Next month marks two years since Horse Volume’s The Sun Also Rises met its Kickstarter goal. Collecting $16,443, The Sun sold itself on a multiplayer narrative about America’s global war on terror. It’s the kind of game you would expect from an indie project: big ambitions with a heavy dose of real world topics. It sounded heavy, depressing, and important.

In many ways, the developers are carrying over those negative feelings to its backers. Updates have been infrequent throughout the years, and progress is slight to anyone on the outside. Their most recent update, titled simply “Response & Responsibility”, feels like a confirmation to of everyone’s worst fears.

TheSunAlsoRises04Any update that begins by assuring backers the game isn’t vaporware is a bad sign. Ty Underwood, a designer at Horse Volume who wrote this update, deserves some credit for being honest:

“Several months ago a second important funding source (other than kickstarter) fell through, and our operating budget has been reduced. We are seeking to secure funding from one of a few new sources, and we hope to have news about this soon. In the meantime we’ve had to pick up more work not related to the game to keep going, this has left us stretched for time to finish The Fourth (and to do things like checking kickstarter comments frequently, woops).”

The Fourth, announced July 2015, is described in a previous update as an “early release supplemental story.”

This “important funding source” isn’t mentioned by name in the update or anywhere else. One possibility could be Ouya’s Free the Game Fund. It’s listed on the Kickstarter page as an additional source of income.

We’ve discussed this fund in greater detail in the past. The Free the Games Fund was a program ran by Ouya Inc. to match funding of successful campaigns for development. After it was clear the Ouya console was a failure, the company sold itself to Razer who changed the terms of the deal. This renders half of the publicly known funds obliterated.

TheSunAlsoRises05The rest of the update continues discussing The Fourth:

“Many of you have already tested components of The Fourth and in that way it’s fulfilled its purpose of giving important user experience testing, but a final version of the demo may not be possible as that doesn’t serve the goal of completing the final game directly like the tests did.”

This game is a sample of what The Sun Also Rises is going to deliver. Failure to deliver that doesn’t bode well for the full game. There could be merit in focusing resources on what backers paid for though. It’s like getting free appetizers that you didn’t order at a restaurant that are also under cooked. It’s a nice gesture, but it doesn’t fill you with confidence.

It’s too early to call The Sun Also Rises vaporware, and we lack the evidence to call it a scam. Underwood brought up the one thing that always sinks these games: the scope. Many Kickstarter developers want to expand their scope after receiving more money than they were expecting. Media coverage cannot be ruled out either, as the increase in attention and prestigious can drive a desire in the developer to validate those accolades.

Horse Volume seems to be grasping at straws, trying not be the next big Kickstarter failure. If they’ve picked up freelance work as this update suggests, it could mean they’ve already spent a great deal of their budget. Studio Kontrabida tried the same thing with Rival Threads, another Kickstarter game, though for them it turned into a nightmare and lost more money than they earned.

TheSunAlsoRises06This isn’t a unique story. Developers who underestimate their budget are a dime a dozen – and that cliché is trending toward inflation. For what it’s worth, the two comments on the update are positive. The same cannot be said of the last few general comments, calling the developers “thieves” and asking how to get their money back.

In other words, it’s a regular day on Kickstarter. But hey, you can still pre-order The Sun Also Rises from Horse Volume’s website!

We’ve reached out to Horse Volume, and will update if we receive a response.

About the Author

Josh Griffiths

Josh Griffiths is a writer and amateur historian. He has a passion for 3D platformers, narrative-driven games, and books. Josh is also Cliqist’s video producer. He’s currently working on his first novel, and will be doing so on and off for the next decade.

View All Articles