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.
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.
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.
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.