Westminster businessman Ellwood "Bunky" Bartlett is like a lot of gamers — he knows what he likes and doesn't like in his games. The difference between Bartlett and most gamers is that in 2007, he won the Mega Millions jackpot, clearing roughly $27 million after taxes.
After years of marauding through massive online multi-player games like "World of Warcraft," "Rift" and "EverQuest," Bartlett is embarking on his own quest: to create his dream game. Now all he needs is a mere $1.1 million to get started.
Bartlett launched a crowd-funding page on Kickstarter Tuesday to gauge interest and begin raising funds for a beta version of the project he calls "Your World." Under Kickstarter's rules, Bartlett will have 50 days (May 3rd) to meet his $1.1 million goal in order for the project to be funded. Bartlett is looking to launch the development of his MMORPG (massively multi-player online role-playing game) through a successful Kickstarter campaign, which gives donors at various commitment levels incentives once the project is funded.
The crowd-funding platform has been a hotbed of video game projects, with game developers Double Fine raising more than $3 million to create a new adventure game, and the developers of "Wasteland 2" on pace to smash their $900,000 goal before their April 17 deadline. Bartlett is optimistic about his own project's success with crowd funding.
"The amount on Kickstarter isn't going to instantly make the game happen. It's enough to hire the people we need to make the beta," Bartlett says. "That's the great thing about Kickstarter, is that it's a way to find out if other people would actually play this game if we created it. So, I did it more just to see what kind of response, and so far it's been huge."
Bartlett arrived at the $1.1 million figure by budgeting for costs such as hiring a game designer, programmers, artists and other necessary personnel needed to complete the beta version of his game, which he hopes will be ready in 2014.
His vision of the "Your World" project is to take what he loves about his favorite MMORPGs and combine them with a very user-focused platform similar to "Second Life." His vision includes levels of user customization so far unrealized by games like "World of Warcraft," which Bartlett, a former accountant, now spends nearly 40 hours per week playing since his Mega Millions windfall.
"These are the things I've always wanted in a game," he says. "As the users in the world grow, we will build the world around them. We'll create new things to come in and challenge them, and make it really fun."
Bartlett's ideas for "Your World" began forming in 2004 when "World of Warcraft" was released. Bartlett, 45 and a lifelong gamer, found significant time to devote to his passion even before his multimillion dollar payday.
"Ever since I started playing 'World of Warcraft,' I thought, 'This has some great things, but someone can do something better,'" he said. "Then newer games like 'Star Wars: The Old Republic' would come out, and that would do some things better, but I'd think 'it's still not what I want.'"
Bartlett has outlined exactly what he wants on "Your World's" Kickstarter page, taking questions from investors, and detailing the game's economy, avatar customization, guild rules and scenery, which will combine elements of fantasy, space and whatever else the users dream up.
After Bartlett launched his Kickstarter campaign, video game uber-blog Kotaku ran a piece that asked, "if Bartlett is a millionaire, why does he need Kickstarter?" As the story has made the news rounds, Bartlett has received his share of vitriol from gamers.
"The same thing happened when I won the lottery. Crazy people focus on things like that, and will make negative comments, focused on the way I look," Bartlett explains. "They're usually young kids. You can tell by their comments, that they're either not educated, or not over the age of 25."
Much of the negativity is focused on Bartlett's lack of experience as a game developer, given the scope of the project he talks about. As he writes on his Kickstarter page, "I am an idea man, and what that means is I think of things and then hire people to make it a reality once I know it is something the people want. Can I build the game? No. Can I hire a great group of people who can build the game? Oh yes!" Bartlett says he's been contacted by a number of developers who have expressed interest in creating the beta version if the project is funded.
Bartlett acknowledges that the criticism is largely because of his notoriety as a Mega Millions winner. So why doesn't he just bankroll his pet project himself?
"No smart businessman invests 100 percent of the money for the project himself," he said. "It's important to show that you have something that other people have interest in, and that they're willing to support the project financially." Even if the project doesn't meet its Kickstarter goal, Bartlett plans to use whatever support it gets as a catalyst to attract other investors.
In fact, Bartlett knows he's going to need more financial support even if the Kickstarter succeeds. Big MMORPGs — think "World of Warcraft"-size — cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars to develop and maintain. While his goal is to use Kickstarter to fund a beta and generate interest from larger investors, he is adamant about his own commitment to "Your World."
"I'll absolutely be investing in the project. No doubt," he states. "I have to have a stake in it.
"I really enjoy the social aspect of online gaming — meeting, talking, playing against other people. It's more of a challenge," he said of his love of MMOs. Now, Bartlett will have to tap into the social nature of online game funding, and convince as many players as he can to join his gaming utopia. With 48 days of funding left, Bartlett has raised just over $300.
"What would you do if you won the lottery?" is often just a fun hypothetical question during a long car ride. If you love online gaming like Bartlett, and you actually do win the lottery, giving you time, money and freedom, the answer becomes simple: you create "Your World."