Dysfunctional Systems: Learning to Manage Chaos is a visual novel I played initially right around release in 2013. It was a breath of fresh air in the indie VN scene for me, and managed to rise above many of its contemporaries. My anticipation of later games in the series grew. Unfortunately, in the start of 2014 developer Dischan Media announced they were “temporarily halting game development.” It was a disappointing state of affairs, but it made sense. Making such a high quality game from all perspectives (writing, audio, and visual) is no doubt incredibly challenging.
After this news made waves, many fans of Dischan’s work immediately suggested they run a Kickstarter campaign. Nearly two months later they did exactly that and launched a crowdfunding project to finish the Dysfunctional Systems series. With an asking goal of $49,000 CAD it was one of the higher priced visual novels on Kickstarter, but fans followed through on their words. The goal was reached without issue – in fact it gained over that amount ($67,450 CAD in all). Things were definitely looking up for Dischan and their game series. For all parties involved it appeared that the final two episodes of Dysfunctional Systems would be made and launch during the proposed release window of March 2015.
No one could have predicted that Dischan would have to cease full time development on the title, but that’s exactly what was announced earlier today. Despite their best efforts and regular updates, the developer indicates it’s no longer feasible for them to continue at this full time pace. Because new episodes are not ready now or in the foreseeable future all funders (over $5) can now request a refund. However, all the funding was already spent. This means any and all refunds are coming out of their own pocket. It’s a very disheartening situation all around. Word of the news comes even though episode 0 was practically finished.
Why couldn’t they launch it? According to Dischan it in no way met their expectations. It was average – at best. None of us can know or judge that as none of the audience have played it. Considering how great Dysfunctional Systems: Learning to Manage Chaos was, though, I could see how a middling new episode could easily tarnish opinions on the series. As it stands, after all that work it simply failed to turn out an excellent product.
But how is this possible when Dysfunctional Systems was so darn good? In a follow up post, Dischan director Jeremy laid out the biggest issues the team had post-Kickstarter. Problems include the lack of quality control, a proper development process, and feature creep. All of these are fairly killer but the real surprise is acknowledgment of issues such as over promising and the loss of motivation.
Is it safe to say that many Kickstarter-funded developers face many of these same issues? No doubt. I think that’s one reason so many games miss their intended release date. It could also explain why some games end up being of average or poor quality. The fact that Dischan owns up to all these missteps is huge. Some developers would simply run and hide from their backers with nary an update in sight.
What this event should show to all of us is that Kickstarter funding is not a complete and total savior that many view it to be. Yes, you’ll get money but do you know how to handle it? Considering so many projects are led by new teams (or artists/programmers/etc who have never had to deal with “money matters” in a development environment before) it makes sense that tons of campaigns have drama behind the scenes. More developers, both of successful and failed campaigns, need to step forward and share their stories. If they don’t, we’ll only see more campaigns crumble despite their best intentions.