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I Can See for Miles

This is our 26th dev blog. We have published them every two weeks for... an entire year.

It literally seems to me like it was just a few days ago that we made the announcement about Pathfinder Online, introduced Goblinworks, and opened the forum for discussions about the game. Time has gone by that fast.

In those twelve months, we've done some amazing things due in large measure to the support of the community.

We began by explaining what made Pathfinder Online a different kind of game from the WoW clones that you've been playing for the past 10 years. That we wanted to make a sandbox game, not a theme park game, and why that mattered. That we wanted to focus our design on maximizing meaningful human interaction—and what the many ramifications of that choice are in terms of the kind of game Pathfinder Online will be. But we also wanted to get you involved in making key decisions about the game in real, impactful ways. The selection of the name "Thornkeep" by the community was an example of that commitment.

Last summer we asked for a tremendous leap of faith on your part. We ran a Kickstarter campaign to fund a Technology Demo of the game—not even an initial version of the game but just a test bed for our technology and a way to prove that we can do what we have set out to do. That Kickstarter succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. We asked for $50,000, and we raised more than $300,000. Over 4,000 people backed that project. It absolutely shocked the videogame development community to see that level of support for a game such a long way from release. A lot of folks took notice of what Goblinworks was about.

Our biggest challenge is, and will be, time. If we had an infinite amount of time we could work on the game until it was huge, perfect, stable, and stuffed with content. But we don't have an infinite amount of time. In fact, we think that we have a very narrow window of time in which to make the game a success.

The theme park era of MMOs is nearly over. All the games that got pitched and funded after World of Warcraft, exposing just how big and rich a market exists for virtual worlds, have run their course. The last game to emerge from that period is likely Elder Scrolls Online; it's very hard to "hide" a AAA MMO development team and budget. We know that Blizzard is working on at least one new MMO, but they've played their cards close to the vest and nobody knows what they're working on, though my instinct is that it's not another theme park.

This industry is filled with creative people and companies with deep pockets. There are going to be a lot of MMOs in the future, of that I have no doubt, and not a few will begin with large experienced teams and a lot of capital. My opinion is that many of those games will be sandbox games, for the various reasons we've discussed here on the blogs and in the forums and in pubic appearances. There's a gradual consensus building in the industry that sandbox is the wave of the future.

We have the advantage of moving early. It will take quite some time for those future sandbox MMOs to work their way through the various rounds of approvals and review they'll need to overcome inside those Huge Game Publishers. For now, the sandbox segment is wide open for newcomers and innovation. And that's why we're trying to move as fast as we possibly can. By the time those future sandbox MMOs arrive on the scene, we want to be well entrenched with a healthy and steadily growing player community—doing so will virtually ensure that we hit our long-term goals for the game.

Hungry Like the Wolf

The Technology Demo was a much harder project to complete than we expected. I'll be writing more about the reasons for that in a future blog, but I'll say that we were surprised at the fact that the biggest hurdles we had to overcome had nothing to do with software or art.

But we persevered, and the team gelled really well and the Technology Demo was finished. And it did what it was designed to do—it helped us secure the financing we need to put the game into production. We've got a stable financial envelope to work in and we have built a plan to get the game into your hands with the investment we've secured.

However, we think we can do much more. While it's a truism I often point out that you can't get a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant, for Pathfinder Online, we can speed up our gestation to a substantial degree with the addition of more resources. Getting those resources means raising more money.

We decided that rather than making compromises that made us uncomfortable—rather than putting ourselves into a position where we might have to focus on a short-term return rather than a long-term sustainable business—we'd limit the outside investment we allowed into the business, and instead we'd ask our community to take another huge leap of faith in us.

Yesterday we announced our second Kickstarter project, this time to help fund Pathfinder Online for release. This Kickstarter is centered around the idea of "bigger, better and FASTER." That's what we'll be able to do with a successful Kickstarter—speed up our development tremendously, and expand the features we can deliver on that new schedule. And we can do it in a way that makes us answerable first and foremost to you, our community.

If we reach the $1 million funding target, we'll be able to accelerate the project by a full year. That $1 million gets us to the Beta in the summer of 2014 and to Release in early 2016. It will also expand the features we can deliver from an extremely thin skeleton to a reasonably robust selection of core game elements.

Both of those things help reduce the risk in the project tremendously. The faster we release the game, and the bigger its feature set, the more likely we'll be able to capture and hold a part of the sandbox market that will be large enough to empower the game to grow and be self-supporting.

There are additional points of acceleration in this plan. We've outlined a lengthy series of stretch goals that further compress the schedule while adding more features. It’s our hope that the community will help us reach those goals too, even FURTHER reducing the risk and increasing the long-term viability of the game tremendously.

No Sleep Till Brooklyn

As I write this on Tuesday night, the Kickstarter has been live for about half a day and we have already come nearly 10% of the way to our funding goal. That lifts our spirits and makes us feel like we've made the right decision.

The road from here to our funding goal and beyond is very steep and there are some pretty big valleys we'll have to bridge. The timing of events places us in the middle of the Christmas season and all that implies about people's disposable income and their attention. That's one reason we've extended the project through the holidays to end in mid-January. We expect a slowdown in the middle and we're planning around that—both to try and keep momentum moving and to reenergize the community for a big finish.

We need your help, not just with pledges for the Kickstarter, but as evangelists. You are the people who can make or break this Kickstarter. I think of you as an army of friendly faces and kind words that can spread the message of what we're doing farther and faster and with more impact than we could do on our own. And I hope that you'll join with us on this grand adventure.

Every person you tell about Pathfinder Online and the Kickstarter is a person who might decide to take a chance on a small band of Goblins trying to shift the world a little bit on its axis. It’s a message that gains strength with each voice. Your voice MATTERS in ways large and small.

And so we ask for your help. Please spread the word. Use your Facebook wall, your Twitter feed, your Google+ Hangouts. Send email to your gamer friends and your guildmates.

We're going to work as hard on this Kickstarter as we have on anything in our lives. We're doing that because of the incredible respect we have for everyone who backed the Technology Demo and everyone who has backed the Pathfinder Fantasy Sandbox MMO. And we want you to be proud of what you've accomplished with your support.

Here's to a wild, fun, surprising ride over the next 46 days. And let's give a toast to Cayden Cailean wherever he may be that he gives us the blessings he often shows to fools, madmen, and those who have had a bit too much of the ale keg—and Goblins too.

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