Thursday, September 3, 2015

Goblinworks: the rocky road began and then a chasm opened up and swallowed Dancey

So, I received an email with Lisa Stevens' community address. It had some interesting bits this time:

1. Ryan Dancey has resigned and stepped down as CEO. He is still a shareholder. Reason for this is identified as "personal."

2. Most of the Goblinworks staff has been laid off.

3. Lisa is now acting CEO.

4. There are about 3 staff members left. The remaining PO subscriptions keep these guys employed.

5. Goblinworks is now talking with game publishers to bring the game to open enrollment. Hmmmm. I wish this said, "Goblinworks is now in talks with real game companies to license out the Pathfinder name on something that looks and plays like Pillars of Eternity." Sigh, one can dream. Also, apparently they fell 75% short of the operating budget to get this game to "open enrollment" which I will note is not the same as "completed" nor even the industry standard term used to reflect the game's phase of development (early alpha, closed beta, open beta, etc.).

Let's do some math. Assuming these three employees cost $50K annually (I am assuming wages are so-so at Goblinworks and that they are getting some sort of medical package, probably around $6-12K depending on coverage type), then maybe Goblinworks is pulling in $180K annually on PO. At $15/month that would suggest a minimum of 12,000 subscriptions active. A couple caveats: at $50K per employee that puts them at around $24/hour and I am not sure if they actually make that much, though I would hope they do that at least. They also might not actually have benefits; Goblinworks is clearly a "small employer" by Federal ACA standards so they would be exempt from the 50+employee requirement of large employers (that technically reaches that threshold next year, anyway). So it's possible that the overhead is less, or the employer splits the cost on coverage, or any number of other factors. I'm being simple and ignoring unemployment taxes, 401(k) contributions and other potential employee costs in this assessment, we'll just ballpark it at around 12K. That's about what I've heard Darkfall and Mortal Online might be doing.

Of course, none of the above accounts for operating expenses, and I assume Lisa is paid out of the Paizo budget.

I wish I'd written it down, but during the first Kickstarter a few years ago I told a very optimistic friend of mine who backed it heavily that he could expect Dancey to disappear in a puff of smoke in about three years. Damn my lack of prescience at not writing that down!!!!!

It's not that I think Dancey was deliberately fleecing the Paizo crowd. But I think his MMO track record was weaker than his ability to sell it, a lesson CCP also went through with his time with EVE Online (and something that reflects much of his industry time, to be honest). With the jaded eye of one who spends far too much time watching the way the video game/MMO industry spins around on itself, Pathfinder Online has always looked like a rolling disaster....and now it's come to the brutal end. I wonder what interesting and unpleasant things he will have to say about Paizo and Goblinworks in the future.

....sigh. Look, I mock a bit, but I feel bad for the whole group. I really wish when they did that Kickstarter that no one had listened to Ryan Dancey and they had instead done what WotC is currently doing: gotten some decent licenses attached to the current revival trend for isometric RPGs, Hindsight, alas, is 20/20.

Erik may need to add this one to his Failstarter list!


  1. You know, I thought the same thing. As a software developer, code is NOT like writing a book when you can just throw a few long evenings and reach a page count.
    I agree that licensing would've been a MUCH safer option.


    1. I also remember when they announced that their engine of choice was Unity the same engine universally mocked on the Steam storefront for being the principle source of garbage shovelware, and arguably the reason Steam had to implement a refund policy. There are actual MMOs out there using Unity, such as Order & Chaos Online...a F2P Android-based tablet MMO. I bet the publishers of that game would take PO off Goblinworks' hands....and make it another android title.