This has all the makings of a financial disaster


Pathfinder Online


I have just learnt about the Pathfinder Online MMO. After reading all the information about it I could get my hands on, I am sorry to say that this is likely to be a major financial flop.

Don't get me wrong, I would love to see a Pathfinder RPG computer game, but Paizo has chosen just about the least financially-viable way to go about it. There are many issues here - I will mention some below:

1) Creating a new startup company to create the game is the first big mistake. Game development is a complex process and requires expertise and experience to do well. Paizo is an excellent PnP RPG company - it should have licensed/outsourced game development to an experienced CRPG developer (e.g. Obsidian Entertainment).

2) Making the game an MMO is another huge mistake. MMOs are particularly difficult, lengthy and expensive to develop. Proving the market first with a single-player game would have been a far less risky and cheaper strategy. Besides, the difficulties compound themselves when tied in with point 1.

3) Designing the game to be a sand-box experience, rather than concentrating on a tight-story focused game. A sandbox game may be successful, but Paizo is known for its good storytelling and adventures. To abandon its main strength, especially when it has decided to create its own startup to develop the game, is almost beyond comprehension. Unless, of course, it is the result of point number 2 - it is difficult (almost impossible?) to make a story-driven MMO.

4) Abandoning the PnP ruleset is yet another considerable mistake. The 3.5E ruleset of which this is a derivation is familiar and attractive to and legions of CRPG players and could attract them to the game. Heck, I too am with Pathfinder RPG because of the ruleset, not because of Golarion with which I have no experience (not saying it is bad, but it is not what would attract me to Pathfinder). Some changes are inevitable in the adaptation of the PnP ruleset to electronic format, but this is wholesale 'reimagining' of the rules. Of course, this relates to the game being an MMO, where PnP rules would indeed not work well.

I really hope the new startup company is as financially insulated as possible from Paizo proper, since I wouldn't want the highly likely financial failure of this project to kill or substantially damage Paizo.

Goblin Squad Member

I was going to ignore this, but I have to ask:

What kind of industry experience do you have?
Do you really believe Lisa did not explore the hell out of this option, and get plently of opinions and cost studies from those who know the industry or are currently in it?

All the supposed research you did, and most of your concerns are answered in the forums in one post or another by Lisa herself, or by Ryan.

You realize they haven't even picked a frickin engine for the game yet?

Just wow, man. Wow.


With all due respect, the founding members have ample experience in the MMO arena. In other words, they know what they're doing.

You can't do a story-focused MMO. It simply doesn't work, because all the quests and the backstory are lies. Kill a million rats, bring a million cures to the deseased, it doesn't matter because the world remains the same. It needs to be, because there are other people in need of those same quests. It makes no sense. And the solutions on hand (instancing, ghosting) make even less sense. The game world remains just a mess. The only way to do a story-based MMO is to follow the WWO route: limit all quest texts to 512 characters, and make reading them optional. The story in WOW, and in any MMO, is just like packaging a novel with your game (several game companies did this during the 90s): a nice touch, but it may as well not be there and the game would stay the same.

I agree, to some extent, about the PnP ruleset. It has been proven through many years of games around the globe and it has been adapted to computer games before. However, there are valid design reasons not to use it. For example, there is just too much variation in the results of single actions: the same attack can fail completely and do no damage at all, or result in a massive 3d12 critical. This is very hard to translate convincingly to an action game setting, where you expect to get predictable results to you button press. A game needs to stay very abstract and show you all the numbers if it is going to use a simulation system like that, and this is just not the direction games have been going for a long time.

You may be right, though, about doing a single player game first. This is the route Kingdoms of Amalur is going. But this means going through consoles first, and that is a very different beast.

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32, 2011 Top 16

Elsewhere (sorry, didn't find the quote) it was indicated that Paizo's financial investment is less than their costs to produce the Rise of the Runelords hardcover compilation, so there isn't a big worry about if PFO flops there being a big financial impact on Paizo. This is why it's a good thing it's a separate company actually making the game. This is also why they're looking for investors for the new venture.

As for using PnP ruleset, the big problem there is that the rules are based on the OGL, which explicity states it does not allow for computer games, and that is why it's been mentioned that that path is "legally tricky". As much as I would love a game that was strongly tied to the PnP rules, this is a big hurdle.


JoelF847 wrote:
As for using PnP ruleset, the big problem there is that the rules are based on the OGL, which explicity states it does not allow for computer games, and that is why it's been mentioned that that path is "legally tricky". As much as I would love a game that was strongly tied to the PnP rules, this is a big hurdle.

Game mechanics are not subject to copyright. Game instruction, manuals, and pictorials elements are protected, but everybody is free to make a computer game that uses D20 rules under the hood, just like everybody is free to create a first person shooter that uses the same gameplay as Doom.


Technically OGL games are legit, that is why Paizo did actually consider it. That doesn't mean that they aren't afraid of some BS lawsuit coming down from WotC though. Even if Paizo is in the right, fighting it off could be very difficult and damaging.

D&D rules are however quite bad for a PvP sandbox. They couldn't get away with a slightly fudged emulation as has worked previously in themepark crawls. Your merchants and artisans and politicians need to have useful abilities (not just adventurers) and as a competitive game, balance between these abilities is incredibly important. Not say Wizards ruling combat and the market with their crafted goods alike.

Personally I'm not too worried for Paizo fiscally though because they don't seem to be ready to hire and carry on without some investors first. Which I'm skeptical are going to show for the listed reasons. Really strange to be announcing a product before your investors are lined up and most of your software team hired. If this product just goes to vaporware for lack of funding there probably isn't much lost.


To be honest, I think if WotC were so litigious, we would have seen lawsuits already.

There could be some reasons to make the announcement so early. To gauge press interest on the license, perhaps.

Goblin Squad Member

MMOs are always risky. They are large games which makes management difficult, and the game industry is a hit-driven business.

Having said that, we're very confident in the business plan. This is the right play at the right time, and I'm incredibly confident this is the right move. Ryan has done a great job sizing up the market and creating a business plan that attacks it in the right way.

Even if Pathfinder Online were to fail, it would have negligible impact on Paizo. This is an independent venture with a great upside for Paizo and the Pathfinder community. Pathfinder Online will be judged on its own merits by you, the players. We're going to stay very public about the development, and you'll be able to see the whole process as it evolves. I'm really looking forward to it!

Dark Archive Goblin Squad Member

I think the decision to reveal your plans so early is risky, but it's probably the right way to go about it. Ryan is no fool and I'm sure that he has addressed the issue of risk management in the business plan. He's also a guy who makes bold moves to secure business opportunities and has a decent track record in that area.

I think that the decision to remain public about the development process is an interesting one. However, the open development model has served Paizo well in the past and it may do so again. They probably have more experience in open development of game rules than anybody than anybody else in the world - in either the traditional hobby games industry or the computer gaming industry. This may be a competitive advantage that can be leveraged to validate design choices and ensure that the game satisfies even its toughest critics ;)


I am relieved to hear that the financial exposure of Paizo to this MMO is small. Don't get me wrong, I wish you luck and success in this endeavor, but my skepticism regarding the financial success of this project runs high. I am not personally interested in playing MMOs of any sort, but I am still rooting for you, because if you can pull this off (though I think that is a very big IF), it could be a huge boost to the Pathfinder community in general.

On a different note, I agree with Darak and FoxBat that OGL does not seem to prevent electronic games. I think people often confuse the OGL with the d20 license, which did have a clause against such games.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Roman wrote:

I am relieved to hear that the financial exposure of Paizo to this MMO is small. Don't get me wrong, I wish you luck and success in this endeavor, but my skepticism regarding the financial success of this project runs high. I am not personally interested in playing MMOs of any sort, but I am still rooting for you, because if you can pull this off (though I think that is a very big IF), it could be a huge boost to the Pathfinder community in general.

On a different note, I agree with Darak and FoxBat that OGL does not seem to prevent electronic games. I think people often confuse the OGL with the d20 license, which did have a clause against such games.

The OGL is unclear on computer games. "Likely not possible" unclear.

And since there are no OGL-based computer games out there that aren't done under a direct license from WotC, it seems like nobody is taking bets on it.

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32, 2011 Top 16

Gorbacz wrote:
Roman wrote:

I am relieved to hear that the financial exposure of Paizo to this MMO is small. Don't get me wrong, I wish you luck and success in this endeavor, but my skepticism regarding the financial success of this project runs high. I am not personally interested in playing MMOs of any sort, but I am still rooting for you, because if you can pull this off (though I think that is a very big IF), it could be a huge boost to the Pathfinder community in general.

On a different note, I agree with Darak and FoxBat that OGL does not seem to prevent electronic games. I think people often confuse the OGL with the d20 license, which did have a clause against such games.

The OGL is unclear on computer games. "Likely not possible" unclear.

And since there are no OGL-based computer games out there that aren't done under a direct license from WotC, it seems like nobody is taking bets on it.

Actually that's not true. Knights of the Chalice is based on OGL - it plays like the old SSI gold box games, but with d20 rules based on 3rd edition. However, it's from a very small company overseas, so the fact that WOTC hasn't sued them doesn't mean that they wouldn't pursue legal action against a larger company.

Goblin Squad Member

Gorbacz wrote:
And since there are no OGL-based computer games out there that aren't done under a direct license from WotC, it seems like nobody is taking bets on it.

Or more likely most developers realize that the needs of a real time computer game are different than those of a turn based tabletop game.

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Roman wrote:
...Designing the game to be a sand-box experience, rather than concentrating on a tight-story focused game. A sandbox game may be successful, but Paizo is known for its good storytelling and adventures.

Pen-and-paper Pathfinder is *very much* a blend of theme park (Pathfinder Adventure Path) and sandbox (Pathfinder Campaign Setting).

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

Gorbacz wrote:
Roman wrote:
On a different note, I agree with Darak and FoxBat that OGL does not seem to prevent electronic games. I think people often confuse the OGL with the d20 license, which did have a clause against such games.
The OGL is unclear on computer games. "Likely not possible" unclear.

Yep. While the OGL doesn't explicitly limit the media that it can be used for, there are other clauses in there that make it very hard to use in commercial computer games.

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