Pathfinder Online Never Had A Chance

Between my vacation and Diablo III’s 2.3 patch invigorating the game, I’ve lost my momentum in FFXIV. I want to login… then I don’t because something more interesting comes up. Hopefully I can turn that around soon, because I want to get back into it. But damn, 2.3 is an amazing patch from an amazing expansion. Considering where Diablo III was originally, Reaper of Souls might be the single greatest expansion ever made. It completely turned the game around.

Pathfinder Online Layoffs and Possible Shutdown

The news today is Pathfinder Online’s layoffs. First of all, my condolences to everyone who lost their job. That’s terrible and I wish it on nobody (except Stephen Harper, but he’s got a MP pension for life so he’ll be fine).  Most of the dev team is gone, with just the leads remaining to try and get the next two patches out. No new features are in development unless they can get more funding, which means dealing with a publisher and likely selling the company to said publisher. The server is still up for this month, due to subscription money, but that’s the only reason the lights are still on.

If it looks grim, that’s because it is. The MMO market is extremely tough right now. The game appears to be nowhere near finished. It doesn’t have a ton of buzz, or a top tier IP to lean on (Pathfinder is a great pen & paper RPG, but it doesn’t bring mainstream eyeballs). It’s a sandboxy PvP game, which the market is flooded with right now, and also which doesn’t draw mainstream eyeballs. Not a lot of publishers are big on getting into the market right now.

It’s going to be tough to pull out of this and put a game out.

But Really, It’s Not Pathfinder…

Pathfinder Online’s biggest problem, though, is that it bears little resemblance to Pathfinder. I could never understand what they were going for in using that IP. Looking at their webpage, lets take a look at the bullet point feature list:

  • A Fantasy Sandbox

Well, yes. This fits. Pathfinder (and it’s direct ancestor D&D 3.5) are definitely fantasy sandboxes. Of course, the tabletop version only really has the limits imposed by the Dungeon Master, and an MMO can’t possibly hope to be that good of a sandbox, but this makes sense. I would have loved to see a smaller scale party game with a DM role, though. (Kind of like what Shadow Realms was pitched as.) That said, this is in theme with Pathfinder.

  • Open World PvP

… Well, okay. PvP does exist in Pathfinder. It’s hardly the focus, though. Virtually all published campaign material, most of what happens in Pathfinder Society, and the vast majority of custom campaigns aren’t based on PvP. The core game is built around a group working together at least on some level. Players do sabotage each other and are often trying to further their own ends, but games that go into outright open PvP rarely last very long because the game just doesn’t work that way. Once I kill your character, you probably need a new one since I’m not going to pay to resurrect you. The new one has no reason to hate my character unless you’re metagaming.

In fact, I might just animate your corpse and then stick you in a portable hole to make it virtually impossible for anyone else to resurrect you. Standard MMO open world PvP doesn’t capture what actually goes on when real PvP happens in Pathfinder, it’s a totally different animal. Death in a tabletop game often has major consequences, and can easily require a new character be created if it’s a PvP death (PvE deaths are different, you are more likely to have a party that wants to resurrect you if you died as part of the team). In a MMO? Often times death is largely meaningless, and even if it does mean something, having it mean “you have to make a new character” will chase off your players real fast.

  • A Player Driven Economy

Wait, what? The “economy” in Pathfinder is largely inherited from D&D, and it makes very little sense as a true simulation. Once again, there is next to no published material in which players are playing farmers. I actually did run a campaign where players ran an item shop, but they also went out adventuring to get inventory for it (profit margins are excellent when you don’t pay anything to create stuff!)

Gathering isn’t a thing in Pathfinder. When you want to make stuff, you use gold to buy the materials. For some of the crafting feats (like scroll making), gathering would be basically impossible even if you wanted to do it, as you’d actually need a supply chain and production workers to create the materials.  Then, there’s this:

With the exception of some beginner gear and some consumables and vanity items from the cash shop, every item in the game will be crafted by player characters.

Have these guys played Pathfinder? This very rarely happens. Crafting feats are expensive and time consuming. High level items are very rarely made by players, because a Greater Rod of Metamagic Quicken would take 170 days of game time to craft. You know of many campaigns that expect their adventurers to have 170 days of downtime? It’s not the common scenario for players to craft much of anything, let alone high end items, let alone all of them. In fact, it runs counter to the system design: encounters are designed with certain amounts of loot, including items. There’s a whole section about it in the Pathfinder rules (in D&D 3.5, a significant part of the Dungeon Master’s Guide is on how to do this, as well). You’re going to find or buy the majority of your items, and players are not expected to be both mighty heroes and top tier blacksmiths. You can do it, but it’s so cumbersome that it’s rarely done.

The economy that exists in Pathfinder is there to work for the game. That is, outfitting adventurers is a significant part of the world economy, and lots of NPCs make a living doing it. The idea that players should actually be doing this instead is so far afield form the table top game that I have no idea where it’s coming from. This is someone wanting to make an open world sandbox MMO rather than a Pathfinder game.

The core problem here? This is not Pathfinder. This is an open world PvP sandbox MMO that happens to have the Pathfinder name. It’s not going to attract many people interested in Pathfinder, because the game is so far afield of what Pathfinder is about. It also won’t attract many other people based on the name, because Pathfinder as a brand doesn’t have tons of appeal outside of it’s playerbase. This project was in deep trouble right from the outset, as a result.

Plus, the Finances Were Crazy

As Moonrise just taught us, maybe trying to fund a game development project by taking a F2P game and selling early access for $15 isn’t an awesome idea. But… Pathfinder Online is even worse. This is a subscription MMO… in what amounts to early access.

That is not a typo. They were charging a subscription for a game that is nowhere near done. Is it any wonder it didn’t get much traction? This quote from the address says it all:

Q: Any thoughts about lowering the monthly price?

A: Every time we have lowered the price on Pathfinder Online in the past nine months, we have kept the same number of folks playing the game but brought in less money.  At a time when we are entirely reliant on the revenue from subscriptions to keep the game live on the server and employ our core team, decreasing the monthly price is not an option.

Lowering the sub price didn’t change the numbers. That says a lot, to me. If you followed the development of this, they tried to drum up interest, but the subscription (and the buying the game price they also had until July) were huge barriers. The pitch they were trying to sell to people was to buy the game, pay a subscription, and play it in a pre-release state? In a world full of F2P games and large budget, highly polished subscription games, why did anybody think that sales pitch was going to work? It didn’t even have a trial version until June.

Also, this:

We have always known that we would need a certain amount of money to make Pathfinder Online a reality.  Some delays in getting the game to market coupled with some anticipated funding falling through have left us about 75% short of the money we need to finish the game and bring it to Open Enrollment.

In more straightforward terms, they started the game without nearly enough money to finish it. Attempts to find the money didn’t work out, so they are 75% short of getting to “open enrollment”, which in their FAQ states that they think it’s ready for an actual release.

It Never Had A Chance

Launching MMOs in todays market is hard. ESO, Wildstar, the Secret World, and many other games have learned that the hard way. Pathfinder Online caters to only a part of the market (the PvP sandbox part), and that part has a ton of other games being made for it right now. It had extremely high barriers to entry that kept people from being interested. It has an IP that really doesn’t fit the game they are making and doesn’t really help bring people in.

Line all that up at the same time, and I don’t see how this game ever had a real chance at success. It’s too bad… but Pathfinder is at it’s best when you’re at a table (real or virtual) with friends, and a Dungeon Master who can create a more interactive sandbox than any MMO could ever hope to.

That was my favorite thing about being a DM: I create this wonderful intricate sandbox… then let the players loose in it to see what happens. Half the time I had no idea what they were going to do and had to make stuff up on the fly. It’s the wonderful chaos of shared storytelling.


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