Le Scythe: Death Inc Dies On Kickstarter Vine

It’s been a very Kickstartery week at RPS central command land banana stand  (with more to come, if you can believe it), but not all of it’s been good news. While Torment surged past its lofty $900,000 goal with such ferocity that we had to invent new numbers both to describe the amount it made and how quickly it did it, Project Awakened and now the equally promising Death Inc have fallen soberingly short. The RTS-ish 1660s freelance grim reaper simulator closed out its drive for blooooooood (or, I guess, money) at £122,711 – aka, not quite half of its £300,000 goal. So then, what is its hodgepodge of ambitious types from Media Molecule, Criterion, and Lionhead going to do now? The future’s not entirely clear, but one thing’s for sure: Death Inc hasn’t bitten the big one just yet.

Ambient explained what happens now that Death’s stuck in limbo via one final Kickstarter update:

“What a ride it has been. But it’s OK! Together we’ve taken an exciting, grueling  and enlightening journey over the last month. We’ve created and released a tonne of content (including a demo and a house!) and received loads of useful feedback. We wouldn’t change that for the world.”

“Importantly, we would like to assure you all that you haven’t seen the last of Death Inc! We are working extremely hard to make this beautiful, bonkers, original game a reality for you all.”

On the upside, Ambient got some excellent exposure out of the deal, and they quite evidently have friends in some pretty high places. Like a freelancing grim reaper armed with only his wits and the bubonic plague, they have options.

At this point, Ambient’s encouraging fans to stay in touch, so I imagine we’ll hearing something more concrete in the not too terribly distant future. For now, though, did you end up backing it? If not, what made you hesitate? Were you not a fan of the mechanics or art style? Or was it because, like many of us, you’ve gone completely bankrupt funding every other game in existence, and now your house is a box, your PC is an Etch-A-Sketch powered by a potato, and your box is a smaller box?


  1. Strangerator says:

    I was turned off primarily by the name itself, and the concept being so heavily death focused. I actually like that art style though.

    EDIT: And now, after finally watching the pitch video, I wish I had given it more of a chance. It looks like a nifty RTS concept.

    • Diziet Sma says:

      I can understand that to a degree, but most games are ‘death focused’. As someone else has pointed out further down, to me this seemed more Grim Fandango in style and not as morbidly grim as Shoot People You Don’t Know and Haven’t Met in the Face 99. The pitch videos on kickstarter should be mercifully short and so I tend to watch them, quite often I’ve thought a game was one thing and it turned out to be another. Death Inc. was one and I backed it on the strength of the video pitch and not the accompanying text. The demo they made available simply sealed my decision.

      • Strangerator says:

        Well, the first hurdle is getting me to actually watch the pitch video. Unfortunately, the title along with the screenshots provided made this seem like I was going to be slaughtering innocent people in their cutesy little homes as they ran screaming in terror. The video clears things up, sure, but the first impression turned me off rather strongly. RPS headlines did nothing to change my mind about what the game was, and I wound up skipping those stories entirely.

  2. AngoraFish says:

    The theme is disturbingly morbid, regardless of how many layers of cute they put around it.

    When will these companies learn that there is no market for their game if a failed Kickstarter doesn’t give them the hint?

    For what it’s worth, my suggestion would be to try reskinning the thing with the different theme and have another go.

    • CelticPixel says:

      Grim Fandango. Good day, sir!

      • Gnoupi says:

        I’m tempted to say “this”, as it is clearly an example of great ambiance, and lot of humor….
        But then again, Grim Fandango was a commercial failure, so it doesn’t really prove him wrong. (Though ok, there were other reasons than the theme, admittedly)

        • Sarigs says:

          Logged in to throw in a “this!” as well and then saw your post Gnoupi. Personally I find the theme and humour really intriguing. Not really sure how you’d go about re-skinning a game about passing on infections without making it completely abstract or losing that mechanic all together and just ending up with a generic RTS style

          • JFS says:

            Hmm… what about… Zombies? Like, their original idea? This game is already a re-skin, maybe they should just de-skin it and voila. Maybe not, though.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      What would you have them reskin it as? An RTS game where you play kiss-chase? One where you shove giant spikes of “love” into people?

      Frankly the theme was a lot better than “hurr terrorists attacking mah freedoms, kill everyone” that persist in modern FPSes. When exactly does it stop being “too soon” for the black plague?

    • Shooop says:

      And since when has a game having a morbid theme ever been a deal-killer?

      In the new Tomb Raider you control an avatar of genocide. That game didn’t have much trouble getting funded.

  3. dsch says:

    One of those things where I found the concept novel but didn’t feel it would translate into a fun game with control and depth. Herding followers around seemed like a chore, and the physics puzzles seemed pointless.

    • Teovald says:

      That was pretty much my reaction … the prototype did not seem that it would translate into a game I would like to play to. I was bored too bored to continue 10 minutes in.
      It may be a bit unfair, since prototypes always tend to suck, but combined with the fact that I have already backed a lot of games, including planescape & the longest journey this month, I passed.

  4. vrittis says:

    I don’t understand why they go to Kickstarter if they think they can get some backup in a more traditional way? I say this in a general way – i’ve got no feeling whatsoever regarding Death Inc. or the people making it – because i have a feeling that Kickstarter is becoming a way to get some data on how your game will be perceived by the public:
    – Hello money-giving people, i got x thousand people waiting for this game. Care to join?
    – Holy guacamole, sure do!

    And it has been the case for many “failing” games… i don’t get it

    • Llewyn says:

      Two reasons, one positive and one cynical:

      – KS allows studios to keep total control of their projects, and all benefit from any profits generated. This means they are able to produce the game they actually want to, hopefully maximizing the number of satisfied customers, and to have as much money as possible to use for their next project, hopefully reducing their dependency on external funding (whether KS, loans or publishers).

      – KS removes as much risk as possible from studios. All they need to do to satisfy KS is to deliver something which basically works. Yes, this would damage their reputation, but the alternatives if a project fails with other external funding involve legal disputes and potentially large debts hanging over the developers.

      The reality for most studios is probably a combination of both of these, with different studios at different points on the continuum.

      • vrittis says:

        So some companies try to use KickStarter as a cake-having/cake-eating platform. It bothers me, especially when they get coverage out of it, because i have a feeling that it is a bit cynical and also steps on other people’s toes that _could_ use the attention.

        There’s some debate out there about Amanda Palmer’s talk at TED regarding asking for stuff, which some people cry foul at since she steals some spotlight from other artists that need it more; this feels the same to me.

        • Llewyn says:

          I think everyone will have different opinions on where various projects lie on that spectrum. Personally I think some are extremely cynical, but these are mostly the high profile established industry names – David Braben and Double Fine particularly spring to mind.

          On the other hand I think many of the unknown studios are trying to use KS in its intended, pure sense – not as a pre-order avenue for a single game but as a means of funding a studio to be independent and self-sufficient. That is, to be able to make their second or third game without needing to turn to KS, although inevitably some (most?) will transition to a more cynical approach and continue to try to use it to spread risk.

          • Lambchops says:

            Just out of interest why do you see the Double Fine one as extremely cynical?

            I agree it would have been cynical if they’d been espousing the “we want nothing to do with publishers” schtick of Brian Fargo and others, as they are still heavily involved with publishers on some of their projects. However their pitch was that publishers specific aren’t interested in old school adventure games and was an effort to get money for this specific project.

          • solidsquid says:

            To follow Lambchop’s comment, DoubleFine have pitched plenty of ideas to publishers and have been knocked back with most of them, and the ones which were knocked back were generally the ones which they wanted to work on more. The impression I got at least was that they were moving to use Kickstarter for funding so that they could get around this limitation and work on games which generally wouldn’t do well at a publisher (something they’ve got a lot of experience dealing with) and to remove the risk of the games being cancelled (which nearly bankrupted them at one point)

            Not saying there isn’t a degree of cynicism to DoubleFine’s Kickstarters, but it does seem they’ve made the effort to go the conventional route and found it was preventing them doing the kind of work they wanted to

          • Llewyn says:

            My feeling was, and remains, that DF had a number of options available to them which didn’t necessarily involve publishers but which would have involved DF taking on a significant proportion of the risks normally involved in trying to grow a business.

            They chose not to do that. I don’t blame them, given that they had an alternative available (and were the ones to initially identify that this might work), but I do see it as a somewhat exploitative move; if DF really had the desire and commitment to make this game that they have claimed they could have done it before the KS bubble.

            I don’t class it in the same league as Elite though, that’s for sure.

          • TimEatsApples says:

            But DoubleFine pretty much created the KS “bubble”, as far as games go. It seems to me they launched the campaign exactly when they wanted to launch it, and weren’t merely hopping on some bandwagon. In fact, part of their campaign was spent introducing gamers to the idea of Kickstarter, and then to their pitch itself.

            Which rather nixes your “limelight-stealing” point. I understand what you’re saying, but for me at least, I first created a Kickstarter account to back Wasteland 2 but then stuck around to fund several truly indie projects by single- or a few-person teams. Far from stealing the limelight, InXile actually shone it brightly on a bunch of other projects that might not have ever been funded if they, and DoubleFine in particular, hadn’t led the charge.

          • Llewyn says:

            @Tim: You seem to be mixing up replies to two different people there…

          • TimEatsApples says:

            Guh. Yes, sorry. I replied with insufficient coffee in my system. Please ignore me.

        • Feferuco says:

          I don’t see the problem in that. Kickstarter isn’t charity and people give money because they want to. It is just another way to get money to make games. We got into our heads that it is supposed to help people who have no other way to get funding, but why should it be like that.

          I wouldn’t condemn a company like EA going for Kickstarter but sure as hell wouldn’t fund them either. Point is I don’t think we should look at it as anything other than a way for a game to be funded.

          • SanguineAngel says:

            Spot on really. Although I would be somewhat uncertain about an EA pitch as EA are publishers anyway – so they would be getting funding to fund a game? I do think crowd sourcing should replace the publisher model. I think it’s preferable for ANY developer as it gives them way more creative control over the game. That’s why it’s good.

            To suggest you can’t use it if you could maybe get funding from a publisher (who will impose harsh restrictions and eat all of the return) is silly.

        • iucounu says:

          I don’t think it’s possible to ‘steal’ the spotlight – surely people pay as much or as little attention to artists as they like?

          On the issue of cynical Kickstarters, if you want to view KS as a kind of charity platform, then maybe there is a point there. For me, it’s simply a novel funding protocol, and people can use it for whatever the hell they like. Nobody forces anyone to fund things they don’t like.

          • vrittis says:

            You’re right, i see Kickstarter as a platform to sidestep classical means of funding a project, not as a charity platform. So i shouldn’t be bothered about this use of Kickstarter, and yet i am a bit.

            I think it comes down to the issue of discoverability; if somebody with the means to be funded in a different way goes to KickStarter (or any crowd-funding platform) right away, the coverage they’ll get will eat into something else’s coverage (user time, articles, etc). Just imagine how boring it is when there’s a 24/7 newsstorm about things you don’t care about (*cough*royal wedding*cough*:))

          • soco says:

            While it seems logical that a big kickstarter would take attention away from another that is more “deserving”…

            (not sure if that idea that one project is better for KS than another because of options available would really hold up, but running with it)

            …it is my understanding that the big KS projects bring attention to smaller projects by bringing more eyeballs to the KS site. A rising tide lifts all ships sort of thing. Since we’re talking about DF here I think it was the Icarus Online folks that said they got a huge bump from DF’s KS. I think there was something that KS wrote about as well, them seeing funding increase across several smaller projects.

          • jatan says:

            it feels possible, to steal the spotlight, find someone’s ‘relatively ‘ obscure work…be’ inspired’ by it and present it through your already establish channels to the press, media what ever… the turn around for everything is fast, people need copy, copy from ‘mates’ ,established sources is easy. If it happens or not it feels possible it could

  5. Dermott says:

    i pledged it and raised my pledge. But anyway the game did not reach the mass – don’t know why, cause they did anything they could with their plenty and interesting updates. /sad

  6. CelticPixel says:

    I wasn’t able to back this (my philanthropy budget had to be tightened this month), but I’m really excited about this game, and will definitely be looking to buy it when it’s released.

  7. impeus says:

    I now realise that my pledge was very low. It was the lowest possible value to get the game. I feel quite guilty. I remember towards the end of Maia’s campaign being encouraged to increase my pledge. I wonder if it would have helped in this case. In retrospect, a tenner for the game was perhaps quite unrealistically generous of the developers.

  8. Heavenfall says:

    I didn’t back it, the whole thing felt like it was built for smart phones and tablets from the start with simple controls and what appeared to be an absolute lack of depth. I like my PC games to use the medium to its maximum, and be more complex than that.

    • abandonhope says:

      Yeah, lack of depth. I played the demo and was like: So this is it? The concept and art style were charming but it played like a Flash game. I was never quite clear on whether there was more to the idea than what was in the demo, but the demo made me kind of stop caring.

    • Stardog says:

      I think that’s the issue. It’s a tablet game they’re expecting PC gamers to pay for, even though the PC version is completely throttled. It’s only “for PC” because Unity can pretty much File > Export to PC easily.

      When basic things like selecting different groups of units becomes a “feature”, you know your game is too simple. They have been in RTS’s since the dawn of time.

  9. SanguineAngel says:

    I loved the look and initially I was very interested. A game set in the 1600’s was ticking my boxes all over but when I watched the pitch I just wasn’t turned on by the gameplay at all. It seemed to take a potentially interesting, exciting and creative concept and focus on a single aspect exclusively and oversimplify it for my tastes.

  10. derella says:

    While I absolutely loved the art direction, the concept… It felt like a game I would play once or twice, and then never come back to. And frankly, I have enough of those sitting on my HD.

    Even so, I’d have been a lot more likely to throw in a few dollars if I hadn’t already dumped close to $200 in the last 30 days on games I won’t get to play until 2014(I’m looking at you, Dreamfall Chapters and Torment). Because of how much money I have floating out there now, I’ve become a lot more selective.

  11. Hoaxfish says:

    I was ready to back it during the pre-launch announcements, and did so on the day it launched.

    The stuff from Media Molecule (which they split from) has always made me happy, blending proper “texture” into their design (LBP’s cloth sackboy, Tearaway’s papercraft, that new thing’s clay sculpting). Visually they share a similar style to Double Fine’s work.

    That this could be coming to PC was very attractive (they built a real, physical model house afterall).

    They also carried in the theme of an actual setting… A “British” historical plague era (known to any school kid, and this is pretty much the only game I’m aware of that uses it), far more distinct than tolkien knock-offs, or generic zombie apocalypse.

    The actual output during the kickstarter, with an update almost every day, showed they were fully engaged with the project. Spitting out a comic, a demo, multiple Q&As, demo feedback, new information about units (including versions for both genders), physics objects, etc.

  12. iucounu says:

    Wasn’t enthused by what I saw of the gameplay. It looked like a kind of simplified version of, say, Overlord, and I didn’t really feel I needed one of those. It fell into that Kickstarter category where I’d be interested to see what it turned out like and might pick it up if the reviews were good, but I’m not up for putting any money in up-front.

  13. Jae Armstrong says:

    I had no idea it existed. Has this been covered by RPS at all?

    • iucounu says:

      Yep, it got its fair share of attention here. It’s just not really exciting enough, I think

      EDIT: Seven posts, including this one.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      It did get skipped in a couple of Kickstarter Katchups during its run, but it did get individual articles at the start and the end stretch.

  14. Premium User Badge

    It's not me it's you says:

    The setting looked neat but the gameplay sounded incredibly shallow and tedious in the initial pitch, any video they showed and the prototype did nothing to convince me otherwise. I have backed a substantial number of things on Kickstarter but it does have to be something I’d actually want to watch / play for me to be interested! Despite the pedigree behind this project what we saw of the implementation just kind of sent me back to trying desperately to cast spells and make my creature Do A Fucking Thing in Black & White 1 (which was all mouse gesture based).

    One finger control schemes suck, man.

  15. wodin says:

    it looked great..but the gameplay seemed abit stale.

  16. uNapalm says:

    It looked good but I didn’t back it because they didn’t seem to really need the money and the kickstarter was very vague on what the money was actually going to be spent on. Not accusing them of anything except bad communication.

  17. Buemba says:

    Kudos to them for releasing a playable prototype (I wish more KS projects did something like that), but unfortunately it sort of convinced me this wasn’t a game I’d be interested in backing. It sure looked lovely, but I found it kind of boring.

  18. oneeyedziggy says:

    I kickstart things mainly to get the prototype/alpha/beta, and at $48 to buy into the beta, and even then not until august? I’m better off waiting until at least the beta is released to see if it’s available them and iff not wait til the game is out to see if it’s any good before I buy it.

    I’d say the prime pricing is about $15 to buy into a prototype/alpha/beta that upgrades to the real thing. You get less money from each person, but a hell of a lot more people… that’s impulse buy territory… more than that and I start getting picky, which means someone loses my money… :/

    • SanguineAngel says:

      Arguably you are not better off since without your (and others) funding, there will not be a game at all.

      • oneeyedziggy says:

        I don’t know that that holds for most of the gaming projects on kickstarter right now, and it’s an odd balance, because I won’t fund anything that doesn’t at least have a meaty prototype, (there are too many people out there with great ideas and no ability or initiative to follow through on them) but you’re not wrong many do depend on kickstarter funding, and I do balance that against how much I really want it to get made… If I merely think the project looks interesting or cool, and the beta is fairly cheap I’ll go in for it, but if I can’t stand the thought of risking this thing not getting made that threshold goes up (like with the “blackspace” kickstarter? I need that to happen something awful, and it appears to be going ahead as planned despite going un kickstarted, albeit probably not without a cost), and I’ll spend more, but I even have to rationalize pretty hard to basically buy a promise for $50… and that’s as much or more about my niche tastes which the dev can’t do much to sway, as it is about the potential quality of the product and the chances it’ll actually get made if it is funded… to each his own…

  19. Mephz says:

    I remember that I thought the art style was ugly and the gameplay boring with no dept, actually was amazed some people were backing it. Similar to wildman that looked horrible to me.