Ryan Dancey, Lisa Stevens and Mark Kalmes started Goblinworks in 2011 to create Pathfinder Online, a fantasy sandbox MMO with open world PvP multiplayer based on the Pathfinder roleplaying game. They launched a Kickstarter in November 2012, finding instant success. But things haven’t gone very smoothly since then.
The Kickstarter was launched on November 27th 2012, and by December they had raised more than $300,000. Goblinworks posted detailed updates every other day about guilds and races, PvP details, and about the massive adventure book called The Emerald Spire. The campaign was looking good, which ultimately led some 8,700 people to donate $1,091,194 by the deadline.
However the problems began right after the Kickstarter came to a close, as backer rewards started to roll out – or rather, didn’t. The comment section paints a grim image, with many backers claiming to not have received their rewards. One individual claims to have donated $600, only to find out Goblinworks had sold out of that reward item.
“It’s now 5 months since I first raised my issues with them, I pledged $600 […] I’ve sent many emails sent & gotten very few replies…. I can’t easily ring ‘cos I’m in the UK
“They don’t make any effort to proactively sort things out the only time I’ve ever gotten a response was when I took to copying Ryan Dancy and Lisa Stevens into my emails and the last contact from them or anyone at piazo/goblinworks was June 23rd…… emailing them again now, don’t hold your breath…….”
A lot of excitement in the comments section centers on The Emerald Spire, in fact most of the positivity centers on it. For a Kickstarter campaign that raised over one million dollars, people seem less interested in the actual game than they are the rewards – something that doesn’t reflect well on the game. Months went by and many people hadn’t gotten their rewards, and were wondering not only where they were, but what the status of the game was, as many of the updates revolved around reward fulfillment.
Goblinworks took to the comment section to issue a statement about the rewards.
“First, we want to apologize for not hitting our deadline with the fulfillment tool for our Kickstarter rewards. We told you it would be ready by the end of March (2013), and we missed that deadline. Later this week we are doing a review of the functionality with the technology team from Paizo, and then we’ll be able to announce a revised availability date. We sincerely apologize for this delay, and we know you are anxious to get your Rewards ASAP.”
It was around this time, in May 2015, that Goblinworks stated they were no longer monitoring their Kickstarter page, and pushed backers towards their customer service email. I can understand why a company would want to use its own company website and email for content and communication, but when several of your customers are unsatisfied and trying to reach out to you after telling you of the spottiness of the service they’ve been getting, cutting off contact like that makes you look bad, especially when the game was nowhere in sight after years of development.
Things only got worse starting in 2015, now three years removed from the Kickstarter’s success. Goblinworks has given up on its Kickstarter page completely, having not logged in since September 2015. It seems the majority of backers and fans have left, the final comment being a warning not to go to Goblinworks customer service, but to Lisa Stevens directly for support. A letter from Lisa Stevens delivered a statement to backers, which was posted in the comments section by a backer in December 2015.
“2015 has been an exciting but tumultuous time for us at Goblinworks. […] But as many of you are aware, we never found all the funding we needed to finish building the game that we have been describing to you. This led us to laying off the majority of the Goblinworks staff at the end of August.
“But there is good news to be relayed! Just today, I received a signed letter of intent from a company that wants to take on the Pathfinder Online legacy and see it through to completion.
“Now this acquisition of the Pathfinder Online game is incumbent upon them finalizing the funding they are currently in negotiations for, but all signs are very positive on that front right now. This funding will give Pathfinder Online more money to invest in the game than has been spent in over 4 years of development. This will significantly accelerate the development and support of the game to a point unprecedented in Pathfinder Online history. If things continue to go well, they expect to take over the game entirely by March 1, 2016.”
Goblinworks had to lay off most of its employees in September 2015 due to financial constraints. Ryan Dancey reported left the company for “personal reasons” weeks before the layoffs. The only people left at Goblinworks were Stevens, Kalmes, and Art Director Mike Hines.
Fast-forward to March 1st, 2016. A post on the Goblinworks blog (also the most recent) is a message from Lisa stating that the contract deadline has been pushed back for “a month or two.” The trail picks up again in the Goblinworks forum, with several backers who have stuck with the game through it all, asking about the status of the deal. Lisa Stevens delivered a short statement after her name was brought up by several players.
“Still working on all the stuff needed to finalize the transaction with the same Newcorp that I have been dealing with since November. Everyone wishes it would go faster because we are all anxious to get started, but these things are complicated and take a lot of time. I will say that Newcorp was up at the Goblinworks offices last week and we had a super productive and fun week. So still moving along. I would love to hazard a timeline guess, but I would probably be wrong.”
Nobody at Goblinworks has revealed who this mystery company is. The more cynical backers point out they get these little tidbits of information to encourage them to keep playing the Early Access build and paying, but when they ask for concrete details, they’re ignored until it comes time for the next scrap of information. Before vanishing from the chat again and leaving her fan base to speculate on the future of the 3-person company, Stevens had one final thing to say.
“I will let you know that Newcorp has been putting money towards the current expenditures for PFO while things are finishing up. They wouldn’t do that if they didn’t think it was likely to go through. Now is it a guarantee? No. Because if it was a guarantee then we would be moving forward. But it is likely. And they are behaving as it that is the case. They have even hired a real estate firm to start looking for office space for a studio up here in Seattle.”
Stevens did not state who NewCorp is, and we were couldn’t find determine who they were.
Pathfinder Online is currently in Early Access, where’s it’s been since mid-2015. It’s unclear whether development will ever finish, if it hasn’t already shuttered. Spending four years on development and raising over one million dollars on a game consistently referred to as the best game released in 1995 by backers, only to delay progress on a mysterious deal to acquire more funding isn’t a good look. People can usually smell that kind of evasiveness from a mile away. Paired with a blatant refusal, or inability, to give a solid timeline on the progress of this deal would make even the most diehard Pathfinder fan at least a little disgruntled.
While it’s true that Pathfinder Online is at least somewhat playable right now, it’s far from finished. The constant wheeling and dealing behind the scenes with mysterious partners has cast an ugly shadow over both the game and Goblinworks, to say nothing about the team’s poor handling of backer reward fulfillment.
They’re seeking another $1-2 million from potential investors to finish development, but unless this deal is concluded quickly there might not be many left to play the finished product. Poor planning, a funding crisis created by Goblinworks themselves, and a serious slide into obscurity have all converged to make any easy path forward for borderline impossible. We may never know why Goblinworks was unable to finish the game with over a million dollars, but it’s easy to see they were in over their heads from the start.