OPINION: Promising the world via Kickstarter… (1): Frank Mentzer’s Worlds of Empyrea

Frank Mentzer’s Worlds of Empyrea and Richard Garfield’s Carnival of Monsters: I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Outta Here!

This is the first of two posts about ambitious Kickstarter campaigns. Part 2 focuses on Richard Garfield’s Carnival of Monsters, and can be found here: Promising the world via Kickstarter… (2)

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post talking about my concerns with the worrying trend of new Kickstarter campaigns being used as a kind of ‘honey trap’, with a bargain basement entry cost opening the way to push more and more bumpf onto backers in the form of ‘Add Ons’ and so on… I note that Endure the Stars 1.5 does the same thing, but that’s for another time. You can read my post on this practice here: OPINION: All the gifts, or not…

Today I’m going to talk about another disturbing trend, and discuss two campaigns that utilise it in slightly different ways, and explain why I’m not a fan of these tactics, either.

If you’re going to put a big, flashy project up on Kickstarter, and demand an awful lot of money —$250,000+ in both these cases— using ‘celebrity names’ (in the game world, so to speak) is certainly one way to go about it. Two campaigns that typify this are Frank Mentzer’s Worlds of Empyrea and Richard Garfield’s Carnival of Monsters (the first one has since been cancelled, but I’ll get to that). You can click on the images below to view the relevant campaigns in more detail:

Frank Mentzer's Worlds of Empyrea     Richard Garfield's Carnival of Monsters

Both of these campaigns seem grand and ambitious in scope, with the latter looking decidedly more polished, albeit with lots of artwork unfinished and/or subject to change (and probably some not even started yet), while the first one looks like somebody has a good vision of what they want, but very little actually in place or complete…

Frank Mentzer’s Worlds of Emyprea (now cancelled)

It’s Frank Mentzer’s Worlds of Empyrea campaign that originally prompted me to want to write this post, and I’ll say right now that the decision to cancel that Kickstarter came as no real surprise to me — too many “we will do this” and “we will do that” and “we hope to” statements simply gives me (and evidently many others) too many variables to juggle: there are too many ifs, buts and maybes, and likewise, too many things that seem likely to go wrong. Other examples include the assumption that any backers are “a serious hobby gamer”, and the suggestion that the project is so vast and complicated (translation: overwhelming?) that your best bet for more information and any questions is to post them “on any of several sites available”. They do at least admit that this part of the setting is still being built, and request that backers bear with them…

And this is kind of where I get a little frustrated: I appreciate that sometimes a project on Kickstarter will not be finished and there’s still work to be done, because one of the main reasons for using a crowd-funding model is to raise some of the funds to help create them, after all. However, this is also where I see campaigns like this coming unstuck, because it feels like they expect project backers to fund the entirety of the work, and the more ridiculous, higher pledge levels reflect this:

For $200 your character becomes a leader (Baron/Baroness?) within the realm of Empyrea; for $750, your character becomes a higher ranking leader (Count/Countess); for $1000, $2000, and $4000 they become an even higher rank (with extra benefits like playing some online VTT (Virtual Table Top) games with Frank himself as the host at the higher level); and finally, at the $7500 and $10,000 level you get even higher ranks within the fantasy campaign, yet more online VTT games with Frank himself, and especially at that $10k level, you even get to join Frank’s inner circle of playtesters…

Yup, my shackles were raised with that last one, too. And then there was the promise that anyone pledging $5 or more would unlock Treasure Chests, and become eligible to purchase exclusive PDFs and so on: Exclusive for how long?  To use an oft-quoted phrase: “A fool and their money…”

I am fully aware the Empyrea fantasy setting has been around a long time, and is still being developed, but with all due respect to the team behind it, I also feel this Kickstarter campaign would have put additional pressure on them, with so many aspects still to be resolved: How are all these new higher rank characters going to be integrated into the setting?  How long is it going to take to get these campaign books written, edited, proofed, etc?  And what about all those promised extra goodies like Adventure Modules, City Guides, and even complete novels based on the setting?  I know a lot of authors who would balk at the thought of being able to turn around a novel within 6 months, never mind a whole series of them.

The problems with this Kickstarter campaign do not stop at the above, there are issues with the way it’s presented, the lack of clarity as to what gets done and the cost to deliver the project when it’s finished. It’s no surprise that the majority of the FAQ were about the shipping costs, too.

Again, with all due respect to those involved, I don’t think they stood a chance.  In hindsight, despite a few previous attempts to reboot Empyrea that also failed, it’s easy to see why this particular campaign was unlikely to work, either, and unfortunately, it looks like there’s been a bit of community backlash, too, which you can read more about in the Update section: Empyrea Update.

Part two of this post, focused on Richard Garfield’s Carnival of Monsters, can be found here: Promising the World via Kickstarter… (2)

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