2012 in gaming may well be remembered as the year of the Kickstarter. Crowdfunding, in all its forms, took off into the stratosphere with the DoubleFine drive back in February, and has just kept going since.
Many gaming projects have been successfully funded, from little $US5000 art and experimental games to multi-million dollar juggernauts like the DoubleFine adventure and Project Eternity. But what happens when a successfully funded game becomes a disaster of a project?
Haunts: The Manse Macabre successfully completed a $US25,000 funding campaign in June of this year, finishing with a total of over $US28,000 in pledges. However, as BBC News reports, the game may now never be completed, as it has no programmers.
One programmer, the most recent Kickstarter update says, was only ever going to work on the project for a year and that year has now expired. The other programmer left the studio to work elsewhere. Neither wants to continue working on the project "in their spare time," and so work has ground to a halt.
No matter how big a selling point team dedication is in a project's initial pitch, things change. People get jobs, lose jobs, marry, divorce, get sick, have kids, move. A thousand different things can change the course of someone's life, and take them away from a project. But in Haunts, delays in production along the way have created a situation where key members of the team left the project before it could safely continue without them.
Rick Dakan, the project owner, said in the post that the game may still see completion in the future, as he is currently actively investigating partnerships with other studios. Dakan told backers that all the money from the Kickstarter drive has been spent, but "I will personally refund out of my own pocket anyone who wants to withdraw their support, no questions asked. We're going to make this game, and if you can hang on for what looks to be a long road ahead, we will get it finished, but that's not what I asked you to sign up for and it's not what you gave us money for."
As Rock Paper Shotgun's John Walker pointed out to the BBC, "Most people pledge at the level that promises them the final product, and so of course don't view their act as a philanthropic one, but as a purchase." And it's true: in a huge number of Kickstarter projects, the members of the crowd who jump in and pledge are generally doing so as a pre-order of the game. By time-shifting their purchases, they help ensure that the game's developer has the funds needed up front to get the game made. And hopefully, after it's made, it can sell to even more people.
But a Kickstarter donation is not actually a purchase. It's an investment, and sometimes investments go bad.