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.