Posted on July 29, 2014, Ron Whitaker It’s Time for Gamers to Say No to Crowdfunding
As Kickstarter failures continue to pile up, it’s time for gamers to vote with their wallets, and say no to crowdfunding.
I’ve written about my personal choice to stay away from Kickstarter before. It’s a choice that I made a little over a year ago, because I was tired of assuming all the risks inherent in any game development project without getting any of the returns. Since then, we’ve seen numerous Kickstarter failures, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s money that’s been taken from gamers and scattered about, with little to no accounting of how it was spent, and nothing at all to show for it.
Why are we all still okay with that?
There are plenty of examples of poorly managed projects failing to deliver on what was promised. Just last week, the Yogventures Kickstarter fell through, and since that failure was announced, there have been a number of claims and accusations flying about that should serve as cautionary tales for gamers. First, news broke that Winterkewl (the developer behind Yogventures) had paid an artist $35,000 for six months of work that turned out to be two weeks, as the artist exploited a contractual loophole and left for a job at LucasArts, taking the cash with him.
Then, PC Gamer reported that $150,000 of the half-million-dollars-plus that the project raised was supposedly transferred to Yogscast, with the understanding it would be used to create physical rewards and hire a lead programmer. The lead programmer was apparently never hired, and no one seems to know what happened the balance of the cash. When asked about the money, Lewis Brindley of Yogscast said there was, “no value in going into details.”
What Brindley should have said was that he wasn’t required to go into any details, and as such, he wouldn’t. That’s because Kickstarter provides precisely zero consumer protections for backers. Kickstarter’s interest in a project ends the day the project closes, because that’s when the crowdfunding platform (they call themselves a “platform” as a way to try and disclaim liability when something fails) gets its 5 percent cut. It’s possible that you could file a civil suit against the developer, but with the news that Winterkewl is closing down, that’s out the window as well. The Yogscast folks are promising to “make it right” for their backers, and have said they plan to give all their backers a copy of a similar game called TUG. That’s great, but that’s not what the backers signed up for. There’s been precious little mention of refunds, with Yogscast telling Eurogamer that, “Refund requests should go to Winterkewl Games.” Unfortunately, the company is closing its doors, as mentioned above.
In a similar but different situation, last week also saw the Kickstarter campaign for Areal suspended. While Kickstarter doesn’t share the reasons behind project suspensions and Areal developer West Games claims to have no idea why it was suspended, there have been a number of articles written concerning the somewhat shady details of the so-called “spiritual successor to S.T.A.L.K.E.R.” West Games isn’t giving up, though. It has begun crowdfunding through its own website.
It shouldn’t be necessary to warn people off at this point. But here I am, doing it anyway. There are precious few consumer protections on sites like Kickstarter, but if you pledge money to a company through their company website, it’s gone. While Areal may turn out to be an amazing game, the smart thing to do is to let them develop it without your money.
There have been some games made through Kickstarter that are quite good. Unfortunately, they’ve been overshadowed by the colossal failures that have come since. It’s time for gamers to consider the nuclear option: giving up on crowdfunding.
I know what you’re thinking. “There are of lots of games that won’t get made without crowdfunding.” That’s probably true. It’s unfortunate, but that’s not our problem as gamers. There is a lot of risk inherent in the making of new games, no matter who’s financing them. In the Kickstarter failures mentioned above, as well as others that have come before, we’ve seen what happens when that risk is placed on gamers — they get screwed.
Despite Kickstarter’s terms telling project creators that they must fulfill the rewards they promise or offer refunds, you don’t see it happening. Kickstarter and the creators who exploit it are banking on the fact that most people are willing to write off small amounts of money if a project fails. In a recent development, the Washington attorney general brought lawsuit against a creator who failed to deliver on a Kickstarter campaign. While there’s no word yet on how that suit is proceeding, it will be interesting to see if this results in any more powerful protections for crowdfunding backers.
Regardless, it’s time for gamers to exercise the only real tool at their disposal — their wallets — to send a clear message to the crowdfunders of the world. Keep your wallet closed until there’s a major improvement in crowdfunding terms that supplies stronger guarantees for your money, or until the game is available at launch. If you keep buying into a shitty system, it’s never going to improve.