Online game with passionate fanbase shuts down, community screams in outrage, accusing the dev of pocketing money, betraying the community, and kicking puppies.
Paragon, right? Actually, we had the exact same experience with a different game – Nether.
And absolutely none of the commenters got it right – for either game.
A lot of this anger comes down to misunderstanding how games actually get made.
Fans think that, if those developers just kept on tweaking Paragon (or Nether), all its problems would be fixed and the game’s popularity would explode! Everyone is happy forever!
But obviously things aren’t that simple. That just isn’t how game development works.
Nether: a survival game before your mom knew what Fortnite was
When we were contracted to begin development on Nether, we had initial positive response based on the game we made. A big community of players built up around the game, people that are passionate about the survival-based shooter.
But once some momentum built up, the publisher and owner of the Nether IP pushed Phosphor out and brought on new developers, who changed how the game worked – without our input. Fans were angry! And since Phosphor’s name is on the box, we were blamed for changes that we didn’t make!
But players couldn’t see anything behind the scenes. And a big source of the misunderstanding starts with the somewhat secretive relationship between developers and publishers, and the nuances of that back and forth.
Who needs a publisher? Go indie!
In a total shock to no one, multiplayer games are crazy expensive to build. Net code, anti-cheat, and tons of servers, all on top of just making a game! A publisher can be a boon for multiplayer devs.
Publishers help with financing the game, funding servers, marketing the game, and the like. But the help publishers provide come with strings attached. The publisher is now a business partner and has a say in what happens with your projects. So, when a game isn’t profitable, and doesn’t show the potential to be profitable, the publisher will pull the plug and discontinue funding. CAPITALISM!
For Nether, the publisher owned the game from the start, so ultimately got to decide what happened with the game.
If you’re really serious you’ll self-publish!
Ok, let’s say you’re running a studio and decide to self-publish. Where does your funding come from? You still need stupid daily requirements like food, and shelter, and electricity. If a publisher doesn’t cover that, then that money is coming from savings or personal loans. All of which you’re on the hook for, no matter how well your game does or does not sell.
And the outcome could ultimately be the same. Instead of funding being cut off by a publisher, the self-published have to perform a basic cost-benefit analysis. If the income generated doesn’t offset spending, they’re going to have to pull the plug, too. It doesn’t matter how passionately devs feel about a project if they don’t have the funding to make it happen!
At least with a publisher, you’re not on the hook for the money when the game is done!
Lack of understanding doesn’t stop anyone from commenting though
Reading comments about Paragon immediately reminded me of comments on Nether – because they were almost exactly the same! How is that possible, if one is a AAA title by a huge studio, and the other is anindie published game? Let’s see…
“The company got money hungry.”
You got us! I’m writing this blog from aboard my own personal private yacht that I bought with all the money I made from shutting down Nether.
Seriously though, shutting down servers is less a cash-in and more an escape from a sinking ship. That team is either moving onto the next project or, worst-case scenario, they’re out of a job!
Keeping a multiplayer game running costs money. They require maintenance: MOBAs like Paragon require continued support to tweak balance and maps. Then there’s the cost of running servers, and paying for moderation to weed out hackers and bots. If all that costs more money than the game brings in, they’re going to shut it down.
Or, you know, they could just support it until the studio becomes bankrupt and closes!
Another popular take was…
“Paragon/Nether failed because they didn’t listen to their community!”
The Paragon community is robust. Take one look at their official reddit and you’ll see past AMAs, streams, and polls. They really did take their community seriously. And years after Nether, you’ll be surprised at the passionate level of discourse that is still happening about the game.
To say that either developer ignored their fanbase is a disservice. After all Phosphor volunteered to pick Nether back up, after it had failed, and fix the server setup so players could keep playing what they paid for, because we were passionate about the game and the fanbase. Developers are as passionate about the games as the players are!
This last complaint, though, was the most common.
“EPIC is just raiding Paragon to make more Fortnite!”
We had the exact same thing happen when people accused us of scrapping Nether in favor of other projects. Again, it’s easy to point fingers before you have the whole story!
If you’re a Paragon dev and your boss walks into your office and says, “Your project is cancelled, you’re on Fortnite now,” you might be upset, but mostly relieved you’re not fired. You could ask any developer who’s ever worked in the industry- having a project shut down and being assigned to a more successful project, is the absolute best-case scenario for a project cancellation. At the end of the day, you still have a paycheck and your health insurance. That’s a much better plan than laid off.
In our case, after Nether left Phosphor, we still had other projects to work on. Those Paragon devs on Fortnite now are definitely glad they didn’t just get laid off. To claim devs continued employment is video game cannibalism is shortsighted to say the least.
Games are still a business- and a complicated one
We don’t blame players for not understanding how game dev works. After all, they just want to play games!
It becomes a problem when people start making toxic comments aimed at developers though. Want to bash on someone for pulling a bait and switch with bullshots and trailers of features that don’t exist in the game? That’s one thing.
But it’s obvious Epic put a lot of effort into Paragon, and attacking them just isn’t fair to the hard working devs that poured their sweat and tears into the game.