Kickstarter-Funded Unwritten Passage Suspended, ‘Out of Money’

After more than nine months of development and a successfully funded Kickstarter campaign that resulted in about $68,000 for its budget, it appears indie developer Roxlou Games’ Unwritten Passage may never see the light of day.

Unwritten Passage, formerly called Unwritten: That Which Happened, is an indie title that first popped up on Kickstarter in January 2013 with a funding goal of $75,000 (it raised $78,017). The game was described as “Civlizaiton meets Oregon Trail,” in which players were to guide a tribe to an important destination. Procedural generation and permadeath for characters brought a rogue-like element, and story decisions made by players influenced the tribe positively and negatively as it built itself an oral history.

In a backer update* posted today on the Unwritten Passage Kickstarter page, Roxlou Games founder Joe Houston wrote that health concerns and costs among his family, as well as budget and other troubles, have delayed the game.

The result is a situation that Houston describes as “not stable enough.” It has become difficult to maintain contributors because of Unwritten’s dwindling budget, he writes, and other concerns are pulling him in multiple directions:

“So here’s the situation right now, as simply as I can think to put it. We raised $75k (which became about $68k after various Kickstarter costs) to make a game in 6 months with the efforts of 3 people. At this stage we’re at the 9-10 month mark. I’ve stretched the budget hard, and for the last month and a half I’ve been doing contracting on the side to try and stay afloat and to give my family the stability to see the doctors we need in order to heal. To be blunt, this is not enough. It is not stable enough for my fragile personal life (due in part to how healthcare works in the U.S.). It is not enough to retain fulltime commitments from my contributors. And in the meantime, as I balance my roles between programmer, designer, writer, producer, contractor, husband, father, brother, and son, I am not doing a very good job.”

There is work that has been done on the project, as Houston mentions art and music created by Roxlou’s Lee VanWallene and Julian Culme-Seymour, respectively. He also states that the concept for Unwritten Passage still excites him and others. But the reality of the situation seems to be that the game won’t exist in its originally described form, if it does at all.

“However, my experience also says that we have lost momentum, we’re out of money, and it’s now a one-man project centered around a fulltime game developer with family baggage that needs better health insurance,” he wrote. “And I’ve worked in the past on wonderful projects with real promise that have been canceled, so I know what that looks like. Sometimes it still takes a lot of luck to make a game.”

Houston wrote that he isn’t necessarily ready to give up on the game, but it’s not his top priority — not officially canceled, but not necessarily ever to see completion, either.

“It lives on as my personal side project, something I hope to bring about on my own and through the help of talented friends when possible,” he wrote. “And should it come to be I will do my best to deliver on my original promises… but I have to be honest. To many this is probably the end.”

Houston also offered backers refunds from “a small fund” for “pursuing future art costs for the game,” should they wish.

“If you are a backer and feel that we have violated your trust in us, please contact Roxlou Games via Kickstarter and I will do my best to give you a refund,” he wrote.

We’ve reached out to Roxlou for further comment about the situation and the future of Unwritten Passage. You can read the full Kickstarter update here.

*Full disclosure: I’m a backer of Unwritten Passage at the $15 tier.

Phil Hornshaw is deputy editor at Game Front. Read more of his work here, and follow him and Game Front on Twitter: @philhornshaw and @gamefrontcom.

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11 Comments on Kickstarter-Funded Unwritten Passage Suspended, ‘Out of Money’

Ron Whitaker

On January 4, 2014 at 4:54 pm

This seems to be happening more and more, and I am constantly surprised by how many people are willing to just say, “Hey, no big deal!” It’s a very big deal, and people should be angry about stuff like this.


On January 4, 2014 at 8:07 pm

Well that’s unfortunate.


On January 4, 2014 at 9:22 pm

Definitely an abuse of Kickstarter, perhaps I am crazy but 2200 per person per month for three people over a ten month stretch for a small indie title should ample money and time. The failing is the developer obviously squandering resources and time, I completely agree with him, he is not doing a very good job.

If you promise to deliver a product and you should be held to that promise or return what was given. But Kickstarter has no requirement, it is all a complete risk and those that use the system either understand this or are completely stupid. Personally I never heard of the project and I would not have backed it even if I did, my money would only ever go on a sure thing. Kickstarter is a good system for what it is but one should be wise and never back projects that are obviously too risky from people that never produced a game before.

I guess this is why you are so biased against Kickstarter Phil, you stupidly backed many bad Kickstarter projects.

Phil Hornshaw

On January 4, 2014 at 9:42 pm


Hey, in my defense, I backed Republique and that came out in the last couple weeks.

Meanwhile, how does one back a “sure thing” on Kickstarter? Would that be Obsidian, Double Fine, and nothing else? Even DF’s title seems to be having its unforeseen problems.

Along those same lines, seems like people have “backed” games like SimCity or Battlefield 4 with rough results. Are those the “sure things” you’re referring to?

I didn’t think my backing Unwritten Passage (or any of the handful of other titles I backed) was “stupid,” in any event.

Red Menace

On January 4, 2014 at 10:07 pm

Someone should keep a running tally.


On January 5, 2014 at 12:15 am


Back things you can activly research. For instance, Looking For Group wanted to make a game, but had a history with being late with other kickstarters and with no coming through at all. People still backed, but luckily enough people did some research and decided not to invest (inc kickstarter is not an investment rant).

on the far flip side of that, Star Citizen is being made by a guy with a history in the genre he is making a game for, has made excellent entries into that genre, and overall has a positive history. Thus, he got funded.

Now, what im getting at here is making investments in a kickstarter that has little to no background in game making can be extremely risky, while making an investment in a known entity can be less risky, but tend to also be safer content wise.

I usually back a unknown kickstarter group only if what they are making truly grabs me, and my mind screams “i want to play that!” several days after reading about it.

If your asking someone to provide a 100% fool proof way to back with no loss, thats never going to happen. Its as close to investing as you can get and still not call it investing, meaning there will be some risk. You can mitigate risk greatly, but never eliminate it.

Personally, i didn’t see a good enough reason to invest in this game back in the day.

Phil Hornshaw

On January 5, 2014 at 8:20 am


All good advice, although I personally am not too broken up about the $15 I laid down for what sounded like a cool concept, and it’s not like Roxlou had no games experience going in (Houston was formerly at Arkane). But yeah, everything you said are things that people who use Kickstarter should take into account, although the earlier days of the service, I think, saw more excitement and less frugality out of most backers (myself among them, if I’m being honest).


On January 5, 2014 at 4:31 pm

Funding has turned out to be a ‘CON’
It’s basically a lazy business that can’t be bothered to get off its ass a DO’. Instead it sits around begging for money waiting on someone to help them out. Its shame full no business can form with out risk but begging is the absolute pits, and this year 2014 will see its begging for cash a demise.

To now see a major majority of all these game companies trying to get money for unfinished work, when they can get it once they have worked for it and the games complete, is kind of sickening.

Ron Whitaker

On January 5, 2014 at 7:30 pm

This makes me want to link back to the article I wrote about why I quit backing projects on Kickstarter.

@Blindman – Even with Star Citizen, you’re backing a guy (Chris Roberts) who has a shaky past, has bailed on production of in-progress games (Freelancer), and who has consistently been behind schedule and / or had games delayed. I’m not saying that Star Citizen will be good or bad, I’m just saying that even with that project and its ludicrous amount of funding, there are zero guarantees. For all millions that have been thrown at it, Star Citizen could never come out (again, not saying that this is likely, or going to happen). If it didn’t, an awful lot of people would be left holding the bag.

Research isn’t the answer. I backed a number of projects before I called it quits on Kickstarter, and I researched every one of them. They were all from well-respected folks who had previous success in their fields, and the goals seemed realistic. Unfortunately, the success rate of the projects I have backed is (so far) very small.

There are still a number that have yet to deliver. Some have been delayed, some are on track, and some are at the point where I have given up. It remains to be seen how they all turn out.

Plus, if I’m going to get “close to investing,” I’ll just invest. Forget giving these people free money.


On January 6, 2014 at 4:35 pm

I’ll give them credit for at least offering refunds, if possible, but I certainly agree with Ron that looking at it as “no big deal” is a dangerous attitude to have. A small pledge here and a small pledge there can add up to a big deal pretty quickly. And if someone looks at crowd funding as an investment, an outlook I disagree with, then that person definitely shouldn’t brush it off. If you have some duds in your investment portfolio, you wouldn’t just brush it off, you’d get out if you can, and you’d look into what happened. Unfortunately, the lack of information coming from a lot of projects means that oftentimes people are left with little more than a, “Sorry, we couldn’t finish.” Even if the actual dollar amount isn’t that high, I can’t agree with writing off such a big risk as no big deal.

I’d love it if research was the key, but there isn’t a lot of information to go on. As we’ve seen with Double Fine, even a company that seems to have the right things going for it can completely miss the mark, even with money far in excess of its original budget.


On January 7, 2014 at 1:25 am

I must admit that after all this time I’m cooling off very heavily on Kickstarter. I really enjoyed Shadowrun Returns, and also Base Raiders (a pen and paper RPG), but several other projects (one very expensive) seem to have just taken my money and run. So I’m not sure I want to back anything else in the future. I’ll wait to see how Planetary Annihilation, Project Eternity and Tides of Numenera work out. If they do get finished I might back more stuff again; if not, that’s a killer for me.