The Eight VirtuesAs you may have noticed by now, this site’s tagline is ‘”Forsaken Virtues” is right.’ You’re also more than likely aware that the subtitle of Shroud of the Avatar is in fact Forsaken Virtues. Fitting, isn’t it?

With those same keen observational skills, have you not noticed a pattern emerge in the way Richard Garriot (AKA Lord British), Portalarium, et al have handled and conducted themselves since the promising yet humble beginnings of this game and its community? Can you honestly describe it as virtuous?

I can’t. What I’ve seen is time and time again is dishonesty, the opposite of honesty, one of the eight virtues from the Ultima series.

Why?

For starters, it’s because they’ll tell you their game is not pay-to-win. They’ll tell you they are not selling advantages. They’ll tell you houses are not an advantage or that they are not the main point of the game. Why do they do that? Why deny the reality they have created? I’ll tell you why. It’s because they know the majority of players hate pay-to-win, because not everyone can spend thousands on a game. Some people have rent, mortgages, utilities, children and other expenses that take priority and their disposable income does not allow for such things. So Portalarium wages a campaign of propaganda and censorship to try to prevent their game from being labeled in ways they deem undesirable.

Now, even some of the highest pledgers and the most dedicated fans are starting to figure it out.

And sure, if you watch their videos, they’ll tell you how important your feedback is and how they value their community. Then, they’ll turn around and ban you for giving honest feedback. Don’t listen to what people say. Watch what they do.

Next, they’ll tell you you’re going to get something and then not deliver it and try to stealthily hide the fact by revising the record of their earlier commitments.

Clearly, judging from just a small sampling of the mountain of available evidence, there is a level of dishonesty at play and a clear pattern.

The next forsaken virtue is sacrifice. It was replaced by greed, its opposite.

What sacrifices has Richard Garriot made for this game and its community? He owns mansions (yes, that is mansions with an ‘s’), he traveled to space (one of only 536 to do so), he won a multi-million dollar lawsuit, and he has a priceless collection of antiques. Yet he wants the community to bear the burden of funding the game and to contribute their work for little to nothing in return.

He also terminated a passionate, well-known and well-liked employee (Joseph Toschlog / Rustic Dragon, founder of Hearth of Britannia) who dropped everything and moved for the lifelong dream to work for his hero, Lord British, helping to create Shroud of the Avatar for what turned out to be less than a year of employment, even though there is still much work to be done on the game. Joseph sold his own meager collection of Ultima memorabilia in the process and I can only imagine what he’s going through now as he is probably one of the most passionate Ultima fans in existence, if not the most.

For those of you on the Shroud of the Avatar e-mail list, can you remember an e-mail that wasn’t about pushing the latest housing or add-on store promotion and actually had some decent content about the game? I think most of us just stopped reading them after a while.

I believe games are an artform and an elevated and advanced form of expression. Well, at least they used to be. Today, with games designed purely to hook players into spending money on frivolous microtransactions they probably can’t even afford by exploiting their psychology, the artform has been polluted by greed and barely survives.

Originally, what morphed into Shroud of the Avatar was going to be one of those type of games. Instead, the developers stumbled upon a more sinister idea that hadn’t been attempted yet–sell virtual real estate just like Chris Roberts selling virtual space ships and model the scheme after the Oklahoma land rush of 1889.

It has been clear for a long time what is driving Richard Garriot and his associates at Portalarium, and it’s not the virtues, nor a passion for the vision to create a worthy spiritual successor to the Ultimas. What’s truly driving them is greed. Just look at the stark difference between the Ultimas of yesteryear and this farce of a spiritual successor we are stubbornly clinging to out of nostalgia today.

Ultima and the spirit of Ultima are both casualties to unrestrained greed which has overcome the games industry. It is sad to see it make its way to the Kickstarter/indie scene via Portalarium and Shroud of the Avatar, as indies are our best hope to reverse the trend.

I will close with those now all-too-familiar words:

“Forsaken Virtues” is right.

Everyone is familiar with the concept of triple-A studios. Now let me introduce to you a new kind of studio, the triple-I studio.

Triple-I stands for:

  • Incompetent
  • Ineffective
  • Inefficient

Now let’s go over why Portalarium fits this description perfectly.

Incompetent

 

Do you really think old-school game developers that suddenly resurface after years and years of obscurity have the skills to survive in the current games industry? Change is rapid in this industry, and skills not only atrophy, but also become outdated. I don’t care how many years someone has been in the industry or how many games they’ve shipped. If they’ve been away for 10+ years, either because of the pursuit of other interests or a waning career, their skills are largely irrelevant.

Richard Garriot is the prime example. He has not had a successful game since the mid 1990’s. After his second high-profile failure in a row since then, Tabula Rasa, he was not heard from again for many years until the events that lead to his current project, which we all know as Shroud of the Avatar. He apparently still thinks he has what it takes, but his former CTO and Portalarium co-founder thinks he’s full of shit and the results speak for themselves–the game is clearly lackluster when viewed from any angle.

Next up, Chris “Dippy Dragon” Spears, technical director at Portalarium, who worked with Richard Garriot on the failed Tabula Rasa game and a small number of other games no one has ever heard of, has put his incompetence on display many times. By the way, I don’t even know why I have to ask this, but why is a technical director fumbling around trying to make maps when Portalarium supposedly has environment artists and world builders? His chosen moniker of “Dippy Dragon” is quite appropriate within this context.

Last but not least, Gina Dionne, AKA “FireLotus,” is the community manager at Portalarium. She is yet another staffer pulled from the failed game, Tabula Rasa. Again, the results speak for themselves. One need only spend 5 minutes on the Shroud of the Avatar forums to realize their community management is inept. If you’re still not convinced, stop by InsaneMembrain’s blog which continues to chronicle the saga as it unfolds.

Ineffective

 

The original goal Richard Garriot had was to create a spiritual successor to the Ultima series and The Ultimate RPG.

Now let’s look at the definition of the word ineffective.
in·ef·fec·tive
ˈiniˈfektiv/
adjective
  1. not producing any significant or desired effect.

Clearly, Shroud of the Avatar meets this definition, as does its development team.

What about Portalarium’s other games, Port Casino Poker and Ultimate Collector? Yes, those too were failures according to the originally stated goals.

Inefficient

 

As of the date and time of this post, the Shroud of the Avatar campaign stats indicate that $4,611,854 has been raised to fund Shroud of the Avatar. Have you ever seen a game raise so much money on Kickstarter yet look so awful and be so hollow and empty over 1 year later, almost nearing its originally forecast release date?

Just look at the long list of employees and compare it with what actually is being produced. With so many employees and so little being produced, and what little is being produced being of such low production value, the value for the dollar just isn’t there. This same money would have definitely been better spent elsewhere, perhaps on a smaller and more skilled development team instead of one that doesn’t even pull its own weight.

And there you have it: Portalarium, the world’s first triple-I game development studio.

“Forsaken Virtues” is right.

The plot thickens.

Not content with censorship, the SotA development team has recently taken to mockery as a tactic against what it sees as attacks from its critics and fans, whom I might add are the very supporters that gave them money and the opportunity to make the game…

I’ve said enough. Hear it from the horse’s mouth.

“Forsaken Virtues” is right.

Starr_avatar-150x150
Starr Long, commenting about a recent uprising in the Dev+ forums regarding Portalarium’s failure to deliver “regularly scheduled Unity asset packs” that were promised to pledgers at the Developer level and above ($400+), said the following:

At this point, it has become clear that honoring the original promise is not realistic nor feasible.

But wait, not only has Portalarium failed to deliver on its promises, but they stealthily reworded the description of the reward over 1 year after their Kickstarter concluded! Starr also had the following to excuse to make about their behavior:

That is why we responded to the suggestion earlier in the thread to change the wording of the reward. We should have warned you all that we were doing that but we failed to do so because of all the other issues on our plate (remember all of us are wearing multiple hats and often have conflicting priorities we are focused on). We have now gone back and restored the original wording and crossed it out with a brief explanation as to why it changed.

“Forsaken Virtues” is right.

Portalarium is setting themselves up to cash in on the rush of a virtual real estate bubble that so far has enabled them to raise over $4.25 million dollars.

People are paying anywhere from $275 to $12,000 for pledges including virtual real estate in their game, Shroud of the Avatar. Some are even buying multiple pieces of real estate for speculation or other purposes.

Let me remind those of you that are continuing to feed this beast of a few simple facts.

Fact #1: We are ruining our own enjoyment of the game and the enjoyment of others by paying for advantages with real money.
Fact #2: The value you place in these goods is based on their supposed rarity and exclusivity, none of which are guaranteed or protected.
Fact #3: We don’t even have anything but a vague idea of what kind of game we’re going to get yet as the design is still up in the air.
Fact #4: This game is in no way guaranteed to become popular.

People who are purchasing pledges for virtual real estate from $275 all the way up to $12,000 are placing a great deal of trust in Portalarium, and I would contend that trust is misplaced. Portalarium has already displayed a tendency to only listen to their backers when it suits them. They never seem to address the root cause of the issues which result in outcry in their community, but have instead offered platitudes or additional pledge rewards and have even attempted to pacify their community with threats of bans. They have already taken several actions which have undermined the value of existing pledges, both on an absolute scale and a relative scale.

They hold a monopoly on the sale of these intangible goods of which they can create an infinite supply. The one thing you can be sure of is that as a business, their interest is to keep selling these “products” for as long as they possibly can. Do you really trust that your investment is safe? Do you think you will receive the value for the money you have spent?

If this game were to fail to attract players, which is a very real possibility, your value will be lost.

If Portalarium fails to place limits on their own supply creation (which is theoretically infinite), your value will be lost due to supply & demand imbalances.

Please be informed that they are modeling their scheme after The Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889. This is a pre-meditated plan as documented here:

Lord British and the Oklahoma Land Rush
http://www.polygon.com/2013/9/13/4724762/lord-british-and-the-oklahoma-land-rush

[Starr] Long said that he had researched the land rushes of the old West because ‘it’s the perfect model’ for his design projections.

“Forsaken Virtues” is right.

Here are a few documented occurrences of the community accusing Portalarium of employing bait-and-switch tactics in the fundraising for Shroud of the Avatar:

  1. https://shroudoftheavatar.com/forum/index.php?threads/overland-map-poll-unofficial.8630/page-3#post-150259
  2. https://shroudoftheavatar.com/forum/index.php?threads/for-consideration-double-city-lot-for-dukes.9467/#post-167262
  3. https://shroudoftheavatar.com/forum/index.php?threads/disappointed-in-the-way-things-are-going.3223/page-3#post-52711
  4. https://shroudoftheavatar.com/forum/index.php?threads/good-aspects-of-r4-map.8872/#post-152006
  5. https://shroudoftheavatar.com/forum/index.php?threads/portalarium-currency-sales-please-read-dev-replied.1391/page-6#post-17113
  6. https://shroudoftheavatar.com/forum/index.php?threads/kickstarter-with-a-gorgeous-overland-map.10176/#post-171358
  7. https://shroudoftheavatar.com/forum/index.php?threads/15-account-credit.4119/page-4#post-78655
  8. https://shroudoftheavatar.com/forum/index.php?threads/firelotus-an-official-update-dev-replied.1386/page-2#post-16969
  9. https://shroudoftheavatar.com/forum/index.php?threads/firelotus-an-official-update-dev-replied.1386/#post-16960
  10. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/portalarium/shroud-of-the-avatar-forsaken-virtues-0/comments?cursor=2401545&direction=asc
  11. http://www.mmorpg.com/gamelist.cfm/game/404/view/forums/post/5966200
  12. http://www.mmorpg.com/discussion2.cfm/post/6264677
  13. http://www.rpgwatch.com/forums/showthread.php?t=20185
  14. http://www.rpgwatch.com/forums/showthread.php?t=21758&page=2
  15. http://www.rpgwatch.com/forums/showthread.php?t=21090
  16. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RawpdadJrY

I’m sure there were plenty of other occurrences on the Shroud of the Avatar forums which were censored by Portalarium staff, judging by the rate at which they censor posts. In addition, the very mention of bait-and-switch on the forums will get you banned, so it’s surprising the moderators have missed so many occurrences.

Now I will attempt to explain a few simple examples which illustrate at least part of the reason why people are understandably upset due to being rubbed in the wrong way by Portalarium.

The main reason people originally backed the project at the higher pledge levels (Citizen and above, for $500+) was to obtain virtual real estate. Explained in the Kickstarter were various types of land plots on which one could place housing, and the various pledge levels above $500 included deeds which could be placed on these plots to claim them. The types of deeds available during the Kickstarter were village, town and city. It was said there would be at least as many plots as the number of deeds that are sold. It was further explained that village plots existed on the outskirts of town, town plots were in the middle of town, and city plots were within walled areas of the city. Each plot was supposed to be limited and rare, with the limit being a few thousand village plots, a few hundred town plots and a few dozen city plots. The concept of taxes was also alluded to, and we were told that Kickstarter deeds would be tax-free and it was implied this was an exclusive perk of being a Kickstarter backer.

A significant number of Citizen-level ($500) backers specifically chose that level because it was the first level that granted housing deeds. In fact, as of May 11th, 2014, there were 754 Citizen-level backers, while the next lowest level, Developer ($450), had only 170, and the next highest level, Knight ($800) had 698. On both sides of Citizen and Knight pledges, there was a steep dropoff in pledges.

Here’s a complete breakdown of pledge levels as of May 11th, 2014:

SotA Pledge Tier Quantity vs Value

So that leads me to the first point of contention. Well over a year after the Kickstarter, Portalarium has gone ahead and created another class of land called a row plot on which a new type of housing, row houses, can be placed. These row plots exist within the city. They’ve given row deeds to every backer at the Ancestor ($275) level up to the Developer ($450) level a rent-free row deed. Yes, that’s right. All existing backers and new backers alike at those levels will get this perk.

Now I probably don’t have to explain this, as you the reader are most likely intelligent enough to realize this yourself, but some if not all of these row plots may in fact turn out to be even more valuable than the village plots included at the Citizen level ($500) by virtue of the fact that they exist within the city, a prime location with plenty of traffic, perfect for a shop or other establishment.

Here is a view of the new row housing:
Blue Tile Roof Row Houses

For comparison, here is a view of a village plot with a Citizen house:
Founder Citizen House

So, not only has Portalarium changed the terms that existed in the Kickstarter, but they have eroded the value of the virtual real estate that we the backers purchased for inflated values based on its supposed scarcity and exclusivity. With row houses, they’ve added an even higher density housing plot that will drastically increase the housing in the game, which ultimately lowers the value of all houses. They’ve given this new housing to backers from the $275 level up to the $450 level, making customers who previously paid $500 that haven’t even had a chance to realize the value of their pledge wonder why they ever paid that amount in the first place.

A second point of contention has to do with the deed/plot placement priority system. For those that don’t know what it is, Portalarium has created a system whereby those who pledge the most money get to place their deeds first. The reason why this is such a hot topic for people is that the value of real estate is location, location, location. However, nowhere was this system detailed or even mentioned in the Kickstarter description. It was not until the very last day of the Kickstarter that it was mentioned in Update #23: FINAL DAY BONUS REWARDS: Waterfront Property, Island Castles, Custom Avatars, Collector’s Edition Story of Mondain, & More! Those who pledged at the time were blissfully unaware that they would not have an equal opportunity to place their houses as the next person on a first come, first serve basis but instead would be limited to placing their house in order of pledge amount. The intrinsic value of tiers on the low-end of each type (village, town, city) took a hit because of this, which understandably would upset people as there was not a full disclosure.

A third point of contention has to do with the fact that Portalarium decided to continue to sell and convert new backers to “Founder” accounts after the Kickstarter concluded. Previous to this announcement, they were exclusive to Kickstarter backers and contained exclusive perks. When this decision caused an uproar, Dallas Snell, COO and co-founder of Portalarium, responded by saying they were doing this to fulfill a promise, but he neglected to mention the promise was made after the Kickstarter concluded.

So, dear reader, I ask you to please draw your own conclusions as to whether Portalarium are in fact guilty of the classic bait and switch scheme.

“Forsaken Virtues” is right.

Prominent community member enderandrew targeted by moderators with threats of banning quits Shroud of the Avatar community:

https://www.shroudoftheavatar.com/forum/index.php?threads/goodbye.11743/

I’m one step away from a ban for trying to be helpful and honest.

The moderation staff have made it clear to me that I’m not welcome here so I’m taking my leave.

Official Portalarium response to community concerns about moderation practices:

https://www.shroudoftheavatar.com/forum/index.php?threads/on-forum-moderation.11791/

Commentary from the one-and-only InsaneMembrane:

http://insanemembrain.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/sota-community-manager-addresses-moderation-problem-calls-everyone-trolls/

“Forsaken Virtues” is right.