Co-Authored by Christopher Falcon and Theo Gerritsen
Chronicles of Elyria is now widely known for its Kickstarter campaign. The campaign initially raised $1.36 million USD. The game, developed by Soulbound Studios LLC (owned by Jeromy Walsh AKA: Caspian), was set for release in December of 2017 but was postponed with an unknown release window.
Over the last 4 years, CoE’s primary source of income was through Kickstarter pledges as well as purchases made on the games online shop. After years of constant financial support, the game saw a grand total of over $8.64 million USD funded. However, not all of it was from Kickstarter backers.
- Jeromy put in $500K of his own money
- Another $500K was allegedly pledged by ‘other parties’ prior to the Kickstarter’s launch.
On March 24, 2020, Walsh announced that, due to COVID-19 and lack of recent funding, Soulbound Studios would see a complete staff layoff. By March 25, the production of the game came to a standstill and the studio closed down.
At this point, the game had already received tons of support from loyal fans who spent large sums of money on various promises that ended up unfulfilled.
The news of the game’s cease in production saw a negative response in the community. People who had pledged thousands of dollars had been told their money would earn them in-game items, land, and titles. Now, they learned they would never see what they had been promised. It did not take long for disgruntled backers and fans to voice their opinions online.
Accusations were made, some claim CoE was a scam from the get-go, others claim the turn of events was due to poor leadership and decision making. However, the true story behind Chronicles of Elyria doesn’t rest in the hands of its developer. Rather, it rests on the victims of the ordeal: the backers themselves.
How did we get here?
Let’s go over the facts. Chronicles of Elyria saw a grand total of $1.36 million USD of backing during its Kickstarter campaign. During the campaign, backers were told that the game would have a hierarchy of sorts. This fact was extensively discussed during the Kickstarter’s funding process. As such, backers realized that a community would need to be formed.
As [Valegor] states:
“Since the “game” was supposed to have a hierarchy, we just adapted to that.
Each continent (with the exception of Oceanic) had 5 Kingdoms, each with 8 Duchies, each with however many counties and towns, so the community organized and aligned themselves with the people they wanted to play nearest to.”
How was the community able to communicate? According to [Reforger], the community talked through an internet relay chat supported by Soulbound Studios.
A Hierarchy of an Imaginary Land
How do you get a spot in the hierarchy of CoE? [CrypticSilver] provides a description of the process with [his/her] own experience:
“My friends and I quickly joined the Elyria discord and found a kingdom and a Dutchy and the roles were organized by packages […] You could buy a Kingdom Package or a Duchy or a Count or a Mayor title which gave you a certain amount of land in game as well as influence; with Kings and Queens being the most influential.”
This Influence was manifested through Influence Points (IP). Essentially, it was a way to rank the backers’ contributions. Influence Points would be used to rank people. The more IP you’ve got, the earlier you’d get to pick your share of the kingdom during the Domain and Settlement Selection (DSS) phase of the development.
At first, IP Rankings were made public. This caused the public to compete to acquire the highest IP possible through additional funding. Additionally, you could also get Influence through player references and forum/community contributions.
DSS and Exposition
For those who wish some clarity on the DSS and Exposition processes. Think of it as the pre-assignation of resources and land before the game begins. During the DSS process, players get to choose the fate of their gameplay world(s) by selecting the domains and settlements their main player character will rule.
The hierarchy played a major role here, as players with higher titles would get to choose first. Starting with the King/Queen with the most influence, then going down to Dukes, Counts, and finally, Mayors.
Afterward, the Exposition process was going to be a period of time before launch reserved to Bloodline and up backers (basically, anyone with at least a family name getting reserved for them) for players to build all the cities, villages, etc. of the world by spending EP (Exposition points).
EP could be used on many resources and buildings; ranging from defensive items like walls and towers; infrastructure items like roads, lumber and wells; agricultural items like livestock, and seeds; and other items that would help build the game world.
The concept of DSS and EP sounds cool and organized, right? The DSS process took massive delays for over 5 months… 3 days after it had actually begun. Starting in May 2019, they had Monarchs pick their kingdoms and then the whole thing was pushed back. Then, the date for DSS was pushed back even further from June all the way to September.
The kingdoms weren’t the same either. As [carebear87] recalls:
“They gave the monarchs a write up of all the biomes so the monarchs selected based on that information. Then, when they finally got DSS going in September that info was incorrect/changed… so pretty much sold the Monarchs a Ford Mustang and afterwards switched it to a Ford Taurus”
How much was changed? Well, to bring one example, Kingdom 1 on NA-E was supposed to have clay as a major resource. However, once the September DSS rolled out, this trait was removed. By the way, no do-overs.
Settlers of Elyria: For the Late Ones!
Hey, you. Did you just find out about the Chronicles of Elyria project? If you want to join the project and become part of the DSS process, you could always use this method to be enrolled. This subject will be expanded upon at a later date. However, to keep things brief, we’ll give a quick summary of how this mess happened. It truly is a testament to the messy development itself.
Settler of Elyria was supposed to be a sort of chance for folks who didn’t buy a title to participate during DSS. As [Stelaphina] puts it:
The reception was mixed as this looked like yet another ploy to gather more crowdfunding money. The whole Settler of Elyria concept went by many names. Here’s the first time where this subject was talked about back on March 9, 2019. Here’s the relevant portion:
Of course, considering that this feature came after 4 months of delays and a revamp of the DSS maps that no one asked for nor was told about. Not only that, but this revamp shifted features on the maps as mentioned previously; it’s not surprising that the latest post related to this event would be deleted. So, here’s proof of the announcement existing.
We’ll come back to this subject later, but keep in mind that at this point, the backers’ goodwill was already pretty low.
The Promised land
It’s not hard to relate to the hype and excitement backers and fans had for Chronicles of Elyria. Walsh’s vision was one of an immersive, mechanic plentiful MMO.
Here’s a fun fact. Caspian had a habit of calling CoE a “Massively Evolving Online World”. Either because the word MMO didn’t really fit his definition of what the project was gearing up to be or because MEOW sounds alluring. We’ll leave it up to you to decide.
Soulbound Studios promised near-autonomous AI NPC’s. In fact, there were talks about OPCs (Offline Player Characters) whose behavior would represent the players themselves through scriptable actions, even when they weren’t playing the game.
Players were to be ‘born’ into a player or NPC run family and grow to make their mark on the world. Essentially, the player characters would be an extension of the players themselves in every sense of the word.
Nearly everything you could interact within the game would have been player made. The swords and the maps, the settlements, and the economy, even the government. CoE featured limited resources, non-repeatable quests, among other things.
Each player was going to have a personal narrative, driven by quests chosen for them based on their journey so far. SBS specified that the actions required to initiate some specific quest arcs were to be so intricate it would be impossible to find them listed on a FAQ.
Chronicles of Elyria was to have an intricate combat system, involving dodging, parrying and stamina management. Instead of mailboxes, the game was to have a fully player-driven courier system, the courier could run off with your belongings or maybe you could bribe him to give you someone else’s delivery.
Basically, CoE was advertised as an immersive game in which collective and individual dreams could and would become a reality. It comes as no surprise backers became so invested in such an epic vision. Or, more accurately put, an epic promise. An ambitious project, to say the least. The game sounded idealistic, almost too good to be true.
[Reforger] sees IP and the way the hierarchy system was sold as a way to pay for your starting experience. “Anyone could rise up from peasant to King, in theory. The higher your rank in the game, the easier it would be for your character to be perma-killed and lose it all.”
By “Lose it all”, [Reforger] means that you could lose your in-game stuff. The only way to retain your goods was to declare an heir to inherit your titles and belongings. CoE used a Genetics system where traits from the previous player’s life would carry over to the next of kin.
The Genetics system was pretty complex on its own. For one, the heir can get certain affinities and level up their skills faster based on the parent’s skills. Additionally, their growth as NPCs would be influenced by the player before they took over. If you wish to know more, you can read more on the way Genetics were going to work here.
Of course, those goodies must’ve come from somewhere. As such, let’s talk about the store.
Buy Some More
So, what happened after the Kickstarter ended and you couldn’t get your claim of a position in the hierarchy? Well, a store opened by SBS in October 2016 provided more ways to give funds to them. Unfortunately, even this process had its fair share of problems because it was bugged with missing pledges that didn’t transfer from KS, security issues and exploits.
The store allowed you to pre-order digital content and pledge packages to be used before the game went live. It’s worth noting that the majority of the $8M+ USD in funding came from here. The store opened up at $1.21M in funding. When it was closed, the store ticker showed that $7.99M in funding was invested. However, it should be noted that this was neither the full crowdfunding amount or… The funding for the whole game, actually.
Additionally, SBS held new sales every year on the anniversary of the Kickstarter. They would hype exclusive things that might never be able to be bought again. However, as it was discovered by multiple backers that kept track of the project; the limited-time items would constantly return to it.
Some of the store items proved to be controversial. In fact, new DSS perks that were initially for backers popped up. There was also a pseudo-currency that players could purchase named “Exposition Points” (EP) which would require to be used during a 3 month Exposition period.
After the game’s hypothetical release, the only items available for purchase would have been Sparks of Life. Additionally, the Exposition Points would become Story Points.
This caused a rift between backers and SBS. Especially because the store continued adding more, and more items that had the potential to be game-changers. One of the most prominent items were the Cardinal Bee items.
I could spend a while talking about this mechanic by itself. However, it’s better to keep it short. Cardinal Bees were one of the many limited-time items in the store. In fact, a huge side market was created for them because of this reason. Many other items would see this sort of treatment as well.
To explain Cardinal Bees, it’s important to note that CoE is supposed to be a low-fantasy medieval world, meaning that magic exists but will be very rare. These bees were special because their honey provides bonuses to healing and vitality when used in foods or potions.
Cardinal Bees (alongside other items at the store) were some of the many “Limited-time items” like that were re-released in the store shortly after. Of course, this also brought the ire of the community because… Well, they’re supposed to be limited.
It could be speculated that SBS added this “limited time” item system to drive up demand. In the end, this measure can rack up sales due to fear of missing out. As such, the funding cycle would continue despite no real developments being shown for the game.
In fact, once you look at the screenshots shown throughout development, you’d think that the game has been regressing visually. Have a look:
Fast Forward to March 2020. Goodwill among the community is starting to run dry and backers are starting to doubt SBS’s intentions. However, SBS stated that everything has been going fine and that the development of the game was “much further ahead” than they were letting on publicly.
Of course, as it is for multiple Kickstarters with a bad outcome, SBS often said that they couldn’t show much “because of the type of development method in use”. Of course, people wanted to see some evidence that production would continue ahead.
Cue this crappy parkour demo (dubbed the first of many pre-elyria experiences) which was launched exclusively for select Kickstarter backers. This build of the game was riddled with bugs and exploits, one of which allowed you to get in with a fake login.
There was also a supposed contest where rewards would be given to the 3 fastest times using the Parkour Mode. However, that contest went to bust quite quickly because it was found that you can cheat easily using another exploit on the timed outcome of a given run.
Unfortunately, the indications of the truth behind the scenes were starting to show. Then, on March 25, the meltdown commenced, as [Gravev-Ben-Beirdd] states:
“There was no mention of the company getting tight on cash. They actually told us they were doing really well and had plenty of money. Then SoE (Settler of Elyria) opened. It was a dutch auction of the remaining lands for anyone with a Bloodline+ account to get some of the remaining cities or domains.
2 weeks later we got the State of Elyria post mentioning them shutting down cause they ran out of money. The store was closed down and the transaction history was deleted. “
After the closure, on March 28, Caspian laid off most of the moderation team as shown here:
Most of the channels in the discord were locked and hidden. The only exception was the common room where everyone was pissed. All the devs ghosted; the mods were trying to keep some civility in place; but eventually, Caspian got rid of all mods and locked all channels, then got rid of the forums.
Curiosity Killed the Cat
Of course, since the project was being shut down and the data was being deleted. Many people started asking questions. However, it was then that the community realized that their questions would be met with enforced silence. The first example of which is [HolyAvengerOne].
“I was actually the first from being perma-banned from the Discord and CoE forums, back in 2018. It was mainly for criticizing them, and then getting moderated (post deleted, etc.) without ever being told why or what was moderated.
This ended with me picking a fight with Serpentius […] Years later they still wouldn’t want to hear about lifting the ban on Discord, although they did so on the forums eventually, which makes little sense to me…”
One of the backers (who will remain anonymous) developed a bad reputation for being “Toxic”. However, the reason for their ban actually was their curiosity. The backer made various forum posts questioning SBS’s ethics and lack of progress. However, the moderation team was quick to delete the posts, citing “unconstructive criticism” or being “a troll”.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case as many backers told me a story to the same effect. However, one of the most impactful stories belongs to [CountBourneh]… Mostly because his curiosity ended up landing him with more than just a ban from a forum.
The Legal Repercussions
That’s right, the studio was not afraid of threatening legal action against some backers. As [CountBourneh] recalls:
“I was banned from their discord by the studio itself and was accused of breaking the law / was threatened legally. They then found out I broke no laws and never unbanned me from their discord platform.
They didn’t like that I recorded a public conversation with a dev and a mod which I was a part of with 30 others where they were saying their moderation was fine and it was the community that was the problem.
I recorded it, trimmed parts, and put it on YouTube. Then, they did the whole legal threats and accused me of being a criminal openly in their discord to people in voice. When they realized it was completely legal regardless of discord’s 2 party consent laws (due to its public nature) they changed the reasons for my banning to “I’m a mean person” and never talked to me about it or apologized for it.”
Evidence of this can be seen in the following screenshot:
The Other Side
During the final information sweep I conducted before publishing this article; I was reached out by a former moderation team member who wishes to remain anonymous. I learned some interesting facts about the moderation process that got me thinking. After hearing them out, I could conclude that while the team had good intentions, they certainly were disorganized and had some major issues.
I learned that the moderation team used a system that recorded offenses based on objective data. However, if a person constantly ignored moderation on purpose, they’d get muted and then banned. Unfortunately, the ex-moderator confessed that they have made mistakes in judgment. As shown above, the moderation team wasn’t perfect either.
However, that also doesn’t mean they were blindly following SBS’s claims. In fact, some members of the moderation team were pretty vocal against Caspian before and after the meltdown. So, while most of the moderation team could be seen as a poorly organized bunch; they didn’t seem to have a grudge against anyone involved.
Without the forums, the truth may never be known. However, the true intentions of the moderation team would be known quite soon.
“They would heavily moderate discussions sometimes just because some of the staff were tired of hearing about a given topic.
Caspian was also in the business of guilt-tripping people and making them feel bad for what they were “doing to the studio”, namely, after spending over 10 hours finding and documenting security issues with their front-end, Caspian wouldn’t have it.”
[Valegor] also adds their own perspective about the meltdown, saying:
“The VOLUNTEER mods and Serpentius (the Community Manager) were left to deal with the aftermath. Some had expressed similar views to the rest of the community, respectfully, and were determined to keep things civil despite the unfortunate news.
I didn’t see a word from a single other Developer throughout it, however… they were all apparently fired. Eventually Caspian removed all of the mods, without a word… So they felt abandoned and thrown to the wolves even though they were still trying to do right by him.”
The Beginning of the Revolution
It was at this point that backers realized SBS’s true intentions. SBS was deleting data left and right and the moderation team was left to rot. However, a spark was igniting in the meantime. The spark of rebellion that showed that the community was willing to strike back.
As [Valegor] recalls:
“So, one mod, in particular, Saebelorn, realized that, in typical Caspian fashion of not doing anything right, had failed to remove their privileges on the forum. So, Saebelorn removed a news announcement by Caspian and made his own post which was then pinned to the forums so users could see it.”
During the fallout, Caspian replied to a post by community member Elbereth as shown below. While this was meant to show Caspian’s reasons behind the deletion of moderators; it looks more like he was throwing the Moderation team under the bus as mentioned by [Valegor]:
The Discord was closed and the community scrambled to bring the fight to SBS. Slowly but surely, the community started getting together and they were going to strike, full force.
The community was not willing to let SBS get away with all of this. As such, talks of a class action lawsuit surfaced and the community was starting to be reconstructed through a new Discord Server.
The server currently exists as a place of safety for the backers of CoE. It provides safety for them as well as multiple channels where they’re allowed to vent their frustration. In fact, some of the members of that server were responsible for the writing of this article.
The Kickstarter backers don’t necessarily want their money back. They just want SBS and their associates to be held accountable for their actions. Especially the individual known as Jeromy Walsh, or Caspian, or whatever pseudonym he uses in the future. Unfortunately, the memory of what could’ve been also haunted them at some points.
As [HolyAvengerOne] says:
“Somehow, what came together during that time still holds in many different forms and I would have really liked to see what it could have been, once it came alive. More than a shared dreamed game world that we won’t share, it’s also a damn missed opportunity in seeing how those relationships would evolve as Elyria took off.”
The backers of CoE always lived with multiple promises. From the items in the shop to the features of the non-existent game itself. It’s easy for outsider viewers to mock how the backers were duped into buying into this. However, we have to consider that a revolutionary idea will always have a backing.
[Valegor] mentions one of the features he was looking forward to the most:
The mechanics I was most looking forward to are the crafting and research mechanics. It was so in-depth with modular crafting and the properties of an item coming down to which materials and techniques were used to produce the result. The materials also changed aesthetics.
The research drew me in hard because I could specifically delve into metallurgy to discover newer, better alloys to be used in my crafts. No game has ever taken such a deep approach to craft that I’ve ever seen.
I invested USD$3,888 in total. My initial investment was for a Count title back in the KS with a layaway upgrade to Weapon Master for an extra USD$1,000 that came with a little more stuff, but the big-ticket thing was my Design Experience.
I got to design a unique weapon with the devs and be given the sole product and blueprint to craft more, so it was something to have a monopoly on and to help draw people to my crafting guild and future customers. The rest I backed to help further my goals and so that I could do more to help my Kingdom prosper.
NPCs and Crafting
[Gravev-Ben-Beirdd] also talked about his most treasured feature:
For me, the feature I looked forward to the most was the NPC system that wouldn’t be like all other games out there. Instead, it would grow and evolve with the players. The NPCs would have their own lives and would do things that would benefit themselves or their family such as look for work, travel, pretty much do anything a player would also do.
Also, I was really looking forward to the crafting system which would allow players to control where the technology within the world would progress to. […] There would have been many different ways to craft the same items to different results depending on the skills of the player; the knowledge the player character had; and the available crafting materials on hand.
As is to be expected, there were more and more features that backers were promised. Unfortunately, nowadays all they have to show for it is the dream of what could’ve been. Incidentally, this also leads to the final point in this piece.
A Sliver of Hope
As days pass and as the community trucks on with their goals. The future seems uncertain, especially during the current world crisis going on. Unfortunately, this story is still ongoing. There are so many factors that couldn’t be covered on this piece such as the way the story of the game would’ve gone.
However, we can also send this piece off with the “Epilogue” of sorts for this story. Like, for example, mentioning how SBS is currently scattered. With its development team currently keeping backers who invested up to thousands of dollars in the dark. It’s funny because, at one point, Caspian saw himself as a paragon of trust and care for his own community.
As for the lawsuit? One of the members of the community who is a lawyer explained the following:
“SBS and Caspian defrauded 1000s of people in violation of specific crowdfunding laws created to protect people from this exact scenario. The class is being formed based upon the same, or similar, facts and events.
Once an attorney is retained, the class representatives will be following the claim the closest and relaying information. The standing is based on state, federal, and the laws of the other countries the player base is from.”
The Fight Continues
So, from the looks of things, the community will continue to attempt their best to keep their chins up and rise above the expectations. With that, if you feel like you’ve been ripped off by the CoE campaign; sympathize with the community; or simply want to help them out, you can join the Discord by clicking here.
“I think the people that managed to stick around through years of community abuse on Soulbound’s / Serpentius behalf are largely those that founded this community here. People that are persistent, dedicated and intense enough to chase and contribute to a dream for so long…
I don’t know if this Discord will live through whatever comes next, once its served its purpose, but some communities will (namely, the few games that are sprouting from it) and I hope to stick around to see what happens to them and participate, if I can.”
Indeed, I was told by some members of the community that members of the Tylsia discord (Tylsia being one of the kingdoms on the Oceanus server) has already been converted into a gaming Discord with an active community.
Here’s one more great example, the Kingdom of Bordweall (East-NA) is currently developing a game called Rings of Una. It’s another MMO project that’s heavily catered towards community feedback. It seems to have a solid foundation so far. So, at the very least the backers didn’t leave completely empty-handed.
The Chronicles of Elyria Kickstarter cycle is a tale of deception and abandonment. The backers of the Kickstarter truly believed that a game of this caliber would become a reality. Unfortunately, the game’s ambitious features definitely showed something that was beyond an indie studio’s capabilities. The story will remain as ongoing until Kickstarter backers see the retribution they’re seeking.
In my case, I’ve met and talked with a lot of the Kickstarter backers. I’ve heard their stories and at this point, I believe that their struggles will eventually see Caspian paying for his crimes. In the end, there have been instances where backers managed to get the responsible party to pay their dues after a long fight. So, I believe that the new community will manage to stand against the odds.
What do you think about the Chronicles of Elyria Kickstarter campaign? Do you sympathize with the people who backed the campaign? What are your thoughts on crowdfunded gaming as a whole? Let us know your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below.