I was approached by our Editor in Chief today about an article surrounding the latest “scam” Kickstarter had to offer. Articles like this are great. They certainly don’t exist to shame Kickstarter as a whole, they just help create a community of backers that know when a campaign looks fishy. Consumers need to understand where their money is going. The hardest thing for most people to understand is that backing a project on Kickstarter or IndieGoGo isn’t the indie equivalent of pre-ordering a game. I think pre-orders of AAA games are a scourge on humanity, mostly because of the reason they exist: To get you to buy a game before a credible source has had the chance to fully analyze it. Crowdfunding works very differently, believe it or not, because it’s not a pre-order. The game doesn’t exist yet, so the developers aren’t trying to get you to buy a product that they’re not confident in, they’re trying to get enough money together to make a game that will sell on its own. Everything takes an initial investment, after all. Want a sandwich? Even that requires an initial investment.
However, as I began to investigate this scandal, I had a really hard time finding anything worthy of the word. Maybe “con” or “scam” would be a better word for what I was looking for, and try as I might, I couldn’t find the “scam” that the comments section on the Kickstarter for Confederate Express was referring to. I saw a studio with a flimsy grasp on their fan base, I saw a community of entitled crybabies, and I even saw an overlap of interests that contributed to a delay, but I didn’t see a scam, and I didn’t see any reason for an investigation or mass refund – two things backers of Confederate Express were demanding. I even saw a reasonable portion of backers that understood the situation and reacted like grown-ass, responsible people. For those of you in the dark about this ordeal, I’m going to outline the situation and provide a way to process the outcome that you can use, if you like, to formulate a mature response to a company making a questionable decision.
Here’s the skinny: Developer Maksym Pashanin and his team of artists, programmers, and musicians started a Kickstarter campaign for a game called Confederate Express. In November of last year, this campaign was funded and reached almost 400% of its original goal, ending on November 20th with nearly $40,000 in the bank. While this isn’t a particularly small goal for a game of this size, it probably wasn’t a realistic expectation, and as time went on, funds for the game dwindled while the developers remained quiet (in our interview with Maksym, development costs were now somewhere around $70,000). In the almost 8 months that have passed since Confederate Express was funded, only 4 updates have been posted. Most of them are about the game’s development, including character breakdowns and some talk of engine enhancements. Two of the updates, however, dealt with something that backers simply didn’t want to hear. The development team was going to be receiving additional funding from another group of developers working within the same studio in return for ambiguous “help” developing another game. How the developers were associated is a little complicated, but for now suffice it to say that there was no overlap in the core development teams. Anyone working on both projects was brought in as an independent, and they were paid for out-of-pocket.
The “other game”, so to speak, is Knuckle Club, a 2D brawler sporting the same unique graphics engine as ConEx. The deal was that after Knuckle Club was completed (a projected 2-3 month job), Confederate Express would be made even bigger than ever imagined, including all stretch goals – even those not met during the initial campaign. Development of Knuckle Club is currently behind schedule, however, and backers of Confederate Express are outraged that the project they backed is evidently being put on the back burner. Backers didn’t initially know that development efforts were going to be split, and all donations were locked in before this news was broken to either the developers or the backers. That being said, backers are very vocal about the way they feel, and they feel outrage deep in their souls.
Those are the facts, and if you’d like to take a closer look at what Maksym had to say about this situation, you can take a look at our most recent interview with him. This is an editorial, however, so we’re not quite done yet. That’s right, it’s time for me to chime in with my two cents on the situation, so buckle in. First of all, I don’t think this is a scam, and I sincerely think everyone calling it a scam needs to calm down and figure out what Kickstarter is before spending another dime on a campaign. Those of you calling this a scam are overreacting to an unpredictable development cycle, you misunderstand how crowdfunding works, and you misunderstand on a fundamental level how complicated business is. Instead of flaming the developers of a game you hope to play (developers who haven’t cancelled the game), you should sit back, relax, and live your life the same way you’ve been living it for the last 8 months.
First off, let me establish that I don’t think the developers are blameless here. They didn’t ask for enough money, they handled their community badly, and they didn’t post enough updates or engage backers in a clear enough way. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s look at how the developers dealt with this problem. They didn’t cancel the game, and the community is reacting as if they not only cancelled the game, but cancelled it while wrapping shredded money in more money and lighting their money cigars with burning money while sitting in a chair made of even more money. This is not conventional, but it’s a solution to a problem that led to a delay instead of a cancellation, and with all the madness that Kickstarter can stir up, this is definitely a best-case scenario considering that the original campaign asked for too little. However, if the original campaign had asked for the $70,000 it would eventually discover it needed, neither game would exist at all. Don’t be afraid that the game you donated to is going to fall behind. It’s taking steps forward, it’s being worked on every day, and because of this deal, it’s going to be more than it ever would have been. Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.