Unwritten: That Which Happened May Not Happen

By Adam Smith on January 6th, 2014 at 11:00 am.

Edit: a Kickstarter update with some clarifications as to the project’s future.

When Joe Houston, formerly a core member of the Dishonored team, headed to Kickstarter to raise funds for an esoteric turn-based strategy game, I was intrigued. One interview later, I was convinced that Unwritten might well be one of the highlights of 2013. The crowdfunding attempt almost failed but we were glad to see it reach the $75,000 goal with little time to spare. The initially planned August release date passed and now, sadly, the game has been delayed indefinitely. The reasons are below.

The tale is best told in Joe’s own words, so I’ll quote a few paragraphs from the Kickstarter update which brought this news to me. You can also see the full text at Roxlou’s official website.

It’s been a few months since the last update, which is hardly fair to the project or its backers. However, it is also true that this is the earliest that I could manage to write an update, for reasons that I will get into shortly. Realizing that I’m short in my duties to Unwritten Passage, and that I’m also doing the absolute best I can, has caused me to come to terms with the reality of the position I’m in. This also means that the project’s backers deserve to know the whole picture, without sugar coating or spin.

Every person in life has a limited amount of themselves to give. I have been striking a compromise between a project that has had its own troubles, a family in crisis (that I oftentimes couldn’t or wouldn’t recognize), and the regular demands of supporting my wife and daughter on my own. I am tenacious and hardworking, and I have been creative in addressing the problems that I see. But I have my limits, and sometimes tenacity can become willful blindness and stubbornness. And those qualities don’t honor the trust that my wife, my daughter, my backers, and my contributors put in me.

The delays are not directly related to any business or creative decisions, then, although the family issues have impacted the course of the project.

So here’s the situation right now, as simply as I can think to put it. We raised $75k (which became about $68k after various Kickstarter costs) to make a game in 6 months with the efforts of 3 people. At this stage we’re at the 9-10 month mark. I’ve stretched the budget hard, and for the last month and a half I’ve been doing contracting on the side to try and stay afloat and to give my family the stability to see the doctors we need in order to heal. To be blunt, this is not enough.

So why did we fail to create a realistic budget and come in on time? I feel that I would need to write 3 full postmortems to address that question: one as an indie game developer, one as a small business owner, and one as a bit of flotsam swirling in the maelstrom of the U.S. health system. But in short two idioms apply: “hindsight is 20/20″, and “shit happens”. Although nobody was perfect in this process, I do feel that everybody did their best with the information we had.

We often celebrate the creative freedom that independent development allows but working outside a larger structure can be perilous. Fall of a tightrope in a circus and a safety net will catch you – a man alone on a wire above the world might not be so lucky.

The website will continue to host updates as progress is made but Joe admits that Unwritten is now “a personal side project”, adding that any backers who feel that Roxlou have “violated their trust” should contact via Kickstarter to seek a refund.

OK, now the big question: is the game canceled or what? I have been thinking hard about what is the right thing to do. The stupendous work already put forth in Julian’s music and Lee’s art still sets my imagination on fire. And I see people come to life all the time when I describe the concept to them. However, my experience also says that we have lost momentum, we’re out of money, and it’s now a one-man project centered around a fulltime game developer with family baggage that needs better health insurance. And I’ve worked in the past on wonderful projects with real promise that have been canceled, so I know what that looks like. Sometimes it still takes a lot of luck to make a game.

But I’m not ready to completely call it quits and say that Unwritten Passage is dead forever. However, to say that the project as I pitched it is alive and well would be beyond naive. It would be dishonest. It lives on as my personal side project, something I hope to bring about on my own and through the help of talented friends when possible. And should it come to be I will do my best to deliver on my original promises… but I have to be honest. To many this is probably the end.

I hope that I’ll be able to play Unwritten one day but, for now, our best wishes are with Joe and his family.

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85 Comments »

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  1. DatonKallandor says:

    “adding that any backers who feel that Roxlou have “violated their trust” should contact via Kickstarter to seek a refund.”
    Everyone should request a refund, because not delivering on your kickstarter isn’t “violating trust” – it’s explicitly against the terms they agreed to. Kickstarter money isn’t given to you so you can “maybe” make something, it’s given to you so you DO.

    I will make thing X when given money amount Y is the CONTRACT, not a vague “promise”.
    This trend of people who fail to fulfill their stated obligations to try and pass it off as though a Kickstarter campaign doesn’t claim or demand actually doing the thing is ridiculous and dangerous.

    The media needs to call them out on it, not support it because that particular project happened to be a media darling they pushed for and not they look bad because of it.

    • RvLeshrac says:

      I don’t see this “contract” anywhere. Kickstarter has been explicit in the past that there is no guarantee of a project’s completion purely because it reaches a funding goal.

      • Jockie says:

        Yeap, KS isn’t a down-payment or a pre-order, it’s a funding opportunity, and sometimes those don’t work out.

      • aldo_14 says:

        I think there has been this long-standing problem where kickstarter is viewed – by both developers and contributors – as some sort of alpha access/pre-order scheme. But AFAIK it was envisaged to cover start up costs of things, rather than their entire lifespan – as indicated by the name. It’s doubly ironic as, in games terms, those projects which do take this approach (fund us so we can make a demo for seeking funding/loans with) seem to do worse.

        • malkav11 says:

          I am not a charity, and if I did feel like making a charitable donation, I would do it to any of a number of very worthy social causes, rather than for the privilege of making a product available for for-profit sale. So when I back a project, my intent is to receive something myself out of the deal in a more concrete fashion than warm fuzzy feelings. That doesn’t mean my contribution needs to be market competitive – I can’t think of too many Kickstarters where I’ve saved money by backing it rather than just waiting for a potential release – but it is not a one way street. Similarly, I wouldn’t back a project that was about soliciting external funding to do the development because whether or not that works is entirely up to the whims of the investors in question, even if I were promised a copy of the end result. Moreover, that runs the strong risk of the sort of compromises that traditionally published games have had to make and that’s half the point of crowdfunding in my book.

          Conversely, though, game development isn’t an automatic factory process. Stuff happens, and projects fail for any number of reasons including the funds running out. If you have a problem with taking that risk (which I think is far sounder than backing an investment pitch), Kickstarter is probably not for you.

      • Grey Poupon says:

        Kickstarter ToS says the dev has to pay back if a project fails to deliver on their promise, but it’s up to the backers to sue. KS as a company won’t get involved.

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        Yachmenev says:

        Kickstarter is not a guarentee. Shit happens, and that’s more often then not with software projects. People should not put money into a kickstarter that they cannot afford to to loose.

        There might be some cases where the screw up so bad, you should request a refund. But here we have a developer, who fronts the project with his own name and career, who seems to have put in an honest effort in a tight and troubled situation.

        I backed the project with $30. I will not request a refund. I have plenty of money, and the $30 is probably something I would waste on beer and crappy food. I see nothing been gained by asking Joe Houston pay that money back to me.

        All the best to Joe, let’s hope he pulls through his troubled situation, and let’s hope for a bonus in that something eventually coming out of this project.

        • Grey Poupon says:

          “People should not put money into a kickstarter that they cannot afford to to loose.”

          Why not? If someone spends $30 out of his entertainment budget to fund a new game and wants it back if the game gets cancelled it’s within his rights to do so. Kickstarter isn’t a charity. (And even charities need to get shit done with the money they receive)

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            Yachmenev says:

            In some ways it really is. You put money into a project because you want it to happen, but there are no guarantees. And there can’t be. They ask for money because they need the money, so if shit happens, where is the money to pay back people going to come from?

            There is a risk to projects and to this project, that risk became reality. It’s something you as a backer have to be prepared for.

          • Grey Poupon says:

            There is risk in the sense that the product might not be as good as you hoped for even though they’ve fulfilled their promise and in the sense that you might not get your money back in the case of bankruptcy. But they still owe you either the product you were promised or your money back. The money is never legally a donation with which the dev can choose to do anything he likes. Granted you can choose not to want your money back if the sob story is good enough. (In this case it probably would be for me too had I backed, I just want people to realize KS isn’t about giving money away for free and just hoping for the dev to keep his promise)

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            Yachmenev says:

            Of course they do owe you it. I know what the terms say. But I’m not asking you to read the terms, I’m asking you (and others) to think a bit practical about it.

            Those who can’t handle the risk of pledging and maybe not getting anything from it, they should not pledge. They should wait for the final project and pay for it when it’s done.

          • derbefrier says:

            Yachmenev is right you have to be prepared not to get anything out of a kickstarter regardless of what the rules say or any crowd funded project really. Any backer should accept that possibility before pledging. These projects are sometimes years away from completion when you pledge and a lot can happen in just a year. You cant just throw money at every kickstarter you like and not expect a failure everyone and a while its going to happen eventually. So the next time you are thinking about paying into the kickstarter consider this. Would you be fine throwing that 50 bucks to the casino? You may win big or you may come home with nothing. Kickstarter is a gamble no matter what rules people make up to try and protect the consumer. The risk will always be there.

          • bill says:

            Personally, I have always considered Kickstarter to be very close to a charity.
            I know others have other ideas though.

            The gaming section of Kickstarter seems to have taken on other aspects to other areas. It’s become almost a store selling professionally produced products (often already made). Other areas are often more about giving someone some cash because he has a crazy/funny idea. (Like the robocop statue for Detroit).

            Personally, I was a little sad when gaming kickstarters got taken over by high profile professional developers getting funding for semi-complete sequels to high profile games. And when everyone started proclaiming that they’d only back projects like that. Because that seemed the opposite of the idea of donating money to the little guy with the crazy idea, which was my personal view of Kickstarter.

            But most people don’t seem to see it as a charity, so who knows.

          • Raztaman says:

            I think you’re completely missing the point here Grey Poupon, he’s not chosen to do whatever the hell he likes with the money, he’s clearly cos family and personal issues based around not being able to afford health insurance. Of course you have the right to get a refund, but it’s as if you’re accusing the poor guy of swindling people’s hard earned money.

            If I’d put into this kickstarter myself I wouldn’t be asking for a refund either (depending on the sum of money), the last thing this guy needs is for thousands of people to start taking back the money he clearly wants to eventually get this game out there even if that money goes elsewhere for now.

          • malkav11 says:

            Publishers don’t get their money back if a game gets cancelled, so far as I know. Crowdfunding just means you’re taking the risk, not them.

      • DatonKallandor says:

        “If your project is successfully funded, you are required to fulfill all rewards or refund any backer whose reward you do not or cannot fulfill.”, quoth Kickstarter

        The “we don’t actually need to deliver the thing you gave us money for” is a myth. Probably started by people who didn’t want or could deliver the thing they got money for, but also wanted to keep the money.

        • Deano2099 says:

          Actually it’s true. You don’t have to complete the project. However, you do have to deliver the rewards promised. That might sound like wacky-wacky-crazy-talk in terms of video games as the rewards always include the actual game being made. But they don’t have to. In other mediums, for example raising money to put on an art exhibit, not everyone will be able to go to the exhibit. The rewards might be a copy of the programme, for example. In which case, you’d have to provide that copy of the programme, but not necessarily open the exhibit.

          • Shuck says:

            Yeah, and the earliest game Kickstarters I’ve dug up didn’t promise the game as a reward. Which is just as well, as they asked for what amounted to beer money and never completed the games. Not that most game Kickstarters now are all that different – they’re asking for far too little money and assuming that everyone on the dev team will be able to live off of savings long enough to finish the game. It’s a risky assumption. I’m honestly surprised it hasn’t happened to more developers.

      • mrpage says:

        We seem to get ourselves very confused about what Kickstarter is an isn’t.

        People say say it’s “start-up capital” but that isn’t right – if you provide start-up capital then you get an equity share in the project, which you certainly don’t with a Kickstarter.

        People say that it “isn’t a pre-order” but that doesn’t seem wholly right either. Clearly with most Kickstarters you are effectively pre-ordering the game. Now clearly you are ordering something that does not exist and there is a risk with a Kickstarter that the project will fail and when you order you are accepting a much greater risk than you do when you pre-order Assassin’s Creed on Amazon (or whatever), but you are nonetheless making a pre-order and it is disingenous to sneer at the people who have ordered and paid for a product they will never receive as if they have misunderstood Kickstarter.

        It is certainly the case that Kickstarters will fail and you accept that risk when you pay your money – but I don’t think that means you can’t be annoyed when it happens, and that no blame attaches the entrepreneur who has failed.

        • bill says:

          Game kickstarters tend to work differently from other kickstarters. For good or bad.

    • Adam Smith says:

      I think it’s also valid to take the intent to continue with development when possible – even as a side project – as a reason to keep a pledge in place. It might be possible to fulfill obligations, in a contractual sense, by releasing a half-finished shell of a game. As a backer, I’d rather that didn’t happen, and the option to pull out or stick with the process was available when a project ran into difficulties.

      Differs from case to case, of course, but just like a studio’s investment in a project can end in development hell or cancellation, same is true with Kickstarter funding.

      • rustybroomhandle says:

        Sadly some folks just can’t wait to rake the devs over the coals, regardless of the situation.

        We’re also 3 people doing a crowd* funded game, and I too sometimes wonder what would happen if something happened to one of us. The artist is not really replaceable, for example – not without it being very obvious.

        * more like a small gathering

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          Tom De Roeck says:

          This is why I stay away from crowd funding; its worse enough to work with a producer that is cheap and doesnt give out money on time, its doubly so with 1000 producers that will cry LEGAL ACTION as soon as youre not done on time.

      • malkav11 says:

        Very true, and one reason I haven’t requested a refund on Unwritten. Honestly, I haven’t been in a project yet where that made sense. Haunts was $5 and the money was spent. Meh. CultRL was one guy who almost certainly doesn’t have the money to refund. On The Doom that Came to Atlantic City, supposedly everyone’s getting refunds but it’s so much money that one unemployed person (which Erik Chevalier was last I checked in on that whole saga) or even one person employed but not making high six figures couldn’t possibly pay it back in any sort of reasonably time frame and the way he’s handled things to date doesn’t make me confident I’ll ever see that money back. Here, well, I could, and I might get it, but I’d rather get Unwritten Passage and work is still being done on it, so, nah.

    • jalf says:

      Everyone should request a refund, because not delivering on your kickstarter isn’t “violating trust” – it’s explicitly against the terms they agreed to. Kickstarter money isn’t given to you so you can “maybe” make something, it’s given to you so you DO.

      So? I fail to see how that means I have some kind of moral obligation to request a refund. Why should I do that? Why is that the right thing to do? Surely it is something I can do, and am within my rights to do, but something I should do? I’ll be the judge of that, thanks.

      I do agree with you that a Kickstarter is “give me money and I will produce X”, and not merely “give me money and I will *try* to produce X, and if I fail, I get to keep the money”, but it is still up to the individual backer how to proceed if the project fails.

      • Convolvulus says:

        I agree, but it could be argued that you have a degree of responsibility to the “crowd” that at least equals your obligation as a backer to the project. If there are no repercussions to failed plans and undelivered promises, the crowdfunding train will eventually derail, which would be… Bad, maybe?

      • chargen says:

        “give me money and I will *try* to produce X, and if I fail, I get to keep the money”

        There is a difference between that and

        “give me money and I will *try* to produce X, spending all of the money we receive on the project’s development. We might fail.”

        Which is what they’ve done. This was an ambitious project from a tiny team, so there was a lot of risk going in for backers. There is some conception that all of the risk is on the developer and if you’re a backer you will either get everything you want or a full refund. No bud, you took a risk. Well, I took a risk rather, as a backer of this, and it doesn’t look like it will pay off. On to the next, then.

        • jalf says:

          I agree, but it could be argued that you have a degree of responsibility to the “crowd” that at least equals your obligation as a backer to the project. If there are no repercussions to failed plans and undelivered promises, the crowdfunding train will eventually derail, which would be… Bad, maybe?

          Certainly. They don’t just have “a degree” of responsibility, they have an obligation to deliver. No more, no less. There may or may not be repercussions for failing to do so, but even if there isn’t, that doesn’t mean they retroactively “weren’t obliged to deliver”.

          This was an ambitious project from a tiny team, so there was a lot of risk going in for backers. There is some conception that all of the risk is on the developer and if you’re a backer you will either get everything you want or a full refund.

          Yes, there is such a conception because those are the terms specified by Kickstarter. Perhaps you should look it up. The project developers are technically on the hook to give you the reward you were promised. Not just try their damnedest best. The Kickstarter terms is that if the project is funded, then they either do what they promised to do, or refund all pledges.

          Whatever risk there is is for the developers to deal with. On paper, it is not your problem or mine. If the developer has to go into debt to refund everyone, that is fundamentally not our problem. If the have to sell their firstborn into slavery to pay everyone back, it is not our problem. (Of course, legally, there is (luckily) no way to enforce this but the conditions the entered into when they launched their Kickstarter is that they either deliver or refund everyone. No ifs and buts)

          Of course, we, the people who pledged, can choose to be lenient in individual cases, but that is us being generous, and nothing more. We are entitled to a refund the moment the project fails. How and why it fails, and whether the money has been spent isn’t our problem.

          I think that is a very important distinction. As I said, I have no intention of claiming a refund for several reasons (one is, as others have mentioned, that the project isn’t dead yet, but also, because I sympathize with the guy, and I suspect he needs those couple of dollars more than I do), but that doesn’t in any way change the fact that the moment he fails to deliver, I am entitled to a refund. Even if I choose not to claim it, that doesn’t somehow put the developer in the right by failing to either deliver or refund.

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      bills6693 says:

      To add to what has been said above – also I just see it as ‘have a heart’. I for one (as a backer) do not intend to withdraw my pledge. Someone is going through difficulties in his own life and I’m happy to try to help out with my monetary contribution. And I am certainly NOT going to go in and demand money back, when it appears there isn’t really money left to GIVE back.

      And I am aware that backing something on kickstarter is a risk, and things like this can happen to any project. Its not a pre-order in my eyes, I’m donating some money to support an indie. In return I might get a game, maybe in the time-scale stated (though extremely unlikely), or maybe it won’t work.

      • tasteful says:

        word

      • Deano2099 says:

        Maybe. Probably. Or maybe he just pocketed all the cash, did nothing, and invented a sob story. We can’t really know, can we?

        The problem is that if something like this happens, and people don’t ask for their money back, and there are zero repercussions, it’s a guarantee that at some point, someone will run a scam like this. I mean, it’s tempting isn’t it? $75,000, if only 10% of people “have a heart” that’s an easy $7.5k ( 6k after fees).

        To me, that’s the issue – even though he’s probably not conning people, if your response is “well, you can keep the money any way” then one day, you will be conned.

        • Convolvulus says:

          Damn. You already said the thing I said.

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          bills6693 says:

          I did think about that and its probably true, one day someone may well do something like that – or its already happened. And no, we can’t know how true this story is.

          However at the same time I believe you have to have balance. If people have no heart because there could be a scam, I think that too is a tragedy. I’d rather have a heart and risk getting scammed than being too sceptical or afraid of being scammed to essentially donate money to someone.

        • battles_atlas says:

          Yeah you will get scammed at some point if you operate on trust rather than the assumption of malfeasance. But all the times that doesn’t happen you’ll be doing a little bit to make human society something still worthy of being called a society. A world in which all relations are reduced to contract law is a pretty unpleasant one. For that reason I’d suggest if you can”t afford to be scammed for such an amount as we’re talking about here, then you stay the hell away from KS.

          As an aside, this story is a great example of the perverse economic consequences of the US’ private health system.

        • Dances to Podcasts says:

          Or, you know, you can wait until there’s actually some evidence of a scam rather than assume there is.

      • Dances to Podcasts says:

        It’s pretty sad that this is the first post showing some empathy rather than ‘oh noes, my monies!’.

    • bovine3dom says:

      You are technically correct:
      ” Kickstarter’s Terms of Use require creators to fulfill all rewards of their project or refund any backer whose reward they do not or cannot fulfill. (This is what creators see before they launch.) We crafted these terms to create a legal requirement for creators to follow through on their projects, and to give backers a recourse if they don’t. We hope that backers will consider using this provision only in cases where they feel that a creator has not made a good faith effort to complete the project and fulfill.”

      From their FAQ

      • Archonsod says:

        Yeah, but since there’s no international court which has passed the authority to decide what constitutes legality onto Kickstarter, their agreement is worth only slightly less than the pixels it’s written in, I can say that by reading this post you agree that you’re legally bound to give me all of your money. Doesn’t really work like that.

    • Lanfranc says:

      i’m not going to demand that a guy in that situation pays me back the measly $15 I gave him.

      The reason why I’m not going to do that is I’m not a giant dick.

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      Martel says:

      While technically correct, aren’t you violating the “don’t be a dick” rule?

      • AngusPrune says:

        Business is business. Just because you’re giving your money to a one man band doesn’t make it personal. You paid a business for something, they didn’t deliver. End of story. In those circumstances, it’s perfectly acceptable to want your money back.

        I’ve backed a number of kickstarters that have run late on their promises, and I’m happy to be patient as long as they are showing progress. Not delivering at all is another story entirely. Running months late and then having nothing to show at the end of the process even good enough to have a go at the early access racket is totally unacceptable.

        • Tacroy says:

          Business may be business, but Kickstarter is about art. Treating it like business is going to lead to really shitty behavior.

          • jalf says:

            Art? Kickstarter is about enabling people to make things. Those things certainly don’t have to be “art”. There are plenty of Kickstarter projects for pure entertainment, for gadgets, for electronics, for powertools and for dozens of other things. And yeah, lots of them really are just for business.

    • Philomelle says:

      While it’s true that Kickstarter is legally an investment and people are legally obligated to deliver on their projects, one does have to take into account the circumstances under which the project has failed. I’m saying that as someone who has very recently gotten a refund from a minor indie RPG after it failed entirely due to its idiot of a head designer placing more priority on completion of art assets than the engine or the script (which he was responsible for writing).

      In this case, there is no indication that the project has actually failed. Joe is still working on the project whenever he’s able to and he will continue to update both the website and the Kickstarter when he’s able. He simply cannot deliver the game as quickly as he would like to due to unforeseen real-life circumstances.

      Even under the argument of Kickstarter being an investment rather than a donation, placing more importance in the exact release date than the health of developers is a kind of behavior AAA-publishers are famous for. Why would Kickstarter backers, who took to that system precisely because they dislike the current AAA publishers’ policies, do that?

      • frightlever says:

        “While it’s true that Kickstarter is legally an investment”

        That’s not remotely true. You make a donation to a project, you aren’t investing in it. Jesus, let that myth die. Look! You’ve gone and converted me to religion with your misuse of the term “investment”.

        • Philomelle says:

          Actually, you’re the one misusing the term “donation”. A donation implies that you simply provide money to a cause without any legal obligations to the donator. However, Kickstarter’s terms of service are structured in such a way that the project’s creator is legally obligated to either deliver a product chosen by those who pledged to it or refund the money they spent on it. And while Kickstarter themselves won’t get involved in any court cases, their terms are designed in a way that makes suing a person who didn’t deliver the rewards fairly easy.

          So no, “investment” is much closer to the truth than “donation” when it comes to Kickstarter. In the end, even if you chose to pledge to someone’s cause out of goodwill, you still legally bind them to fulfilling your pledge.

          • Lanfranc says:

            “Investment” means putting money into something in expectation of some sort of economic or financial return. That’s obviously not what we’re talking about here, either.

            The definitional problem with the Kickstarter model is that whilst it has elements of both donations, venture funding, and pre-order, none of those things fully describe it. It’s pretty much its own thing. If anything, it might be closest to a form of art patronage.

        • jalf says:

          Yes, a myth…. A myth perpetuated by the Kickstarter FAQ:

          Kickstarter’s Terms of Use require creators to fulfill all rewards of their project or refund any backer whose reward they do not or cannot fulfill. (This is what creators see before they launch.) We crafted these terms to create a legal requirement for creators to follow through on their projects, and to give backers a recourse if they don’t

          I’m afraid you might have some trouble killing off this particular “myth”.

          • Shuck says:

            That doesn’t make it an “investment.” Investments have certain rules; those rules don’t apply. It’s not a simple donation either. It’s more a “gift with promises in return.” What those promises are vary by project; they don’t necessarily need to include the thing that money is being given to fund.

    • Runs With Foxes says:

      I pledged $30 to this, and he’s welcome to it. Sounds like he’s been through hell over the past year.

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      psepho says:

      No — if you want to buy a game, then go to Steam or GOG and buy a finished game.

      I have always viewed Kickstarter pledges as a simple act of generosity. An act of giving so that someone else will get a shot at fulfilling their vision and hopefully creating something special and different which will invigorate a medium I care about.

      • DatonKallandor says:

        That’s fine and all, except for the fact that you’re wrong. You thinking Kickstarting a game is an act of generosity, doesn’t make it so. You could just as well say buying a car is an act of generosity to the car dealer and so what if he doesn’t actually give you a car for it. It’s ridiculous – you pay for something, you get that something.
        If you happen to not get that something due to unforseen circumstances, that’s not the buyers fault for “expecting a product”.
        I’d have no problem with Unwrittens situation, and not demanding a refund if they didn’t try to spin it as “oh well, that’s just Kickstarting, can’t expect to actually get what you paid for”. That’s unacceptable – own up to the problems then you might get sympathy, but don’t start with a lie or a distortion of the facts.

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          psepho says:

          Actually my thinking it is a simple act of generosity does make it so. That’s because all of my opinions instantly become fact. It’s just this thing I have, like IBS but more psychogenerative. Instead of stress leading to flatulence it leads to involuntary reconfigurations of space-time.

          • mrpage says:

            @psepho – that is true, of course, but it doesn’t make it the case that everyone else’s Kickstarter payment was in the same spirit, and it doesn’t make it unreasonable for them to be annoyed that they will likely now see nothing for their money.

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            psepho says:

            @mrpage – I agree, and I was not suggesting that everyone has the same attitude at all.

            However, people should not be blind to risk. If you want a relatively low risk way of buying a game then buy a finished game from Steam or GOG. Putting money into a Kickstarter is basically a very high risk way of buying a game and has to be undertaken with that attitude. Great things have been achieved through Kickstarter and I am proud to be part of that. But there are much higher risks — which means the rewards must be greater. Obviously, the literal rewards are no greater than buying from GOG, and there is also no monetary return on investment. For me, the added reward from Kickstarter, which justifies the higher exposure to risk, is the warm glow I get from helping someone fulfil a dream and hopefully shaking up a medium I care deeply about. If you don’t see similar rewards for you, then don’t take on the elevated level of risk.

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          VelvetFistIronGlove says:

          I’d have no problem with Unwrittens situation, and not demanding a refund if they didn’t try to spin it as “oh well, that’s just Kickstarting, can’t expect to actually get what you paid for”

          Except they don’t, they spin it as “We had some problems and we couldn’t achieve what we set out to do, and we’ll give you a refund if you’d like one.” Which to me is pretty honest and straightforward, and I can’t see why you’d have a problem with it.

    • bill says:

      For me, it would depend on whether I believe his story/situation. (Which I do).

      If I thought the kickstarter had been fraudulent, then I’d claim my money back. If I thought the person had done their best then I wouldn’t.
      (But I didn’t invest in this one, so it’s purely hypothetical for me)

    • Text_Fish says:

      Twaddle. It’s made abundantly clear throughout the kickstarter process that backers pony up at their own risk.

      As with all of the failed kickstarter projects I’ve seen, this one was way overambitious from the outset and goaded to funding success by baseless media attention (seriously, who cares if he was part of the no-doubt ginormous development team behind Dishonoured!? Doing what somebody else tells you is a million miles away from running your own project from start to finish) and people with money to burn.

      Just to be clear here, I think Kickstarter’s a brilliant way to fund projects, but anybody looking to spend their money wisely needs to take a very clinical look at each project and only back it if they can identify real scope for success, rather than just a few nifty ideas dressed up as an actual product.

      In short, the backers SHOULD take some responsibility for helping Joe Houston in to this predicament in the first place, and by the sounds of it they should also think twice about making his situation worse by clawing their money back. Kickstarter is all about the kindness of strangers, so litigious churls need not apply.

    • Tychoxi says:

      That’s totally wrong. Here’s the reason I haven’t demanded refunds from the (thus far) 2 projects that came into trouble (“Unwritten” and “Cult: Awakening of the Old Ones”): because I BACKED A PROJECT I DIDN’T BUY A PRODUCT. Projects can explode, implode, be delayed, change drastically and a whole plethora of etc. It’s so sad to see so many people old enough to have a credit card who are unable to comprehend something so simple.

      It was worse of all with Tim Schafer’s “Broken Age” because that project was one of the few that *really* went out of its way to explain the project could implode but that we at least would get a nice documentary (not to mention the project didn’t die it just became too big). We *have been* getting a nice documentary so the people complaining not only fail to understand what Kickstarter is about but they also failed their reading and listening comprehension checks.

    • SillyWizard says:

      You’re a douche.

    • sirdavies says:

      From the Kickstarter FAQ:

      “Kickstarter does not guarantee projects or investigate a creator’s ability to complete their project. On Kickstarter, backers (you!) ultimately decide the validity and worthiness of a project by whether they decide to fund it. […] If the problems are severe enough that the creator can’t fulfill their project, creators need to find a resolution. Steps could include offering refunds, detailing exactly how funds were used, and other actions to satisfy backers. […] Kickstarter’s Terms of Use require creators to fulfill all rewards of their project or refund any backer whose reward they do not or cannot fulfill. (This is what creators see before they launch.) We crafted these terms to create a legal requirement for creators to follow through on their projects, and to give backers a recourse if they don’t. We hope that backers will consider using this provision ONLY IN CASES WHERE THE CREATOR HAS NOT MADE A GOOD FAITH EFFORT TO COMPLETE THE PROJECT AND FULFILL [THEIR PROMISES].”

  2. BenLeng says:

    This makes me very sad, not only because I was very excited for this game, but also because I can very much sympathise with the troubles of an indie developer falling on hard times. My best wishes to Joe Houston and his family.

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    bills6693 says:

    Ugh. It seems to me like that lack of a safety net in terms of healthcare in the USA must make it harder to go indie compared to the UK/Europe.

    I don’t know the full details of how the new healthcare law in the US will affect self-employed/indies and don’t want to turn it too political, but it doesn’t look that great.

    I hope that these problems for Joe are overcome and the game can be finished, but as he does say, ‘shit happens’

    • InternetBatman says:

      Without going to deeply into it, the new healthcare law changed our insurance premiums from $250 + $100 a month to $95, and then back to $200 when my fiancee got a raise. It’s also the only reason she can get insurance at all (pre-existing conditions that have been fixed in surgery (that was only available because she could stay on her mom’s insurance while in school)). So it’s an incremental improvement, but far better than previous-existing financial ruin in the worst case scenario.

      So yes, the inefficiencies of the American healthcare system almost certainly create risk aversion and substantial real and perceived costs as well as dragging on the economy in general.

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        jrodman says:

        I think the big change is that it removes the fear of ending up without insurance at all.

        For example my job has started to suck over the last year and change, and I’m thinking about taking off. I can realistically DO THAT now, wheras before I would be taking a very dangerous risk by putting myself in a position where it’s difficult to get reasonable health insurance.

  4. Premium User Badge

    daphne says:

    I was ready to be skeptical about this, but then I read about his daughter’s medical issues. That has to be very dispiriting and definitely a case of life giving lemons. Here’s hoping for the best.

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    VelvetFistIronGlove says:

    From the post:

    P.S. Anybody know any good jokes? Leave them in the comments to brighten this post up.

    RPS humorists unite! Your help is needed! Go and write a joke in the comments.

    • The Random One says:

      The only kind of joke we can make is puns, and in this dire situation it’s perhaps better to keep them unwritten.

  6. Bahoxu says:

    Shit happens. It is not surprising that some games dont get finished for whatever reason. This happens all the time. They also fail to provide a lot of the things that were initially planned. How many of you have played a game where the last 1/3 of the game was obviously not finished, for example?

    I imagine it will happen more with kickstarters than with traditional funding simply because its harder to get more cash if the game goes over budget.

    I feel that anyone backing a kickstarter should be aware of this.

  7. Philomelle says:

    If you feel like updating the story, the Kickstarter updated about 5 minutes ago. It says about what everyone suspected – the game’s development is still continuing at a slow pace, the team simply cannot deliver it at a date estimated on Kickstarter due to having other real-life obligations. The composer, in particular, is noted as still working on it despite no longer being paid.

  8. Freud says:

    It’s only healthy that some projects fail and that those failure gets covered in the gaming media. That re-calibrates peoples expectations of what Kickstarter is and people go into donating to future projects with open eyes.

  9. waltC says:

    When people contribute to a Kickstarter it’s not a “charity” (just ask the IRS) and it isn’t an “investment” (you won’t get any stock certificates, etc.) When people buy into a Kickstarter they are buying a *product*–a copy of the game and all of the other junk that is added for larger contributions (T-shirts, autographed doohickeys, etc.)

    *No one should ever buy into a KS project asking for as little as $75k. Common sense will inform that there is no way three people can live for a year (six months–what’s the difference?) on $75k, let alone have enough money to fund all the stuff that will need to go into the game that the main crew cannot do itself. Small KickStarters should immediately raise a big red flag! Chances are better than excellent they have no chance of success.

    *Kickstarter could allay some of this by insisting that projects furnish a bond equivalent to the amount funded *before* the money is turned over. If necessary, the KS company should add it on top of their commission as an additional fee billed to the project. IE, if you cannot get a company or group of individuals bonded you will turn over no money to them, regardless of whether the KS is successful.

    A $75k KS is sucker bait–it’s an amount small enough to have a decent chance of funding, but nowhere near large enough to do anything with except stuff the pockets of the project principals for new computers and software, etc., and maybe a month or two in bills. People need to understand that just because you have medical problems doesn’t mean that your bills stop coming in or your mortgage is put off or your taxes don’t come due until “everyone gets well.” It would be great if life worked that way but it doesn’t. Obviously, the illnesses didn’t occur until *after* the project had received the KS funds…which is a bit too tidy for coincidence…;)

    Be smart and hang onto your money. A KS project should ask for sufficient funds–estimating “salaries for three people for six months” is totally bogus. Give to the projects that ask for enough to actually get a game done, instead.

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      jrodman says:

      The tricky part here is it’s quite difficult to estimate the resources that they have aside from the kickstarter. You could of course expect to be told about them and why the funding level is realistic.

      I would certainly like to see more realism in these numbers, but you have to accept that game authors usually get it wrong, unless you want most games ruled out by default.

    • Frypan Jack says:

      I agree that in this case (and in many cases) the Kickstarter goal was set entirely too low and the whole enterprise may have been doomed from the start because it. However, the casual way that you accuse this guy of engineering his daughter’s illness and the resulting financial troubles as part of a scam makes me sad.

      Also, your idea about Kickstarters needing to be fully bonded before going ahead is great and all, except that it would eliminate easily 90% of Kickstarter campaigns, and I am fairly sure that Kickstarter likes money.

    • Shuck says:

      “Give to the projects that ask for enough to actually get a game done, instead.”
      So that would be: absolutely no game Kickstarter I’ve ever seen. They’ve all relied on outside funds of one sort or another to complete their budget. It’s almost impossible to get money on Kickstarter, in fact, to match the full needs of the project – people have deflated notions of what games cost to make, and anything even approaching a realistic amount is treated as “too much” (even here on RPS). So everyone is supplementing the Kickstarter funds with personal (or company) savings or counting on secondary revenue streams. [This is true even of the biggest KS “successes.” The Double Fine game that was pitched was a much, much smaller game than what people expected and what they’ve ended up making, so they’ve supplemented the KS funds with plenty of outside money. Star Citizen got 90-something percent of its money from outside Kickstarter; the Kickstarter funds alone weren’t sufficient to make much of anything. Wasteland 2 relied on a big chunk of money from outside Kickstarter. Etc.] Obviously this is risky. If anything goes wrong, almost no Kickstarter game campaigns are in a position to recover. Realistically, that’s the risk you assume as a backer. Compared to most developers risking their savings, it’s a small risk.

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        jrodman says:

        You’re probably right. When a game sets the goal at 900,000$US and it’s a no-name, I think it’s “too much”, but mostly I just think it’s an unrealistic number to expect to achieve.

        I am mostly influenced by whether the project looks like a “winner” instead of their goal. Ie, if a game looks like it will reach its target, I’m much more likely to contribute than if it looks guaranteed to fail. I think this acts to push numbers down because I think it’s typical. However if a game’s target was 20,000 and it’s currently at 500,000, I almost never will bother to participate.

        I don’t think my behavior is terribly rational or productive, it’s just how my lizard brain works.

  10. jimmydean239 says:

    Props to the guy for being honest, and best wishes to him. I don’t think it would be right to run somebody who’s clearly struggling over the coals for this, and it may be that the game is eventually released.

    I don’t think it’s a bad thing that these sorts of situations do tend to invite publicity (either sympathetic or not) though. To my mind KS is something which could do with somebody taking a long hard look at it, and I don’t think the business model is sustainable in the long run. I also think a lot of developers are setting themselves up for problems by promising the world and then not being able to deliver. Early Access is another thing which only works for some games, and I’m really not sure why most of the titles labelled as “early access” are even being made available to the public.

    Pre-ordering has never been the best of ideas, and these new versions of it just make the situation much more confusing and potentially infuriating for consumers.

  11. Lonestar1771 says:

    In my opinion this man has been doing what he should be doing in regards to his KS backers. A game I pledged for, Football Heroes, pulled the ol’ bait and switcheroo. They STILL have not fulfilled half of what they promised and refuse to talk to anyone about it now. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/980988454/football-heroes/comments

  12. kud13 says:

    First off, my deepest condolences to Joe, an ill family member is never an easy thing to deal with. I hope that whatever the issue is, it can be resolved.

    Second, I am very upset that I’ve somehow missed this Kickstarter, because it sounds pretty brilliant.

    Thirdly, my 2 cents about Kickstarter, which i have been repeating since basically forever:

    The idea behind Kickstarter is that of “patronage”. You give money to the artist/developer, because you like the IDEA behind the project they are pitching first and foremost. In the Gaming division, this has become very heavily implicated with the emergence of “paid alphas”, and the popularization of pre-orders (and ESPECIALLY pre-order exclusive DLC). It doesn’t help that a lot of KS projects later step up into “early access/paid alpha” category.

    Nevertheless, the IDEA behind KS didn’t change, despite what the perceptions may be. KS is about people taking a risk to throw money at an artist to make a thing they like. given games are a product we enjoy, most people expect a copy of the game. but ultimately, as with any “art”, there are many risks, arising from the human factor, as well as the “shit happens” reasons.

    Bottom line remains the same: a pledge on Kickstarter is a “pledge”–it is ultimately a monetary expression of appreciation of the IDEA behind the project. All other considerations are secondary to this notion, which is a true expression of the whole “crowd-funding” concept.

    • Premium User Badge

      jrodman says:

      IMO, it varies.

      i’ve put some kickstarters towards very non-nebulous things. Eg “pay for a building to be fixed”.
      Of course I did that because I believe that the group who occupies the building (a dance troupe / production company that provides opportunities for city youth) is a powerful force for good in my town, so I like the idea of that. But It was a very concrete funding effort. They needed x for materiels and Y for specialized labor. The community paid.

      I think that’s much more of a “fundraiser” than a “patronage” kind of situation.

      Also I’ve purchased some board games. Board games I’ve *already played* for example in the german edition. The kickstarter was to fund a production run of an english edition. So it was almost a simple order that simply required critical mass to get going.

      I’d call that a “group purchase” in a sense.

      But yes, a lot of the games I give money to in a patronage frame of mind. I just claim this isn’t the only model for kickstarter.