Alpha Colony Kickstarter Fails By $28, Dev Is Sorta Glad

By Alec Meer on December 4th, 2012 at 5:00 pm.

The videogames tragedy of the weekend appeared to be the second Kickstarter failure of the Catan and M.U.L.E.-inspired Alpha Colony, which reached its deadline with just twenty-eight piffling dollars left to earn if it was to gain its $50,000 funding. This seems powerfully heartbreaking, and much discussion has centered around why the dev couldn’t find a small fistful of dollars from somewhere to take the “family-friendly exploration, building and trading sim game” over the line. For its part, Kickstarter has declined to bend its rules and fund the project anyway – which seems mean but is, I think, the right decision if it doesn’t want to open an explosive can of precedent worms.

Turns out they didn’t entirely want the Kickstarter to succeed anyway, disappointed though they may be.

The issue is/was that dev Christopher Williamson, of Dreamquest, had originally sought $500,000 for Alpha Colony, but closed down the initial Kickstarter when it became apparent this wouldn’t happen, though $100k had been pledged. So he returned with another KS looking for just a tenth of that mighty sum, which wound up $28 short when the line of death was crossed. This may have been a good thing.

“Although many consider this a failure and unfair, in the end, it is perhaps the kindest thing the universe could have done for us,” Williamson told Gamasutra. “To be committed to deliver my dream game underfunded, understaffed, and sub-par, and to lose even more time and money would have been even more heartbreaking.” He reckoned that, after staffing and pledger incentive costs, he’d have been left with very little with which to actually create meet his ambitions for the game. As such, they’d put up the deliberately low $50k Kickstarter “in the hopes that we could at least achieve the same $100k level we got before.”

Additionally, they’d secured outside funding that would have seen all pledges essentially doubled by private backers and the Colorado Film Incentive Program, though this would have still left the project a long way short of the $500,000 it originally desired.

This may explain why some method of getting the game over the line was not found, although Williamson claims it was simply a matter of being out of cash and untapped allies by that point. “Despite all the snarky posts by others, I had already contributed an extensive amount of my own money to the Kickstarter and called in many favours and would need to do so again to succeed.” He is nonetheless “very disappointed” and claims to be $60,000 down as a result of development work on the game to date and the dual attempts to crowd-fund the game – as well as apparently been trying to make it for 14 years.

“For now,” the devs wrote on Facebook, “our team needs to feed our families, so we are going to focus our efforts on projects with more immediate demand and financial rewards such as getting Championship Spades out for tablets and smartphones as well as updating our existing card and board game lineup for desktop PC and Mac.” They are also exploring other means of finding funding for a possible future third swing at Alpha Colony.

So, er, yay? No, not really. There is no real positive outcome of what sounds like a very messy situation, and one that throws a harsh light onto the disparity between the public perception of game costs (for large projects, at least) and the reality of some of them.

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62 Comments »

  1. AmateurScience says:

    I still find it amazing that they embarked on a second kickstarter with a goal that would have left them ‘underfunded, understaffed, and sub-par’ at all. Especially as that wasn’t explicitly clear in the second listing (and in fact wasn’t mentioned at all now that I look). Shenanigans!

    • bbm says:

      Yeah, the entire point of kickstarter (as opposed to indiegogo etc) is that developers don’t have to embark on a project with an amount of money that leaves them underfunded, understaffed and sub-par.

      • Shuck says:

        Unfortunately that’s exactly how every Kickstarter campaign pretty much works, though. It’s almost never able to raise all the money needed for development. People just aren’t willing to pledge those sorts of funds, in part because they have a hugely deflated sense of what games cost to make. To make matters worse, the best way to reach a high goal seems to be to set a lower goal and have well thought out stretch goals. Normally (what’s perceived as) a too high goal will turn people off from contributing.

      • Teovald says:

        Sadly it happens. Republique for example started as a mobile only game, justifying this by the fact its gameplay was adapted to touch screens, not keyboard or mouse. Fair enough.
        Then they realize that they will never reach their 500 000$ goal, and suddenly its a mobile and desktop game, with the same budget.
        Kickstarter should do a better job at forbidding this kind of last minute radical change but if you invest your money in this kind of dubious project, it is your (hazardous) choice.

    • Universal Quitter says:

      Perhaps it’s as simple as him changing his mind? I mean, i would imagine a certain amount of desperation and frustration occurred after the first attempt failed. Since starting the second one, he probably has been thinking “Okay, how am I actually going to do this?”

      Once the funding didn’t even reach half of half his expectation, the reality probably sunk in that he’d clung a little too desperately to the project, and had set up unrealistic goals for himself and his team.

      Or something like that.

      EDIT: So, so many mistakes.

    • Branthog says:

      Exactly. This is baffling. The first rule of Kickstarter projects is ASK FOR WHAT YOU NEED. Don’t ask for your dream sum, because you might not get it. Don’t ask for too little and hope it’ll go crazy, because you MIGHT get that and not be able to deliver. If you need $100k to make something, set your project at $100k. Period.

  2. InternetBatman says:

    I suspect that developers setting a low target that they can’t deliver on is an inherent problem with kickstarter that we’ll just have to live with to enjoy the benefits it provides. I’m glad it failed, because such a massive revision in funding usually signifies a lack of honesty or managerial competence. I hope they do manage to make the game eventually though.

  3. BlackAlpha says:

    And then there’s the question of how on Earth they failed to get those last 28 dollars. You’d assume that if you start a kickstarter, you’d put a safety net in place that can grant you the final 1000 or so dollars, so that you don’t have to deal with such incidents. It’s not hard, simply make a deal with a friend who has a credit card and give him the money.

    Hell, I imagine you could even cheat and make it so the safety net money comes out of the funding. In other words, have someone inject 10,000 or how many you need dollars, and afterwards you give them the money back using the funds provided by the kickstarter.

    Or am I missing something here?

    • AngoraFish says:

      Yes, what you’re missing is that the minimum they needed to make the game was $50,000, not $49,972. Of course, most kickstarters are hoping to start hitting ‘stretch goals’ and such halfway though, not sneak over the line in the last 2 minutes. In fact, they’d already stated that the minimum they actually needed to make the game was $500,000.

    • Universal Quitter says:

      Wasn’t much of the article dedicated to answering your question? It seemed pretty clear that he didn’t want the project to succeed on those terms. He got lucky, and he’s man enough to admit it. I see nothing nefarious.

      A major company will just cancel a project, sometimes with no explanation. If anything, the candor should be refreshing.

      • BlackAlpha says:

        Right, I misunderstood before. So he really did not want his kickstarter to succeed at merely 50,000. It’s very odd.

        So what if he would’ve received 60,000 or 70,000? Would he have told Kickstarter to cancel the whole thing? Why didn’t he simply set the goal at the number he needs, like 100,000?

        Wouldn’t most people stop giving you money once they see you’ve reached the finish line? Wouldn’t they give you more money if they see you aren’t quite there yet and they want to help you to get there? So why did he set his goal so low then?

        What is the reason the guy fixed his kickstarter to fail like that?

        Well, I guess I still don’t quite buy it that he wanted his kickstarter to fail like that. If you go to their website, at the first page near the top they say the following about their failed kickstarter: “Obviously, we are very disappointed.” Why are you disappointed if you wanted the kickstarter to fail? And if you didn’t want it to fail, then why didn’t you pull it over the finish line yourself? It all makes no sense to me.

        The only explanation I have is that they are simply incompetent and they screwed up big time.

        • Visualize says:

          The best explanation so far is that all this has been a publicity stunt. I backed the first time but didn’t the second after doing research on this guy. See my post at the end.

  4. karthink says:

    Does anyone understand why it cost him $60,000 to run a kickstarter campaign twice? I don’t get it.

    • Llewyn says:

      You missed the bit about “development work on the game to date”, I take it?

    • Salt says:

      There seems to be a fair amount of game already made before the Kickstarting began. It wouldn’t be hard to spend $60k on hiring programmers and artists to make what is seen in the video.

  5. brkl says:

    A dude that loses $60,000 running failed Kickstarter campaigns doesn’t sound like a dude who should be trusted with enough budget to make a game.

  6. yogibbear says:

    Any bets he withdrew $1000 minutes before it was over to ensure it failed?

  7. Phantoon says:

    A learning experience!

  8. Hoaxfish says:

    for anyone hankering after some Mule, there’s still http://www.planetmule.com/

  9. yatagarasu says:

    Is it right time to admit they are making game no one wants them to make?

    Why the hell my family wants to play settler of catar with silly graphics and clumsy controls, when we can play them the old way, on a table top?

    What’s the point other than he’s childhood memories on how atari united his geek family?

    All this looks like begging.

    Nevertheless wish them good luck. Maybe they are right.

  10. wccrawford says:

    There were a few issues with the campaign.

    First, they had a previous one that failed. That’s never a good sign. There’s mismanagement of some sort there, and people know it.

    Second, they weren’t asking for enough money. This is a huge red flag for a kickstarter, and people only want to fund a project that’s going to have enough money to make it.

    Third, reducing your ‘needed money’ by 90% screams ‘cash grab’.

    And finally, the thing that stopped me: The art assets are being treated like final assets, but they look like programmer art.

    • Shuck says:

      If that’s a Kickstarter red flag, then Kickstarter is nothing but red flags. If you look at the ambition of projects on Kickstarter, and the amounts they’re trying to raise, there’s inevitably a huge gulf. I can count the number of projects that raised funds that match their needs on one hand. Add to that the average amount raised for games in Kickstarter is a few thousand dollars, not enough to really do anything with, and you have a lot of problems. All developers are putting some amount of their own money into development, which means there’s going to be a certain number of Kickstartered games that don’t break even, assuming they get finished.

      • Yglorba says:

        My assumption (for the ones in the ten-thousands or low hundred-thousands, not the bizarre thousand-dollar ones) is that they need the money to, literally, “kickstart” it and hope to make more by selling preorders and beta access once they have enough built for people to be interested in it.

        Or even to take out loans once they’re reasonably sure they’re far enough in that they’re going to finish and will be able to make it back. Who knows? But the name of the site is kickstarter, not completeFunder or anything — outside of the really big million-dollar fully-funded goals (like for Defense Grid 2′s final stretch goal), I never assume that the amount they’re asking for is enough to complete the game, just enough to get started to the point where they can raise enough to finish.

    • Visualize says:

      Another red flag…see my post at the end.

  11. Barnaby says:

    Man, RPS’s cohort of grumpy dicks sure turned out for this post.

  12. zachdidit says:

    In all honesty, I can’t understand how a kickstarter could fail with $28 dollars to go. I can’t believe someone who’s truly involved in a campaign could not look at it in the last minutes, realize how close they are and call: mom,pop, brother, sister, son, daughter, whoever, and ask for the 28 bucks need to get it funded. Gotta say that my faith in the creators is more than lacking.

    • Baines says:

      The article says that favors had already been called in, but more importantly that the dev *didn’t want* the Kickstarter to scrape through to success.

      The dev intentionally low-balled the funding goal, in what seems to be an attempt to game the system (because it makes no sense otherwise). He’d expected $100k in pledges, because that’s what the previous failed attempt had netted. Maybe he got caught up in stretch goal success stories, and felt a $50k request would rocket even higher (ignoring that most projects probably don’t double their funding goal, and ignoring that relaunches can see pledges drop.)

      Thinking about it, I wonder if he was sitting at the end ready to pull personal pledges if it looked like the goal might be achieved.

  13. KevinLew says:

    Wait, the lead developer didn’t really want to make the game but they kept the Kickstarter campaign going anyway? So what would have happened if that $28 actually did show up? “Yay, now I get to make a game when it’s woefully underfunded and I go into further debt.”

  14. SelfEsteemFund says:

    500k for some facebook-style generic mule-clone? Not surprised it failed, twice.

  15. Jimbo says:

    I didn’t want to go out with you anyway, I was only joking! *cry*

  16. Berious says:

    Pretty shithead move to solicit funds if this was a third best option he really didn’t care for anyway. Unless that was made clear in the pitch of course.

  17. trjp says:

    Can I just say that $500K buys a LOT of game – a medium-sized team for a year can do quite a bit…

    I think they’re also missing the idea – it’s a “kickstart” (or a push over the line) – not a sole source of funding.

    Asking for $50K when you needed (and expected) more is stupid. I bought Forza4 for £5 from Morrisons today – they might have wanted £10 for it but they said nowt and so I just gave the £5 that was on the box.

    Same applies here – people fund something saying “it needs $50K – here’s my bit – oh it’s doing OK” – ah JUST missed it

    OR

    People say “oh it needs $100K – I better pledge a bit more” and, guess what, you get more!!

    There’s an entire science behind this – behavioural psychology – irrrationality and so on – anyone attempting to earn their living by selling things should understand this stuff – these people clearly have no idea…

  18. Eclipse says:

    he’s a greedy idiot, asking for 500k the first time around for this kind of game was out of mind and just means you are quite dishonest and greedy. And now it failed again, for $28, i’m sure he’s still bonking his stupid head on a wall.

  19. Chelicerate says:

    Mmmh, i’m vindictive, but I love that this failed by such a small amount. This was passed around in other circles I follow on the internet. That it failed so short means that the amount I was thinking of giving them would’ve helped it pass.

    I’m glad it failed because of the way they referred to Danielle Bunten, the trans woman who as instrumental to creating M.U.L.E., as “Dan” and with male pronouns.

    Are links allowed here? I’ll edit this out/feel free to remove this if they aren’t, it goes to a borderhouse blog on the topic.

    http://borderhouseblog.com/?p=8718

    • mwoody says:

      Wow, that’s a fascinating bit of info, and worthy of a full RPS article of its own.

      I don’t feel hard-hearted at the campaign, though. Checking the comments, apparently the family – and therefore the estate – is incredibly hard-nosed about the male/female thing. I’d wager Alpha Colony risked losing their rights to the franchise by even including that asterisk.

      And, you coooould make the argument that if she was male when she wrote the game, “he” is historically accurate. Dan made the game; Dani didn’t exist until later.

      • Chelicerate says:

        Nah, actually, you’re wrong. Trans people don’t become different people after they transition.

      • lwatt says:

        In the MLA, APA, and AAA formal citation formats, you cite the author’s name as it was at the time they created the work. This is to help other people to find the cited work, as libraries and online databases don’t change the author field retroactively. So the “historically correct” perspective – that Danielle was called “Dan Bunten” at the time when she made the game, and identified herself as male at that time – has some merit to it. But if she identified herself as female before she died, it wouldn’t be polite to refer to her as being formerly male unless being historically accurate was important for some reason.

      • Visualize says:

        See my comment at the end for another fascinating bit of info…

    • Branthog says:

      I know many people in the LGBT communities and support them in whatever makes them healthy and happy, but it’s hard to get hung up on the pronouns. It is entirely reasonable to say that you’re whatever you were born as, even if you cosmetically, surgically, or legally change it.

      I would only see a point in taking issue with it if they are using the “wrong” pronounces to intentionally provoke and upset someone. I’m sure you know what I mean. There are people who would stress the words they choose so that everyone around them knows that what they really are saying is “this disgusts me and I don’t agree with what what this person has chosen for their life, so I’m not going to call them what they want to be called and I’m going to do it in a way that makes me seem like a little baby throwing a tantrum or like a toddler who doesn’t really want to apologize to their sibling, but their mother is forcing them to”.

      Since I don’t know the story, I can’t rightly comment on which place those involved were coming from.

      And, if the person “was male” and was “Dan” when it was produced, then that seems entirely fair. If the game box says “Dan” and has a picture of developer “Dan”, then it would make even more consistent sense for me to refer to the author as such.

      • Yglorba says:

        How do you think more conservative women would feel if you insistently used their maiden name to refer to them, when talking to them, even after they requested that you stop and told you that they were married now? How do you feel a more conservative-minded husband would react if you constantly referred to his wife by her maiden name, and referred to his children, constantly and persistently, (against their wishes) using hyphenated names?

        I think they’d be pretty pissed. And that’s something with a lot less pain and difficulty attached to it than most trans people’s decisions to transition.

      • jrodman says:

        Calling someone by the gender terms that they do not perceive themself as and have told you not to call them as is not being reasonable, it’s called being a jerk.

        It may have a certain logic to it that you subscribe to, but you’ve absorbed any number of non-logical requirements regarding social customs by now, you’re just used to them. Absorb one more, or admit to yourself that your rigidity is more important to you than the happiness of others.

  20. Chalky says:

    To be honest, I’m not sure a game called Alpha Colon would have been terribly family friendly anyway.

  21. mwoody says:

    I’m not super surprised. If you look at the “stretch goals,” they included a single player campaign, hot seat multiplayer, and at a whopping $300k, online multiplayer. So… the $50k was just a sandbox, then? Maybe a few challenge maps?

  22. killuminati says:

    TBH the chick community manager is kinda nice except for the colour fo her hair.. aside from it, the game looks like nothing I will be missing and many others like me.
    Not every idea/game deserves to be released, hope they will learn from this and come up with a better subject for a new game.

    • Branthog says:

      Yep. Totally cute. Not surprising, though. Her title is “Community Manager”. Like professional head-hunters and hiring-recruiters, “Community Managers” tend to be both female and attractive. I’m sure someone can come along and durpa durpa sexist stereotype blurp blurp, but I’m just making an observation.

    • Noumenon says:

      Thanks for your comment, I would have missed that part of the video and now my day’s a little brighter.

  23. ChainsawCharlie says:

    I found it funny they even used time on listing stretch goals

  24. Visualize says:

    Hey folks, check what I dug up about this guy: bouldercounty.org/safety/court/pages/publicreports.aspx.
    Criminal.

    • Vercinger says:

      Quote from the website:
      **** If you are using Firefox or Google Chrome, you will need to install the Internet Explorer Add On to view any report.****

      No, thank you. If you’re so eager to show us he’s a criminal, please take a screenshot of the thing and link to it.

      • Visualize says:

        Sorry about that. I know it might be a challenge and against some beliefs, but just use IE. Much easier than pasting long links here. :)

        • Llewyn says:

          Safe and secure browsing is a pretty fundamental belief for some of us around here.

          • Visualize says:

            That’s cool. I know IE security is sub-par. I just wanted to give warning that funding this project would be like supporting a criminal. I was able to locate another website (which works fine with Firefox) to look up court dockets. http://www.courts.state.co.us/Courts/County/Dockets.cfm?County_ID=62 Search Court:Boulder County Combined Court and his name (Christopher Williamson). He has a hearing on Monday morning. It doesn’t show the charges which the other site shows as domestic violence, harassment, and violation of protection order. Very ironic that he’s trying to make a family friendly game with these types of charges, in fact, it is very sad. Wouldn’t trust this type of person with my money.

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