Saturday, December 18, 2021

A Monumental Change For Crowfall

Earlier this year I spent several hours in the open beta version of Kickstarter success story Crowfall. That the game can be considered any kind of success tells a different kind of story.

The bar for mmorpgs on the crowdfunding platform, which recently kickstarted its own controversy involving industry hot-button fix-all, blockchain , is set astonishingly low.  All a game has to do to qualify is come to market.

Crowfall managed that much, after which it all but vanished. In the months that followed I happened on almost no commentary at all about the game. No one I followed was playing it. No-one was writing about it. The only news stories I saw revolved around rumor and speculation over whether it was about to close down for good.

Compared to the years of angst-ridden hand-wringing that prefaced Wildstar's eventual demise, interest in even Crowfall's ultimate failure seemed desultory. It appeared anyone who remembered the game at all was only waiting for final confirmation they could finally forget about it.

It's all a far cry from the brash, bold claims made by the developers all those years ago, when I described the PR blitz as "arrogant and aggressive". Back then, Artcraft laid out a pitch that suggested much was wrong with the genre but they knew how to fix it.  

Most of the things they claimed were holding the genre back most likely weren't but that's arguably a matter of opinion. That the solutions they came up with fixed nothing is a matter of record. Crowfall failed to find much of an audience and couldn't keep most of what it found. By the few accounts there were, the game was spiralling down to disaster.

And then someone grabbed it by the scruff of the neck and hauled it back. Crowfall has been bought, outright by a company that supposedly wants to patch it up and run it on. 

The purchaser isn't one of the usual suspects, the game aggregators, who hoover up functional but unpopular properties and package them for a different market. It's a small company out of Austin, Texas that publishes mobile games.

The name of the company in question is Monumental and their flagship title is Mythgard, "a fantasy cyberpunk CCG of heroes, gods, and mythical beasts" currently enjoying a twenty-four hour peak population on Steam of twenty-two players. Its all-time peak is less than five hundred.

You might wonder why such a company would want to buy a PC-based mmorpg, although with stats like those it is possible that even Crowfall's level of "success" looks juicy. The press release and some subsequent conversation around the purchase presents an appealing tale of a long-term Crowfall superfan who found himself in the happy position of being able to take control of the game he loves and plays but it also includes a less-cuddly proposition:

"Monumental sees this as more than a unique and compelling game; it’s an online platform designed around player interaction and a perfect platform for experimentation"

That jumped out at me from the MassivelyOP report. You don't often see companies admit they've bought an IP or a game for the express purpose of twisting it into something else. Usually there's a lot of fine talk about how nothing much will change except your login details and the name of the currency in the cash shop. 


Much of the speculation about what this might mean revolves around the conversion of the Crowfall IP for mobile, which makes sense given Monumental's current portfolio. It could equally be read, however, as an opportunity for the purchaser to get a foot in the door of PC gaming, using Crowfall's name as a calling card and its infrastructure as a key. It's certainly true that Crowfall's cartoony, attractive artstyle would adapt very well to other, perhaps less PvP-oriented, options.

Whether it will lead to significant changes to Crowfall itself very much remains to be seen. Monty Kerr, CEO of Monumental and the aforementioned superfan, certainly has aspirations in that direction:

"I’ll also be the first to admit that I couldn’t have built Crowfall. But I can finish it, expand it, and make sure this unique and amazing game has found its forever home."

J. Todd Coleman, chief architect and former owner, goes further:

"[Kerr] wanted his company to buy Crowfall, hire the team, and take the game back into development. Go back to working on the promise of Crowfall: a dynamic online world with real conflict, where players decide the fate of the world."

Apparently, Monumental has financial resources Artcraft doesn't that make all this a possibility. What they are I have yet to hear anyone explain. Given the length of time and amount of money it has already taken to get Crowfall into the barely adequate state it exists in right now, those resources would need to be substantial.

It's going to be interesting to watch how this one plays out. More interesting, I fear, than playing the game has been, at least so far.


  1. Like Shroud of the Avatar's buyout, I feel this is where Crowfall goes to die. Err, goes to be someone's obscure passion project. That in five or ten years Crowfall will still be around, if on life-support, only seeing mention in "Do you remember / Where are they now" website articles.

    I think in the era of League of Legends and Dota 2, a PvP-centric MMO is a bad idea. Add to that, it seemed to have a number of VIP designers and you get something that doesn't map well to market realities. Sometimes, like with New World, they realize in time and shift development, but I think Crowfall is the game the designers wanted, but not really anyone else.

    I now wonder if the downfall of using Kickstarter for MMOs is that it brings out all the people who will throw some money at a 'new shiny', but won't stick around to sustain an MMO and instead are off to toss a coin at the next 'new shiny'.

    1. I think the development arc of an mmorpg makes it exceptionally difficult for something like Kickstarter to work in the long term. Expecting people to remain excited for five years before they even get to to play the game in an alpha state, as is the case for many of these projects, just seems like too much to ask. As you say, people are willing to throw money at it when it's still a pipe dream but by the time it becomes a rough but playable draft most people have moved on.

      The comparison with SotA is very sharp. I hadn't thought of it but yes, it seems like a very similar situation. I guess its better than the game closing down. At least the diehards can go on playing. I do wonder where the money's coming from, though.


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