Kickstarting to feel old

After logging into Kickstarter to see whether there were any new campaigns, I received a notification confirming that the platform was ten years old. That’s a decade of crowdfunding since 28 April 2009, bringing communities together to help bring creators’ dreams to life.

I’ve now backed 36 projects since February 2013 so that’s an average of one every other month. Although the quantity and quality of video game campaigns has declined recently, I still visit the website occasionally to see what’s happening; and I enjoy being able to show my support for unique titles which are a little different from the norm, although there’s obvious no guarantee there’ll ever be made. In celebration of all things Kickstarter, here are ten campaigns I’ve pledged to over the past six years.

First project backed

Shortly after starting to blog in February 2013, I made my first pledge on the platform and backed Lucky Pause’s campaign for Homesick. It was the mention of some of my favourite classic titles in the promotional video that drew my attention and I had a feeling I was going to enjoy this ‘puzzle exploration mystery game’. And for the part we played, my other-half and I did; but unfortunately we got stuck after three hours or so and ended up putting the title to one side. I really should get back to it one day and finish it off.

Best game backed

I’ve been a fan of The Longest Journey for a very long time and jumped at the chance to support Red Thread Games’ campaign for Dreamfall Chapters shortly after the project above. But I still haven’t finished the title despite playing for 23 hours! The reason for this is slightly strange: I just can’t bring myself to complete the final instalment of the series because once I do so, it will all be over. Ragnar Tørnquist said in a forum post that he didn’t think a further sequel would happen for ‘many, many reasons’ so this may sadly be the last we see of Zoë Castillo.

Most controversial game backed

Elementary, My Dear Holmes!, video game, Kickstarter, Sherlock Holmes, Dr Watson, men, detectives, London, street, street lampElementary, My Dear Holmes! was a release being made by Victory Square Games in August 2013. The developer had signed up to Ouya’s Free the Games Fund so if their Kickstarter campaign reached a minimum of $50,000, the company would match the funds. Unfortunately a number of dodgy high-value donations were received from backers who were new to the platform and these resulted in accusations that head Sam Chandola or family members had made these pledges themselves. The project was then suspended admit the controversy.

Worst game backed

I backed the campaign for Pandora: Purge of Pride in May 2013 because I kind of felt a little sorry for developer High Class Kitsch. They were young, inexperienced and looked like they needed all the help they could get. But this game was one of the worst I’ve ever played: it was full of bugs, the story was incredibly flimsy with very little character development, and it just looked awful. The only thing the title had going for it really was the fact it had been made by a studio whose logo was a cat wearing a top-hat and monocle.

The campaign that meant the most

The Tomb Raider Suite by Nathan McCree was a celebration of the music of Tomb Raider and I backed the campaign because it brought back a special memory. My brother played the original game extensively and The Tomb Raider Theme could continuously be heard throughout our house – so it’s therefore no wonder I decided to use it to accompany my GCSE Dance examination piece. After receiving the backers rewards, Pete and I decided to use the recording as the music to which we signed our wedding vows in January.

The campaign with the best physical reward

Who wouldn’t want to get their hands on a physical Linking Book? This was the opportunity offered by Cyan Worlds with their campaign for the Myst 25th Anniversary Collection in April 2018. The book is awesome, and it was great to get my hands on the whole collection of games too as this inspired a complete playthrough on Twitch. Well, I say ‘complete’, but a rogue Bahro unfortunately caused Myst V: End of Ages to crash at almost six hours in and we just couldn’t bring ourselves to restart the game from the beginning.

A project backed that’s unrelated to video games

As if often the case with YouTube, one day I was idly passing the time by flicking through videos and came across a performance of Sensitive Badass by The Doubleclicks. This was an excellent song about being strong, fierce and honest: “Don’t tell me to calm down, don’t tell me it will pass, I’m not just sensitive, I am a badass.” It was with some pleasure that I then discovered the Kickstarter campaign for a related pin and made my pledge in June 2018. I’m still wearing it on my denim jacket today.

The unsuccessful campaign I’m most disappointed about

The Black Glove sounded as though it would be amazing: an eerie, surrealistic first-person game by a team of developers who helped make BioShock and BioShock Infinite. Unfortunately however, Day For Night Games’ campaign totally felt short of its target in October 2014. Some people say that it’s because readers couldn’t understand what the title was about from the information provided on the page but for me, it just made it all the more intriguing. The developer has since said their idea is shelved so it might not be a game we ever get to play.

Game most likely never to be made

LAST LIFE by Sam Farmer was a Kickstarter campaign which caught my eye immediately, as it was a sci-fi noir adventure was inspired by modern point-and-clicks such as Kentucky Route Zero. I made my pledge in April 2014, received updates that decreased in frequency until August 2017… and then nothing until Farmer announced his new game in September 2018. Take a look at this post for the full story, but to sum it up: the developer seems to have disappeared along with $103,058 of funds received from thousands of backers.

Latest game backed

I decided to back Twinspell Studio’s campaign for Descend recently because the idea of exploring a giant ruined structure, with different floors that have their own seasons, flora and fauna, is immensely intriguing. Nobody has seen the bottom floor but many of the characters in the game believe that whatever is down there could be the key to several mysteries that bewilder the inhabitants of Hemonnet. Unfortunately the project wasn’t successful and only achieved around 50% of its target, but hopefully this doesn’t mean the end.

As mentioned at the start of this post, the quality of campaigns on Kickstarter has been gradually declining and Jessica Saunders of Salix Games even said recently that it was ‘dead for video games’. I therefore have my doubts about whether I’ll be writing a similar post for the platforms 20th birthday. But hey: the past decade has been fun and I’m glad I’ve been able to support indie developers through crowdfunding, so that’s worth celebrating.

LAST LIFE stuck in limbo

As can be seen from last month’s retro console and age experiment, it’s fair to say I like a bit of data so let’s start this post with a few statistics. Since first using Kickstarter in 2013:

  • I’ve backed 31 campaigns in total, all but one in the video game category
  • Five were unsuccessful in reaching their fundraising target and two were cancelled
  • One was suspended by the platform for strange high-value pledges and OUYA fund-matching
  • I’ve received 11 games so far (not all of them good) from 23 successful campaigns
  • The longest I’ve been waiting on is from a campaign over four years old

  • I picked up on that last point above while updating my profile on the platform recently and checking out the list of projects I’ve pledged to over the past five years. I’ll admit that I don’t always read the Kickstarter updates sent by developers and was therefore out of the loop on the title’s progress so some catching up was necessary. A few internet searches later however left me feeling disappointed, and as though I may have given my money to a title we could never get to see.

    The history of LAST LIFE

    LAST LIFE by Sam Farmer was a project which caught my eye immediately. The sci-fi noir adventure was inspired by modern point-and-clicks such as Kentucky Route Zero and would take place over three episodes. It featured a recently-murdered Private Investigator who had been 3D-printed back into existence to reopen his last case and uncover what he originally missed: a hunt which would reveal AI corruption, corporate espionage and the conspiracy which may have led to the Earth’s doom.

    It was launched on 10 April 2014 and veteran Tim Schafer appeared in a video for the campaign page to announce that Double Fine Productions had selected it to be their second Double Fine Presents game. Kickstarter themselves also jumped on board and declared LAST LIFE as their ‘Project of the Day’ on 26 April 2016. Two days later on 28 April 2018, the original fundraising target of $75,000 was met with still over a week to go until the deadline.

    The end of the campaign on 09 May 2014 saw a total of $103,058 pledged by 4,822 backers (over 137% of the original target). The first stretch goal had also been achieved and voiceovers for all speaking characters and interactive flashbacks would now be incorporated into the game. After a successful crowdfunder, Farmer appeared in interviews with several news outlets during the next few months stating an intended release window of ‘next year’ in 2015.

    So why are we backers still waiting to get their hands on the first episode of LAST LIFE over four years later?

    Sewing the seeds of doubt

    There have only been 12 updates from Farmer via Kickstarter since the end of the campaign. The length of time between these ranges from a month to over a year and seven have been for backers’ eyes only; and while this may have been acceptable if we could be certain work was progressing smoothly, not all have contained useful information. The latest update was published ten months ago and those who pledged towards the project have been left in the dark since.

    Tim Schaefer, video games, office, LAST LIFE, video

    The thing a lot of us had been holding onto was the fact that Double Fine were supporting LAST LIFE’s development and would be releasing the finished title. Even now Schafer’s video is displayed on the Kickstarter page, Double Fine Presents is mentioned on Farmer’s personal website, and the game’s press kit states that it is being published by the company. With a big name like that behind it, surely it means there’s still hope for the game and that we might get to play it one day?

    Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like it. The last Kickstarter update on 06 August 2017 was a long message from Farmer containing the following news:

    As you probably know, we launched our Kickstarter campaign with the help of Double Fine. However, they shifted priorities and we parted ways at the end of 2015. We are on good terms, and I wish them every success. I’ve since been looking for another partner to help with publishing and also to provide financing to finish the game.

    Backers should have been provided with this information two years earlier to keep them informed about what was happening. In addition, the sites mentioned above should have been updated immediately to remove Double Fine as the publisher and make it clear where the future of LAST LIFE was now heading. Instead, the official website is continuing to accept pre-orders and will ‘definitely take your money’ according to research by Cliquist in February.

    Where is Farmer?

    The full update can be seen in this video if you’re interested but to sum up: although the Kickstarter campaign raised enough funds to create a single episode of a three-part series, the decision to ‘expand the single episode into a feature length film’ was taken so players wouldn’t be left unfulfilled. However, the money had now run out and Farmer was trying to ‘secure the financing needed in order to cross the finish line’ and ‘searching for the right partner’. He wrote:

    Unfortunately, whilst we were really happy with the expanded scale of the game and everything that meant for the project, we’ve been unable to find a way to produce it at the quality we wanted, within the budget we set for ourselves. We stretched our single year of funding into three years, until we were relying on my own personal finances to continue the project, but that well has now run dry too.

    I had a look at all the comments left on the Kickstarter page and the last I could find from Farmer himself was from February 2017. His latest tweet was in April 2018 and was nothing to do with LAST LIFE; in fact, last time he tweeted about his project was in March 2017 when he said that he had ‘made good progress’. Backers have now received no update in almost a year and the campaign page is filling up with many confused and angry comments.

    Former Cliquist Executive Editor Josh Griffiths tried to track down Farmer on several occasions but as of February this year, still hadn’t been able to get in touch. The email address listed on the official website no longer exists and responses to messages sent to other addresses, as well as to Double Fine, haven’t been responded to. It seems as if both the developer and LAST LIFE have disappeared along with $103,058 of Kickstarter funds from thousands of backers.

    Kickstarter is a gamble

    All we really have to show for that amount of money is an unlisted video of an eight-minute demo published at the end of July 2017, shortly before the last Kickstarter update mentioned above. Despite Farmer announcing he was ‘rapidly approaching beta’ in June 2016 and requesting for volunteers to help QA test the game and provide feedback, it doesn’t seem as though any interested backer actually received an invitation. LAST LIFE therefore appears to be stuck in limbo and there’s a chance we may not ever get to see it.

    As written by Griffiths in a Cliquist article: “It’s ironic Kickstarter doesn’t allow campaigns featuring gambling, because that’s exactly what crowdfunding is – a gamble.” The platform isn’t a store and backers aren’t placing a pre-order; instead it’s a way for creators to raise independent funding for their projects and work with their audience to make something special. That doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to receive the product you’re putting your money towards however and should therefore never part with cash you can’t afford to lose.

    That’s why the pledge I’ve lost here doesn’t bother me and I’m fully aware of what becoming a backer for a project means. But what frustrates me is insufficient communication since the campaign completion in May 2014 and the gaping holes and contradictions in the updates we have received. While I can appreciate that game design is a long a difficult process, and inexperienced developers may come across unexpected problems that take time to resolve, such a lack of transparency is almost unforgiveable.

    Perhaps Farmer will resurface one day and LAST LIFE will eventually be made. Perhaps not. While this incident won’t stop me from making Kickstarter pledges in the future, it certainly leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.