The Case Of The Disappearing Kickstarter

It's the biggest fear of anyone who spends $10 or $50 to help fund a new game. You see a cool-looking game on Kickstarter or some other website where creative people can ask fans to help pay for their projects. You think it sounds awesome. You give them your money, maybe in exchange for some cool swag, or a copy of the game when it's released. The Kickstarter is funded. Everyone's happy.

And you never hear from them again.

In August of 2010, Brooklyn-based game designer Max Drzewinski raised over $10,000 for a side-scrolling action-adventure game called Perdition (whose art is pictured above). With this money, Drzewinski and his team promised they had create a prototype of the game and pitch it to publishers in hopes of getting their game picked up and distributed on services like Xbox Live. They promised that backers would receive concept art, t-shirts, and other Perdition-themed goodies in exchange for their donations.

Two and a half years later, Perdition has disappeared.

The latest update from Drzewinski's company — called, incidentally, Abandon Hope Games — says that the project isn't dead yet. That was in August of 2011. The latest update on Perdition's Kickstarter page is from December of 2010.

Last week I reached out to Drzewinski toask about Perdition. He said the game is still happening, and he sent over the following statement:

As our flagship game we feel that its first impression is paramount and we have a high standard for its level of quality. We don't want to compromise anything to meet an arbitrary release date, so we've been taking the time to polish every detail and interaction before we release it to the general public. In the long run, we believe our backers will appreciate the effort we've put into making it a beautiful, seamless game. Importantly, we will also have something that we are proud of.

I asked why he hasn't said anything to the people who gave him $10,000, but he didn't respond. I called him this afternoon, but haven't heard back.

And Perdition's backers haven't heard back either.

"Wow, it has been a while since I have heard anything from these guys," said Anibal Arocho, a video game consultant for Hit Detection who gave $US20 to Perdition.

"The last update I received was February 9, 2011, asking for my address so that they could send my reward," he told me in an email. "Never received any reward or any further updates. There was a 'VIP' page that had a gallery, but the username and password no longer seem to work. Honestly I had forgotten all about it. Not feeling particularly burned or sour about this, just curious what happened."

So what can people like Arocho do in cases like this? While Kickstarter won't give out refunds, the crowdfunding site says that creators are legally required to dole out the rewards that they promise for each donation. I reached out to Kickstarter last week to ask about this specific case, but they have yet to get back to me. For now, I'll just quote their FAQ:

Is a creator legally obligated to fulfil the promises of their project?

Yes. Kickstarter's Terms of Use require creators to fulfil all rewards of their project or refund any backer whose reward they do not or cannot fulfil. (This is what creators see before they launch.) We crafted these terms to create a legal requirement for creators to follow through on their projects, and to give backers a recourse if they don't. We hope that backers will consider using this provision only in cases where they feel that a creator has not made a good faith effort to complete the project and fulfil.

At least one unhappy Kickstarter donator has sued a creator in small claims court and won, so legal action is viable in situations like this.

Last year, Kickstarter made quite a few waves within the gaming world: the site's game projects earned a whopping $83,144,565 in 2012 alone. Some of those projects, like Double Fine's adventure game and the Android-based Ouya gaming console, made millions of dollars.

And while we've seen some of these game projects succeed — Ouya, for example, will be out this June — how many more will turn out like Perdition? How many people disappear after earning thousands of dollars? How many people will never receive the rewards that they're promised?


Comments

    Clowns like these Perdition guys will bring down the entire system and spoil it for other legit Kickstarter projects. If you hadn't backed anything in Kickstarter, would you after reading this? The backers should seek legal action.

      I actually read into the guy who got sued by small claims court, and it seems like Kickstarter is a big part of the problem. They'll take the money, but they won't even do a basic level of vetting. One guy took $35000 and put it into his personal bank account because he didn't know you shouldn't do that. Kickstarter could at least make sure that people have a registered business and that the money is deposited into a corporate account - I'm not asking them to be a gate keeper of what is funded, just to make sure the money is going to an actual business.

        The problem with that is that it isn't always a business that they are supporting. My might be an individual artist who wants to create a non commercial piece of art work.
        Or a small theatre wanting to put on a new play

        While people may be using it to fund businesses the site was founded on artistic 'dreams' and ideas. Which shouldn't be dropped just because there is more money coming from somewhere else.

          +1

          Most people get caught up on the "games" side of KS that people forget KS is more than that. It's been used to start businesses, online shops, plays, music, comics, etc.

          Not everyone is an "established" business or studio. Heck even some home business will be using personal bank funds! As with all KS backers its simply buyers beware folks!

      All business involves risk, and a part of that risk is unreliable entrepeneurs. This is not, imo, a great system being "spoiled" by a few bad eggs, but rather the problem is systemic. Once people realise this they might be more careful with how they invest their money.

    I think it's been an ongoing fear that Kickstarted projects may just fail and leave the backers with nothing, which is unfortunate but a realistic possibility. I think if the creator can demonstrate that they made their best effort but the project could not be fulfilled, there should be some legal protection there.

      I agree with you 100%. The problem is that, because of the way kickstarter is structured, your basically making a pre-order rather than truly investing. This is great for the people behind kickstarter, but not so great for the product creators who may not fully realise the risk they are taking on. As far as the law is concerned, they are selling pre-orders for a product/service, not asking for venture capital. Consequently, they either have to:

      a) deliver the goods;
      b) refund the capital; or
      c) declare bankruptcy.

      So if they try and fail, they are unlikely to refund the capital, meaning they are forced to declare bankruptcy. Not a great outcome for people who are usually seen as being too risky to get a regular bank loan.

    I dunno, I think a little fear is justified but for the most part some due diligence on a project should alleviate those. I've just gone through the 42 projects I've backed and there's only 1 that I'm concerned might not be able to fully deliver the project ("Ortus: The RPG of your dreams!" which I backed mainly because they're an Australian company) - the rest of the projects I've either received the goods in full, received interim rewards (e.g. physical goods while digital project is being developed (Double Fine, for one), or am receiving regular updates on the status of the project (e.g. Star Command) that leave me confident the project is progressing even if delayed.

      Awh, man... I'd completely forgotten about Ortus. I had high hopes for that, even though I only heard about it well after the close of the Kickstarter.
      Star Command is another one I will absolutely buy on release, but last time I went looking for updates from them, they hadn't posted anything in like... four months. So I'd written that one off.

        Star Command is certainly coming, they're still posting updates on their Facebook page and they just posted a bug-list of the last stuff their fixing before mobile release. No idea about the PC version but I assume development is concurrent.

    I have to admit, this is pretty much why I haven't risked funding anything. I kinda feel like I want to, it would be awesome to help something get off the ground, especially something smaller that hasn't gotten as much attention as some of the bigger projects. But, it feels too risky. Particularly when I see articles like this.

    I know there is a risk with any "investment" but I think the problem is that it can be difficult to assess that risk. With shares etc you can research the company and check their annual financial statements. With some of the projects on kickstarter, its much harder to research how trustworthy the project creator is outside of their bio/facebook/website.

    This and more importantly Anita Sarkeesian is why I detest the whole idea of crowd-funding. Sarkeesian still hasn't released a single video of this series and it's been what, 8-9 months since funding ended? I understand a game takes at least a year and a half, but a video talking about feminism? All she has done is say "wah wah evil trolls sexism" instead of deliver what she has promised. Whenever people ask, she just blocks them. The worst part is whiteknights actually defend this and try and delude themselves into thinking they haven't been scammed.

    So, 107 people were willing to financially back a game based on a good idea, some pretty concept art and a single 3D model flyaround. A good start, but not much to go on. Crowdfunding plays by the same rules as any other kind of investment. Not to say that such a project couldn't have come to fruition – it certainly could – but the backers of Perdition accepted a substantial degree of risk as investors. I think that has to be taken into account here.

    Kickstarter is a joke, You can't create a project if your not living in either UK or US. Yet, you've got people in other than the US or UK making project. When you do email Kickstarter Staff they tell you they don't know why you've got projects create by people that aren't selectively in US or UK.

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