Blog Post

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

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.

11 Responses to “If you back a Kickstarter game, don’t be surprised when it’s late”

  1. Not demoralized at all and really happy with how the things goes on the DF project. Sure Tim have issues with project scaling, and giving him 3 millions instead of 300.000 turned into creating a game too big, but with the documentary, all this is covered and explained in great length.

    And KS a game is not like pre-ordering a game. You share the journey with the developers, and maybe people using KS to preorder stuff might be disappointed when a game is delayed, abut as long as project leads are open about it, it’s not a big deal.

  2. Far from demoralised — DF made an excellent choice in recording a documentary released as-you-go, this adds significantly to the transparency, communication and general level of contact between them and the backers (not to mention the forums and live streams).

    Looking forward to seeing more of what goes on, and eventually getting my hands on what can already be seen is a great-looking adventure game,

  3. Leivur Joensen

    This gives a definition of new word
        Conveying incorrect information regarding one’s sentiment or feeling.

    1. Saying that children usually dislike amusement parks is an hockenson statement.
    2. The hockenson report, by Lauren Hockenson, of the game backers demoralization prompted the creation of the word ‘hockenson’.

  4. Leivur Joensen

    The f*ck? how is it possible to be so out of sync with the backers? Demoralized? Are you kidding me? Most backers feel they got their moneys worth from the documentary alone. I guess your just trying to agitate readers and add some drama to sell your little blog.

  5. Ozzie

    I’m not a demoralized backer either, quite to the contrary, I’m more thrilled for the game now than ever before! You could have taken a look around the backer forums to realize that this is untrue. Bad form, Lauren!

  6. Seth Berrier

    “only to be demoralized by a two-year setback on their game”

    Sorry Lauren but this is completely unfair. “Demoralized” is an inappropriate word for that sentence. How could a delay shame the backers, it could frustrate them, anger them even outrage them but shame can only fall on the developers here. What you imply with that word (that the backers are somehow naïve or foolish) is not true. This kickstarter has provided an AMAZING amount of content already to its backers. There is a huge very entertaining and high-quality documentary following the entire process of making the game that has been thrilling to watch partly because of these delays and setbacks. The way these decisions have affected the developers emotionally is seen in the footage; they have not made these decisions lightly and they have communicated them to us long before they set their final release date in stone a few days ago.

    I have kickstarted a dozen projects (10 of them games) and NONE have been as rewarding or as exciting as the double fine adventure. What strikes me is that Double Fine is making art with this game! Much more so than most games I have seen lately. Art is a messy thing and often you make sacrifices for the sake of the work that are costly and lengthy. This happens all the time in architecture and hollywood. Gamers should learn to applaud such decisions NOT to compromise the vision of the work but instead to find a way to fund it to completion so that the final experience is genuine as it may be. This is the heart and soul of an independent process, one that is not driven by timelines and money and that is what we all backed! That is what the double fine adventure was all about. We, the backers, all understood that when we pledged our support and I for one am PROUD to be a part of what is happening, delays and all. At least Tim has integrity. At least double fine is giving the vision of this game the weight it deserves and not setting inflexible time and budget limits. I am a video game romantic and so are my fellow backers! No shame about it.

  7. Mano-S

    People weren’t angry that there was a delay, they were angry because after asking for 400k and got 3 million, they still needed MORE money and didn’t even finish half a game.

    “It’s the developer’s responsibility to offer refunds to backers if the project isn’t completed” is completely false. The developer is only required to fulfill rewards and not the project itself. So if the developer is not offering any carrots when you donate, then they have no obligation to give you anything but a promise to someday make a game.

  8. Uku Lehesalu

    Exactly nobody expected the game to be finished in October 2012. Everyone with a brain understood that a bigger game will take longer to make.

  9. Greetings,

    I think what frustrates crowdfunders is not the fact that games are being pushed back; it is the fact that there was lack of assurance on the part of proposals as to how to deal with an extra influx of capital.

    This is the issue of crowdfunding; there is a lack of control on the part of the contributors in regards to how much money their fellow contributors can give and when they give it.

    I suspect that this problem as you have written will persist up until contributors start to form there own groups and contribute large sums as single entities.

    Now that would be interesting to see.

    Very well written article by the way.


  10. Josh McPhaul

    Doublefine has been completely transparent about the good, the bad, and the ugly involved with making Broken Age. Many backers, myself included, feel they have already got their money’s worth from the documentary alone. Most backers are okay with the fact the game has been delayed because Tim has been so forthcoming with information.