If you back a Kickstarter game, don’t be surprised when it’s late

BrokenAge

More than a year ago, point-and-click legend Tim Schafer and the folks at Double Fine Adventure won Kickstarter (for that month, anyway) by raising more than eight times their original goal and pulling in $3 million to fund their latest release. Gamers, aware of Schafer and Double Fine’s reputation, backed it sight unseen — no concepts to back it up, no plot to get backers interested and no completed work in the pipeline. In October 2012, Double Fine promised, the game (later titled Broken Age) would speak for itself as it shipped to its faithful backers.

But October 2012 came and went. And October 2013 will come and go. And so will October 2014, if the tone of Schafer’s latest blog entry to backers is a sign of the Broken Age‘s development trajectory.

The reasoning for such a massive delay on a record-breaking blockbuster gaming project? Schafer got too ambitious and “designed too much game.”

What began as a small team involved in an agile game turned into a far more complex project after the fundraising success, with millions of dollars of runway to bring it to market. But Broken Age has outspent its savings, and Double Fine will release an unfinished version of the game in January 2014 on Steam’s Early Access platform to raise even more money — and hopefully bring the second half of the game to market by the end of that summer.

“We have been making more money since we began self-publishing our games, but unfortunately it still would not be enough,” Schafer explained.

The Long Wait for Backed Games

While the blow of Double Fine’s debacle may sting the community of more than 87,000 backers who happily handed over money for Broken Age, it’s certainly not the first game delay on Kickstarter, much less gaming history at large. In fact, a couple of Double Fine’s Kickstarter contemporaries, Harebrained Schemes’ Shadowrun Returns (which raised $1.8 million) and Replay Games’ Leisure Suit Larry Reloaded (which raised more than $600,000) both faced considerable delays in development. The former, which was originally slated for release January 2013, is set to hit Steam on July 25 after multiple delays and setbacks. The latter had an October 2012 release date and, after extensive issues related to in-game bugs, finally released late last month.

These, of course are two small examples of delays via Kickstarter, but they’re not alone. In fact, a study by CNN Money last year concluded that 84 percent of the website’s top 50 products shipped late — including both Double Fine and Replay Games’ efforts. It’s endemic to the site at large, particularly because there’s no allowance for setbacks. Either developers are right, or backers are disappointed.

But that situation is acceptable compared to the games that have out-and-out disappeared post-funding, never to see the light of day. Backers of the December 2011 fundraising effort for independent game developing sandbox Code Hero are still seething after developer Alex Peake disappeared months after raising $170,000 — only to reappear and admit to Polygon that the money had all been spent. Peake has recently assured that Code Hero will finally see the light of day in an Alpha build at PAX this August, but that hasn’t stopped backers from expressing doubt at the game’s ultimate release and threatening with a lawsuit. Smaller funding efforts from indie developers — particularly 2010’s Perdition (which raised just over its goal of $10,000) and 2012 Haunts: The Manse Macabre (which raised $28,000) — will likely never get in the hands of gamers at all, although the latter does have an open source project for any person valiant enough to try.

Gamers are not protected from failed projects on Kickstarter, as it’s “the project creator’s responsibility to complete the project,” according to the company’s FAQ. It’s the developer’s responsibility to offer refunds to backers if the project isn’t completed, so lawsuits are a very real risk — it just needs enough manpower and legal fees from backers to happen.

This problem won’t disappear from Kickstarter or even gaming development at large, but it’s a hard lesson to learn for eager backers who shell out cash up front for the privilege of waiting for sparse updates and multiple, inevitable delays. Games, which Kickstarter CEO Perry Chen has highlighted as a popular category, had the most money pledged of any category on Kickstarter last year, raising $83 million to fund various projects, so something has to give. Either more users accept the risk of crowdfunding and become more prudent with their wallets, or Kickstarter and development companies must be held accountable to backers in some way when projects get derailed.

But things are going fine for Double Fine, particularly now that the company has raised another $1.2 million for another game, called Massive ChaliceLet’s hope the September 2014 release date isn’t another display of wishful thinking.

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