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The Kickstarter Successes: Where Are They Now?

The Ultimate Katchup

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Of all the many interesting discussions raised by the Kickstarter phenomenon of 2012, there’s one that’s only going to get more contentious: release dates. When a gaming project sets up a Kickstarter, they put an estimated date for the delivery of their stretch goals. And since these inevitably include a copy of the game, in doing this, developers are announcing a release date, often before they’ve even drawn any concept art. That’s not really how games development works. And so far, people don’t seem so hot on the guessing. Below is an epic list of all the $100k+ Kickstarters successful this year, and how they’re doing at keeping us up to date.

Kickstarter’s guidelines state that release dates are estimates, and encourage backers to be patient with projects struggling to meet their suggested dates, so long as that project is being open and honest about the process. They say,

“If problems come up, creators are expected to post a project update (which is emailed to all backers) explaining the situation. Sharing the story, speed bumps and all, is crucial. Most backers support projects because they want to see something happen and they’d like to be a part of it. Creators who are honest and transparent will usually find backers to be understanding. It’s not uncommon for things to take longer than expected. Sometimes the execution of the project proves more difficult than the creator had anticipated. If a creator is making a good faith effort to complete their project and is transparent about it, backers should do their best to be patient and understanding while demanding continued accountability from the creator.”

However, at the same time creators are legally obliged to fulfil their promises, or make complete refunds to backers who do not receive what they paid for. Which makes an estimated delivery date quite ambiguous – is it a promise? Or is it a guess, a hope, that we as backers have to accept might be wildly inaccurate? The reality is, we’re handing over money, on the promise of a game, no matter how much it would be more sensible to view Kickstarter pledges as angel investments rather than pre-orders.

So it seems interesting to take a look at the high-profile successes over the last year, and see how they’re doing in terms of meeting deadlines, or how likely they look to do so. These are the games that raised $100,000 or more this year, up to those finishing in October, almost nearly in chronological order. What I’m looking for alongside deadlines is how well they’re updating people with progress, and whether they’re being open about meeting targets. It’s a surprisingly poor show.

Double Fine Adventure
Double Fine
Raised: $3,336,371
Release date: Aug 2012

Well clearly that didn’t happen. But everybody who cares at least knows it, with every step of the development being filmed. The game, codenamed “Reds”, is getting a brand new engine, which is what’s taken up a lot of the last eight months. Development is due to “ramp up” next year. Sadly, their Kickstarter updates – while enormously detailed – are all for “backers only”, which rather misses the point of promoting a game.

FTL: Faster Than Light
Subset Games
Raised: $200,542
Release date: Aug 2012

They were closer than many. The game was officially released in September this year, and of course has been hugely well received. A real Kickstarter success story, from the initial incredible sight of seeing it receive 2,000% of its funding goal, to just how much we’ve enjoyed it.

Wasteland 2
inXile entertainment
Raised: $2,933,252
Release date: Oct 2013

Very sensibly setting its release date a year and a half away, the second huge Kickstarter success has shown tantalising screenshots, and one very brief video of game footage, but so far all of the same patch of land. Brian Fargo assures that development is going well, and they’re very pleased with progress, although promises of more frequent updates don’t seem to be too well kept. You can read a HUGE amount about what they’re up to here.

The Banner Saga
Stoic
Raised: $723,886
Release date: Nov 2012

Making over seven times more money than they’d asked for, it’s understandable that plans for The Banner Saga ramped up since the release date was given. While the original plan was to release “Chapter 1” of the game by November this year, instead the beta version of the combat portion of the game has now reached backers, with promises of the full RPG sensibly put at an unspecified point in the future.

Shadowrun Returns
Harebrained Schemes
Raised: $1,836,447
Release date: Jan 2013

Giving themselves nine months didn’t seem very realistic at the time. A few months back they acknowledged it would be in May or June 2013. I’d be astonished if they met that too, based on the Horace Principle, which states: “Any release date that includes more than one potential month isn’t going to be hit”. Again, in making more than four times what they’d asked for, ambitions obviously increased, and that takes longer to make.

The Dead Linger
Sandswept Studios
Raised: $154,968
Release date: Jun 2012

June was clearly idiotic for a projected funded in April – a good example of how such dates really aren’t taken seriously. Instead, by October this year an alpha was released, with .003 released last week. So it’s happening, for sure, but oddly enough took longer than two months to finish. But right now you absolutely can download the current version of the game and play it.

Leisure Suit Larry
Replay Games
Raised: $655,182
Release date: Oct 2012

This is the first on the list that worries me. After some very peculiar antics regarding changing the studio making the game for them (still haven’t got to the bottom of that one, but I think it will bubble up again soon enough), so far all that’s been seen of the game are some background shots of one location, and concept stuff. Now, the game they’re remaking, the first Larry, isn’t very big, but even in the descriptions of how far they’ve got, they’re still talking about only now receiving backgrounds for locations. They’ve not signed the music yet, animation still seems to be in the concept stage. In October they reported they’d not developed any of the puzzles. Back in May is the last time I can find them mentioning a release date, and then it was a maybe December, maybe January. But I can’t find a word since. Not at all impressive.

Nekro
darkForge
Raised: $158,733
Release date: Jun 2013

I’m not too familiar with this one, but Jim spoke to the team about it back in June. They set themselves a sensible release date, and a recent update reports lots of good progress, and that it’s internally playable in its current form. However, even this project is now bumped until Q4 2013, with a beta ahead of that.

Starlight Inception
Escape Hatch Entertainment
Raised: $158,152
Release date: Aug 2013

Just seeing the “2013” on the release date pleases my eyes, on a project funded in May this year. The Wing Commander-cum-Freespace project is clearly a huge task, and good, clear updates show exactly how far along they are with production. They remain confident they can hit next August.

Republique
Camouflaj
Raised: $555,662
Release date: Sep 2013

Kickstarter’s first really high profile will-it-won’t-it eventually did, in the eleventh hour exceeding its goal by a healthy $50k. And again, there was common sense in their release date, giving them well over a year to get it done. Sadly, they’ve chosen to make all their updates for backers only, so following progress isn’t for the unfunding masses. A fairly heftily stupid decision by any Kickstarter – the 11,611 backers are precisely the people who won’t be paying for your game once it’s released. They might want to speak to the 6,999,988,389 people who haven’t paid for it yet. Even their own website isn’t keeping track of progress. Guys – this isn’t the way to do it.

Grim Dawn
Crate Entertainment
Raised: $537,515
Release date: Aug 2013

I have to admit I was gutted when I first saw this was August 2013, despite being pleased they’re not over-promising. We’ve been following progress since 2010, and just want to play it! Even with the stupendous Kickstarter success (doubling their goal), it’s still so far away! But that’s obviously fine – it takes as long as it takes, and that’s as it should be. They’ve even hired four new full time staff, plucking some from the sadly closed 38 Studios. Still, it would be nice to see an awful lot more updates appearing.

Jane Jensen’s Moebius
Pinkerton Road
Raised: $435,316
Release date: Mar 2013

This was always an odd one. A pitch video that was Jensen’s family pratting around and not actually talking about games, and no fixed game for the project. Since then, apart from when plugging sales on their own social games, their updates are also blocked to people who might want to buy the released games. Utterly stupid. Even via their own website you cannot follow progress on Moebius without paying for it first. So who bloody knows if it’ll make its optimistic March release date. It’s hard to care, once you’re clearly told it’s none of your business.

Carmageddon: Reincarnation
Stainless Games
Raised: $625,143
Release date: Feb 2013

Scant few updates are mostly blocked to people who didn’t pledge, so another huge “fuck off” to potential customers. Except they then post the same content on their own website for everyone to see. Siiiiiigggggghhhhhh. Their site also says they’re in the “early stages” of designing the game, but thankfully progress updates show that isn’t really the case. I doubt very much they’ll make February, and it would be nice to see some clearer indication of where they’re actually aiming for with the three quarters of a million dollars.

Pathfinder Online Technology Demo
Goblinworks
Raised: $307,843
Release date: Oct 2012

I’m sure no one was more surprised that an openly flagged tech demo received six times its funding than Goblinworks themselves. After fees and failed payments, they received nearly $280k, which they had spent by September, the vast majority of which was salaries. And finished the tech demo! So they did it pretty much perfectly. Now they’re in full production for the game itself, with funding sourced from elsewhere. However, saying that, rewards aren’t shipped as yet, but that should be happening by January.

Xenonauts
Goldhawk Interactive
Raised: $154,715
Release date: Oct 2012

Phew, just in time! When I started compiling this list yesterday, there hadn’t been an update since August, and I was stern. But coincidentally a very apologetic update appeared overnight, saving their skin from my fiery wrath. However, regular updates can be found on their forums. They obviously didn’t hit their beta deadline for September, nor their release for October, but the beta is edging ever closer.

Two Guys Space Venture
Two Guys From Andromeda
Raised: $539,767
Release date: Feb 2013

The Space Quest (except not with that name) sequel seemed to come from peer pressure more than anything else. Two developers who hadn’t spoken to each other in many years, getting back together to surf the wave of their contemporaries all seeming to do the same. It seemed almost reluctant at first… and then the updates came. And didn’t stop coming. Good lord, they didn’t shut up. Fortunately, they haven’t since, meaning people are kept up to date with progress. However, I’m not seeing any evidence of the game itself, which doesn’t really feel very good. A February release seems extremely unlikely bearing in mind they said this month the story was only worked out on a “high level”, but I can’t find anywhere acknowledging that, nor something more realistic. Not impressive.

Tex Murphy – Project Fedora
Big Finish Games
Raised: $598,104
Release date: Dec 2012

In-game footage was shown to backers only (although most of their updates are public) in August this year, but during this they explain that filming hadn’t even started. Otherwise news is pretty sparse, their own site massively out of date, and no acknowledgement that I can find saying that they won’t make their December deadline. Again, not great.

Word Realms
Asymmetric
Raised: $121,442
Release date: Oct 2012

While backers got instant access to the beta, and have been receiving updates to it since, they obviously didn’t meet their release target. That’s always heavily countered by there being a playable version in backers’ hands, but it’s still a huge shame to see all their updates locked to backers only. They’re still aiming for the end of the year, however.

Zombie Playground
Massive Black
Raised: $167,590
Release date: Mar 2013

There hasn’t been a Kickstarter update for a month, but the last one included details of the closed alpha which is due this December for backers. The public alpha is still due for March, which was always what their release date intended on. So that’s all looking rather proper!

Dead State
DoubleBear Productions
Raised: $332,635
Release date: Dec 2013

The winner for Most Realistic Release Date In A Kickstarter Before July 2012 goes to… However, the Joint Award For Idiotically Making Updates For Backers Only also reaches Dead State, along with so many others. At least it’s still a long way away, meaning they’re not in a phase for raising public awareness just yet. And while those updates are appearing monthly, the game’s own site looks like it was abandoned months ago, cobwebs all over the last update from June. Which isn’t great bearing in mind the Kickstarter didn’t finish until the beginning of July.

CLANG
Subutai Corporation
Raised: $526,125
Release date: Feb 2013

Not a lot of updates since getting funded, there is at least this epic post about… scary sword laser magic. No word on whether February is still possible, and even less information on the game’s own site, where you’d think it was still July.

STAR COMMAND
War Balloon Games
Raised: $151,806
Release date: Oct 2012

Always a bit odd, this one, since the iPad version was supposed to be close to finished when the PC version/iPad second round Kickstarter launched. However, while the release date has obviously been missed, there is an open update from this month explaining where things are at, and three weeks back they thought it might be done by the end of this month. Doesn’t seem quite so likely now, as there’s no release hype, so I expect this one might disappear into Christmas. Here’s 13 minutes of it to prove it exists:

Defense Grid 2
Hidden Path Entertainment
Raised: $271,726
Release date: Dec 2012

Lots of public updates, which is good to see. And even more impressively, closed beta access keys have begun being sent out. This is of course for the “Containment” version of the game, with the larger game planned to take a lot longer. But it’s looking pretty good for its projected release date.

Shadowrun Online
Cliffhanger Productions
Raised: $558,863
Release date: May 2013

Updates have dried up since September, which is a shame, especially now Jagged Alliance Online is firmly out the door. But those that have appeared have been open, at least. Although the sillybillies have been putting splendid updates directly onto their website, without linking from the KS page everyone knows to go to. Concept art began appearing early this month, making May seem pretty unlikely.

Castle Story
Sauropod Studio
Raised: $702,516
Release date: Oct 2012

They only asked for $80,000! My goodness, imagine how thrilling it would be to watch that total just climb and climb. Personally, I think when an indie raises nine times more than they asked for, they should be able to use at least half of the money to buy themselves a lovely house. They only promised a beta for their release date, and by criminy, they did it. Kind of. A prototype version was released in October, and the team is clearly still overjoyed and overwhelmed by the attention.

Project Giana
Black Forest Games
Raised: $186,158
Release date: Oct 2012

It was clearly ridiculous to put an October release date on a Kickstarter that didn’t finish until the end of August. Er, except it came out in October, and was really good!

SolForge
Gary Games
Raised: $429,715
Release date: Jan 2013

A perfect example of a post-funded Kickstarter. Regular, detailed, open updates on the digital trading card game, pre-order information for those who didn’t pledge, and clear information on their pre-order page that the Jan deadline isn’t going to be met. They’re now predicting “Spring”.

Mercenary Kings
Tribute Games
Raised: $116,064
Release date: May 2013

Only finishing in September, by this point you’d hope projects were at least guessing the middle of 2013. However, only two updates since isn’t great. And worse, the game isn’t even listed on their own site as existing. The last time they mentioned the game was to announce its Kickstarter, other than a quick aside that they’ve hired a programmer.

Planetary Annihilation
Uber Entertainment
Raised: $2,229,344
Release date: Jul 2013

After raising a simply epic amount of money, their decent number of open updates have mostly focused on fulfilling other tier rewards, with little info on game development. There’s nothing more on the game’s main site, either, and the pre-order page doesn’t list a release date at all. So is next July realistic? No way to know.

Broken Sword – The Serpent’s Curse
Revolution Software
Raised: $771,560
Release date: Apr 2013

Lots of open updates, including details of Uncle Charles’ “research trip” (holiday) to the Middle East. But not a lot of info on the game, or its progress. More frustrating is that Revolution’s website has no info on the game whatsoever. April seems incredibly optimistic to me.

Project Eternity
Obsidian Entertainment
Raised: $3,986,929
Release date: Apr 2014

Sound the trumpets! A sensible release date prediction! Clearly an RPG on the scale Obsidian are planning is going to take a heck of a long time. And now they’re equipped with $4m, ambitions will have raised. But most of all, their regular open updates actually detail the progress they’re making on the game. Absolutely perfect. I doubt they’ll be out before Christmas 2014 though…

So what have we learned?

  • Don’t put a release date you obviously aren’t going to manage. Even my left big toe knows that it takes more than six months to develop a game, and what possible harm could there be in picking a pessimistic date and coming in ahead of schedule?
  • Be honest about missing release dates. Don’t hide the information two-thirds through a post linked from an update – your Kickstarter is there forever, and the given release date is the thing people are going to read. When that date is in the past, and it’s not clear what the new one is, you look damned dodgy.
  • Make at least some of your post-campaign updates public. The people who pledged have already given you their money. It’s the attention of the people who didn’t pledge that you rather desperately need now. And hiding info from outsiders just makes your game look like it’s not for them. Sure, there’s backer exclusive content, and you’ll keep some stuff just for them. But radio silence for the rest of your audience is simply bad business.
  • Keep your own websites up to date! Sure, announcing a game as early as the concept stage is very abnormal in this industry, and keeping people updated about those early stages isn’t normally done. But unfortunately if you Kickstartered, you announced it, and leaving your site fallow for six months makes it look an awful lot like you took the money and ran. You didn’t! So why act like you did?
  • And put development progress in your updates. Sure, you don’t want to show too much too soon, but just tell us what you’re doing with the money! If your team spent the week coding a robot’s AI, tell us that. It gives a strong sense of progress, that absolutely is not achieved when all your updates are about whether you sent out some stickers yet. You exposed yourself early, and now you’re committed to that.

PS. To be abundantly clear, this is about what information can be learned from visiting the Kickstarter page for a project, and any links immediately from it. Information may be hidden away elsewhere, but that’s hardly relevant to the purpose of this piece. Indeed, as a member of the press I could have contacted developers directly to ask, but again this wouldn’t demonstrate what I consider to be possible poor handling of a post-Kickstarter project.

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John Walker

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One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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