Important note: none of this means Kickstarter is broken or doomed or mostly abused. It's just two instances of something not working out, in these instances because the particular people involved made particular (and perhaps troubling) decisions that were not to their backers' benefit. I retain plenty of faith in the Kickstarter model, but I would like to see more checks and balances.
Tale of woe the first: after two years in development and a long period of silence, the official Yogscast game has been confirmed cancelled, despite bringing in over half a million funbucks on Kickstarter in May 2012.
The enormous YouTube network - already courting controversy this week, after disclosing that it's making deals to provide coverage in exchange for a share of games' revenue - is pinning the blame on Winterkewl Games, the at the time outta-nowhere third-party developer tasked with making sandbox title Yogventures. In an email to backers that's apparently stirred up discontent, Yogscast co-founder Lewis Brindley confirmed recent concerns that the project had run aground, revealing that "Winterkewl Games have stopped work on Yogventures" and going on to claim that "this is actually a good thing." His reason for this being that the game had turned out too ambitious for the six-person team at Winterkewl, who had several days before announced that the studio was dead.
Arguably the bombshell line, however, was "Although we're under no obligation to do anything...." He's not wrong as such, as Kickstarted projects do not legally have to be completed in order to receive their funding (the refrain which often flies around from online commentators is 'Kickstarter is not a pre-order system', which is very much true), but that is a very particular interpretation of 'obligation.' One that presumably does not include 'moral obligation to the people who gave us their money in good faith.'
Brindley did, however, claim that "we're going to do our best to make this right, and make you really glad you backed the project." While there may very will be more replacement rewards yet to come, all this means so far is a free Early Access code for open-world survival game TUG. "In many ways TUG is the game we were hoping Winterkewl would create," claimed Brindley. "It has huge potential for the future. We've been playing the Early Access version on Steam and you'll soon be able to see us playing the game on Yogscast channels." Which is at least partly because Yogs are now business partners on the project - which takes us back to the cash-for-coverage issues from earlier this week.
Calls from some backers for refunds have so far proven unsuccessful, but in terms of the now-cancelled in-game rewards (physical rewards were sent out long ago) for higher pledge tiers, Brindley says that "we'll do everything we can to find cool things to take their place." The company certainly has the resources, so hopefully they can make good in that respect. But speaking of the company having the resources, what most troubles me here is that they apparently won't spend some of those resources (and presumably tons of art, sound etc assets from the aborted game) on getting the game finished by someone else. Not anything like a perfect comparison I realise, but we did see the Penny Arcade Adventures series continue on a smaller scale, with another dev at the helm, after the fancier-pants versions proved apparently non-viable. Of course, what we don't entirely know is whose game Yogventures really was - Yogs', Winterkewls, or both? - and thus what legal status the name and concept now has. Existent work has been passed to shonkily-named TUG developers Nerd Kingdom, so it's not a given that nothing will live on, but the word 'failure' has been officially pinned to Yogventures.
Yogs have since issued a new statement to Eurogamer, which tries to be a little less breezy than the initial acknowledgement of the cancellation. "The failure of Yogventures is a matter of deep regret for the Yogscast, we put a lot of faith in the developer Winterkewl, including allowing them to use our likenesses and brand," they claim. "However the project was too vast in scope to be realised and despite a huge amount of hard work from Winterkewl they have had to abandon it. The game as it stands it is not capable of being released and certainly wouldn't live up to the expectations of the people that backed the Kickstarter or pre-ordered the game."
As for Winterkewl, they acknowledge that the project proved too much for them - despite lead dev Kris Vale stumping up $25k of his own cash and the torrid development apparently costing him his marriage - and claim that they'll "probably" shut down now. While the line from both parties is that Yogscast didn't want to promote pre-orders because they were unhappy about the state of the game so far, the nature of the partnership and who was calling what shots and when is decidedly murky, too. Vale is taking this one for the team, however: "I'm deeply sorry that despite our best efforts we never reached a level of play-ability that inspired enough confidence from not only the community but even the Yogscast themselves. This is my fault, I agreed to every feature request we got because I didn't want to lose the opportunity."
Two days ago, Lewis from Yogs was implying that Yogventures would live on post-Winterkewl, as part of that new collaboration with TUG, and today confirmed that what code and assets did exist would pass to TUG devs Nerd Kingdom. So perhaps we may yet see a game with 'Yog' in the title, but it'll be a different game from a different studio, and possibly a rebranded one at that. Certainly, not the game that people backed. What a mess, basically.
Meanwhile, tale of woe the second: backers of tactical RPG Confederate Express are dismayed by dev Kilobyte's sudden announcement that they're switching focus to 'sister project' Knuckle Club, leaving development on Confederate Express "postponed."
As an apology, Confederate Express backers will receive "a free reward pack from Knuckle Club," whatever the hell that means, and whatever the hell relevance a 2D brawler will have to people backing a zombie apocalypse RPG. Release dates are up in the air, people are unhappy that none of this was communicated until after a long period of near-silence in which there's little sign that the project has moved past its initial demo status, and... yeah. Also what a mess.
It's hard not to worry that companies setup Kickstarters speculatively until a better offer comes along, or to help fund a better offer. Who knows the truth in either of these cases, but it is sad to see the essential Kickstarter promise - giving fans what they want without middleman interference or ulterior motives - get polluted on occasion. I hope controls can be tightened, and that people using Kickstarter to fund their projects feel their obligations to backers are absolute, no matter what the small print might say.