Shroud Of The Avatar Solicits Players For Game Assets

Real talk: SOTA's, um, not exactly a looker. Maybe you can do better!

Where there are fans, there is also fan art. This is one of nature’s most time-unsullied processes, painting our planet in mighty strokes since it first sang itself into existence. For example, what are alligators if not fan art of the dinosaurs? And ancient Rome? Just a fan recreation of ancient Greece. I rest my case. Richard Garriott and his merry band of Garriettes are clearly aware of this, which is why they’ve decided to directly ask fans to make art for Ultima spiritual successor Shroud of the Avatar. They’ve even provided custom tools with which to do it and the promise of a rather hefty payday – if fans’ completed submissions get accepted, that is.

The Dungeon Kit (demonstrated above) is now available to backers who pledged $400 or more, and it allows users to both make their own assets and use (presumably for a fee) Shroud of the Avatar assets in their own projects. Executive producer Dallas Snell explained:

“Our first game assets for crowdsharing is the Dungeon Kit used for the prototype we demonstrated during the RoosterTeeth eXpo earlier this month.”

“We’re making history this month by being one of the first (if not the first) game developer/publishers to make game assets available to other developers for use in their own games, before the release of our own game. We believe that by pre-releasing game assets for other creator/developers to use we will increase our own game’s success, while helping our fellow developers at the same time.”

He further noted that the SOTA team is very interested in player-made dungeons and assets, requesting that everything be submitted here. Previously, Portalarium promised “four times the Unity store price” for any and all accepted works, in addition to in-game rewards like trophies and statues. Now, however, you can choose between being paid (no specific amount is mentioned), getting a free T-shirt, receiving 2X account credit towards future pledges, or nothing.

The reimbursement terminology’s a bit murky at the moment, and I’ve mailed Portalarium asking for clarification.Thankfully, selling your asset doesn’t prevent you from peddling it elsewhere or using it yourself. So, if nothing else, there’s some definite flexibility here.

It’s tempting to wonder (once again) why this is even necessary considering Garriott’s mountains of space doubloons, but the team is (once again) claiming that this is more about forging a closer relationship with fans than it is any sort of maniacal money hoarding scheme. On paper, that  sounds marvelous, but I’m still skeptical of a) the precise terms of what fans get out of the deal and b) if it’s worthwhile when rejection sends you spiraling back to the drawing board. I suppose both those question marks will be erased relatively soon, one way or another.


  1. Myrdinn says:

    While I’m quite familiar with crowdsourcing I still think these initiatives are pushing it a bit. Why have people commit at least $400 before they can use your fancy tools and submit their art/dungeons? Garriott keeps coming up with “community involvement” but I keep thinking he might be so rusty in his designing skills that he feels he should involve a lot of 3rd parties – so he has a scapegoat if the project is a flop. That’s probably just my negative outlook on life (and Ultima), I guess.

    • Chalky says:

      It’s really weird. Quality and consistency control is going to be a nightmare with a whole bunch of random people making assets for the game.

      • Nobyl says:

        “They’ve even given them custom tools with which to do it and the promise of a rather hefty payday – if their completed submissions get accepted, that is.”

        Consistency and quality control isn’t hard to manage when you’re only accepting what you want. Given the fact that they’re using the same tools to develop assets, it’s not hard to imagine most submissions will keep in-line with the style intended. Valve did a pretty good job with the Steam Workshop and TF2, I can only imagine similar success here.

        • Chalky says:

          Although I have no doubt that’s exactly what was in their head when they thought this up, I don’t think TF2 can be pointed to with the words “see, that’s how our game will be” so easily.

          • Cinek says:

            Yep. TF2 is more of an example how things should NOT be done, as right now it’s full of random items with styles that are as varied as people who made them. Only consistent items out there right now are these made by Valve themselves (though even they got some issues, especially with newer Valve items).

    • Casinix says:

      I sense a dangerous lack of Compassion; say fifteen “mu”s and let someone crash at your house for a night.

    • skittles says:

      I assume they are just making it available for >$400 backers temporarily. I.e. giving it to a smaller amount of people to test, make sure it is functional, and gauge interest in the tool, before releasing it to lower tiers.

      I may be wrong though of course.

  2. tk421242 says:

    In regards to the comment about what the fee is to use the assets, it states on the update they posted on KS:

    “The assets will be usable and royalty free in any project the backer is directly involved in and will only carry the requirement that Portalarium is listed in the credits!” So if you can use their assets in your own project if you like, just give credit where it is due.

    • tk421242 says:

      Perhaps they should better explain this to people because every site I have seen this story on the comments keep saying the same thing… “pay 400 to do their work for them”.

      This is for developers… not the average player. If you are using unity already to make a game or interested in doing so you can pay a $400 pledge and get access to all of their assets as opposed to having to create your own… or use the free assets on the unity service… or buy assets on the unity store. Yes players can use this to make dungeons and submit them to the devs for consideration in the game, but the update on KS goes on and on about being the first company to offer up assets to devs making their OWN game before the launch. That is the point of this pledge level… which is why they titled it Developer.

      • gi_ty says:

        I’m glad you brought that up, when I read the KS update I was thinking they were being pretty awesome to just give away they’re assets (well at $400+ pledge levels). I think thats an awesome way to pay your high level backers back.

        • frightlever says:

          Yeah, I just did a 180 in opinion on reading the above. Hopefully they’ll update the article to make this clear.

  3. Koozer says:

    Hooray, the chance to do work for someone before any guarantee of pay!

    • Shuck says:

      Welcome to the new reality of Kickstarter-funded games. Despite Mr. Grayson’s assertion, $1.9 million is nothing. It’s certainly not a “mountain” of money, as far as game budgets go (the later Ultimas would have had bigger budgets, adjusted for inflation). So given that they want to make a game of a certain scale, and haven’t raised enough money to actually pay people to do the work, getting people to do the work for free or very little (compared to hiring an artist) becomes necessary. We’ll be seeing more and more of that.

      • KevinLew says:

        This argument seems to get thrown around all the time. That is, “Well, video games in reality cost more than (x) thousand/million dollars, and therefore they need more.” I need to point out why it’s totally wrong.

        First of all, I don’t think that the Kickstarter proposals are written where the money raised will be just a “down payment” on development, and they’ll need to do more begging for help later. If you need two million dollars to make a project, then I’d think that you’d better make a Kickstarter where the goal is two million dollars. Otherwise everybody should be using Kickstarter for literally everything. Put the goal at $100 so you keep the funding no matter how much is raised. Then a month later say it isn’t enough, and tell everybody that you’re going to Steam Early Access, get angel investors, using a publisher after all, etc. to get more money.

        Second, plenty of developers have made games for far less money than $1.9M. There’s plenty of good games–games where the developer won an IGF award–where the developer had less than a million dollars in development money. The argument that developers need millions upon millions of dollars to generate a decent game is the same as telling Robert Rodriguez that he can’t make an entertaining movie for under $40 million.

        • tnzk says:

          The argument isn’t that developers need millions to make a game, the argument is that developers need millions to make a certain type of game. Shroud of the Avatar is another mother-of-all-RPGs type video game, which publishers won’t back, but nevertheless still requires insane amounts of cash to develop.

          To use your Robert Rodriguez analogy, these developers do not want to have Danny Trejo as the main star, with semi-retired Jessica Alba and has-been-but-still-very-cool Mel Gibson as secondary attractions, while RR directs, photographs, edits, and VFX’s all the stuff by himself. They want Robert Downey Jr. as lead, with Helen Mirren and Amber Heard as support, with cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki and VFX by ILM.

          If anything, the argument should be “stop making everything-and-the-kitchen-sink” Kickstarter campaigns. Then again, that has been part of the appeal for many.

  4. AngusPrune says:

    I’m not sure if I understand this. Don’t they have like, um, design documents that specify what art assets they need to make which bits of the game? Do they expect their kickstarter backers to play a strange game of guess the number they’re thinking of, or do they expect to get assets so awesome that they’ll change the design just to incorporate them?

    Or is this just some sort of weird publicity stunt and they don’t actually expect anyone to submit assets?

  5. vexytube says:

    It would appear they really choose their words poorly. I would of just said ” Get the chance to have your work featured within our game + a little bit of money in return”.

    Thus any upcoming dev/artist who would like to make their mark on a hopefully big game gets a shot at it!

  6. Commander_CC says:

    At the risk of being very, very naive, I’ve been pretty convinced by the team’s commitment to getting the community involved, at least in comparison to a lot of the other Kickstarter projects that sprang up. I went a bit nuts with the Kickstarter thing backed Torment, Project Eternity, Divinity: Original Sin and Shroud of the Avatar all at kind of around the same time. Of those, I’ve found that the guys at Portalarium have been more or less constantly engaging their backers, entertaining their questions, and personally responding to them on a regular basis, whereas the others seemed to drop off almost as soon as the campaigns wen offline like “K, bye, see you when we’re done”. This is fine, of course, and I’m sure they’re very busy getting on with their projects, but I really appreciated how Portalarium went that little extra mile. Anyways, that’s my two cents on it. Cheers.

    • wu wei says:

      I can’t speak for the others, but Project Eternity has weekly updates and an extremely active forum, quite different from how you characterise them here.

  7. Cinek says:

    So….this game won’t look any better than on latest traliers? And these are assets people will use for dungeons as well as a base of their own custom creations? Really? I’m very disappointed.
    They should have stayed with 2D graphics. It’d work like… 10 times better for the overall experience than a style that looks like ~6 years old game even before the release.

  8. Gonefornow says:

    How long until someone makes a random dungeon generator with this kit?

  9. Saarlaender39 says:

    Correct me, if I’m wrong…but didn’t inXile the same with Wasteland 2?
    Ok, the WL2-Backers mustn’t pay $400, but I think, everyone who wanted, could create assets for WL2.

    Although the guys from inXile gave some specs beforehand (which colorpalette to use, what kind of asset, etc).

  10. Casimir Effect says:

    I’ve always wanted to see this idea explored more. Take Dragon Age 2 as our example:
    Now, I liked the game but there were fuckall maps due to being rushed out and the recycling got annoying (same problem can actually be levelled at lots of RPGs but DA2 stands out for most people). However there were a tonne of fans for the first game, and many of them produced mods totalling a decent number. These people are dedicated, passionated and easily motivated through recognition – e.g. name in credits or exclusive bit of DLC or game asset (something small – a named NPC or item for example).
    So give out access to a map builder early, provide an indication of what you would like to receive, without giving anything away of course, and let people have at it. Pick the most suitable from the submissions, thank everyone who got involved, and use those maps in your game. Even if just using them for sidequests it would save time for the dev team, cost next to nothing and probably produce some pretty incredible things.

    This isn’t what’s happening here with Shrouds… but the core concept is similar.

  11. Arglebargle says:

    I view this as sorta pre-engaging the mod community impulse. An interesting approach, if a bit poorly put forward in a typical Garriott manner.

  12. ChrisSpears says:

    Howdy, Chris from Shroud of the Avatar team here, just wanted to clear up a few things. Several sites ran a story that was mixing new announcements and old information. All of it was positive but when mixed it sounded confusing.

    First, we are crowd sourcing art assets from the fans who want to get paid for their assets. We generally have been listing reward amounts with the requests. This has primarily been for items that players can craft in game since we can honestly use as many of those as players can create and they are generally simpler items. We’ve also been offering feedback on them to help out aspiring artists with construction techniques by having one of our artists discuss techniques on live streaming broadcasts. Also, in addition to paying them for the use of the assets, they retain ownership and can then put them on Turbosquid, the Unity store, or use them in their own games.

    We were going to accept these on the Unity store and will be accepting them through the store soon but for right now we are accepting them through our own system. We will move to take art from the Unity store before the end of the year.

    The second story is that we are sharing content with developer level people. People at the developer $400+ pledge level get as part of their rewards access to our content as we post it. They are also granted a license to use it in their own projects even if they are indie or commercially released. They get this in addition to all the other bonuses like the game, physical box, cloth map hand signed by Richard, book by Tracy Hickman, and numerous other goodies. For professional developers we’ve also been giving them receipts so they can deduct the pledge from their business taxes if they are purchasing it for the assets. Our first release alone is something that would sell for upwards of $50-$80 in the store and we will have dozens more in the coming months. If you’re a developer or hobbyist, you will more than get your money’s worth!

    The thing that probably spurred this story was that we started releasing assets to the developers. The first item was a large 70+ piece dungeon kit with some extra Unity tools to help simplify dungeon construction and challenged people to make some dungeons. I will personally also be doing several hour long live streams of me teaching people how to use Unity and showing off the assets. I put out a 6 minute getting started with Unity video which had about 20 posts from people saying to move slower and tell them what keys I’m using when I’m doing things.

    Despite the tone of this article, this is not a “Milk the fans for free work” deal. It is just us trying to let fans take part in something they are passionate about. While we’ve received several dozen assets we’ll use, the time spent managing, critiquing and cleaning up, and educating people will far outweigh any actual contributions we will receive. To give people a peek behind the curtains of game development we’re being incredibly open about everything and involving people where ever possible. In addition to this type of crowd sourcing and sharing, we’re also doing weekly video chats, live streaming concept art drawing, posting notes from our daily standups so people see what goes on every day, and posting stories on how specific assets are created.

    I know this site is about being snarky and bashing on things and I’m not only fine with that but I love it and read it daily. I just wanted to clear up the misinformation about what we were actually offering and make sure that people knew that the 20k+ people actually involved with this are super thrilled about all of the crowd efforts. Go check out the site, the videos, the forums, and chat room and give us a fair shake and you might just decide it isn’t such a bad thing to let the fans take part in the process.

    Thanks for the long read!
    Chris “Dippy Dragon” Spears
    Tech Director++
    Shroud of the Avatar