What Does a Kickstarter Failure Look Like?

Worlds of Wander

Type: Platformer Creator
Company: Tom Hall’s Pieces of Fun
Birth: Feb. 4
Death: Mar. 1
$107,766 pledged of $400,000 goal

- Playable demo
- Steep asking price. $30 at least for the editor, $15 or more for the game the developer wanted to create. It was unclear what you were paying for.
- Long development period despite the simplicity of its design — February 2014 for a platformer.
- Very few updates during the actual Kickstarter — only 4 updates for the entire 24 days, one of which was at the end.
- Tom Hall’s previous Kickstarter didn’t go so well.

Tom Hall, rather well-known for the fact that he was a co-founder of id Software, designed Rise of the Triad, co-founded Ion Storm and eventually joined Loot Drop. Together with Brenda Brathwaite, Tom Hall was responsible for a previously failed Kickstarter called Shaker, a first-person party-based RPG. That particular project was cancelled for the fact that “our pitch just wasn’t strong enough to get the traction we felt it needed to thrive”, according to its developers. The company still did well with its other title, Ghost Recon Commander, which received the runner-up award for Best Free to Play Game in the Golden Joystick Awards.

The Kickstarter launch for Worlds of Wander seemed to start well enough, attracting some backers, but donations petered out shortly thereafter. There was no real publicity, and no updates from the developer on its Kickstarter page.

After having run its course, the project only managed to garner  $107,766 out of the $400,000 goal.

A Name is Not Enough
Even though Hall is relatively well known, he isn’t as popular as John Carmack or John Romero. And though the game he wanted to develop was touted as being the spiritual successor to Commander Keen, it looked nowhere near as interesting, nor did it seem to have any link to Commander Keen at all except for the fact that it would be a platformer. The entry price was rather high, considering how the game looked. Most people weren’t enticed or said that the game itself just looked plain uninteresting.

Despite its failure on Kickstarter, Tom Hall and the rest of the development team continue to work on the project and intend to release it at some point in the future.

Project Awakened

Type: Third person action-adventure
Company: Phosphor Games Studio
Birth: Feb. 4
Death: Mar. 6
$338,498 pledged of $500,000 goal

- Showcased a playable build.
- Not your typical indie game due to the higher fidelity employed.
- Showed a great degree of freedom — maybe to the point of losing focus.
- Received regular updates during the 30 days of funding.
- Budget pricing, considering the generally higher prices of visually similar games.
- Touted the use of the new Unreal Engine 4.

Veterans of the Industry
Phosphor Games is made up of industry veterans who’ve developed many high-profile titles including Psi-Ops, Stranglehold and Mortal Kombat. Since then, they’ve made critically acclaimed mobile games in Dark Meadow and Horn. They have also contributed to the development of Gears of War 3 and on the engine that is going to be used by the project itself, Unreal Engine 4. Considering their pedigree, developing Project Awakened was well within the studio’s capabilities.

The Kickstarter was an eventful one — it started out with a slow boil, gradually receiving funds due to good publicity and the flashy video Phosphor put together. However, the pledges to the project began to stall midway through its development, and that stayed that way until the studio released a new video to showcase the capabilities of the Unreal Engine 4 powering its game. Despite the bump in interest, it was too little, too late. The interest created towards its final days was not enough to push the project over the line.

Lack of Focus
Despite the pedigree of its developers, the game’s ambitiousness may have been its undoing. It looked pretty, but that’s about the only factor it had going for it. The game lacked a clear focus and its narrative—if it even had one—seemed entirely absent from the pitch. It looked more like a tech demo than an experience.

Death Inc.

Type: Strategy/God/Business Sim
Company: Ambient Studios
Birth: Feb. 4
Death: Mar. 6
£122,711 pledged of £300,000 goal

- Has a playable build – later a public demo (prototype build)
- Gameplay videos
- Non-traditional art direction
- Reasonable price
- Lots of updates
- Endorsement from big names, including Peter Molyneux
- Steam Greenlight

Formed by ex-Media Molecule employees, Ambient Studios boasts talent that contributed to the development of LittleBigPlanet, the Fable franchise, Burnout and Need for Speed. The developers were more than capable of fulfilling their goals with the Kickstarter project, had it succeeded.

The Kickstarter started strong on its first day, but newfound pledges came slowly and without much steam—even after a couple of spike in pledges on its last day and Feb. 27, coming on the heels of the big-name endorsements of Peter Molyneux, Alex Evans and Sean Murray. The announcement of the iPad version and of co-op multiplayer also helped to spur interest in the game. Unfortunately, the announcements were not enough to make much of a dent in their £300,000 (or $460,000) goal.

Why did Death. Inc fail? Frankly, we’re a little stumped by this one. The game was attractive, offered plenty of gameplay videos, even a public prototype. It was reasonably priced, and the developers offered plenty of updates. It received endorsements from big name developers. Unfortunately, the Kickstarter may have been launched at a time when it had to compete against several other large titles.

Paid Alpha
Fortunately, even though the Kickstarter failed, Death Inc. has been revived by its developers, who have taken Minecraft’s route of offering the game as a $10 paid alpha. With the aid of the community, they intend to release the full game by the end of 2013.

Judging from the five failed Kickstarter projects I chose to highlight, it’s clear that the games have little in common. Big or small, famous developer or tiny unknown developer, it hardly matters. Simply put, there’s no template for success or failure and Kickstarter—much like a game of poker, largely comes down to the cards.

Read more of Ian Miles Cheong’s work here, and follow him and Game Front on Twitter: @stillgray and @gamefrontcom.

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9 Comments on What Does a Kickstarter Failure Look Like?

Mustachio Maruader

On April 16, 2013 at 3:33 pm

This is exactly the reason I continue to come back to your page, you guys are always at your best when you write your own articles and this was no exception.


On April 16, 2013 at 5:27 pm

First class article :D . A long look at how kickstarter projects succeed or fail is EXACTLY what the gaming industry and gamers in general needs right now. Pity no single factor could be found to explain the failures, but looking at your analysis it seems clear there are a number of things to look out for (including competing products at time of announcement, focus of project, number of updates, plain ‘ol fun ideas, etc). We all NEED kickstarter to succeed if we’re to see a games industry that’s anything other than toxic, insulting and exploitative (to developers and fans). Thanks for making this article!


On April 16, 2013 at 6:32 pm

FYI, your “set the record” link is this site’s WordPress login.


On April 16, 2013 at 7:30 pm

I’m actually pleased to see that people are seemingly more judicious lately about which projects they choose to fund. As much as I admire the concept of Kickstarter in that it can potentially give rise to games that the big publishers would never take a chance on, I’m also quite skeptical of the idea of basically giving money to a business without a lot of strong obligations on the company’s end. Seeing that people are looking at more than the “who” of a project, and taking solid looks at the “what” is encouraging since it will most likely encourage increasingly creative thinking.


On April 17, 2013 at 5:17 am

I am a huge supporter of KickStarter and firmly believe that its much more of a benefit to any industry it covers than a negactive (although there is a real risk of big companies placing false projects out there to take advantage of KS). Still this is a good article. It is easy to just paint such and incredible development such as KiskStarter in a glowly feel good story, but the truth is that KS only has about a 50% success (funded project) rate. It is an impressive tool and trumps monolplies (can you say EA?) but as you point out it is a gamble. Its just a low risk, high reward gamble. You put some time into a project, just enough to present somethng real on Ks and if it doesn’t get funded not big lose. If it does get funded, you have a great project you enjoy and have already laid the foundation for an interactive fanbase. A lot more rewarding than risk taking there.


On April 17, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Very instructive, there were two idea that specially talk me,the firs is about the market saturation for Wildman, i used to ask myself why in movie ‘s industry and game now, they like so much the” clone thing “and what make them think we love this too, and the second idea is about Demigod who was” before it’s time”. Before it’s time… words who can drive mad.


On April 21, 2013 at 5:14 am

Woody Allen always says whether one of his movies is a success or a total failure is mostly a matter of luck. A large, unpredictable set of circumstances surrounds every original project.

Vinícius Santana

On April 21, 2013 at 11:33 am

Great article. Kickstarter is not a channel of success for everyone and it’s become more cleary now.

Keep writing like this!