Kickstar(craf)ter: StarCraft Universe Goes To Kickstarter

Hmmm, well, this is sort of an odd situation. Once upon a time, Blizzard nearly fired a legal laser straight through the heart of StarCraft Universe‘s  modswarm, but now – a couple years later – the multiplayer RPG is alive, well, and on Kickstarter. The project apparently still has Blizzard’s blessing, given that it’s fan-made and will be distributed entirely for free. However, somewhat paradoxically, it’s also asking for $80,000 from Kickstarter’s writhing moneydollar hivemind. So long as Blizzard’s on board, developer Upheaval Arts is legally in the clear, but this whole situation raises some rather pressing questions.

So then, why Kickstarter for a mod? Well, pretty much for the same reason that any indie developer prostrates itself at the almighty feet of The Crowd:

“Upheaval has been developing StarCraft Universe for over two years with no funding whatsoever, donating their time and effort to its development with no monetary reward. All developers on the project have had to return to work their normal day jobs, dramatically hindering the progression of the project due to its time intensive requirements.”

It makes sense, too. Creating a mod of this scale – a multiplayer online RPG with a full story, cinematics, voice acting, multiple classes, tons of items, persistent characters, etc, etc, etc – is very nearly like designing a new game from the ground-up. If you can only hammer away at it on a part-time basis, progress will be glacial – not unlike, er, Blizzard’s own release speed, but for entirely different reasons.

Still though, Upheaval’s now trudging through a shoe-shucking morass of gray areas. For one, they’re taking on all the rigors and responsibilities of full-time, crowdfunded game development without the promise of livelihood at the end of the tunnel (though I imagine SCU will look pretty nice on resumes). But it’s also an opportunity to throw themselves headlong into a universe they love, so there are pros and cons.

Perhaps more pressingly, do you want to pay for a mod? Or at least, give it the monetary equivalent of an early stimpack? It’s entirely optional, but if we want to see truly ambitious re-envisionings of our favorite games, this sort of thing might end up becoming more and more common.

Also, following on that, we (perhaps literally) can’t afford to forget that the mod community is a place where wonderful ideas often burn bright for a couple months, only to get snuffed out by harsh reality and rarely resurface. “We’re making this awesome mod!” amateur developers exclaim. And then? Crickets. Sometimes for years.

Can the burden of monetary responsibility solve that? Maybe, but I have my doubts. Modding is a place where people first cut their teeth on game development. Unfortunately, they don’t usually have any idea what they’re in for. So they squabble and they fail and they learn, and that’s great. Time and time again, however, we’ve seen Kickstarter chew up, spit out, and spit on individuals who underestimated the scope of their project – who failed to deliver on expectations. When you’re new to game development, Kickstarter is a very, very dangerous place.

I wish the StarCraft Universe team – and all modders who want to pursue pie-in-the-stars dream projects, for that matter – the absolute best of luck. But tread lightly, and be prepared to answer for every last thing promised. For better or worse, the Internet never forgets.

If you’re interested in backing SCU and want to get an idea of what you’re in for, Upheaval released a single-player demo a while back. It even runs on the free StarCraft II: Starter Edition, so go nuts. Or stay perfectly calm, like most people do when they’re downloading software.


  1. Sheng-ji says:

    I have donated to so many mods and modding sites too, one mod in particular has received over £30 from me so I have no problems in principle with this, but I do worry about mods using kickstarters then having the burden of meeting their promises. Right now, if I donate, it’s because of fun I’ve already had with the mod, I don’t donate to have certain features implemented. This seems to shift that to donating before you’ve enjoyed the mod, which opens up the space to disappointment, failed development and arguments over whether promises have been fulfilled. I’m not sure that is going to be healthy for modding scenes.

  2. AngusPrune says:

    What’s the point of giving these people money? In a couple of months, when it’s all gone they may or may not have a mod they can’t sell for real money, and if they want to do some other project they’ll have to come back with hat in hand to us again for more.

    They want to quit their jobs to work full time on a vanity project. That’s not behaviour I want to encourage.

    • FF56 says:

      Definitely sounds like a bad deal for the guys developing it. They intend to quit their day jobs on something that has no direct future income and they get into possible legal hell, unless they got a very specific document from blizzard saying “yes you can develop our own IP and get paid to do it as long as the final product is free”.

      In my mind it would be easier to make the exact same game but without using the Starcraft universe and assets. So they would make a space game and in the end have something they could sell and generate income to fund their next game.

      • KikiJiki says:

        They say that they intend to monetise it on the Battle.Net arcade on the KS page. Why not just put an early version on there and fund further development through those means?

        I really don’t think this is okay, considering that the terms of mod dev for SC2 hand over everything as property of Blizzard. These guys don’t own the rights for anything they are developing, so how can they expect it to be okay to ask money to develop something they don’t own?

        I’ll probably get a lot of flak for this, but I reported the project. I really don’t think it should be there.

        • RobF says:

          You reported it? Dear god, you don’t think that’s a bit harsh?

          So they don’t own the IP, so they might struggle to monetise it BUT why do either of those things even have to factor in? If this is the sort of thing someone wants to play, hey, here’s some people dedicated to making it. Give ’em some cash and see what pops out at the end of it.

          To me, this is the sort of thing Kickstarter is absolutely designed for, “I’ve got a dream project, this is what I need to see it through”. So what if it’s built in someone else’s world and with someone else’s IP? If they’ve got blessing from Blizz to push on, that’s cool, right?

          Best of luck to them. i hope they do tremendously well from this and get to make the videogame they want to make as best they can.

          • Shuck says:

            @RobF: Yeah, this seems very much in line with the Kickstarter ethos. Perhaps not how Kickstarter is frequently being used these days, where it’s a glorified pre-order system, but very much how it was being originally used.

        • xao says:

          I’m curious as to what you grounds you used to report the project. As far as I could tell, they didn’t violate any of the terms imposed by Kickstarter, but it’s entirely possible I missed something.

        • PegasusOrgans says:

          Kickstarter isn’t exactly a site that follows its own rules. They decide if they want to take down a project. Even if it breaks a cardinal rule, they can (nd have) left projects alone. An example being a mother making a project to fund her daughter going to “RPG camp”. Ie, a “fund my life” project, so entirely against the TOS. Was it taken down? Hell no.

  3. Surlywombat says:

    I expect they decided the best way to find out if people though funding a mod through kickstarter was acceptable, was to try and fund a mod through kickstarter.

    Not going to be a backer myself, but its interesting to see what happens. In many ways this is a more true kickstarter than most, backing the project for the projects sake.

  4. The Godzilla Hunter says:

    I really don’t see how this does not count as for-profit. Yes, they are not going to directly sell the game after it is made, but they are still making money off of it. I just can’t see that making the money before the game is released as opposed to after it is released makes any legal difference.

    One way or another, they would be supporting themselves off an IP they do not own.
    (This is of course all moot if Blizzard actually gave them magical-legal permission)

  5. Chris England says:

    Their KS page says they were given the required permission by Blizzard in order to launch the Kickstarter. I’m amazed that all the critics can’t even be bothered to read the KS page before laying into them.

    I don’t plan to back it or have much interest in the project beyond seeing whether funding mods will be viable, but the reactions seem unnecessarily harsh. Particularly the guy who reported them – nobody “owns” open source software either, but presumably it’s OK to ask for money to create that for people to enjoy?

  6. ShockLobster says:

    I hope they get their 80k, the mod stays free, we all get to play it and it’s fantastic, and the guys that made it get good jobs developing stuff on a proper payroll in the future. It’s a pretty cynical world, and I’d like to entertain this little blip of optimism.

  7. Moraven says:

    My biggest concern is how will furture content for this mod will be funded. KS for every Act? I am not against that, the point of KS is to back stuff you want to make happen with or without a reward, but feel they should aim for some sustainability.

    Blizzard has time and time again mentioned the Marketplace, giving the ability to sell user made content. But the last earnings call I do not believe it was even mentioned. They are developing Blizzard All-Stars as a F2P MOBA set in the SC2 engine…so they have to have some infrastructure made to support selling stuff in

    The mod has come a long way since the time they got removed due to the original name. Making Starcraft 2 Arcade games free is something I feel a lot of people do not know and Blizzard has does a poor job of telling people.

  8. lordcooper says:

    I have no interest in this particular mod, but wish them the best of luck.

    I’d be willing to throw down a few quid for modders with a decent track record if this becomes a thing.

  9. Deano2099 says:

    My question is if Blizzard like this enough that they’re not cracking down and killing it, but actively encouraging it, why don’t they just give them the 80k. They have down the back of the sofa.

    • Kentauroi says:

      That’s my problem with the kickstarter too. It seems like Blizzard is onboard with this idea already, but wants to pass the cost of developing it onto the consumers.

      • Hmm-Hmm. says:

        Eh.. that seems a bit odd. Sure, they didn’t shoot it down, but in what sense does that make them likely or moreso obligated to fund it?

  10. Teddyman says:

    It’s a nice showcase of the power of the SC2 editor, but unfortunately the engine is very much not suited for an MMO. Every action other than rotating the camera will lag by at least ~150ms no matter how good your ping to bnet is.

  11. cdx00 says:

    This looks and sounds incredibly bad :/

  12. Svardskampe says:

    I think it shows how cheap Blizzard actually is. They have made the most succesful MMO to date. They give their permission and blessing for this project. For gods sake, just hire these people alright. They showed their competence with their initial mod. They are worth more to the company than just their paycheck already and blizzard is still not offering them a contract but rather want then to shill out the devs their own money? If it was Valve instead of Blizzard they would have been offered a contract a long time ago. Blizzard is plain evil in my opinion.