Ever since the Kickstarter campaign for the 5 vs 1 slasher movie inspired action game Last Year launched on Kickstarter I’ve been skeptical of it. At first it wasn’t anything serious, just another developer launching a campaign with no game to show, a few pieces of concept art, and a funding goal that was overly optimistic. That passive skepticism changed once the Last Year campaign started taking off, eventually raising over $114k (cad) in funding. At that point my concerns started piling up. There was a curious jump in backers, a number of whom were of mysterious origin. The developer, James Matthew Wearing, bragged of AAA game dev experience but only as a sound guy. In addition to that James refused to share details on how the money he raised would be used, or what happened to his previous project Outrise. You can check out my full rundown here, and comment on how paranoid I am if you like.
So how have things with Last Year been going since the Kickstarter ended? That depends on who you ask. Let’s take a brief look so you can decide for yourself!
Not long after the Last Year Kickstarter ended James ran into an issue that could have been an end to the project. Crystal Lake Entertainment, the folks behind the Friday the 13th franchise, had the Last Year Kickstarter shut down via a DMCA request. Crystal Lake called out, among other things, the similarities between everyone’s favorite hockey mask wearing movie monster and Last Year’s hockey mask wearing killer. In the end everything seems to have been worked out, with the Last Year Kickstarter going back online with some slightly changed concept art and other tweaks.
As worrisome as the Crystal Lake dispute may have been for backers, James has done an OK job at staying in touch with backers. While he’s not active in the Last Year subreddit, he does post Kickstarter updates every 30 to 60 days. Updates every other month isn’t as often as everyone may like, but it’s certainly reasonable. Many of the updates were concerning additional funding that James was seeking via the Canada Media fund (CMF). In July James announced that he had succeeded in getting $261,254 (cad) from the CMF. Great news! Combine that with the Kickstarter money and you’ve got nearly $376k (cad) in funding!
Unfortunately that’s as good as it gets with Last Year these days.
At first glance the issues are minor, such as James updating his LinkedIn profile to remove mention of his MIA project Outrise. While it still makes me nervous that a game with very similar gameplay mechanics to Last Year just simply disappeared after receiving a ton of press, I can’t begrudge anyone for not wanting to put past failures on a resume.
One of my biggest issues with Last Year isn’t the lack of real development status updates or the status of Outrise, it’s concerning the Official Last Year website. James has been talking about the website for Last Year since January. In a February backer only update he said the site would be up by late March. The next update, which came in April, indicated that work on the site still wasn’t complete, but at least this time James showed off a screenshot of it. Fast forward two months to June and there was still no site, with James instead telling backers that the site had been done “for a few weeks,” but that he needed to hire a new person to work on it. On July 22nd, which is when the last Kickstarter update was posted, James mentioned that getting the Last Year website finished was his “main priority.” As of today the Last Year website is still nowhere to be found.
I could care less about a Last Year website, I’ll continue to get my backer updates via Kickstarter, but the fact that a developer with nearly $376k (cad) in funding can’t get a website up and running in 8 months is both absurd and worrisome. If getting a website online is this much of a process then what hope do we have for the actual development of Last Year? In addition to that, backers still don’t have a breakdown of how the money is going to be spent, nor do they have significant details on the games development other than some tweaks to the art. In fact, James still hasn’t told backers who will be doing the actual coding and development of Last Year.
With that said, in following up on Last Year I decided to finally verify the status of that $261,254 James raised via the CMF, and I learned some interesting details. Here’s the entry on the CMF website for Last Year:
Now, don’t get stressed about the “Status: Decision” portion of that entry; I spoke with a representative from the CMF who reviewed the Last Year submission while we spoke and he assured me all the funding is in order. The interesting part there is the “Applicant” field indicating that the game is from Elastic Games Inc.
Elastic Games ran a Kickstarter in April 2012 for a Payday inspired cops vs robbers game called Police Warfare. Long before Battlefield Hardline was announced Police Warfare was sold to Kickstarter backers as a large scale multiplayer shooter in the vein of Battlefield and GTA. The Kickstarter campaign featured no gameplay footage or screenshots and lacked detailed information on the development team or how they planned to use the $325k if they hit their funding goal. The only things shared was a fun concept, some concept art, and the unsubstantiated promise that it was being developed by a team of industry vets with AAA experience. As weak as the Police Warfare campaign was though it received a lot of press in those delusional Kickstarter Golden Days.
Last Year, a game with a development team that hasn’t been revealed to backers but lists Elastic Games as the developers on the CMF application, has more in common with Police Warfare than the name of the development studio. If you watch the funding video for Police Warfare, or head over to the staff section of its wiki, you’ll notice a familiar name: James (Matthew) Wearing. Yes, the same James Wearing bringing us Last Year.
Who cares, right? It’s not a big deal that Police Warfare failed to meet its funding goal, nor is it a big deal that James hasn’t mentioned Police Warfare to those who backed Last Year. Again, I can appreciate not wanting to talk about past failures. Even though no one here at Cliqist is a fan of developers opening multiple Kickstarter accounts to hide their history, it’s not something to freak out about; usually. The real issue is what both Police Warfare and Outrise say about how challenges with Last Year are likely to be handled. When the Police Warfare campaign was cancelled James stated that the game would continue development and that backers should expect more news. Unfortunately I can’t find any additional updates on the Police Warfare Kickstarter, and Elastic Games’ website and social media accounts are all long dead. There was a brief rumor that Police Warfare was swallowed up by EA to develop Battlefield Hardline, but that was quickly dispelled. Instead, Police Warfare simply vanished in much the same way Outrise did the following year.
Does this mean James is going to run off with $376k (cad)? No, not at all. In fact, Last Year already has something that James’ previous games didn’t; funding. However, it does mean that by funding Last Year backers are entitled to better communication from James than what he’s delivered in the past. Simply disappearing like he did with Police Warfare and Outrise is not an option.
Backers of Last Year should continue demanding answers to basic questions from James himself, and not an apologetic subreddit or Steam group mod. Where’s the detailed breakdown of how the money will be used? How much money has been used so far? Why is it taking so long to get the website up? Will backer updates on Kickstarter stop once the website is up? (Because they shouldn’t) Who is currently working on Last Year, what’s their role, and how much time are they spending on it each week? If, as a backer, those questions and concerns are a bit much then I suggest you raise the expectations you have of people you give money to.
With any luck the story of Last Year will have a happier ending than Police Warfare and Outrise, but I’m still skeptical.