Ultima-creator Richard Garriott believes that sharing Shroud of the Avatar with players throughout its development cycle has helped its developers explore and refine different ideas.
Portalarium's Shroud of the Avatar has come a long way since it was first entered the crowdfunding arena back in 2013. Now nearing $6 million in total contributions, the game has grown at an impressively consistent rate, offering substantial monthly updates for more than a year now. According to studio founder Richard Garriott however, Portalarium's habit of delivering regular updates isn't just about giving fans something to look forward to. It's become an integral part of the studio's own development process.
Speaking to The Escapist, Garriott stated that Portalarium initially decided to release early versions of Shroud as something of a preemptive defense. "Stepping over the line into crowdfunding is a scary step," he explained. "You don't know if it will work. You hope it will work. But if it does not, the key people involved will have a harder time getting corporate support in the future," It was the studio's hope, in turn, that giving players even a "barely functional game" would help them maintain "transparency" so that contributors could see exactly where their money was going and might feel less burned if things eventually fell apart.
Much to the studio's surprise however, this strategy wound up having value outside of just staving off torch-wielding mobs of angry crowdfunders. Having players available to play the unfinished product gave the studio the ability to respond to complaints and suggestions while still in the midst of development. "Now we know, as soon as we have a half-baked idea going in, just what people think of it. Players can weigh in and help guide the creation we are making for them." This open method of development likewise made it possible for players to help directly by supplying resources and assets beyond cold hard cash. "[It] also let them know where we might need help," he stated, "The crowd sourcing of everything from music, to art to even code has grown out of this foundation."
Garriott would go on to describe this process as a "joy" that's helped Portalarium achieve a level of enthusiasm sometimes lacking in publisher directed development. While he affirmed that there can be "lots of long term comfort" to having "an eventual distributor," he stated that "being independent... has really helped make sure we fire on all cylinders." Garriott and Portalarium hope to have the first full version of Shroud of the Avatar released by the end of 2015.