“Be careful with the other lot. They owe a lot of people lots of money. Numerous Kickstarter’s, failing to deliver to backers, failing to pay for PR services, art work, sounds and more. They’ve done this to me and five others.”
It was a warm summer day late in 2013, typical for the upside down Australia. Halfway across the globe, far to the north, it was an equally typical nippy day in jolly England. Two men, Mark Hann from Australia, and Matt Venner from Britain came together and found Inactive Pixel Studios. From these humble beginnings are planted the seeds of lies, drama, Kickstarter scams, asset flips, and allegations of fraud .
In March 2014, the two men, joined by another named Aaron Williams, launched their first Kickstarter campaign. It was for a game called ReLive, a first person horror game that looked competent enough, downright revolutionary considering how rapidly it came together. The team was seeking $3,000 Australian to continue development. Raising just shy of $1,300, the campaign failed 30 days later. For most companies that would be the end of the story, it wouldn’t have even been a story. But not for Mark Hann and Matt Venner.
A month later in May, Hann and Venner launched a second Kickstarter for ReLive now seeking more money, $3,500. 10 days after going live, everything for the studio unraveled. Kickstarter suspended the campaign after an anonymous developer contacted them, claiming Inactive Pixel stole their work. They claimed they were a 3D designer and programmer who creates and sells asset packs for independent game developers, and that their asset pack, called “Apocalyptic Interiors: Abandoned Hospital,” used in ReLive, wasn’t paid for.
Asset packs are bundles of pre-made in-game art assets, such as 3D models for objects, buildings, and characters. They’re a great way to save time and money designing your own assets, and they’re ideal for indie developers who have no 3D modeling skills or modelers on their team. They’re normally associated with the Unity engine, which ReLive was running on. Asset packs aren’t free however, and the Apocalyptic Interiors pack Inactive Pixels used normally cost $499. Once the pack is purchased, a developer can legally use the entire pack, unaltered in their game, provided they also buy the commercial rights.
Piracy is as big an issue with asset packs as it is in gaming itself, and several games featuring nothing but stolen asset packs, usually referred to as “Asset Flips,” have made their way onto Steam and other platforms in recent years. The DMA takedown notice on the ReLive campaign claims that Hann and Venner could only use a free version, something used for game testing and world building, not to be sold commercially or used in crowdfunding pitches.
“The free license states that in no way are they allowed to make money off of the asset, however they did not purchase the full license for $499, this infringing my rights.”
In an interview with KickstartVentures and Cliqist’s own Serena Nelson, Matt Venner claims that the studio did in fact pay for the asset pack. He claims that the developer of the pack, then known as TLCindie, was trying to get more money out of Inactive Pixels via the threat of a DMCA takedown notice. When Inactive Pixel didn’t pay on time, TLCindie filed the claim.
We tracked down the developer behind TLCindie, Lance Gardener. The studio now calls itself Sinister Games and now works on their own games, themselves launching a Kickstarter at one point . We asked them about the strike.
“To be honest this is the first time I have found out about this. I can confirm that this copyright claim was not made by us. we do not charge $499 for commercial use of our assets I will get in touch with Kickstarter to confirm this.”
This much is true. Sinister Games only charges $35 for the pack on the Unity Store, and even less on their website. Using WayBackMachine to go back to their site during the ReLive campaign shows this has always been the case.
I asked Gardener if they had any idea who might have filed the claim, and if Gardener expected to hear anything from Kickstarter, but he didn’t respond. The claim, filed anonymously, could have come from anyone. Kickstarter has a policy of not revealing who files anonymous DMCA takedowns. I sought answers from Dark Day themselves.
“Back with IPS Inactive Pixel Studios we had a publishing company deal with someone based in the US,” Mark Hann stated. “because we are no longer in talks its best I don’t go into detail on their involvement, the owner of the Asset pack was a nice man. He came to us asking about us purchasing a universal license so we can use any asset made by him from then to now, which was all handled by the publishing place. At first we had some issues with him raising the price every time we spoke, it went from $500 to $2,500, but in the end it was settled an we purchased all designs by him from now on, Relive was our first idea on a game an we were new to the 3d game world, an we like to think as that as getting our feet wet an learning how the game works.”
I further inquired about this mysterious publisher, and they told me his name was Nick Alfieri, founder of Digerati Distribution. Digerati Distribution is a publishing and marketing firm that has worked on several successful indie games, such as Letter Quest, Paranautical Activity, and Vertical Drop Heroes HD. Dark Day informed me that that they were working with him on ReLive, and that he purchased the asset pack from TLCindie.
Dark Day also provided what they claim were screen captures of Kickstarter messages they had with Gardener. The messages show a user calling themselves TLCindie asking for money for the asset pack, originally asking for $399 and then later raising the price to $499. TLCindie then confirms they received payment for the assets, but this was after the claim had already been filed. Dark Day also told me that it was Alfieri who paid for the assets, something acknowledged in the messages.
Armed with these screenshots, I contacted Gardener again. This time he responded, although again stating that he had nothing to do with the original DMCA claim.
“we have never opened a Kickstarter under the name of TLCindie. from the looks of the screenshots this looks to have been a scam and has nothing to do with us. we have traded since 2012 and would never charge and never have charged any extra for the use of our assets.”
I emailed Dark Day back with Gardener’s claim, and it turned into a nasty spate of “he said, she said.” Gardener asked me to put him in contact with Dark Day and Alfieri, but they were uninterested in talking to him.
Neither I nor my editor could verify the authenticity of the screenshots. Comparing these messages to my own inbox, the text appears to be a different size and have a lighter color tone. You’ll also notice Photoshop is opened in the background. This is speculation on my part, but without verification from Alfieri we’ll never know.
The only way to find out what really happened is by going through Kickstarter themselves. I reached out to them, knowing their policy is to remain silent on these matters. I told them who I was, what the article was about, showed the emails and messages regarding all three sides to show I was serious, but it didn’t matter.
“We appreciate your interest, but it’s our policy not to comment on any actions taken by our Integrity team.”
[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]nactive Pixel was not sitting idly by while this was happening. After the suspension of their Kickstarter, Hann and Venner renamed their company Dark Day Interactive. They scrubbed any mention of Inactive Pixel Studios from social media, and launched a new website under their new name.
When we looked at this website in February 2016, we noticed it contained old information, such as employees who were no longer working for Dark Day. There was also a section named “Our Clients” on the homepage. Under the section, there were several logos from companies Dark Day claimed to have worked for. A simple reverse image search though proved that all of the images were fake. They were logos created by graphic artists demonstrating their skill, not logos created by companies.
When I asked Dark Day about these logos, they claimed their website was just a “template,” and that they hadn’t had time to update or change it. The website was completely overhauled not long after we contacted them about it, however we took screenshots.
This new version of the studio made its debut in October 2014 with the launch of One Final Breath on Kickstarter, another first person horror game. Seeking $8,500, the Australian developer was hoping to get more money than on previous campaigns. Once again, the name Nick Alfieri came up when talking to Dark Day about the game.
“He wanted to help with sales on One Final Breath an in return we add his logo to game an steam account, he had connections in adding it to some bundle last year so he was to add the game to bundles for us having him along side the games named, he got given the steam keys an he sorted it all out, but later went MIA an never sent us shares of the bundle profit. not to much to the story but that’s a reason as to why we don’t keep in touch anymore.”
Dark Day claims Nick stole thousands of dollars from them by selling the “finished” One Final Breath in bundle deals with his other games. After hearing this, I contacted Nick and asked him about this and whether he purchased the asset pack from TLCindie prior. He refused to speak on the record, but has denied stealing anything from Dark Day.
A month after launching the new Kickstarter campaign, in November 2014, Dark Day canceled the Kickstarter campaign before it failed. It raised only $1,374 Australian. The very next day, they started another campaign for One Final Breath, this time seeking $3,500. The Kickstarter page was almost identical, except this time there were several Youtube let’s play’s at the top of the page. There was no information about how Dark Day planned on finishing the game with a smaller budget. It’s in these let’s play’s that you can see how many similarities One Final Breath shares with ReLive.
The following month, December 2014, the second Kickstarter for One Final Breath failed, netting only $1,631 Australian. This time Dark Day allowed the campaign to come to a close. Yet once again, they returned four days later with the game’s third Kickstarter. Now they were seeking a scant $1,500. This Kickstarter page had less information than the previous, and the Youtube Let’s plays were in a different order. Once again, there was no information about what changes Dark Day made to the campaign to work with a smaller budget.
At the start of the following year, January 2015, Dark Day found crowdfunding success. One Final Breath raised $1,649 Australian on its third try in as many months. So it was that Dark Day, originally asking for $8,500, now only had a fraction of that to work with on the same game. How could the company complete the game on such a small budget?
“A lot of our own money went into it on later dates, as the old kick starters failed, we kept at it slow, getting loans, working two jobs, grinding at it on free days, braking it down into episodes allowed us to making it cheaper an release it sooner, it may seem weird to want to do that but this was in the works for years an we wanted to share it.”
Yet despite working those two jobs, and putting together the website and developing One Final Breath, Dark Day found time to create a second game. This new project was Once Bitten, Twice Dead, a first person zombie survival game. According to Hann, it was around this time they stopped working with Alfieri and sought another publisher for the game. They hired a third party PR firm who, again according to Mark Hann, put them in contact with Sony about a publishing deal.
To prove how popular the game would be, Sony asked Dark Day to run a crowdfunding campaign for the game. They took to Kickstarter in March 2015 under a second profile with the same name (that has since been deleted) asking for $20,000 Australian. The campaign was a failure, raising only $734 in less than a month.
Dark Day blamed the failure on the PR company they hired.
“Dark Day Inc [the Kickstarter profile used for Once Bitten, Twice Dead] was a shared profile, an was under control by a place named [Redacted], a place who came to us wanting to shape an build Once Bitten Twice Dead, that project an page was built up an the kickstarter was worded an laid out by them. They promised a lot an did not proceed, in fact after there massive fail many game companies came out an told us an many others about the company taking advange of indie devs and no holding up to there end of the contracts, after many tries on our end to get what was promised we decided to go Solo for publishing an developing games.”
The founder of this PR company, who wishes to remain anonymous, contacted us in February 2016 saying they previously worked with Dark Day, and that several people – including themselves – were cheated out of money by the developers.
I asked him about the claims by Dark Day, and he confessed that he was forming another subsidiary company, Gamestarters, which would publish videogames. The Gamestarters name can be seen on Once Bitten, Twice Dead’s Steam page, but no other mention of the company exists on the internet.
“We helped them manage the Once Bitten campaign,” the PR person said, “unbeknownst to us at the time that they were recycling free assets from the Unity store. We were informed by another developer and when confronted, the team simply admitted it but the campaign was underway and bombing.”
This PR person didn’t mention anything about contacting Sony for a publishing deal. When I asked Dark Day who the other developers were that the PR firm were “taking advantage of” they couldn’t name any.
[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]n a prior article on Cliqist about the Dark Day, Marcus Estrada discovered that Dark Day first launched an Indiegogo for OBTD back in October 15th, 2014. This was five days after the first Kickstarter campaign for One Final Breath. This campaign lasted all the way until April 28, 2015. The page is now butchered, all text has been deleted except for the opening tagline “Track down your”, the title changed to “OneXBLA,” and the studio’s name is simply “DI.”
A lot of our information about the company comes from Jakob Dillon, an artist who worked with Dark Day on Once Bitten, Twice Dead.
“Some time in January, developer Dark Day Interactive put a call-out for Artists to work on a new project. I asked in the [Facebook] comments what kind of art they were looking for, and they responded with cartoonist. Shortly after, I was contacted by Mark Hann from Dark Day who asked me if I was interested with working with them on OBTD. […] I decided I would say yes and see where it would take me.”
Where it took him was being cheated out of thousands of dollars. Dillon kept meticulous records of his conversations with Mark Hann on Facebook. These messages show a trend of unprofessionalism. Hann can be seen making sexually inappropriate comments towards Dillon, using racist terms, and and insulting people who played the OBTD demo and blaming them for bugs. Hann also sent Dillon pirated software, FRAPS, in the hopes he’d record gameplay footage of the game.
[Update: 4/21 1:56 AM] Originally this article did not show the following images of Hann’s sexual harassment or him sending Dillon pirated software. We wanted to keep the focus of the article on Dark Day, not on Mark Hann. However, in light of these allegations, we determined that the proof needed to be shown. Apologies for the mistake.
Above all, these messages show Hann offering money for Dillon’s services, money that Dillon says he never saw. Originally, Hann said he’d draw up a contract for Dillon, and that he’d get a percentage of the game’s sales. This was later changed to a flat fee of $15,000 after Hann told Dillon he was talking to Sony about a publishing deal.
When I asked Dark Day about Dillon’s accusation, they seemed confused, and again passed off blame to the PR company.
“As for the other question about Jacob,” Dark Day told me after I asked about this, “not 100% on how to answer it, as far as we know he was hired by Gamestarters an have had no contact with him in years. He has not reached out to us and we have no way of contacting him without asking the old publishers.”
This we know to be not true. As well as the PR person and Dillon both telling me it was Mark Hann who hired Dillon, we have proof that Hann was the one who put out the original offer seeking an artist, and contacted Dillon offering him a job.
Although it must be said, much like Dark Day’s images of their Kickstarter messages, I have no way of verifying the accuracy of these images.
The deal with Sony either wasn’t true or didn’t happen, and Dillon never saw a cent for his work. What turned him against the company was when he discovered that Once Bitten, Twice Dead already existed, several times over in fact.
The reality of the situation, confirmed by both Dillon and another artist, Canko Stefano, is that Once Bitten, Twice Dead is nothing more than an asset flip of the pre-made Unity Store assets “UnitZ” and “Simple Zombies – Cartoon Zombies.” UnitZ has had a long, troubled history as critic Jim Sterling has pointed out several times in the past. UnitZ is essentially a full-fledged game, sold on the Unity Store to young developers so that new character models, locations, a story, and other elements can be added over top of it. Instead, Dark Day and several other developers have sold the asset on Steam, sometimes not changing anything at all.
Dillon also claims that Mark Hann filed a copyright claim against another developer who uploaded the same asset pack game to Steam, despite not owning the copyright.
Most alarming regarding what Dillon showed me were two comments posted on the developer’s Facebook page by a woman who claims she paid Dark Day $800 to publish her app, Good Vibes for Kids, on the App Store and Google Play. These comments have since been deleted by somebody. Dillon blacked out the woman’s name for her protection, but I tracked her down based on the name of the app.
If this accusation sounds like it’s coming from left field, perhaps not. Before forming Inactive Pixel Studios, Mark Hann previously worked at a company called GGS, which published the mobile game Sky Adventures. This is something the company confirmed for itself on one of their many Kickstarters.
When I contacted this woman, who only went by Kerry in my conversation with her, I found that she was running her own Kickstarter, which lists Adelaide, Australia as her location, the same city Mark Hann is based in. Her Kickstarter was for an app of the same name, Good Vibes for Kids. The location listed on the Kickstarter page lists this woman, who only went by Kerry, tells me she originally hired Mark Hann to develop and publisher her app, a piece of learning software for kids.
“I had to pay someone else now who is remaking the game for me as his [Hann’s version of the game] was made so poorly and had way too many glitches.”
She also told me she paid Hann $2,000 (she didn’t say if that was Australian or American), not $800 like the Facebook comments suggested. When I asked her if she had any proof such as a contract, she told me no, only her back account which should show the transfer. After that, she ignored all my messages and emails, never showing me her proof.
Again I asked Dark Day about this accusation.
“That was a side job outside of [Dark Day] over a year and a half ago but from what I have been told today, she got the game, website and designs done and she was happy with it and everything was done to her liking as it was a 1 on 1 local job. 6 months later she came back asking for a refund as she wanted to move in a different direction, did the nice thing and refunded half as the other half of the funding was for the time put in, around $800 was refunded the job took 2 months of 1 on 1 working along side her, she was told as she no longer wants the designs or site an was given back the money she can no longer use the designs as she got refunded. This did not sit well with her, so she started to attack the company Dark Day interactive which was not involved in this at all. The job was done an she was happy with it but coming back 6months later to try and get money back because she has new ideas seemed a little iffy but he did the right thing in returning at least half, instead of saying no.”
Much like the situation with Nick Alfieri and Lance Gardener, we at Cliqist have no way of verifying either side’s account.
As far as Dillon is concerned, he’s through dealing with the company. He posted a video on his Youtube channel, urging people not to buy Once Bitten, Twice Dead when it appeared on Steam, detailing his history with the company. There isn’t much he can do to get his money, since there was never a written contract signed. He left the company in May 2015 after Once Bitten, Twice Dead entered early access on Steam.
[dropcap size=big]D[/dropcap]ark Day Interactive began searching for a new artist right away, and the following month, they found Dillon’s replacement. June 2015 would prove to be an eventful month for the company.
They found their man quickly, a freelance artist in Macedonia named Canko Stefano. They offered him $5,000 to continue working on concept art and other assets for Once Bitten, Twice Dead and One Final Breath.
“I was officially hired as a concept artist but that wasnt the only thing i did while working for them,” Stefano told me in an interview. Although originally hired as an artist, Stefano found his role went beyond his original position. “I wrote a lot of dialog for One Final Breath,suggested where the story should go, and was giving ideas for game play elements. I designed the posters for One Final Breath, the items in the game, the achievement art, the menu layouts ,mostly anything you see in the game and can classify as graphic design was done by me”
Stefano also helped the studio promote their various Kickstarters, one such being yet another new Kickstarter for One Final Breath. Launched in the same month Stefano was hired, now posted on yet another new profile and renamed “Final Breath”, Dark Day was seeking $20,000.
To Dark Day’s credit, this new campaign looks much better than their previous efforts. There are several screenshots and gifs showing gameplay, more information about the game, and a breakdown of where the budget was going. They even talk about themselves towards the end of the page, including Stefano. Kickstarter agreed, giving them their coveted “Staff Pick” and featuring them in the gaming section.
There was no mention of any of the company’s previous Kickstarter campaigns for the game.
It didn’t matter, this campaign failed too, reaching less than $7,000. Dark Day canceled the campaign on July 10, but they topped even themselves by what they did next. The studio launched another Kickstarter for Final Breath the same day they canceled the previous one. This campaign was almost identical to the previous, the only difference being the moving of images. The funding goal dropped all the way down to $5,000, close to how much the previous campaign earned, and without this new campaign accounting for the $15,000 difference. In fact, the removal of the previous campaign’s funding breakdown is one of the few differences of this new campaign.
By August, this fifth and final campaign for Final Breath was over, giving Dark Day $7,286. It’s a low number, even when you add in the $1,649 from the previous campaign. But what makes those numbers even lower is when you take into account the more recent hires made by Dark Day.
Two employees began working on One Final breath before this new Kickstarter. They weren’t working for free, at least, that wasn’t their intention.
“Basically the gist was that we would [work on] the demo and kickstarter and then get paid after funding,” one of the employees told me. “I can’t remember the amount of money promised, to be honest, but I for one was definitely never paid for the project. All contact basically dropped off after the kick starters were set up.”
“Neither [the other employee] nor I saw a cent of the money,” the second employee said. “We were both promised a sum of $4k each and a share of the sales, which was utterly ridiculous but I was charmed by the outrageousness of the lie. I think we both stayed on because it would make an interesting story later on (and here we are!). God, that was a mess.”
Both employees (who wish to remain anonymous) worked on the Final Breath demo. This demo would make up a lot of the first episode of One Final Breath when it was released episodically.
August would continue to be a busy month for Dark Day Interactive. They launched another Kickstarter on August 27th for a first person space exploration game called Secluded, something Canako Stefano told me was his idea.
“I also pitched in concepts for a game i called Secluded where you are trapped in a shuttle in space and need to survive for 7 days while also fixing the shuttle and uncovering a conspiracy .”
It was seeking $4,000 Australian, but after three weeks it only earned $925, and was canceled like so many other of Dark Day’s Kickstarter projects.
This wouldn’t be the last time we saw Secluded. Months later in November 2015, GASP was released on Steam. Dark Day described it to me as a “prologue” to Secluded.
“GASP was a gameplay idea that we wanted to share with people, an had it as a small prologue to the Secluded game, it was a fun idea an we wanted to make it Free, the idea was hounding us an we really wanted it out there, sometimes our ideas or games don’t suit people, but in the end we make games we like an we want to make an hope people enjoy some of them.”
The game is free, but there is a $3 DLC called “Life on Mars” that changes the games location from the Moon to Mars. GASP has been lamented as an empty map, receiving Overwhelmingly Negative reviews on Steam.
Stefano though, says that GASP and Secluded are on in the same, as he explains “they later retooled [Secluded] without my knowledge in a game called GASP.” This was released after Stefano already left Dark Day, and he never saw a penny from his idea.
In GASP, you can hear the voice of an actress named Katabelle. She’s a professional voice actress and vocal director who worked with the studio in August 2015, the same time the Secluded Kickstarter campaign went live. I spoke with her, and she makes it clear she was not expecting to be compensated for her work on GASP.
“We haven’t really discussed compensation, honestly,” she said via email. “Mr. Hann did say that if the Kickstarter was successful, they would compensate me for my effort. I did not sign any NDAs or work-for-hire contracts. Originally, I just wanted to help them out with their game since I am a huge independent game dev supporter.”
When I told her about my findings regarding other former employees of Dark Day not getting paid, and the case of Kerry, she emailed Mark Hann and shared his statements with me. This side of Mr. Hann was very different from the formal Mr. Hann I had spoken to.
The anonymous PR person also contacted Katabelle, as were Dillon and Stefano, and the two other employees. He asked everyone what their experience was like at the company, and if they were paid for their services. With Katabelle, he warned her about their bad reputation.
Despite this, and my information provided to her, she continues to work with the company.
[dropcap size=big]O[/dropcap]n September 28th, 2015, One Final Breath Episode 1 launched on Steam. It was panned by critics and Steam users and sits at “Mostly Negative” score on Steam. Calling itself “Episode 0,” it’s supposed to be the first in a series of episodes. Speaking to both anonymous employees who worked on the game, they both seem surprised even that much of the game got released.
“The game was, in my opinion, practically nonexistent and a classic ‘smoke and mirrors’ campaign. It seemed like it was just kind of being written as things went along. Which in itself isn’t always a bad thing, but it definitely lacked professionalism and vision,” one said of the game.
“I’d rather not spread any rumours, but my own feelings on the matter is that everything about that company has gone tits up and any of the money that the devs got from Kickstarter has been pissed away.” This actor tells me they, much like Stefano, spent time “helping them proofread their English and editing their scripts for both the game and the Kickstarter campaigns. I was even a sounding board for story ideas and workshopped them through possible plot tangles and story beats to hit.”
Those two are no longer with the studio. They didn’t leave so much as Dark Day stopped communicating with them. One of those two tell me they haven’t spoken to the studio since December 2015, and they’ve been ignoring their emails.
Canko Stefano also left Dark Day, in October 2015. Much like Dillon before him, Hann offered Stefano several contracts, reducing his payment each time before offering him a lump sum that never came.
“When i first started they promised me 5000 Australian dollars. I was suspicious but i live in a third world country and this was my first job for the gaming industry so i thought this was normal probably. Then we made another deal in which i was promised 2000 when the second Kickstarter was unsuccessful . Then when i started pressuring them to get paid we made ANOTHER deal for 1000 dollars of which i only got 50.”
How was Dark Day Interactive able to work on so many projects at one time with so few people, while also working two jobs as they claim? How were they able to lower the budget for One Final Breath with every Kickstarter and still make the game? With One Final Breath, that may be because of its use of asset packs. Stefano called it a “scam” and “barely a game,” siting the company’s use of asset packs in other games. I looked at some gameplay footage of One Final Breath and looked to recreate it in the Unity Asset Store.
I discovered several assets used in the game, including “Old Diner,” thanks to Steam comments, “Dirty Room Set,” and “Japanese School Gym” by SbbUtutuya, “Little Girl Zombie” by codethislab. Those are what I can strongly suspect, there are several more that could have been used as well. “HE – Abandoned Manor MegaPack v.2” by Artur G., or “Horror School” by ESFGames, or some kind of combination of the three making up the interior location.
Again, there’s nothing illegal about using these asset packs in a game. They’re meant to be a base to build upon, not taken whole cloth, unaltered and stitched together like Frankenstein’s monster
In November 2015, Dark Day made a post on the One Final Breath Steam forums about the next episode. In the post, they say they’re behind schedule on the next episode as they want to “make the AI better.” They also state they’re “close” to release. As of March 17th, 2016, the next episode has not yet released.
In January 2016, Dark Day announced their new game: The Final Take, staring Katabelle. I asked Dark Day about the game, and they confirmed it’s an original game, despite the similar name and gameplay.
“The final take is a horror which was kind of inspired by ReLive, an also has some of the One Final Breath backers in this.” When I asked about Kickstarter, indicated they would stay off crowdfunding this time around. “We don’t think The Final Take will have a kickstarter, we want to fund it ourselves, to avoid any issues, or incase it takes us longer to make we don’t want people to get tired of waiting.”
The Final Take and whether Dark Day would seek crowdfunding for it is what set this investigation in motion. It was the anonymous PR person who informed us he believed it to be a scam. He says he hadn’t spoken to Mark Hann for several months, but he heard rumblings that the game is a scam, and that they’re looking to return to Kickstarter. He didn’t say where he heard this from. It has the same set up as One Final Breath: it’s a horror game where you play as a man walking around a spooky environment with a phone/camera. Hann told me the game it takes its origins from ReLive.
Curious as to why this PR person was so invested in this, I reached out to several other developer he told me he worked with. None of them responded to my request for an interview.
That brings us to today. The Final Take appeared on Steam Greenlight on March 16th, 2016 as we were doing this investigation. As of now there is now Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign. Before publication of this story, The Final Take was removed from Steam Greenlight, after Dark Day’s Facebook page claims it was successfully greenlit on March 28th.
[dropcap size=big]F[/dropcap]ive people worked with Dark Day Interactive who were supposed to get paid but didn’t. Another person allegedly paid the company $2,000 for an app that was unusable. Yet another person claims he was stolen from, yet he wouldn’t go into detail. Of the three games released by Dark Day, at least two of them are nothing more than asset flips, and the other was an idea stolen from their artist. Their first game, ReLive, is shrouded in mystery and shady dealings, and has was booted from Kickstarter. The company’s website used fake logos to advertise clients they never worked with.
I asked each person who worked with Dark Day why they didn’t sue the company. All of them said more or less the same thing.
The anonymous PR person told me:
“Regarding legal action from my POV – I’m a small business, I literally work from hand to mouth; couldn’t afford to seek legal counsel and go through the process for a company outside of the EU. This is how they’ve managed to avoid paying so many people so far, they take advantage of the fact that they’re in Australia and that legal costs would far exceed the moneys they owe.”
“I don’t have any interest in pursuing Legal Action because I don’t think any outcome would be worth the hassle of it all. Plus, I’d rather just leave the money where it is so people will get their refunds. At least I think that’s how it works, Valve’s system was new at the time and very confusing and I never found much helpful info on the matter.”
“Now i know im going to be painted as the idiot here but you have to understand ,i was just starting out as a concept artist than. I had no idea how things worked. I live in a third world country and we dont talk about franchises or artists rights or copyright laws or contracts here so i went with it. I was just so happy to be working on a video game i didnt pay attention to how bad things were. […] We barely have enough for food and rent here . I made a mistake and i learned from it. Never work for the gaming industry again. Especially not for someone who calls himself an artist or justifies his own stupidity and greed by just saying we dont ,,get,, him.”
The two anonymous employees, as well as Kerry, ceased contact with me after they issued their initial statements. Then didn’t mention anything about seeking legal action.
What hurt everyone involved with Dark Day was not signing any contracts. It sounds ludicrous, but it’s a common enough thing when working in the indie scene, in almost any field. I’ve personally worked for, and have hired voice actors, artists and musicians with nothing more than a verbal agreement regarding payment.
While there is no concrete proof like contracts or bank account transfers, the writing is on the wall. Dark Day Interactive is a company that appears to con people out of either money or work. They have a habit of reusing and allegedly stealing assets packs without putting much – if any – effort into their games.
Mark Hann in particular has displayed a lack respect for his customers or employees, proven by the accounts of all of the individuals I spoke to. Dark Day’s games are generic at best, unplayable and broken at worst, and the reviews and criticism online reflects that.
It’s true Hann and company delivered One Final Breath and thus it’s not technically a Kickstarter scam. Considering what was released is only one episode of a supposedly multi-part series and that the game was also promised to be released on consoles but never was, it is fair to consider usage of the term. That no one who worked with the company ever got paid and that pre-bought assets were in place well before they sought additional funding, forces you to wonder where exactly that $8,935 Australian raised was spent.
Everyone involved, except possibly for Dillon and Stefano, are either shady characters or were otherwise bizarre players. From Gardener allegedly changing the price of his asset pack and his company’s name, to Alfieri refusing to go on record or help this investigation despite his claims that Dark Day stole from him, to the PR person who’s so keen on this case and whose developers wouldn’t respond to my emails. By the time one of the anonymous employees admitted to knowing they were being lied to but going along for the ride anyway for the sake of an interesting story I was left wondering if I took a wrong turn at Albuquerque and ended up in bizarro-land.
[dropcap size=big]M[/dropcap]ake no mistake: Dark Day is a symptom – not a disease – created by Kickstarter’s refusal to police its own site. Whenever they do act, such as with ReLive, it’s under suspicious circumstances.
Shame on Kickstarter for allowing these people to run so many different campaigns under so many different profiles. That they gave the fourth Kickstarter campaign a Staff Pick despite no acknowledgement of all the other campaigns for that game is appalling. Dark Day launching a fifth campaign the same day they canceled the previous one and asking for $15,000 less should have been an immediate red flag, but Kickstarter said and did nothing.
It makes sense that Kickstarter can’t go into any great detail for fear of legal retribution. However, a simple statement about why they suspended ReLive, while they allowed One Final Breath so many campaigns would be something I’m sure backers would love to hear.
This might be the last we see of Dark Day, as they’re likely to move shop and rename themselves again if this article gains enough attention. History has shown they’re not afraid to do that. It’s as the anonymous PR person said:
“Sad thing is, even if the idiots are torn down, they’ll just form a new name and go to KS with a different person ‘behind’ it.”
[Update: 4/22 9:32 PM] Mark Hann has returned to Kickstarter in the short amount of time this article has been live. As we predicted, he’s back with a new name as well. This time he’s going by Hush Interactive, and he’s launched a Kickstarter for a game called The Dolls. The company is verified under his name on Kickstarter, and the city is the same as the one Mark Hann is based in, Adelaide, Australia. The website also mentions The Final Take as one of their games, but doesn’t list Hann’s name anywhere. Any doubt this is Dark Day Interactive will leave when you watch the trailer for The Dolls. It depicts a first person horror game comprised of Unity assets just like their previous games, even going so far as to use the same font as One Final Breath.
We’ll be reaching out to Hann and Kickstarter and asking them about this new development. Stay tuned for updates.