One of the more egalitarian trends we’ve seen pop up in the gaming industry these past few years has been the rise of crowdfunded games. The movement was, ahem, kickstarted by Tim Schafer in early 2012, when he sought to crowdfund a new point-and-click adventure game that would later become Broken Age, the first part of which was recently released to a positive reception. After his trend-setting, numerous other games have jumped on the same bandwagon, seeking funds from the public at large when they cannot or choose not to obtain funding through the traditional developer/publisher model, including Star Citizen, Shadowrun Returns, Project Eternity, and FTL, alongside dozens of others.
This week though saw the dark underbelly of such a mechanism start to rear its ugly head, with the fallout from the game Kickstarted in affiliation with the popular Yogscast streaming channel. For those unaware, the Yogscast is essentially run by Lewis Brindley and Simon Lane, two British game streamers that rose to prominence around 2012-13 when game streaming was in its infancy. Their videos and streams showcasing World of Warcraft and Minecraft in particular garnered a great deal of attention, until now in 2014, where they have become essentially the most popular streaming-related channel on YouTube, with a great deal of influence in the gaming industry.
In mid-2012 the Yogscast sought to Kickstart a game called Yogventures that would be based broadly around themselves, but which would actually be created by a new developer called Winterkewl Games. Yogscast and Winterkewl sought $250,000 for the game, but ended up actually raising almost $570,000 – over double their goal. You would think that such success with its funding would go towards an even better game than was originally envisaged, right? About that…
A few days ago Yogscast announced that Yogventures had been cancelled, and offered backers a code to an alternative game called TUG in lieu of a refund. The past few days has turned into a game of he-says she-says, with a lot of reservedly severe finger-pointing (I mean, Yogscast are British, and we don’t have any guns), and snippets of information leaking out. Essentially, all of the money is gone, and was spent on the project. $150,000 was transferred from Winterkewl to Yogscast, with the intention that this $150,000 be spent on creating and shipping the physical rewards that donators who backed the game at higher levels would receive, with some portion of the $150,000 also earmarked to hire a lead programmer for the game. For reasons still not completely clear, this lead programmer was never hired, and eventually the funding allocated to retain that person evaporated. Winterkewl apparently missed “multiple” milestones with regards to Yogventures, until eventually Yogscast decided to pull the plug completey and abandon the project, which was officially done a week ago.
It seems clear that inexperience and mismanagement (both on Yogscast’s and Winterkewl’s behalf) are chiefly to blame for Yogventures‘ ultimate fate. It was a new developer, coupled with a relatively new media company, and was the perfect storm of no one really taking ownership of the project, nor having the experience or capability to do so. Backers of Yogventures are getting Steam Early Access keys to TUG, which essentially seems to be the spiritual successor to Yogventures, and is already being geared up to fully take its place in their future plans (with regards to advertising and streaming it). It has actually been quite interesting to see this semi-cordial back-and-forth between Yogscast and Winterkewl the past few days. You would think a situation like this would be ripe for a mud-flinging shitstorm of epic proportions, but other than muted disappointment and mutual embarrassment it has been somewhat low-key, to the surprise of many.
Really though, what should be your takeaway from all this? Well, what it shouldn’t be is a blanket statement like “don’t back games on Kickstarter!” because that’s wrong in its entirety. What you should do is properly vet people and companies on Kickstarter (for any projects, not just games) in order to make an informed decision as to whether, not only is this something you would like to financially support, but whether the people involved are actually capable of delivering it. Hindsight is certainly 20/20, but on its face it did not seem like there was much management experience with the Yogventures project as presented, so it’s not much of a surprise to see what happened actually happen. Full disclosure here: I have only ever backed one Kickstarted game, and that is Star Citizen, because Freelancer is one of my favourite games and I have a great deal of faith in Chris Roberts personally that he is able to deliver on his promises, especially free of the traditional developer/publisher paradigm that has been his Achilles heel in the past.
There have been literally dozens of success stories with regards to Kickstarted games, and indeed Shadowrun Returns has been one of my favourite games in the past couple of years – and that was 100% crowdfunded on Kickstarter. One bad egg does not taint everything, but equally it’s something individual backers need to take some personal responsibility for. At the end of the day though, neither Yogscast nor Winterkewl come out of this looking particularly good. Winterkewl has already stated that they are likely to go under as a result, and whilst that will certainly not be the case for Yogscast, their reputation has been diminished because of it. The fact that several hundred thousand dollars has not been fully accounted for is also a point of contention, but I think it’s quite clear that that money is just gone; it was expended on the game which is now just not going to happen.
It would be unfortunate if this led to a loss of confidence in crowdsourced games in general. There is nothing wrong the model in theory, and even in practice there have been a great many success stories over the past two years. Certainly Yogventures was funded mostly on the back of the Yogscast brand, and perhaps that’s where the problem originated. People were donating to the personalities, rather than the actual game itself. Such a decentralised model is only as strong as the projects it backs or doesn’t back, and individual donators must do their due diligence when it comes to deciding whether to give a company your money or not. Fortunately, for every Yogventures there is a Shovel Knight, and that is what we need to make sure remains the rule, and not the exception.