I am a huge adventure game fan. One of the companies that I grew up with and have fallen in love with was Sierra On-Line. You know, the people behind the classic King’s Quest and other quest titles. Which should come as to no surprise that I’ve been chomping at the bit to see a documentary on this pioneering gaming company. Unfortunately, fans have been burned too many times with the promise of a great release only to get nothing.
Back in June 2012 and again in July 2013 one man had a vision to do just this but after silence and outrage from the diehard and passionate backers I thought that it was the end for this dream. Well, as of now we’re witness to a third attempt by someone not from Molotov Angel. Quest: The Story of Sierra On-Line just launched on IndieGogo courtesy of Jordan Owen; but just as quickly as it went live controversy hit. And, just like before I find myself in the middle of the maelstrom. Frankly, even without the couple bombshells dropped on Sierraphiles there’s a lot of red flags involved with this campaign.
First off, Quest: The Story of Sierra On-Line is running on IndieGogo with flexible funding and a somewhat high goal of $60,000. Most certainly ambitious for a small team with pretty much no equipment and the film makers previous project The Sarkeesian Effect: Inside The World of Social Justice Warriors looks horrible just from the trailer I saw. The first major issue that I with the whole campaign was with the choice of payment. I personally never use flexible funding for the sole purpose of it’s way too much of a risk even for crowdfunding. Whatever is pledged goes to the project creator right away. If they only get a grand pledged they still get that grand.
In addition to the use of flexible funding, which alone is enough to get myself and plenty of others to shy away, all we get are promises that this’ll be a great documentary on one of the most beloved adventure game companies and a short interview with Al Lowe. While the film maker briefly talked about where the budget is going it’s in rather vague terms and when I brought up my concerns in the Sierra Gamers Facebook group Jordan kept on deflecting my questions. And I’m far from the only one asking questions.
Funding and the lack of information aside, Quest: The Story of Sierra On-Line continued to make waves in the Sierra community as the link circulated in several Facebook groups. Fans of the games are pretty much between “I’ll back purely on the merit that this is Sierra” and “This guy’ll make a mockery of our childhood” groups. I can’t really comment on his “The Sarkeesian Effect” documentary but based solely on the trailer I don’t see anything good coming from Jordan.
The final tipping point, for myself and several others, was in a post by Corey Cole (of Quest for Glory fame) announcing that he and Lori are pulling out from the documentary. The full conversation can be found here, but the gist of it can be seen in the image above. Suffice it to say that it was enough for me to see at least two Sierra alums say they don’t want anything to do with the project to sell me on staying as far away from it as possible. In fact, the only one that seems to have agreed to do anything with it was Al, shown in the pitch video. Which means that unless others are confirmed Quest: The Story of Sierra On-Line is doomed to failure just based on lack of participation.
(1/20/16 Update – Note from the editor: Jordan Owen, the creator of Quest: The Story of Sierra On-Line, reached out to me to express concern with this article. I invited him to send along a rebuttal. Here’s what Jordan submitted:
“My thanks to Greg Micek for giving me an opportunity to respond to Ms. Nelson’s claims.
First and foremost, I would like to clarify a number of the claims from Ms. Nelson’s article:
- 1) At no point in her correspondence with me did Ms. Nelson inform me that she intended to use my responses to formulate an article about the project. Using false pretenses to gain information is a severe breach of journalistic ethics and, in some cases, actionable as “misrepresentation.” Ms. Nelson has attempted to refute this charge by saying that she has never “interviewed” me. Well, Ms. Nelson, that’s the point. You did not inform me that my responses to you were going to form the basis for this article. So no, it was not an interview.
- 2) I initially attempted to answer Ms. Nelson’s questions on the Sierra Gamers page, which mostly centered around what I would do with the money if I didn’t receive all of what I was asking for. I detailed explanation of my intentions and motivations for choosing flexible funding are outlined below. After a point Ms. Nelson’s questions were taking on a pattern of, in essence, asking “well if that doesn’t work then what will you do?” to every question that I asked and, ultimately, my answers were the same as what you’ll read in point 3, repeated over and over again. I felt like the parent that goes mad hearing their child ask “why?” to every response they give, so I let it go. If I’d known I was being queried for a press statement, I would have requested we correspond directly and privately.
- 3) I chose flexible funding because in preparing for this project I looked at the Luke Yost/Moltov Angel failed Sierra doc and noticed that (among many other errors) Mr. Yost attempted two Kickstarter campaigns in which he asked for and failed to receive a grandiose amount of money of which he only reached $20,000. My team and I reasoned that if we only received that much money, it would cover most of our principal photography and so we chose to do a flexible fundraiser on Indiegogo because then if we got half ($30K) of our total requested about ($60k) we could complete the principal photography and return to ask for additional funding as well as seek out private investors. This was essentially how my previous film was funded, so I saw no reason not to do it again.
- 4) There was a misreading of the Indiegogo page circulated on the Sierra Gamers Facebook forum which claimed that we were asking for $60,000 but then admitting in the text of the campaign that we could do the whole movie for $30,000. Commenters said things like “ah- Hollywood math” and “it’s all about the overhead” to suggest that there would be some misappropriation of funds. The reality is that the text of the campaign stated we could finish principal photography for $30,000. For those not aware of the terminology, prinicpal photography is the part of filmmaking where the movie itself is shot. It has nothing to do with pre or post production. The rest of the money would need to go to cover post production, the soundtrack & special Sierra covers EP along with the cost of backer rewards and a certain amount of promotions and ad campaigns. Additionally, the $60,000 factored in taxes and Indiegogo’s share. Our actual target was $50,000, about what we’d be left with once those factors were covered.
- 5) As Ms. Nelson became more and more hostile, she began asking me what was to stop me from taking the money and running. Simply put, we have begun to see major class action lawsuits on bogus crowdfunding campaigns and if I failed to deliver I would be responsible for $60,000 of felony wire fraud. That places considerable pressure on me to either deliver the project or refund to the backers.
- 6) But more importantly, I have a greater and more proactive justification for why the backers can place their trust in me: I have delivered on all of my previous crowdfunding efforts, something Ms. Nelson was informed of but fails to acknowledge in her article. In 2013 I requested emergency crowdfunding to pay the medical bills of my 6 month old kitten, who ultimately passed away. I promised backers of the effort two albums of music for free to the public at large. They are “Nightscapes” and “Noiseworks” and can currently be heard on my YouTube channel. Additionally, I launched a fantasy web series called The Vessel Chronicles which had five installments, after which I decided to adapt it into a novel, which I intend to shop around to publishers. In 2014 I crowdfunded the Sarkeesian Effect to the tune of $54,000 and ultimately finished the project despite considerable setbacks. In other words, I have an established history of fulfilling such obligations and, as such, I deeply resent being found guilty of things I have never done purely on the basis that it might be possible for them to be done.
- 7) This trend has continued even as I tried to end the project, with users chivying me for information as to why I was still running an Indieigogo campaign even after the project was ruined. Well, the first couple of days I was still assessing the damage done by Mr. Cole’s posts. After that I found that it was not possible to end a campaign for “flexible funding” once it began. This led to a particular user named badgering me about how I better “be getting out my checkbook” to refund all that money and others saying “he’s going to get nearly a thousand dollars for doing nothing!” Well, the would-be backers are pulling their funds presently and the campaign has been marked as a dead end that is simply waiting out the clock. Nevertheless, I have been messaged by users wanting to know why I have not simply refunded the money outright, one saying that it would be a good “integrity move.” Well, for whatever reason I don’t have a button that says “refund order” which, according to tech support, I am supposed to have. I am currently in the process of trying to get them to understand that I do not have this button and am desperately in need of it.
- 8) Technical problems aside, I will be refunding any backer money which comes into my possession. In the unlikely event that this happens, I will attempt a refund through paypal and if this is not possible I will contact the donors to find out how best to refund their money. If I am unable to get ahold of them after a reasonable period (say 30 days) I will donate their money to charity, most likely the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. The only money I will retain will be that which donors have communicated- in writing- that I may keep to help pay back the costs of shooting the proof of concept footage with Al Lowe.
The inevitable question will, thus, arise: how do we KNOW you’re going to do that? Well, simply put, you don’t. You’re just going to have to wait and see. Sorry if that’s not good enough.
If I sound bitter it’s because I am. Since this all happened I have gotten a steady tide of “now you know how it feels to be Anita Sarkeesian!” No, really I don’t. Anita has had four years to finish her Kickstarter campaign and in that time she has responded to all reasonable requests for accountability in a very rude and dismissive manner (see YouTube user and TVWiG backer LEOpirate’s video) along with a mile-long list of ethical breaches and questionable business practices- something that was explored at length in The Sarkeesian Effect, which neither Ms. Nelson or Mr. Cole bothered to watch and instead based their conclusions on a short trailer which, somehow, compelled Mr. Cole to consider my opinions as bad as “rape, genocide and slavery.”
I, on the other hand, have been in thumbscrews since the day after this project was announced and the simple reality is that because of paranoia and ideological strife that has nothing to do with my intended production, we now have the fourth failed attempt at a Sierra documentary.
If Mr. Cole is at all interested in hearing the effect this has had on some of the gaming community, he can view it here:
Last point I want to emphasize is that Ms. Nelson asserts that the Sierra documentary would be of a poor technical quality on the basis of the quality of The Sarkeesian Effect. She has seen, as have most people concerned about this matter, the pitch video I put together which demonstrates that I now command a higher level of technical ability as a filmmaker than I did when created the Sarkeesian Effect and the Sierra movie would have reflected this. For Ms. Nelson to evaluate my current filmmaking ability on the basis of my last film while ignoring what’s already been shot for the new film would be akin to a gaming reporter being shown the first level of Super Mario World and declaring that the Super Nintendo will have 8-bit graphics because that’s what the NES had.
I will be editing the Al Lowe interview into a feature on the man and his work so that everyone can get an idea of what might have been.
This is why we can’t have nice things.