Paizo, on the opening day of GenCon, had an open meeting updating the current state of the Pathfinder MMO. Lisa Stevens, the CEO of Paizo led the frank and informative discussion about the history, current status, and future of the MMO.
She began this by bringing up the first meeting of a Pathfinder MMO with Ryan Dancey. In 2012, Mr. Dancey approached Paizo about making a Pathfinder MMO. She asked him for a full business plan and 7 months later he presented one. Paizo loved it and licensed Pathfinder to Goblinworks (Dancey’s company) for the purpose of creating an MMO. Goblinworks then created a highly successful Kickstarter where a large, sandbox MMO was promised that would have a player controlled economy. They also promised players would be able to control territory giving them large amounts of control. The ideas were bold and exciting, creating sandbox mechanics players had been demanding for year. The game was starting to sound like a fantasy version of eve online.
While Goblinworks first Kickstarter raised many times over the original $50,000, they were unable to raise the overall $1 million goal to fully fund a next-generation MMO. Unfortunately, Goblinworks was never able to meet this goal and in 2015 Goblinworks was dissolved and eventually absorbed by Paizo. It was clear at this point that if Paizo did not do something drastic the Pathfinder MMO would never see the light of day. They hoped by making this a Paizo product they would be able to finish the essential promises of the original Kickstarter, even if they couldn’t mean the long term goals of the MMO.
Currently, only two people are working on the Pathfinder MMO; a developer and a producer who seems to be doing everything else. They are relying heavily on the gaming community to help them test and finish the game; using early participants to point out any bugs and flaws in the game. It’s pretty intriguing because this is creating a deeply devoted and intimately involved fan based community. Which is only amplified by the sheer amount of player control in the game. Since Paizo has taken over production of the game, they have established a roadmap with a series of milestones. Once the roadmap is finished, the hope is that they will have created a core game that meets their quality standards. Simply put, Paizo doesn’t want to sell and market an incomplete game to fans.
I was able to play the game (running on Unity engine) and the combat felt very similar to World of Warcraft. While the level of player control over the world is impressive, the graphics were clearly dated, looking like something that would’ve come out 5 or 6 years ago. There are several other functions in the game: When a player takes control of a Hex they can decide the level of security in it. They can make their own regions as dangerous or safe as they like. Creating safe havens for players to craft and level up, or rough and tumble pvp zones where anything goes. The player driven economy sounds amazing, with all but the starting gear being crafted by players. Since recipes can only be learned from monster drops this makes dedicated crafting as good as gold, and creates a power economic incentive to build up some sort of craft. There will also be a level of PvE in the game, with events called escalations. These will be villains popping up from time to time and players will have the option to fight them, ending their plans, or bypass them and make them someone else’s problem. Players will be able to steal boss kills from one another or sometimes be forced to work together to end high level threats that could destroy their settlements. The game overall has some interesting features but its limited graphics and combat system hold it back.
All of that being said, it’s hard to blame Paizo for any of it. They were swept up with an ambitious and tantalizing idea with an unproven but highly motivated company. This created a fatal combination that, while in some ways is Paizo’s fault, really falls on the now defunct Goblinworks. It should also be noted that Lisa Steven’s candor and honesty on this subject should be applauded and her commitment to complete it, even slowly, shows a commitment to their brand and fans, and is a clear attempt to do right by both.
Also, while the Pathfinder MMO leaves a lot to be desired from its heady and ambitious early days the fact that it exists and is creating a successful fantasy sandbox is tantalizing. If they finish the game then they will give another, bigger studio a working model for what needs to be done in the future. It is also clear that Paizo learned a lot from this experience and their next video game project, Pathfinder Kingmaker, will greatly benefit from this painful learning experience. It appears, from the panel that Paizo made a mistake, but even more importantly recognized it and committed itself to righting it. The Pathfinder MMO’s greatest value though won’t be in the game itself, but in the lessons learned from it. Which, in the end, will be the most valuable aspect of the Pathfinder MMO.
Fans can expect to see the finished product of Pathfinder Online around March or April 2018. In the meantime, if you’d like to join the community, you can visit pathfinderonline.com to sign up.