[dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap]t its best, Kickstarter is a place where people can have their dream projects (games or otherwise) funded to allow them to finally complete and present them to the world. At its worst, however, Kickstarter – and crowdfunding in general – can become something of a nightmare. Between low information campaigns, sketchy projects, and just plain nonsensical goals at times, backers must be careful as to what they choose to fund. Sometimes, even campaigns that don’t look terrible might have quite the unfortunate story lurking beneath the surface. This is the case with The Tower which is currently funding on Kickstarter.
Developed by Narrow Monolith, the pitch certainly isn’t the worst we’ve ever seen on Kickstarter. Sure, the pitch video is full of a lot of people in costume talking rather than showing a tremendous deal of gameplay (probably only 20 seconds of it in all), but it’s a pitch all the same. GIFs, a successful Steam Greenlight campaign, and Oculus Rift support help make this PC title appear as though it’s shaping up to be something better than the prototype build available at the top of the page. There’s just one big issue. It is thanks to the fact that the developer consistently repeats things like this: “… You’ll receive a key for downloading The Tower once it’s released on Steam.” Uh, The Tower is already on Steam right now for the price of $9.99.
Is this the same The Tower? Yes, aside from incredibly similar screenshots, you’ve got the same protagonist Elliot, and of course the developer is still listed as Narrow Monolith. Quickly, it’s worth noting that games have actually gone the route of hitting Early Access prior to Kickstarter. The Square Enix Collective-backed Black The Fall had first launched on Early Access before jumping to Kickstarter later to further fund their project. That act alone is not at all the problem. The issue with The Tower is that they seem to have done everything possible to hide the fact that this is a game which already exists on Steam. Why might a developer choose to pretend their game doesn’t exist rather than utilize the prospective dual funding mechanism of promoting your Steam release and Kickstarter?
Well, some might feel that is a bit of double dipping. But I don’t believe that’s why Narrow Monolith went this route with The Tower. My belief is that they’ve chosen to obscure the truth due to the fact that The Tower has gained a horrific reputation during its run on Steam. But, before we get to that, it’s important to mention this is not the team’s first foray with crowdfunding, either. Right before the Early Access launch, Narrow Monolith hit IndieGogo with a pitch for The Tower: 2015 Edition. Unfortunately, the page has since been completely removed, so there’s little information I can gather about it. Considering the page is gone, though, I must assume it wasn’t funded by its closing date in July.
After that, the game was released into Early Access during August 2014. This release, as far as can be traced, was actually intended as a remake of their 2012 version with a host of new features — but they released the 2012 version on Steam, not an early version of the 2015 one (plans were to grant owners the 2015 release as a free update later). Again, there’s no harm in developers revisiting old projects after gaining additional skills. With that said, the Steam release was fraught with bug issues, the Steam Community threads making note of such issues were closed, and in quick fashion the game graduated from Early Access to full release. And yes, that was without any changes from the previous version. Now, sometimes folks release their games despite a failed crowdfunding campaign, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Most developers do not, however, ignore and silence their paying audience and abuse the Early Access process. Now, the game sits with a 21% positive, or “Mostly Negative” review score on Steam.
Even the transition from Early Access to full release in the span of a month had its share of shadiness surrounding it. At one point, the developer took to the forums to apologize for the error and get things fixed. At this point, The Tower got its first bit of big publicity via Kotaku with the headline “Game Accidentally Releases On Steam Seven Months Early.” With that said, just shortly after its return to Early Access, it then again crept out of Early Access with nary a peep from anyone on the team. Then, everything went dark as far as official comments or updates were concerned. Randomly, Narrow Monolith published an update in April 2015 which showed off some 4K screenshots and apologized for effectively abandoning owners of their own game. With that said, no updates have arrived since then and this pre-alpha release of the 2012 version is still a “full” Steam release.
All of this brings us to the Kickstarter for The Tower which launched in late June 2015 and ends in August. With a goal of approximately $79,397, this is slightly more than their previous IndieGogo goal of £40,000 (now raised to £50,000). It looks very unlikely to succeed at this point, but imagine that they had a better pitch and were accruing more funds (or a lower goal which facilitated a successful Kickstarter). They would be earning money, yet again, for a project which has been demonstrated to have tremendous issues for most of its existence. They are absolutely glossing over the history of this title with no mention of either the original 2012 pre-alpha or defining this as their long-awaited 2015 remake. They plainly state The Tower is NOT on Steam — when a game named The Tower by Narrow Monolith is most definitely on Steam.
Is it possible that the team is finally ready and able to get serious and simply doesn’t want to deal with the baggage of their past mistakes? Sure. It’s also possible that, provided the campaign succeeded, that we would finally see that darn The Tower: 2015 Edition makes its way out. It’s just hard to trust the team considering the many poor choices they’ve made in just two years. My suggestion to developers is to be accountable for your past mistakes. Do not hide them because someone will uncover them, and it’ll seem all the worse because of this secrecy. For backers, we at Cliqist will continue to keep our eyes out for misleading to unethical Kickstarter campaigns to ensure you don’t accidentally back something with a train wreck of a history.