasingly MMO driven world. It’s a testament to Garriott’s notoriety that people keep supporting Shroud of the Avatar. Any other developer would be accused of running a scam at this point.