Thursday, March 21, 2019

Riding For A Fall : Project: Gorgon

Over the past few years, Project: Gorgon has developed a reputation as an idiosyncratic - some might say goofy - MMORPG. It's been a slow burn this far. The passion project, led by husband and wife team Eric Heimburg and Sandra Powers, took a couple of Kickstarter practice runs before it eventually funded.

Progress to an Early Access launch on Steam took longer than expected but it looks to have been time well-spent. The game sits very comfortably indeed on a near-unanimous "Very Positive" rating. The tiny Elder Game Studios team would seem to have weathered most of the storms on the way to an eventual, successful launch.

Until today. Even by the decidedly off-the-wall standards of P:G, the decision to open a new brand new cash shop with just three offers, the cheapest of which goes for $50 and the most expensive for ten times that, seems a little... strange.

It seems stranger still when you consider that almost nothing in any of the three packages is useable - or even visble - in-game. So, what do you get for your money? I'm glad you asked!

For $50 you can buy a horse, some saddlebags and nine months VIP access. To quote the advisory notes
"Some features, including Riding, are not yet implemented at this time. Your account will receive these benefits when the features become available. In addition, your VIP membership will not start until VIP benefits are available"
It's not absolutely clear whether you get the horse right away. It is clear you can't ride it. Also, you don't get to do whatever it is that a VIP can do that the rest of us can't. Not until later. How much later is anyone's guess.

$75 gets you all that, only with VIP benefits extended to a full year, plus a second horse, the Animal Husbandry skill required skill to breed from the two of them and a pair of breeding tigers of high genetic quality because every horse ranch needs on-site access to an unlimited supply of apex predators. 

Be patient, though:
"Some features, including Riding and Animal Husbandry, are not yet implemented at this time. Your account will receive these benefits when the features become available."
So far, so amusing. Those wacky Elder Games guys, eh? Then comes the capper.

If you dig deep and come up with $500 you get all of the above, five years of VIP membership, a custom title of your choosing ("must be game appropriate"), an in-game house, a staff that "helps you command the respect of those around you" and the ability to spontaneously create special snack cakes ("20 per week"). 

The rubric this time doesn't specifically explain that player housing is yet another feature from the "not yet implemented" file but since someone was asking Reddit as recently as January if there were any plans to add it I feel fairly safe in assuming that's the case. Maybe you at least get the Staff of Leadership and the free cakes right away, although I wouldn't count on it.

If all of this sounds completely crazy, well it is, but only from the perspective of any company with a professional marketing department. Mind you, plenty of big developers with one of those have made mis-steps almost as damaging (Hi SOE/DBG, Trion, ANet, Standing Stone...).

The description of each of the Packages opens with a line that explains what Elder Games think they're up to:
"These are pre-release reward packages for early adopters and are considered a donation for the continued development of Project: Gorgon"
Ah, now we get it! It's some kind of in-house Patreon deal. Please give us some money so we can carry on developing this game and in return we'll see you right if launch day comes. When! When launch day comes!

Possibly there are people playing Project: Gorgon right now who would welcome the opportunity to donate some cash to the good cause of keeping the game they're very positive about in development, not to say online. Unfortunately, as any competent PR professional would have been able to predict, that isn't how it's going to play to the wider world. Not that the wider world is going to notice, of course.

Then again, MMORPG gamers are a strange breed. Value for money clearly isn't always at the head of any list of concerns they might have. Sometimes it seems like a concept with which they're entirely unfamiliar.

We've travelled a long way from the days of the $10 horse. For a while we were wailing about whales before we got locked onto lockboxes but now it's all aboard the nostalgia train and full steam for the past.

That's a ticket and a half, isn't it? I was thinking about it this morning, while I was on EverQuest II's latest time-limited expansion server, Kaladim, grinding my way through level 12 in Frostfang Sea at a rate of about a quarter of a level per hour.

Just what is a Progression/Time Limited Expansion/Classic server, when you think about it? For every MMORPG that's gone down that route it means a return to the paid subscription model for a supposedly Free to Play game. Players who haven't considered the Live version worth a glance for years (decades in some cases) come hurtling back, cash in hand, ready to throw money at the developers all over again, and for what?

So they can not have 90% of the game everyone else is getting for nothing, that's what. So they can literally pay a fee to be denied in-game services that were painstakingly developed over many years to add value. So they can pay the full Membership/VIP/Subscription rate and not get any of the perks that are specifically advertised to persuade people it's worth paying in the first place!

On Live, players complain bitterly when companies decide not to roll last year's expansion in free with this year's. On Prog they complain if the expansions unlock too quickly. Some of them beg to be allowed to pay a monthly fee for a server where they never get any new content at all.

In the free game, developers fall over themselves to give stuff away. There are rewards just for logging in, for hanging around for an hour, for sticking it for a week or a month. Anything to stop people wandering off in search of greener grass elsewhere.

There's bonus xp, bonus coin, bonus faction, bonus status, bonus bonuses. Sometimes you can barely see the in-game vendors to redeem your rewards for all the pop-ups offering you more.

Meanwhile, on the far side of the velvet rope, paying customers fall over themselves to congratulate each other on their superior taste and judgment as they scratch a subsistence living selling rat whiskers and rusty weapons to each other in the fantasy equivalent of taking in each other's washing. The only voices of dissent to be heard belong to those who think the scorched earth policy hasn't gone far enough. They demand what they paid for, dammit! Less!

Viewed in that context, perhaps Project: Gorgon's new Cash Shop doesn't look quite so crazy after all.

All right, yes it does.


  1. Well, when you put it that way, I feel a lot better about my occasional bouts of opening $3 lockboxes in Path of Exile. “I’ll open just one to see what’s in it.” Four more boxes later..

  2. Hey, it works for Star Citizen...

  3. I let out a bit of a sigh when I read about this. You gotta make money somehow, but $500 for anything in the shop is just bad optics, and all the more so when it is for stuff that isn't there. Obvious comparisons to Star Citizen and its ever present balancing act between making a game and looking like selling the idea of a game do not help.

    I think the key here is for P:G to last long enough that they can open a retro server without the cash shop. Then the money will roll on in.

    1. Anything that invites comparison with Star Citizen's fundraising mechanics has to be a mistake from a PR perspective. Like SC and Landmark, it's not what you actually sell that matters, it what people who don't like you can say about what you're selling.

      It's been really fascinating to hear people talking about Pantheon in chat on Kaladim. The majority opiniion is definitely excited about the possibilities but there's a vocal minority claiming its all a scam. The last thing you want to do, I would have thought, is to give credence to that argument by putting very high price-tags on things that don't yet and may never exist.

  4. Not wanting to be argumentative, but: I don't see the problem here? Elder Games are opening an channel for people who want to support the game further, to do so. And they're being upfront that there are almost zero in-game benefits, so the purchase is almost entirely supportive, instead of transactional.

    I don't see the issue here?

    1. There's absolutely no issue for the current supporters of the game, who asked for exactly this opportunity to donate and get a little back in the form of perks later. The problem is with how this plays to the rest of the world, or that tiny part of it that might be encouraged, one day, to notice that P:G exists. It creates a pre-existing image in the minds of the casual googler and games-site browser that P:G is yet another in a long line of schemes aiming to get rich at the expense of the gullible.

      It's a PR issue, basically. There's nothing wrong with what they're doing but everything wrong with how they let that information reach the media.


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