Some people like Mechwarrior Online , and some people really, really don't. Numerous MWO forum threads are filled with complaints about the incomplete state of the game, and the announcement of Transverse , the new sci-fi MMO project from developer Piranha Games, was met with a deluge of fresh anger. That upset was driven in no small part by the multi-million-dollar, in-house crowdfunding campaign; yet according to Piranha Games co-founder Bryan Ekman, crowdfunding is one of the most effective ways an independent studio can build both a loyal following and a market for its games.
"The direct connection you create with your backers and customers is a wonderful relationship, often not available when you are partnered with a publisher," Ekman said. "If you look around the industry, crowdfunding is a real disruptor, allowing smaller, more creative projects to see the light of day. There's no way games like Star Citizen , or Elite: Dangerous , or any number of other amazing crowdfunded projects get made by today's hit-driven publishing market."
Kickstarter is a great platform for newcomers, he explained, but since Piranha already has an established platform for accepting payments, the studio decided to forgo the costs involved with using it and handle everything itself instead. The uproar over the lack of a failsafe also led it to very quickly change the terms of the campaign: Now, if Piranha fails to raise $500,000 toward the development of Transverse within 30 days of its announcement, all pledges will be refunded in full.
Ekman's fellow co-founder Russ Bullock acknowledged that the vehement criticism of Mechwarrior Online has had an impact on the Transverse crowdfunding campaign, but while he allowed that "there is at least some room out there for legitimate concern," he believes the majority of it is unwarranted. "MWO's development has advanced to a significant state, and the last of the originally defined features are currently in development, with delivery slated for before the end of the year. This means that at our 2.5 year mark, we will have delivered everything originally described to players, along with significant additional features," he said. "When compared to other like products in development that are currently taking customers' money, MWO has delivered more features and more playable content in the same timeframe."
Piranha's problems with Mechwarrior Online can be boiled down to two "major missteps," he said: Failing to adequately communicate the reasons for delays, and pressure from the former publisher, Infinite Game Publishing, which "pushed for changes in priority that were not in the best interests of the game or it's community." As an example, he said Piranha likely would have started development on the long-awaited Community Warfare much sooner, "but our publisher disagreed on the value and priority" of that element of the game.
With a deal reached last week to transfer all rights related to Mechwarrior Online exclusively to Piranha , however, Infinite is now out of the picture. Bullock said the change will allow the studio to focus on features demanded by the players. "In the past when our publisher was in the picture it was often a debate or a compromise on what should be developed," he said. "These sort of situations just won't happen any longer. We can listen to our community and get an understanding of what the most pressing issues are, and then schedule our development cycle around that."
As for whether that will be enough to win over Piranha's most vociferous critics, Ekman said the studio expects "some level of of polarization" over issues of game design and balance, but added that a very small number of people "are simply critical and abusive for the sole purpose of being disruptive."
"When it comes to bringing founders 'back into the fold,' we are focused on those that have a genuine interest in MWO and legitimate concerns and reasons for expressing their dissatisfaction," he said. "In fact, if you look back at 2014, we've dedicated ourselves to delivering content and features to fulfill their needs as players and backers. We have been clear on goals, set and delivered on those dates, and have listened to feedback and made changes when possible and necessary."
Getting back to Transverse, it sounds like it could be a remarkable experience if and when it's properly realized—Ekman said the nature of the design means that "no two players can possibly have the same progression through their character's life"—but the crowdfunding campaign hasn't yet caught fire with gamers: At the time of writing, it had raised less than $8000 of its total goal. 24 days remain in the campaign.