Arcade Distillery may have just set a world record. Plague Road, Kickstarted in December 2016 with $55,734, has launched on Steam. What sets this launch apart from others is that not only is the release date roughly the same as what was promised during the initial Kickstarter run, it’s actually a couple of weeks early.
Given an estimated release date of June 2017, the PC version of Plague Road debuted yesterday, May 23, 2017. This marks the first time in history a crowdfunded game was finished ahead of its original release date. Okay, maybe don’t carve that in stone just yet, it’s hard to say how true that actually is. Ashens and the Quest for the Gamechild, an Indiegogo movie by YouTuber Stuart Ashen, was completed ahead of schedule as well.
It certainly feels like Plague Road is the exception to some long-standing rule. Look at the list of top funded Kickstarted games and you could scroll for an hour and not find any released on time. Every game that’s been released has been late, if it was ever finished at all. Broken Age and Mighty No. 9 are the most infamous examples, but this affliction isn’t restricted to the biggest campaigns. Lilly Looking Through was late by five months, Pinstripe needed an extra eight months, and Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake was belated by 11 months. The list winds on and on and on, extending to corners you may not even know exist.
But is this isn’t necessarily a problem. It may feel like big, bad developers promising more than they can deliver, but it’s really not as nefarious. Well, maybe one or two developers have done that at some point. The majority are only doing what Kickstarter itself instructions – they’re estimating.
This is where we’d typically insert the “game developer is long and difficult, and it’s impossible to know for sure how much time and money they’ll need” argument. But in this case, it’s not even an argument. As difficult as trying to pin down a budget is, release dates are even more elusive, especially in gaming. So much can go wrong in game development, most notably unforeseen bugs, that the schedule can change in an instant. One day a game might look to be on track for release in a month or two. A week later it could be delayed five months. That’s why Kickstarter explicitly lists the release date as “estimated” release date, text which cannot be changed by the developer.
What Arcade Distillery did with Plague Road is a marvel. Their adulation shouldn’t come if Plague Road was rushed to meet its deadline though. Early Steam reviews are mixed, with the negative reviews saying more or less the same thing.
“It feels half-finished, or maybe half-started,” wrote Steam user shower.tea. “The enemies lack death animations, and just fade after you deal lethal damage, still standing. I had a single somewhat challenging battle in the 90 minutes I’ve played so far, and like 30 really boring, rote ones.” Four out of five viewers found this comment helpful.
“Backed the game because it looked interesting, and was pretty excited as this was the first game I’ve ever backed,” exclaimed lokowoko, “but in all honesty the game feels rather basic and kinda incomplete/rushed, some menu navigation doesn’t fully work, the animations loop in a unnatural manner, no death animations, trees are impassible but gunshots pass it just fine.”
Even one of the two positive reviews, this one left by Valkain, says “I backed the game on Kickstarter and I have enjoyed my first gameplay experience, however I feel that the game lacks polish, and feedback for the core gameplay loop, I feel like it needed longer in the oven.”
We reached out to Conrad Zimmerman, writer and producer of Plague Road, and former Cliqist Editor about these early reviews. “We really appreciate the feedback we’re receiving from our Steam users and will be working to respond to their concerns as we continue developing the console ports,” he said.
This should have been a much more positive story. Kickstarter needs as many success stories as it can get right now, and “Plague Road Releases Early and is Really Good” could have been a positive notch on their belt. It’s too early to tell how Plague Road’s reception will be, as Steam’s five reviews is a small sampling size. The console version, as well as the physical Limited Run Games copies, are still on the horizon as well.
Even so, Arcade Distillery’s first impression is a mixed one. Many will likely remember a poor launch product more than they would a Kickstarter game launching early.
Editor’s Note: Plague Road is written and produced by Conrad Zimmerman, who worked at Cliqist as an Editor for a three month period before leaving for Court of the Dead’s Kickstarter campaign in October 2016.