[dropcap size=big]B[/dropcap]ack in February 2013, an online co-op post-apocalyptic zombie game by the name of ROAM was funded to the tune of $102,518 by 3,526 backers on Kickstarter. After the campaign’s end, updates were released every month up until March 2014. It’s a small hiccup that the devs quickly apologize for, and following that, the updates resume on a monthly basis up until December 2014. After that, nothing. For over five months, backers suffered through a worrying silence from the dev team, until May 22nd, when they released this post and an additional backer only update. So what happened? Why did ROAM seem to go MIA, and is the project still in good shape?
According to Ryan Sharr, one half of the original team behind ROAM, co-creator Zach Barson is suing him for $100k. In this Reddit post, a user shared the contents of the backer only update, presumably because Sharr gave his backers leave to do so. His attempt at keeping the information behind a backer-only wall was likely to avoid more negative attention. The information in the post is detailed and complicated, but it summarizes an alleged inability by Barson to relocate to a suitable working environment and a refusal to agree on certain financial and contractual terms. On top of that, Sharr also claims that Barson failed to produce much original content for the project, as per his position on the team. Thus, given these events and the lack of trust between them, Ryan Sharr released Zach Barson from the game project about six months after the completion of the Kickstarter.
In Sharr’s own words, here’s what happened next:
I had offered to pay Zach Barson roughly $9,000 for his time and in return he would sign the termination letter. He did not. Instead he told me would get back to me and I waited. Weeks went by without a response. Later I found out he attempted to cash the $30,000 check roughly 3 months after I had mailed it to him and it bounced because I never lifted the hold. The reason he attempted to cash it? I am guessing so he could file the lawsuit. I also had later found out that he did not sign the termination letter because of minor errors and miscommunication that could have been easily fixed if he only contacted or communicated with me.
I had originally received a letter in the mail from Zach Barson’s attorney demanding I pay $30,000 or face legal action. Feeling like I did not owe Zach Barson this money I declined. This forced us to find an attorney of our own, following his filing of a lawsuit. At first we were able to afford the legal fees out of our own pocket from personal money we had saved up, but things started getting expensive fast and had to dip into the Kickstarter money. We had no choice.
With the legal fees stacking up, the remaining ROAM team were forced to borrow and invest an additional $50k-60k worth of funds into the project just to keep it going, as they refused to get part-time jobs. (They felt it would further harm the project.) When explaining the current state of the case:
We had a few talks to settle the lawsuit with Zach Barson. I offered to pay him the original amount offered, roughly $9,000 and forget about my own legal expenses. As we continued down this process, because of the expenses and a tight budget, I would not and could not offer more. His demands during the process went from $30,000, to $20,000, to $15,000 and had even stated he needed more than the original amount offered to cover his legal expenses. I was not willing to pay for his legal expenses to file a lawsuit against me. The final offer at the mediation in Florida was that I pay $8,000 within 30 days and another $7,000 within the following 30 days. I declined.
It was and is very discouraging to work with a lawsuit hanging over our heads. It has been a struggle and extremely difficult to devote as much time on the game as we would like. Finding and speaking with attorneys, dealing with the courts, flying to Florida for mediation, and the monetary expenses have taken a toll on our egos as well as physical health.
It still baffles me to think about all the money, time and energy wasted. Even so, we have continued our work and will continue to work towards the goal of completing Roam.
Despite all these legal difficulties, Sharr assured everyone in the public update that progress, though slowed down significantly with the lawsuit, has remained ongoing. The team, which now includes freelance programmers and artists, have been working on world generation, neworking for AI, and finishing systems that were near completion (like base building.) Sharr has also promised to bring on a public relations representative to assist in communicating with backers while he and his team focus on game development. His last assurance was for the ROAM site, which has been down for some time now, to be restored soon with the assistance of hired help.
Sharr made sure to apologize to backers, stating: “There are a lot of things on our plate, but even so, it isn’t acceptable to leave everyone in the dark for so long.” While an apology in this case was a given, some were surprised that Sharr was so willing to share so many details on what is an ongoing lawsuit. Still, some backers remained displeased with the devs and it’s understandable. These latest updates from Sharr failed to produce any evidence of actual progress, and these last updates are viewed by some as just attempts at stringing backers along.
Personally, in this instance I felt, given the complexity and intensity of this legal battle, that perhaps it would be better in the long run for things to be put on hold for a while. Lack of communication isn’t really acceptable, as even if you can’t give all the details, you can at the least pop in to show that the project still has a pulse. But Sharr’s refusal to drop ROAM, even temporarily, is somewhat admirable, if a bit risky. Given all the money that is going into both the project and fighting the legal battle, not to mention the stress this causes on mental and physical health for the team, it’s my feeling that actions out of guilt and stubbornness may actually work against ROAM’s future.
And in case you’re wondering what Barson has to say about all of this, he was actually the first to speak to backers with regards to the situation on Reddit:
Zach here, co-creator and ex-programmer for Roam. There is a great deal of confusion abound so I wanted to help clarify things.
Ryan has had total financial control over this project since the conclusion of the Kickstarter campaign (Feb 2013) and (presumably) total creative and executive control since he decided to dismiss me from it (July 2013).
The nature of my release led me to consult an attorney and ultimately file a lawsuit against Ryan. Although that lawsuit yielded a judgement against him, I have collected nothing ($0) of that sum, nor have I made any attempt to do so thus far. Further information about my case is probably available in public records, but suffice it to say, I protest not only my release from this project but the manner in which Ryan conducted it. I felt wronged just as many of you do now, and decided to take action.
For the full Reddit comment from Zach Barson, click this link, though he doesn’t say much else there. Checking out his profile doesn’t turn much else up either–Barson apparently made that account purely with the intention of posting those remarks.
When we contacted ROAM’s devs for comments a week ago, they didn’t return our inquiries. We also reached out to Zach Barson, but have yet to hear any word. Two public documents (one and two) detailing a court case was also being punted around on Reddit and Kickstarter, and while the information in the header seems accurate enough to be the legal dispute between Sharr and Barson (it appears to have the right names, the right time frame, and the right district court this would have ended up in) I don’t read legalese. However things play out from here, so long as the communication resumes and the lawsuit gets settled, we here at Cliqist are intrigued to see ROAM rise up out of MIA status. We’ll be keeping tabs on this story as it further develops.
Know of other Kickstarter projects that have just dropped off the map? Want us to do some digging and see what’s going on? Comment below, or shoot us an email and we’ll start nosing around.
Read more Kickstarter MIA articles right here for more sad crowdfunding tales.