Just how much control should backers of crowdfunding campaigns have over the projects they’ve backed? Maybe letting them design gameplay features isn’t a great idea, but frequent updates is all but mandatory now. The Wild Eight on Kickstarter adds an unexpected layer to that question – when do backers get to learn the project they donated a whole bunch of money to has been sold to a new developer?
All Aboard the Hype Train
The Wild Eight was successfully Kickstarter in May 2016. Developer 8 Points raised nearly $60,000 for their wintery survival game featuring eight survivors of a plane crash in the frozen tundra of Northern Russia. After over a year of steady development, the game launched on Steam Early Access in February 2017.
Any backers who didn’t keep track of those Steam updates were in for a nasty shock on January 10, 2018. An update, an edited version of one already posted on Steam a few months prior, stated that 8 Points had ceased development of the game, and sold the property to their publisher – HypeTrain Digital.
HypeTrain Digital is a relatively new company, founded sometime in 2015, The Wild Eight being one of the first games they signed on. Now it’s the first game they’ve had a hand in developing themselves. They’ve had to hire a whole new team to continue development of their newly acquired game, with 8 Points – now renamed FNTASTIC – stepping away. What does all this mean for Kickstarter backers?
What Should Backers Know, and When?
According to a post on FNTASTIC’s new website, they sold the rights to The Wild Eight due to “internal conflict with partners within the company.” You can’t get much vaguer than that, so it’s hard to parse just how long such “conflict” existed. Seeing as how it forced the developer to abandon a popular game and start anew with a different name, you have to imagine it must have been brewing for some time.
That brings us back to the original question – what should Kickstarter backers know, and when should they know it? Obviously backers should have been informed of the sale a lot sooner than five months after the fact. But should backers have been made aware of this “conflict” within 8 Points or that they were considering selling the title?
The key to any successful Kickstarter campaign, especially after the campaign is over, is transparency. Anyone who gives you money to create something has earned the right to be kept in the loop. This doesn’t mean explaining every detail on a day-to-day basis, but it does mean informing people on the big stuff, and that includes the sale of the IP those very backers funded, and a new developer coming in.
Yes, The Wild Eight is progressing nicely for now, but that doesn’t negate the fact that backers were kept in the dark for so long. And yes, this news was made available sooner via Steam updates. But backers shouldn’t be forced to scour the internet to find information on their own. Even still, the update came months after the sale already happened, and contained only a single line that didn’t talk specifics.
It’s this cavalier attitude Kickstarter funded developers take towards their backers after they’ve received their money that gives crowdfunding a bad rap. How can anyone ever trust funding a Kickstarter campaign again knowing a developer just sold their game, and nobody could bother telling their backers the news until nearly half a year later?
As I mentioned in the video above, no crime occurred here. 8 Points were well within their right to sell The Wild Eight, and HypeTrain were under no legal obligation to reveal that news. But crowdfunded developers have a moral obligation to fulfill – keep it clean.
It’s a lot like littering. Sure, that plastic bottle you threw on the ground might not kill any baby seals, but it’s the accumulation of trash after years of neglect that leaves a negative impact. That’s where Kickstarter is today. Years of developers treating their backers exactly the same way 8 Points and HypeTrain Digital have has completely eroded trust in Kickstarter. That’s a big reason why the numbers are down, and why new developers on the site are struggling to get funded these days.
The Wild Eight didn’t kill any Kickstarter backers, but it helped drive them away.