We last wrote about The Hero Trap over a year ago. If you’ve forgotten, it was described by developer Smashworx as “a frenetic rogue like like where dungeon dwellers are hellbent on your destruction.” Sounds riveting, doesn’t it?
Well, you’re going to have to find your rivets elsewhere. In an update posted on June 22nd, lead developer Nikita Mikros announced the game is dead. It’s a backer-only update but, thanks to PCInvasion, we know what the update contains.
The update begins by Mikros acknowledging backer unrest. The Kickstarter was funded in April 2014 and the previously most recent update was in December 2015. It continues into some troubling territory, and readers who remember our piece on Rival Threads: Last Class Heroes may find this story familiar.
“When we ran the Kickstarter campaign,” Mikros said, “we made a strategic decision to create a lower goal amount than we needed to complete the project, in the hopes that we would exceed the goal amount but still receive the money generated by the campaign should it fall short of our expectations. When we did not raise the amount anticipated, we hoped that we would be able to make up the difference by securing the balance of the amount needed through a publisher.”
Smashworx and Mikros intentionally lowered the funding goal in an effort to make money. That’s what many would call “scummy,” or “shady,” and other words that being with ‘sh.’ Much like Studio Kontrabida, they were hoping to use those funds to create a prototype to pitch to publishers.
“[Finding a publisher] didn’t happen, leading to more budgetary shortfalls. Simultaneously, we lost our anchor client in the more lucrative work for hire part of our business.”
Compare this again to Studio Kontrabida. They used Kickstarter to raise money to build a prototype that would be pitched to publishers. When that plan failed, they instead turned to freelance work to bolster their cash reserves. But their freelance contractors allegedly didn’t pay them, leaving Rival Threads in a state of flux, and Kontrabida in financial ruin.
Much like Studio Kontrabida, Smashworx and team continued working on The Hero Trap despite the lack of sufficient funds. They also drastically overhauled the gameplay, which cost more time and money.
“With a smaller team, we continued to work on The Hero Trap consistently. We realized there were some flaws in the gameplay and attempted to correct course, which led to us to changing much of the hook that attracted many players in the first place. […] At this point, I’ve personally spent over eighty thousand dollars and I can’t afford to keep pumping money into it. In addition to the financial strain, it’s taken a personal toll. At this time, I’m regretfully cancelling the project.”
I’m not going to tell you if you should feel sorry for Mikros or his company. I will however remind you this is what you get with Kickstarter. It’s a gamble, worse even because you won’t know if you won or lost for years. As terrible as this situation is, it’s more or less what you should expect can happen for everything you back.
On the other hand, this is a unique situation. It’s one thing for a developer to misunderstand how much money they need. It’s another to intentionally lie to backers and potential backers about the budget. Kickstarter is a gamble, but this is the house gaining the system. Backers need to see all the cards on the table if they’re going to take the risk. A developer artificially lowering the budget so they can make some money doesn’t provide that.
I’m not one to make angry, sweeping calls like this, but Kickstarter should seriously considering banning Mikros and his team from using the service in the future. What they did is inexcusable, and tantamount to theft.
To his credit, Mikros has promised to refund backers, but only if you contact him within a certain time frame. And it’s delivered with as much smugness and nose-thumbing as you’d expect from Mark Hann or Maksym Pashanin.
“I will make every effort to refund the money of those who feel they have been ‘cheated’ as a few contributors described. While it was obviously not our intention to cheat any contributors, I take responsibility for making some mistakes in the fundraising phase. Please send me your paypal account via private message by July 10. I will return your money shortly after that.”
One of our former contributors, Bryan Rumsey, had an interview set up with the developers in August. That interview fell through and we’re waiting to hear back for our second request for interview. At the time, Mikros said he wanted to distance himself from the campaign. In all likelihood, Mikros scheduled the interview for after July for the sake of withholding the refund information until after his self-imposed deadline passed. I feel ashamed we gave him that time, and I personally apologize for not covering this story sooner.
I’m not sure what the moral of this story is. I’m pretty angry about this, and I didn’t even back the game. But as we’ve seen before, backers always seem to have a higher tolerance for these sorts of disasters. At least, for smaller games like this. Judging from the general comments, it seems most people are pretty positive about the project, and Kickstarter as a whole still.
One of the few negative comments I saw was from backer Kurt K:
“However I do take issue with the unrealistic optimism and flawed judgement from the offset combined with a failure to keep us adequately updated. Almost 7 months between a posting for a Holiday build to the final Post Mortem with nothing in between? Your initial choices doomed this project as you based you [sic] actions on a simple hope that something good would happen, a Publisher, to make it viable, and that no unexpected events could possibly occur.”
Other comments are much more positive, like Eric Zimmerman:
“I want to stand up for the Smashworkx [sic] team. […] They are a talented and dedicated team, and finishing a game is exacting and demanding work. We have to remember that Kickstarter is about supporting creative projects, not pre-ordering products. Nik and Smashworks [sic] have a solid reputation in the industry through games like Killer Queen.”
Or Joshington Bear, who seems to be almost hostile to anyone with anything negative to say.
“All of these people saying, ‘I’ll never back a game again!’ — too bad! Some times projects fail. We all take the risk support people who make games we want to play. Sometimes these projects don’t pan out. I’m sorry I won’t get to play the game that I wanted, but I know the developers are in a worse position than I am.”
If they’re fine with the money they wasted, good for them. I can’t help but feel they’re taking the wrong track. Projects fail, Kickstarters fail; that’s true. But they don’t normally fail due to a developer asking for less money than they know they need and just hoping to sign with a publisher.
Maybe I am overreacting. I’m disgusted that we didn’t at least report on this news sooner. 943 people backed this game. Cliqist is a niche site mostly read by active Kickstarter users, and probably only a fraction of those backers read us. But if just one of those backers didn’t catch this update and we informed them, it would have been worth it. That’s something we’re going to have to live with. Just as Mikros will have to live knowing he cheated his backers, no matter how much he tells himself otherwise.