When Camelot Unchained launched its Kickstarter way back in 2013, the core promise was pretty ambitious: a spiritual successor to Dark Age of Camelot focused on massive PvP combat that can handle thousands of participants. But like many other crowdfunded studios before, developer City State Entertainment ran out of the money it raised.
So studio founder Mark Jacobs did something unusual: he reached into his own pocket and took out $2 million of his own money to add to the $2.2 million raised. That was back in 2013, and the money only took the project so far. "It hurt," Jacobs told Eurogamer’s Robert Purchese. "But look, I made a deal, and I told backers I would do it. It's our fault.”
“It was on us as a development team to deliver the game; we did not. The bottom line is we did not meet what our projections were. I made a choice and it wasn't an easy one: do I honor our commitment to those same people who gave us this chance by not treating them as walking wallets, or not?” That’s why City State Entertainment refused to sell goodies for more money.
“I understand why these other games do it but that was not for me. That's not how I wanted to live my life and run this studio. There were some very strong arguments to be made that if people are willing to spend the money, you should try to get it from them. I don't buy that. I don't. I want to treat gamers the way I want to be treated. There's a better way to do things."
Camelot Unchained eschews player-owned real estate like Shroud of the Avatar or fleets of spaceships for a digital hangar like Star Citizen or their equivalents in castles and horses. By not using backers as a source of operating revenue sends a simple and poignant moral message that players are not cash pinatas for the studio’s vision.
Ultimately, the studio inked a deal with a collective of minority investors to bring in $7.5 million. According to VentureBeat, GF Capital Management & Advisors, a New York City-based private equity firm that backed Dark Age of Camelot over a decade ago are among those investors. The game is still a long way off, though and 2019 is probably the earliest it can be expected.
“We have a duty as a crowdfunded game to deliver on what we said we're going to deliver on, to do the best job we can, spend the money wisely, and treat our patrons and their money in the same way we would treat our own: with respect," said Jacobs. "And if that doesn't happen - and it doesn't matter if you're a small game or a big game - there's going to be a reckoning.”
"If enough Kickstarter games fail then the reckoning can be very bad,” said Jacobs. "And if any of the really big ones just totally fall on their face and not deliver and can't explain where all that money went, both and civil and criminal penalties could be involved, and I say this as an ex-lawyer,” he warned.
"I don't want to see Kickstarter and crowdfunding go away because it's the single best change in the publisher-developer relationship I've seen in a long time. And when you combine that with Steam and other digital distribution services, which have destroyed the businesses of the brick-and-mortar, it couldn't be a better time for developers. It's fabulous. We just can't muck it up."