Shroud of the Avatar – A Community Like No Other


Written by Berek, your Wood Elf Community Manager…

When I came on board to Portalarium early last year, I was already a dedicated Shroud of the Avatar (SotA) player and guild member, eagerly checking out the content in-game as it was added each release. The community’s excitement up to that point had seeped deep into my veins, compelling me to see how I could join the team to help the community move to new heights.

From the very first day at the office, I quickly realized there was so much more to discover with the community than I originally thought. I saw huge potential as I learned more about how each of you contributes content and feedback. From player-created resources on various community-led websites to a ton of in-game activities and real life meetups, I also quickly realized I was going to need the community’s help to succeed at this role!

In my years working with communities, I have seen few as passionate and determined as what we have for Shroud of the Avatar. A sense of belonging and camaraderie is imbued in all corners of the community. Many of the players come from as far back as the Ultima days (circa 1981-1999 including Ultima Online to the present day). Everyone should be proud of what has been built up to this point!

Little did we all know how exciting and wild of a ride it was indeed going to be in just this past year, eh? Let’s take a look back and see what’s changed!


 

DEVELOPER REACHOUT

Since Shroud of the Avatar is a crowdfunded project, our team has much more leeway to discuss gameplay changes than most other studios. Many engaging initiatives have been created to quickly gather gameplay feedback and figure out what game mechanics may need a review. If most of you are smiling after playing through the latest Release content, then we’ve done something right.

 
Developer Blog Posts…

To communicate all of the changes that we collaborate on with the community, and those that are added on short notice, a significant portion of the team writes up forum blogs, dev+ digests, and weekly updates. Here are some of those contributors:

Richard “Lord British” Garriott, CEO, Creative Director, and Founder of Portalarium, really needs no introduction. Richard’s focus for daily development of the game is on story and quest development with Scott Jennings. He also helps steer the ship at-large on general design ideas and strategy. Most importantly, Richard is frequently in-game and meeting new players as they adventure through New Britannia!
As always, Starr “Darkstarr” Long, Executive Producer, writes the most updates through the Quarterly Update and Weekly Update posts, and the many discussions and feedback reports the community submits in the forums. He also is determined to answer every single question from the Postmortem Livestreams, even if it takes days to personally write responses in a list later posted in the forums. Does this man sleep?! I don’t know…
Just this month we’ve seen Chris Spears, Technical Director, supercharge his activity in the forums with a daily update on his work tasks. He also spends a great deal of time posting answers to the community around your combat design questions, and recently has teamed up with community member, Duke Violation, to livestream about the many changes he’s made to the game since the previous release. This man definitely doesn’t sleep!
Scott “Lum” Jennings, Senior Designer/Programmer, also has been writing his own developer blog that’s been gaining a great deal of attention. Story and quests are a key driver of fun in the game, and Lum has appreciated the input the community has sent over since he started his blog, even down to players helping to choose an NPC’s name!

Chris “Seawolf” Wolf, Dan “PlagueOfLocust” Brennan, Esteben “SorcerousSteve” Zaldivar, Fletcher “Skullmuncher34” Kinnear, Keith “UglyFist” Wells, Michael “Hutch” Hutchinson, Reid Rollo, Scott “Scottie” Jones, Travis “Vas Corp Por” Koleski, and many more developers contribute posts. From the world builders, quest writers, and character artists, we release dozens of screenshots of upcoming content on a weekly basis.

Visit the game’s YouTube page for a quick glance at a highlight of some of the developers that have been on various livestreams from the past year. Here is a quick glance at the latest livestream as of May 12, 2017:

Weekly Update Newsletters

From the very beginning of the game’s development, we set a commitment to put out monthly content releases and weekly updates around those releases. These updates have expanded in coverage over the last couple of years to include so much more than the latest patch notes or release details. In fact, they are now considered the central authority to all news around the game.

If you get your news from nowhere else, you can be confident in getting it through the weekly updates. They include the usual key release information, as well as new scene progress and screenshots, reminders of important upcoming events, weekend flash sales, telethon reward details, local event announcements, and spotlights on community events and activities.

Let us know which of the following initiatives you look forward to seeing more of!

 
Release Postmortem Q&As

What does postmortem even mean? Definition by Oxford English Dictionary:

“An examination of a dead body to determine the cause of death.”

Wait, that’s not the right definition! Here it is:

“An analysis or discussion of an event held soon after it has occurred…”

After a monthly release goes out (usually the last Thursday of the month), we announce a livestream a week or so afterward to talk about that release and what the community liked or disliked about the release. When the announcement for the livestream is made, we include an opportunity for every player to ask their questions in the comments section. We then answer those questions on the livestream and in the forums for all to read.

In previous postmortems before the last year, we had more of a mix of activities on the livestream. Now we’ve dedicated postmortems solely to your questions, leaving other content for the community streams on Fridays, as well as the great 12-hour telethon events every quarter (more about those below!).

 
Testing Incentives Program, Localization, and Customer Support

Our team is small because we are a crowdfunded project supported entirely by the community. Because of the need to be extra considerate with how we spend our time and money, we rely heavily on the incredible work and contributions of our community to provide the development feedback and support necessary to create amazing and polished content.

There are several significant channels of communication that filter your feedback and support requests directly to the team. The first channel centers on our Quality Assurance (QA) department, led by Rhys “Attenwood” Romero. This department receives and handles reported flaws and feedback on the game and the latest release. Do you feel combat is imbalanced or some skills are overpowered? Did you fall through the ground into an endless abyss? We have QA handle initial investigation and issue submission to inform the rest of the team what is going on so they can patch the game as necessary.

In order to grasp all that is going right (or wrong) with the game in any particular release, we need your support in submitting bugs and feedback to us before a release goes live. This is where the Testing Incentives Program comes into play (literally). For players that have Dev+ group access, you can help this program by testing upcoming releases! Visit the forums for details on the program.

In addition to the Testing Incentives Program, we also have our community-based Localization team. They help to translate the game into multiple languages including German, Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese. If you are fluent in these languages and would like to contribute, please see the Join the Localization Team announcement. This effort is critical to ensuring the game launches to as wide of an audience as possible.

We are also excited to announce our partnership with Black Sun Game Publishing. They will be working closely with our team to localize the game into Russian and further expand SotA’s reach.

Also passionate about responding to player concerns is our dedicated customer support team led by Sarah “Serafina” Dworken. She manages the numerous support ticket requests that come in on a daily basis. Everything from account support to player owned town change needs are submitted to the support portal.

Sarah is also actively in the forums with Rhys and Andrea “Lexie” Vinyard on responding to your bug reports and gameplay feedback. Say hi when you see them post!

 
Community Livestreams

One of our on-going goals is to ensure we expand video content. Last year we made the switch to Twitch and started plotting new initiatives like the Community Livestreams. In the past we relied upon YouTube, but knew we were leaving out a much larger base of our community. Other platforms are still being considered, though right now we want to focus on Twitch.

Usually occurring on Fridays, the Community Livestreams are filled with news about the activities over the past week and upcoming weekend, an appearance by Starr about recent development news, and then the rest of the hour has a developer or two showing off some new cool piece of upcoming game content they are working on. I also toss out various in-game prizes, and even a tricky trivia question or three.

Be sure to join us on Twitch every Friday at 4pm CT! Subscribe to twitch.tv/shroudoftheavatar to get notified when we are on-air, including when we host streams from the community! Also be sure to join the community’s Discord chat room for 24/7 live gameplay discussions.

 
Quarterly Telethons

As mentioned earlier, telethons are our more wild and wacky livestreams where anything can happen throughout the broadcast. Expect the unexpected! Telethons occur roughly on a quarterly basis, or about four times per year and usually around seasonal events.

While telethons are about helping to further push the project forward monetarily, they are much more than that. Telethons include 12-hours of “Deep Dive” developer discussions and sneak peeks of upcoming content, prize giveaways, community hours and in-game events, and special promotions. Even community members are invited to the office to help with the event on stage!

The next telethon coming up is the Summer Telethon Part 1 on May 31st. For this event, we have a special set of stretch goal prizes planned!

 
Contests and Events

My favorite of all initiatives are the regular in-game contests and events we run. While the community drives so many more events than we could hope to put on ourselves, we try to run at least something on a monthly basis.

In fact, as of this article being released, the Magnificent Trophy Room Contest is currently in full swing. Since Shroud of the Avatar has a complete housing system with a complete decoration capabilities, we’ve run several contest around player own homes and towns.

Here is a selection of screenshots from the contest submissions we’ve received so far:

        

        

Do you have a contest or event idea that we can run or help kick off? Let us know by contacting me in the forums!

 

COMMUNITY REACHOUT

 
Even More Contests and Events!

We can put out contests, events, and other fun shenanigans all day long, but then we’d get no work done on the game itself! That’s no good. So, we do whatever we can to encourage and support the community’s own events.

“What, where, and when are these community events? I want to participate!” you might be asking.

Well, they all are gathered in two calendars that are led by the community; AvatarsCircle.com and SotAEvents.com. We also mirror these events on our own calendar on the main website.

It may be the games I’ve worked on or have played in the past, but I have seen no other game community of this size put on as many events. There are monthly release dance parties to show off character outfits, treasure hunts, crafting competitions, PvP arenas, and even fishing tournaments! I virtually (pun intended) guarantee you will find these community driven events worth attending.

 
Livestreamers

Just this past week I had a chat with over a dozen new livestreamers that have begun exploring New Britannia and streaming their adventures on Twitch. We have shows like NBNN (New Britannian News Network), MarkeeDragon, Kabalyero that will stream daily news, crafters who give you tours of the many secret mine nodes hidden deep within cave scenes, decorators who ask for design tips on Discord, to hardcore PvPers who show off their combat prowess… sometimes against the devs themselves!

If you livestream the game, even just occasionally every release or so, let us know! We are working on a calendar of streamers and wish to include your channel. The calendar will give you a chance to become a leading voice in the community!

If you are not a livestreamer but wish to be updated on what is being streamed, check who is live via the game’s directory page on Twitch. Refresh the page regularly to see the latest streamers.

 
Community Spotlights

Community spotlights are weekly tour article of a Player Owned Town, guild, or a current or upcoming player event. While spotlights are organized and written by myself, they are entirely about the community. Spotlights exist to promote player owned towns, show off what a guild has accomplished, what events are coming up, or any other opportunity we can think of to get the word out about what’s happening in-game.

There is such an endless amount of player content to explore, I would be running these spotlights on a daily basis if I had enough witty commentary to throw into a daily article!

 
Community Resources

“What are some of the organizations and content the community comes up with?” Glad you asked!

Below is just a taste of those found on the main website’s Community Resources page. If we missed any here or on the page linked above, please let me know!

Avatars Radio
Rocking your socks off from the town of Radio City with the Terrestrial and New Britannian bards together under one roof through the power of the Moon Towers. Check out their daily program of amazing DJs.

Fine Arts of the Forsaken Virtues
Do you have a deep passion for Beauty / Skills / Technique / Uniqueness / and just all the characteristics that make Art so fantastic? Do you want to help bring some of the great community artist’s work into our virtual world? If this fits you… please let Mad Hatter know!

NBNN
NBNN is New Britannia’s premier video streaming news network. This community effort mobilizes streamers into a global endeavor of promotion for the greater Shroud of the Avatar community. Whether it be the latest news or a revealing interview, NBNN never fails to surprise!

Role-Players of the Avatar (RPOTA)
Role-Players of the Avatar is a social environment where you will find a creative outlet for story writing and adventure creation. We are a community which feeds your desire to be someone else… a crazed barbarian, a cunning scoundrel, maybe a quirky wizard or perhaps a mysterious assassin.

SotA Wiki
A premier source of information for all New Britannians! This site is being actively updated, so if there isn’t something you need, let the wiki organizers know!

SotAMap.com
This amazing map allows you to pan the camera out for a global view of the map of New Britannia, or incrementally zoom in until you make out the finest details of the Overworld map of Novia and The Hidden Vale. And more of the town maps are being added every month!

SotAHelp.org
SotAHelp.org is a player support site run by a team of volunteers, or Hospitallers, dedicated to improving the new player experience within Shroud of the Avatar. Can’t find a Hospitaller in-game? Then go to SotaHelp.Org where you can ask questions offline or schedule an in-game meetup.

Wake Up New Britannia
Wake Up New Britannia is Novia’s FIRST morning show and brings you news, interviews, games, prizes, and MORE every Saturday Morning. Check out their website to catch up on interviews with community members. Each week we run a mixture of regular segments for the community which are both entertaining and informative as well as speciality spots such as our Lord British’s Birthday Game!

Need a quick how-to guide? SotACrafter.com, SotACraft.com, and SotA Tutorials are all great resources aimed at new players and/or those with a crafting interest.

Many other resources are listed on the main Community Resources page, official forums, and on other sites easily found in the community!

 
The Hospitallers


Artwork from community member Leostorm

If you wish to help new players get started in New Britannia, there is no better open group than the Hospitallers. While this organization is community led and developer supported, there is no single designated leader driving efforts. It is not a guild. There are no overarching rules or guidelines for being a Hospitaller, other than being an upstanding member of the community who genuinely wishes to help others have fun in the game.

How do you join the Hospitallers? It’s easy… if you have a game account, you already have joined! Simply toggle the Hospitaller title on your character and start greeting new players. Say hello as well to fellow tagged Hospitallers as you see them in the game. You are also invited to attend the weekly Sunday Hospitaller meetups on Discord.

 

IN-PERSON EVENTS

The game world is where both developers and the community can call home. Of course there is the real world and it is not immune to our collective invasion either! Many in-person events occur regularly throughout the year. In fact, there are a bunch of events coming up this Fall!

If you want to meet other community members and celebrate your game successes together at a shared table, then come attend any of the following events:

  • Dragon Con (September 1-4, 2017 – Atlanta)
  • SotA Con (October 13-15, 2017 – Austin)
  • HoBLotH IV (November 9-12, 2017 – Austin)

Guilds and other groups gather all over the world on a regular basis. You can start your own in-person event or meetup at any time! Especially if you are able to create one in the Austin area, some of the developers may attend. If we cannot, we are still happy to tweet about the event to help get the word out.

Other more spontaneous events have occurred in the past as well. Take a look at how kind the community was in decorating our office last year for both Halloween and the year-end holidays. We even celebrated Halloween with a team costume contest!

Other photos of office shenanigans available on Facebook and through our Weekly Updates.

 

LOOKING FORWARD

The journey to completing Episode 1 and then onward to an official Launch can’t happen without all of you. Join the discussion in the forums, on Discord, and on the game’s social channels. The game’s future depends on your involvement! We are excited to be working on so many initiatives this year and into the next, and hope you can join us on this amazing journey.

New Britannia awaits, Avatars!



9 Comments


    1. BerekBerek Post author

      Pre-contest, I went around to find anyone that had a trophy room for that screenshot… found one! Though I honestly forgot who’s it was… I believe they submitted an entry though.




  1. majoria70majoria70

    Thank you Berek for the wonderful and descriptive writing. For those who are new to join us, welcome. I’m sure this will be helpful for the journey as we go forward. Another thing that could be considered to post for those who were not here is screenshots of the past. I always find them so interesting and amazing to see ;) It really paints a picture of how far we have come. :)

    So cheers for Shroud of the Avatar and also to all of those who contribute in making and supporting this game in all the various ways possible. So much more is coming so hold on to your hats ;). Yes I had to say hats doh. ;)

    1. BerekBerek Post author

      THANK YOU! Indeed, more screenshot sharing here to look back at the memories would be great. I tried not to miss any groups in this post, but know I did… like dozens of guilds, thousands of great community members, etc. Tribute to you all!


  2. MortaniusMortanius

    Thanks for the post and the commitment, Berek. And a big thank you to all Portalarium team. I know you all put blood, sweat, and tears into this project. It shows every release. Long live SotA and the community.



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