Crowfall, a massively-multiplayer PC game with bags of potential, has returned to crowdfunding to raise more money. But this time things are different: this time you can invest directly into ArtCraft, the company behind the game.
Equity crowdfunding is a thing Indiegogo began offering as of yesterday, in partnership with MicroVentures. It's a bit like Fig, the crowdfunding platform spearheaded by Brian Fargo. But whereas Fig grants game shares, Indiegogo and MicroVentures grant equity in companies.
That means there are strict US Securities and Exchange Commission rules about reporting on the ArtCraft campaign. Broadly speaking, the SEC wants all information to come from one source rather than multiple interpretations of it, so I have to point you directly to the ArtCraft Indiegogo equity campaign rather than report specifics here. Go take a look; it's approachable.
Question is, why? Why return to crowdfunding? A quick look at the Crowfall website shows a funding total of just over $10m, making it one of the best funded crowdfunded games out there - only Shroud of the Avatar with just over $10.5m, and of course Star Citizen with more than $130m (are you kidding me), are higher.
But Crowfall has made that money from a variety of places, public and private alike. More to the point, what ArtCraft is offering today wasn't available when Crowfall raised nearly $1.8m on Kickstarter in early 2015. Back then only wealthy, accredited investors could buy into early companies, but as of May this year, anyone can. It's very new.
Crowfall isn't a ballooning mess, in other words. ArtCraft hasn't suddenly run out of money and now needs more. This kind of investment is something ArtCraft has wanted to offer, and with it comes yet another source of funding for the game.
"We almost have the money right now to launch the game," Gordon Walton, ArtCraft co-founder and Crowfall executive producer, told me on the phone yesterday evening, "but MMOs continue to add... We're going to launch next year and from that point we're not going to stop working on it; we've still got a lot more stuff we'd like to do. We've done a minimum launch feature set and we're going to continue to march from there.
"If we had more money, if we had Star Citizen money, we'd make a bigger game! But we wouldn't slow down the shipment."
J. Todd Coleman, ArtCraft co-founder and Crowfall creative director, added: "To us, more money equates to more time and work on content in our game. We don't have lavish offices, we have crappy old beat up furniture we bought at an auction; we don't have big fancy latte machines or anything like that, although I could make an argument for the productivity boost we might get out of one of those! but I'm too cheap to buy one.
"All of the funds that we get in go to one place with almost no exceptions: it's into our people. It's buying more heads - more butts in more chairs to produce more code and more art and design and more of everything."
"$10m to an individual sounds like a lot of money, because it is, but to a company or to a project - especially an MMO ... it's actually a small amount. If you take a team of 40 people on a project for a couple of years, it adds up very very quickly."
Crowfall has a lot going for it. The concept of having player-versus-player campaign worlds you can win or lose after months-long battles, set within a wider, persistent eternal kingdom of throne wars and strategy, is fascinating. And I've been impressed with the regularity of updates and communication, and the progress of playable builds with no associated NDA, so they've been recorded from every angle.
The original plan to ship Crowfall this year "just wasn't realistic", Coleman told me, and was changed to mid-to-late 2017 and communicated with backers.
"That said, we haven't had that many real setbacks," added Walton. "The biggest challenge that we've had is to make sure our core combat is where we wanted it, and we just, literally in the last couple of weeks, have gotten it to where all the haters have turned around and said, 'I was wrong: it's good now!'
"We wish we'd been there six months ago but we weren't, but we finally got there and that's good. There's still plenty to do but ... we tried to frontload all our risk, that was the key. We don't have a bunch of risky stuff yet to come; we have a lot of work to do, not a lot of risk."
Currently Crowfall is in pre-alpha. Once the campaign worlds and wider eternal kingdom are added "early next year, February-ish", it can move into alpha. Until then, the bigger picture and promise of Crowfall may not be apparent in videos you see, so bear that in mind.