Archive for June, 2014

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.

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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.

Propaganda Minister Garriot

In a move that could only be described as inspired, Portalarium’s “public relations” efforts have redoubled in the face of growing dissent and discontent in their community.

Here is an example of their latest efforts:

Shroud of the Avatar developers want backers to ‘feel like partners’

http://www.polygon.com/e3-2014/2014/6/16/5808562/shroud-of-the-avatar-richard-garriott-interview-backers-partners
It should be noted that the reason Portalarium is using Polygon for their Shroud of the Avatar propaganda campaign is that they find cooperation with a moderation team there which censors comments and bans users for expressing negative opinions towards the subject of their articles.

In fact, the very article I have linked to has been censored and washed clean of any dissenting opinions.

“Forsaken Virtues” is right.