The Mistakes Pantheon Made

  • First, my appolgies for the formatting.  I did this on a word document. Here's a link to a more cleaned up version:

    This will be crossposted on PJPantheon at the advice of someone I respect.

    The Mistakes Pantheon Made

    1. Did not build up enough support prior to the Kickstarter.
    a. Someone really smart said to not start the KS until the game had 1,000 followers on Twitter.
    i. That was a good idea

    2. The name of this game is deplorable
    a. Pantheon does not evoke anything in the audience except a grandiose view of one’s self
    b. Rise of the Fallen is about as obvious as anything could be.  How could that possibly get people interested?  There’s no mystery there at    all.  There’s information there either.  What’s this game about?

    3. No one in the dev team had any experience supporting other Kickstarters.
    a. Kickstarter is ALL about mutualism. 
    b. If you never supported one, how did you expect people to support you?
    c. Kickstarter is NOT a money trough, it is a thumb in the eye to venture capital firms, governments, and massive corporations everywhere.
    d. Finally, there is a certain level of expectations for Kickstarters.  Backers have gotten used to seeing either a prototype (3Doodler) or a very clearly defined vision of how (Mighty No.9).
    i. This goes back to no one in the dev team supporting a Kickstarter before starting one.  I don't care if you guys admitted you weren't Kickstarter experts, the fact remains if you want to be good at something, you gotta get out there and learn about it.

    4. The Kickstarter was not previewed to knowledgeable people out there.
    a. There are so many smart people on the Internet, why were they not used?

    5. The Kickstarter video had people reading off cue cards instead of just being excited about the game.
    a. If the developers aren’t genuinely excited, the audience won’t be excited.

    6. The Kickstarter did not appeal to the target audience.
    a. Slash the skeleton was abysmal.
    b. The woman dressed in a chainmail bikini was abhorrent.
    c. The lack of anything visually evocative was a travesty.

    7. The backer rewards placed certain things too low and there was a total lack of good high-end tiers.
    a. I’m not going thru them 1 by 1, but Alpha access should have been more costly and there should have been WAY more choices at the upper tiers.

    8. Brad disappeared
    a. It was over 28 hours after the Kickstarter began before Brad showed up again
    i. It was just about as long before anyone on the dev team posted on KS thread
    b. You cannot vanish like that, a Kickstarter must be constantly monitored, managed and nourished

    9. Community feedback took forever to be implemented if it got implemented at all
    a. Right from the beginning people pointed out massive problems with the Kickstarter
    i. It took days for anything to change (Slash the skeleton for instance)
    ii. Some suggestions were never implemented (new video)

    10. There was virtually nothing to show the KS audience
    a. There was very little art, design documents, or business plans to give the audience

    11. Information about the game came at a snail’s pace
    a. New information about the actual game was only released once or twice a week during the KS
    i. That is insane.  You want people to donate money, give them something to donate to!

    12. The face of the operation was non-existent on the KS
    a. To Brad’s credit, he blanketed the Internet after the first week of the KS
    b. But the problem was he wasn’t personally interacting with the people
    i. A huge portion of the backers were there because of  him and they never got to be with him
    c. It’s great to be interviewed by Boogie and KTAM and Rob & Dan, but it’s the people on the Kickstarter that draw in the most supporters.
    i. Brad needed to be there.

    13. The Dark Knight
    a. MMORPG gamers don’t want cute and funny, they want awesome.  Cheesy allusions aren’t awesome.

    14. Too much focus on interviews, not enough on the Kickstarter by the other members of the dev team
    a. Once the dev team became semi-engaged with Pantheon, they went the wrong directions
    b. Kickstarter is a social media platform.  The dev team never understood this.  Participating on KS will get you way more backers than KTAM, Boogie, or anyone else for that matter.  No offense to them, they’re great, but the Kickstarter has to come first.
    c. Salim and Ben spending a few hours every other day fielding questions just wasn’t enough.

    15. Constantly shifting and unsatisfying stretch goals.
    a. Monks, Bards, and Crafting have some of the most devoted fans on the Internet
    i. Why were these things so high on the stretch goals?  You want motivated people supporting you
    1. When people saw their pet class so far out of reach, they passed on the KS
    b. Even after the shakeup with the stretch goals, the three things that would have brought in the most money were not moved to the top of the list.
    i. By then it was too late anyway.

    16. Not ending the Kickstarter when it was apparent there were a multitude of flaws.
    a. There’s nothing wrong with admitting a mistake and trying again later.  Think about how things would be different if they had heeded calls to cancel the KS way back in February.  Would we be in this situation we are in now?

    17. Starting the post-KS site prior to the KS ending
    a. It looked like the dev team was admitting defeat early.  It ensured that the KS would fail.

    18. Absolute confusion on all parts of the post-KS site during its launch
    a. So if I pledge on the KS I get a membership to the website?
    i. No, well yes, but only when the site is in Alpha and Beta testing. 
    1. Huh?
    b. So if I pledged during the KS, I can get the same rewards?
    i. No, only if you saved that spammy email telling you congratulations.
    c. So I can purchase a mount in the Pantheon shop?
    i. No, we changed our minds about that.  For those who bought one, we’ll honor that but we might not.  It just depends.
    d. So this is a community site?
    i. No, go to PJPantheon or something.  This site is for our community of developers. 
    1. Huh?
    e. So I can post lots of cool questions in the Think Tank?
    i. No, we’re going to switch that to once per day.
    f. The list goes on and on.

    19. Only one dev ever posted in the Think Tank
    a. I thought we were going to be able to contribute to important game decisions
    i. Why the heck were the devs not starting any threads in the Think Tank?
    ii. Better question, why did they comment on backer threads so rarely?
    1. Did the dev team not understand what a Think Tank is?
    b. Also, why did the devs not comment on polls or other people’s blog posts?  ENGAGE PLEASE!

    20. The pictures from the face-to-face dev team meeting at Brad’s looked like nothing but a fraternity reunion
    a. The pictures did not show a bunch of guys hard at work, it showed them laughing and goofing off
    i. We needed more substance than how long you guys debated on whether to eat pizza or sushi.

    21. The dev team round table discussions on Rob and Dan lacked specifics on anything except lore
    a. So many times Salim had to say, “We haven’t decided that yet.”
    i. Why not????  Did you guys not think through what kinds of mechanics you wanted for this game yet?  That seems like it would be #1 on the to do list!
    1. And if you hadn’t thought of them yet, why not say, “That sounds like a great topic for a thread in the Think Tank!”
    b. This speaks to a lack of any real work taking place prior to the Kickstarter
    i. I loved the High Level Design Document on climate, but why did this come out so late?  Was it only just recently compiled?  Shouldn’t stuff like this have been done before asking people for a million dollars?

    22. There were little to no outlets to show the devs actually working
    a. Salim didn’t have a design log
    b. Vu didn’t do nearly enough Twitch casts
    c. Brad never did anything
    d. Only Vhalen and the Lore4 team actually updated the community enough to keep it interested

    23. There were precious few images on the Pantheon site
    a. Humans are visual creatures
    i. We saw very little concept art, zone maps, or game icons – these are easy and cheap to get
    1. Honestly, people would have settled for napkin drawings but nope, not from VRI
    b. People get excited about things they see
    i. It’s hard to promote a game that you can’t show to someone

    24. The goals of the post-KS site were never clearly stated
    a. It’s fine that all the resources went into producing a prototype for investors, it just needed to be stated up front.

    25. There was too much uncertainty about everything
    a. How much money was the site actually raising?
    b. Who was responsible for what parts of design and development?
    c. What was the timeline for accomplishing certain tasks?
    d. What should the community actually be doing on the Pantheon site?
    e. Whose PayPal account was it anyway?
    f. Who received donations that didn’t come from PayPal?
    g. What happens if an angel investor fails to show up?
    h. What does full-on development mode mean on the landing page exactly?
    i. Where can we go to see what you have accomplished and what you hope to accomplish next?

    26. The community was given the impression that the dev team was not kept abreast of the financial situation
    a. Whether that is true or not is unclear, but it’s certainly the impression

    27. The money appears to have been spent paying people instead of on game development
    a. I understand that these guys were unemployed, but that unemployment wasn’t going to change without a game
    b. $160,000 (or whatever they actually got) can purchase a TON of unity assets.
    i. Check this link:
    ii. For 160k, you could quickly get a game going and start earning money through that
    c. I know it’s harsh to say things like that, people gotta pay bills, but the game should have been prioritized first and if that meant some members couldn’t work on it, then that’s what it means.
    d. I could have this all wrong, but this is my impression which is a secondary mistake along this line: there wasn’t enough transparency for where money was going, especially now that it’s run out apparently.

    28. Too many cooks in the kitchen
    a. I don’t know for sure how many people it takes to make a game, but 12 paid employees seems excessive
    b. How many guys do you need doing the design work?  If Vhalen did lore and Vu did Unity coding, what did the other 10 people do?  And was what they were doing worth the money they were paid?
    c. Along with that, were there the right types of cooks?  How many were doing actual coding for this game?

    29. VRI failed to embrace the fact they are an indie game studio
    a. VRI acted like it was still working with Fortune 500 companies like Sony or Microsoft
    i. They aren’t
    b. Brad didn’t notice AT ALL the successful  indie self-publishing movement in tabletop RPGs that’s taken place over the last decade and a half
    c. He also failed to notice the nascent indie movement in video games that is taking place right now
    d. VRI is not Sony or MS, VRI is the rebels- the new basement-punk designers ready to take on the world
    i. This was never communicated to the public
    ii. That stick-it-to-the-man ethos was never played up to motivate the community more
    iii. The whole feel of VRI was just corporate (yuk)
    iv. This also ties back into misunderstanding what Kickstarter is all about
    e. VRI treated its contractors/employees as full-time salaried employees.
    i. You are an Indie studio with around $100k in startup cash, no one is a salaried employee
    1. Catch an episode of Shark Tank sometime, I think it will be eye opening.

    30. Brad and the whole dev team, with the exception of Vhalen, totally underestimated the community
    a. This community is filled with incredibly smart and capable people.  Brad never realized this.
    b. Of all the mistakes, this is at the core of the problem.
    i. Everything listed above could have been avoided if Brad had just involved the community more, listened to them, and then implemented their suggestions.
    c. There are more problems than what I listed.  I could talk about how the current status of the game is still murky, as is who is sticking with the game from this point onward.  But I think this is enough.
    d. I do give Brad props for manning up and taking responsibility for what happened recently WRT the finances, but it does not address nor does it excuse the massive failures everywhere else.

    Now, why am I posting this?  Two reasons: first, hopefully by pointing out Brad’s mistakes he can address them head on, fix them, and not repeat them going forward.  Second, so that anyone else who chooses to make this kind of MMO in the future can learn from Pantheon.  There’s a lot of value in what’s happened here, and whether this project ends in success or ends in failure is immaterial compared to what we can take away from it.



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