Independent games Elementary, My Dear Holmes and Gridiron Thunder have come under fire for having questionable Kickstarter results. Both games are early successes of Ouya’s Free the Games project which promises to match crowd-sourced funding as long as the developers agree to give the Ouya console a six-month period of exclusivity. Polygon reports that because of odd Kickstarter results, the games’ campaigns are being called into question.
In the case of Elementary, My Dear Holmes, some backers noticed that a large number of pledges were coming from first-time Kickstarter accounts with suspiciously similar celebrity names and celebrity user images. (Many of these accounts’ profile pictures and names have been subsequently changed.) Developer Victory Square Games acknowledged that it looked odd and subsequently posted the response they received from Kickstarter when they asked about the suspicious accounts.
“If you’d like to know more about backers who have found your project, you can always take a look at their profile to get a better feel for them. It’s very possible that these first-time backers have found your project through your outreach, or just by browsing Kickstarter – I wouldn’t be surprised if Sherlock Holmes fans had a way of sleuthing these things out! And of course, if needed, you’re also welcome to message any backers who you’d like to know better, if you really have hesitations about their pledge.”
In Gridiron Thunder‘s case, while the Kickstarter accounts don’t seem obviously suspicious, the amounts donated do. As Kicktraq shows, the project only has 141 backers with an average of $556 pledged per backer with nine days to go before closing the campaign which is extraordinary. The daily results also have some suspicious spikes in donations. MogoTXT CEO Andy Won says the accusation that they may have gamed the system to have a successful Kickstarter is false.
“We have done nothing wrong,” said Won. “And we are about to roll out an awesome title for the Ouya. We are just a hardworking game development firm.”
Natural Selection 2 just got updated with the free Reinforced Expansion and developer Unknown Worlds would like the community to help recoup the cost of producing it. The free DLC adds female Marines, new weapons, Linux support, a much-needed single player tutorial, a Commander tutorial, practice bots, and a lot more. In all, Unknown Worlds says the cost of making that content was about $500K. To keep the update free, they’ve turned to the community for support.
“We are also immensely proud that Reinforced is free. Six months of game development is not cheap, and we have often discussed how we might continue to pay for keeping the studio focused on Natural Selection 2 full time. Various options were discussed – Including making Reinforced a separate Steam DLC, or introducing in-game micro-tran$actions. But these monetisation methods do not fit with our culture. Knowing we must pay the bills to keep the lights on, we decided to introduce the Reinforcement Program.”
The voluntary Reinforcement Program allows players to donate money to Unknown Worlds. Like a Kickstarter, there are tiers of membership that offer various goodies, up to a “Game Director” level that includes flying out to San Francisco to hang out with the developers.
Natural Selection 2 is 75% off this weekend on Steam and is also free to try for the duration of the sale.
Note: Phantom Leader designer Dan Verssen asked if I would take a look at a prototype version of a game he’s publishing, which is in the middle of a successful Kickstarter campaign. Since the game is basically finished in terms of the design, and since this sort of thing is definitely in my wheelhouse (i.e. horror, tabletop, solitaire!), and since it’s H.P. Lovecraft’s birthday, I happily took him up on the offer. Fortunately, it didn’t suck, so I’m happy to also write about the game here.
The Cards of Cthulhu is a solitaire game with a healthy amount of die rolling as you try to keep the boards from filling up with nasty Lovecraftian creatures. The overall vibe is holding back evil tides pouring through dimensional gates. Anyone who’s played Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror knows the feeling. Plug one hole and two more pop open. Before you know it, you’ve got byakhees in your basement, old ones in your attic, and Cthulhu dragging himself out of the Pacific. It’s not easy holding back elder gods. It’s even less easy holding back four of them. This is what happens in The Cards of Cthulhu and I’m pretty sure it’s not realistic. There is no HP Lovecraft where four gods come knocking at once. But I suppose I can make an allowance for a fantasy tabletop game.
See that? That’s a screenshot of one of the most amazing things I ever saw in wargaming: snow in 1941. As I pointed out a while back, that’s more of an observation about what computers could do for wargames back in 1981 than doubt about the weather in Russia. So I was glad the third bullet point in Shenandoah’s press release for their newly announced game, Drive on Moscow, proclaimed “a changing map based on weather conditions.”
See that boardgame in the image above? Savor it. That’s as close as most of us will ever get to playing The Doom That Came to Atlantic City despite a successful crowd-funding campaign that closed in June of 2012. It was described by the creator on the Kickstarter page as a sort of reverse Monopoly in which players took the role of a Lovecraftian Elder God and tried to destroy Atlantic City instead of building it up.
People were excited by the tongue-in-cheek concept and by the art which mixed whimsy with horror. Wired wrote about it as did Tom on Quarter to Three. By the time the Kickstarter closed, the funding effort raised about four times more than the creator was asking for.
Unfortunately, it appears the game will never be a reality. The project lead, Erik Chevalier has admitted that the creation of the game as well as the establishment of a new company has gotten beyond his control and that the whole thing is being terminated. In an update to backers, Chevalier wrote that the failure of the game rests on his inexperience managing a project of this size.
From the beginning the intention was to launch a new board game company with the Kickstarted funds, with The Doom that Came to Atlantic City as only our first of hopefully many projects. Everyone involved agreed on this. Since then rifts have formed and every error compounded the growing frustration, causing only more issues. After paying to form the company, for the miniature statues, moving back to Portland, getting software licenses and hiring artists to do things like rule book design and art conforming the money was approaching a point of no return. We had to print at that point or never. Unfortunately that wasn’t in the cards for a variety of reasons.
As for the crowd-funded money, Chevalier said that he will try to return the pledges when he can secure employment and begin paying into a fund he will set up. He explained that he will try to pay back the people that pre-ordered the game through their webstore before returning money to Kickstarter backers.
Ouya, the crowd-funded $99 Android console, had its retail launch on June 25th. It garnered mixed reviews from critics for its combination of neat concept, somewhat underpowered hardware, an interface much improved from the beta, and a selection of games that mostly mirror the kinds of things you’d find in the dregs of the Google Play store. Early adopters seem pleased by the mostly fulfilled promises of the Kickstarter. For its part, OUYA Inc. announced a $1 million fund for indie game development to help improve the catalog of titles.
Consoles live and die by the developer support, so how is the Ouya treating its launch partners? Gamasutra rounded up some game developers to ask them how well the Ouya has been for their bottom line. Like the critics’ hardware reviews, the partner opinions are mixed. Ryan Wiemeyer, developer of Organ Trail, expressed disappointment.
It’s sold about half of what my low-end predictions were. Last I checked we were at 501 purchases from 13,112 downloads. (a 3.8 percent attach rate.) This accounts for about 0.1 percent of our total Organ Trail sales to date (which is over 400,000.) So, I don’t even know if it was worth the man hours yet. Then again… Organ Trail was a pain to add controller support to and that was the bulk of the port.
While some developers agreed that sales were less impressive than hoped for, others were less negative. Matt Thorson, creator of TowerFall, told Edge that he was pleased with his sales so far.
“We’ve made about 2,000 sales so far at $15 each,” Thorson said. “So sales have been surprisingly high for a new game on a new console. The game has definitely proven itself on Ouya, I think there’s enough demand to warrant bringing it to PC.”
Developers praised the ease of communicating with the Ouya company, including its engineers, but many pointed out that title discoverability remains an issue in the console catalog menus. Between the cool reception by critics and the low software sales, the Ouya has quite the hill to climb to reach the peak of the industry.
You may not realize this, since it’s not true, but today is HP Lovecraft Day! So we’ve invited Tabitha Chirrick of Machines in Motion to talk about Kingsport Cases, a game with a unique angle on the Lovecraft mythos. Go here for the Kickstarter page. We also talk about other games attempting Lovecraft, and how they succeed or fail. We’re sure we missed a few, so that’s where you come in. Post them below. For this week’s games of the week, we choose our favorite gods/giants, how Wonder Woman is uniquely suited to run Arkham Asylum, and how many human revolutions it takes to finally save the world. Finally, Tom confesses that he once condoned Lovecraft’s racism, but it was totally on accident.
The venture firms of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, The Mayfield Group, and others have invested more than $15 million towards OUYA, the $99 Android-powered console. The Wall Street Journal interviewed CEO Julie Uhrman for details about the new funding.
“The money’s going to be used predominantly for two things: one is to support game development. We’d love to bring exclusive titles to OUYA. We announced an exclusive game from Airtight Games last week, we have others coming from Tripwire Interactive and high-profile games from high-profile independent games like Fez from Phil Fish. Tim Schafer’s DoubleFine is bringing ‘A Broken Age,’ so it’ll allow us to do more of those things.”
“The second is to support demand. We’ve seen incredible demand from retail and from the website. Obviously it depends on the retailer. It’s gonna be no different than what any other product.”
OUYA also announced that although some early backer units were shipped, the official launch date of the console has been pushed back to June 25th to fix controller manufacturing issues. The OUYA initially created waves by raising over $8 million in its Kickstarter funding when the company had only asked for $950K.
The Kickstarter for Camelot Unchained, by Mark Jacobs and City State Entertainment, has been successfully funded with $2.23 million in the final tally. The Kickstarter asked for $2 million, so the extra amount pledged was enough to unlock archers, one new race per realm, and heraldry. The MMORPG will include realm versus realm battles with up to 500 players and player-built forts and castles.
The game will feature RvR-based leveling tracks for all classes. No PROGRESSION VIA PvE (player vs. environment), loot drops or other such systems are currently planned. All leveling will come from engaging in the game’s RvR-based systems, whether by fighting other players, capturing objectives, and/or crafting objects to help in RvR. There will be NPCs but you cannot use them to level your character.
The last 48 hours of the Kickstarter was hampered by overzealous fans that spammed news sites with entreaties to publish stories about the game. Mark Jacobs asked fans to tone down their efforts and let journalists do their jobs.
Ambient Studios, developers of Monster Meltdown and Death Inc., is closing down. The UK studio failed to fund Death Inc. and keep the doors open. Their Kickstarter did not get funded and a direct $10 paid alpha offer apparently did not raise enough money to continue development.
Obviously we cannot deliver on the commitments we made in the various Death Inc. alpha tiers. If you’re one of the alpha backers, don’t worry – we will be issuing full refunds so you will not be in any way out of pocket.
Watch the original Death Inc trailer here to see what’s passed beyond the veil.
Slightly Mad Studios started Project CARS in April 2011 with a different crowd-sourced funding model. Instead of a Kickstarter, the realistic driving simulation would be directly funded by players who would not only have a say in the direction of the game development, but could receive a share of any profits. It’s this innovative funding model that’s being investigated by the UK’s Fincancial Services Authority for being a possible unregulated collective investment scheme. Eurogamer has the story on why the FSA is investigating and how Slightly Mad has had to stop receiving contributions for their game. Andy Tudor, the Slightly Mad Studios Director, says they made sure that every contributor was clear on the intent of the project and disputes that it was ever framed as an investment.
There may have been talk, or people may have interpreted it that way and replied back to posts saying it’s an investment, but it’s not. We were very clear. We discussed this for months and months before we launched. Internally we never called it an investment, externally we never called it an investment, the terms and conditions never call it an investment, ever.
The people on the forums right now understand it is not, and that is the way it has always been. We basically hire you as a staff member. The royalties are us paying you wages for contributing to the project.
Unfortunately, Ian Bell, the founder of Slightly Mad had written the following in April 2011 to prospective customers on a fan forum making things slightly less clear.
My idea is to let anyone interested invest in the development, both financially and with their time, if they want. Our lawyer is working on the terms and conditions so this is going to happen.
Becoming the biggest developer on earth overnight would be newsworthy, which would pull in more investors. We suspect we might even get banks in looking for a 200 per cent – 500 per cent-plus return in 18 months.
Imagine we sell 2 million units of the final game (Shift 1 did 5 million and Shift 2 is tracking well also). The revenue from those sales is approx. 70 million dollars. 5-7 million dev cost and a few more million for marketing, and we’re still looking at a very healthy return for the investors.
The plan is that any investment into the development is exactly that, an investment.”
The investigation is ongoing and the outcome could determine if the game is ever completed, let alone shows a profit and pays back the contributors.
Firaxis rolled out some publicity for their upcoming Brave New World expansion for Civilization V. Among the gaggle of interviews, Lead Designer Ed Beach spoke to PC Gamer and took a moment to address Jon Shafer’s recent criticism of his own work in designing the base Civ V game.
“He was a little harsh on it,” said Beach. “And I won’t try to guess as to exactly what his frame of mind was, where he’s coming from.”
“Unit stacking can be a problem in Civ V, and I definitely think we’ve been acknowledging that for a while,” continued Beach. “In Gods & Kings we made a change so that embarked land units could stack with naval units, because there was a lot of congestion out in the seas. So, there were definitely issues, but I’m still a big fan of one unit per tile. I think it improves the combat in so many ways, there’s so much more tactical maneuvering and positioning.”
Jon Shafer had posted an essay of lessons learned in making Civ V, and the one unit per tile (1UPT) design in his Kickstarter for At the Gates in which he stated that although he found the combat in Civ V better than previous Civilization games that allowed unit stacking, he admitted that there were problems. Shafer wrote that designing good 1UPT AI was a challenge and that the maps had too many bottlenecks to allow for proper maneuvers.
Speculation aside, the reality was that the congestion caused by 1UPT also impacted other parts of the game. In every prior Civ title it was no problem to have ten, fifty or even a thousand units under your control. Sure, larger numbers meant more to manage, but hotkeys and UI conveniences could alleviate much of the problem. But in Civ 5, every unit needed its own tile, and that meant the map filled up pretty quickly.
To address this, I slowed the rate of production, which in turn led to more waiting around for buckets to fill up. For pacing reasons, in the early game I might have wanted players to be training new units every 4 turns. But this was impossible, because the map would have then become covered in Warriors by the end of the classical era. And once the map fills up too much, even warfare stops being fun.
Two highly publicized role-playing game Kickstarter campaigns were recently funded. Richard Garriott’s Shroud of the Avatar raised $1.9 million which allowed backers to hit stretch goals including pets, seasonal weather, and a prequel novel written by Tracy Hickman. InXile’s Torment: Tides of Numenera raised over $4 million dollars, becoming the most funded game Kickstarter ever. Stretch goals reached for Torment included the ability to create male or female player characters and writing contributions from Monte Cook and Chris Avellone.
Both games are tentatively scheduled to be completed by the end of 2014.