By Joseph Leray
What happens when a Kickstarter campaign for a new game fails?
After Chris Taylor unceremoniously cancelled Gas-Powered Games’ “Wildman” fundraising effort, for example, his crippled, employee-less company was bought by Wargaming. Last week, two more promising Kickstarters failed to meet their goals: Ambient Studios’ “Death, Inc.” fell well short of its £300,000 goal, and Phosphor Games’ “Project Awakened” came a bit closer to raising the $500,000 it needed but still just missed out.
We’ve covered “Death, Inc.” before. It was a slick and approachable real-time strategy game about spreading the plague and harvesting souls, with an additional business-management game added on: you’ll need to reap as many people as possible to keep the nether-world’s numbers, and profits, up up up.
In one final update, the team at Ambient encouraged backers to keep in touch, promising that fans that they “haven’t seen the last of ‘Death, Inc.,’” even if the Kickstarter is over.
“Together we’ve taken an exciting, gruelling, and enlightening journey over the last month,” the statement reads. “We’ve created and released a tonne of content (including a demo and a house!) and received loads of useful feedback. We wouldn’t change that for the world.”
“We are working extremely hard to make this beautiful, bonkers, original game a reality for you all.”
It’s worth noting that Ambient Studios is a collection of former Lionhead, Media Molecule, and Criterion staffers. Fabled designer Peter Molyneux seems to support the project, and with enough friends in high places, it’s not unreasonable to expect “Death, Inc.” to reemerge later.
Phosphor Games Studios’ “Project Awakened” was perhaps the most ambitious games-related Kickstarter campaign out there not already tied to a major developer (Obsidian’s “Project Eternity”) or franchise (inXile’s new “Torment” game). “Awakened” was pitched as a highly customizable, multiplayer superhero game built in Unreal Engine 4.
While the game’s Kickstarter campaign failed, Phosphor aren’t quite finished with crowdfunding: they’re surveying fans and entertaining the idea of accepting donations and pledges via PayPal. This comes with its own risks, of course: Kickstarter doesn’t charge anyone’s credit card until the campaign is funded, but no such restrictions exist for PayPal.
“We have always been very cautious about the idea of outright accepting people’s money before we know it will add up to a significant enough sum to really give them something of value for it,” Phosphor director Chip Sineni told Rock, Paper, Shotgun. “We are looking for funding to open a path forward to getting the game onto player’s hands sooner, but people may feel differently about pledging that same money without the Kickstarter safety net.”
Either way, Phosphor is adamant about continuing development on “Awakened,” somehow. “For nearly seven years now, the core vision of ‘Project Awakened’ has survived a publishing icon crashing around it, a team of unemployed devs trying to rebuild it with no funding, and years of hopeful, excited discussions with publishers and financiers that one by one turn to nothing,” reads the Kickstarter’s final update. “So, missing the mark on a Kickstarter isn’t going to break its spirit … this game of ours has learned to take a punch.”
If fans respond to the idea of fundraising via PayPal, Phosphor will use that money to develop a playable prototype of the game and then move forward from there. If not, the team will continue working on it in their spare time until they finally have a playable game or until it collapses like so many other indie projects.
Kickstarter has been a boon to some developers, but it also exposes something the industry has always struggled with: making video games is hard and expensive, and the margins — for error and profit — are incredibly narrow.