Neal Stephenson's Kickstarter Game Is Dead

Neal Stephenson's Kickstarter Game Is Dead

Two years ago, beloved science-fiction writer Neal Stephenson launched a crowdfunding campaign to start making a realistic swordfighting game. The Clang Kickstarter notched more than $US500,000 towards that end. But a game never materialised and, as announced today, people who backed Clang are starting to get their money back. The game, it seems, won't be happening.

In a long message titled "Final Update" on the Clang Kickstarter page, Stephenson talks about the journey of the in-development title after the crowdfunding campaign ended:

Last year, Subutai Corporation delivered the CLANG prototype and the other donor rewards as promised. The prototype was technically innovative, but it wasn't very fun to play. This is for various reasons. Some of these were beyond our control. Others are my responsibility in that I probably focused too much on historical accuracy and not enough on making it sufficiently fun to attract additional investment.

Members of the team made large personal contributions of time and money to the project before, during, and after the Kickstarter phase. Some members, when all is said and done, absorbed significant financial losses. I am one of them; that has been my way of taking responsibility for this. The team had considerable incentives — emotional and financial — to see CLANG move on to the next round of funding. They showed intense dedication and dogged focus that I think most of our backers would find moving if the whole story were told. I will forever be grateful to them. In the end, however, additional fundraising efforts failed and forced the team to cut their losses and disband in search of steady work.

In this last update, Stephenson says that people who have asked for refunds have received them. The author of Snow Crash also addressed his own silence regarding development and explains why he's pulling the plug:

I have delayed talking publicly about these projects for a long time because I kept thinking that at least one of them would reach a point where I could describe it in something other than generalities. I apologise for that delay. But now a year has passed since the last update and I've decided that it's cleaner and simpler to cut the cord, and announce the termination of CLANG. Future announcements can then happen in their own good time, giving any new projects a fresh start.

Stephenson and his game-making partners seem to have run into the problem that he acknowledged — established video game entities not wanting to take a chance on something different when Kotaku spoke to him last year:

In that "Pause Button/State of Clang" update eight days ago, Stephenson cited a risk-averse climate in the video game industry as one of the obstacles he and Subutai dev team are facing. I asked him if there was a particular moment of rude awakening, where he realized that no entity would be willing to take a chance on a experimental, small-to-midsize game even with his sizable cachet attached to it.

"It was more of a slow, dawning awareness of what that climate was like," Stephenson said. "After you've had a few of these conversations go the same way, you start to recognize what the overall pattern is."


    This is a shame. I respect Stephenson's ideas and I think that generally the spirit trying to ground future virtual worlds in realism while nevertheless exploring the fantastic is important (such is at the core of Snow Crash), but the unfortunate reality here is the limited commercial appeal when these projects are in their infancy. Give me a fully fledged realistic swordfighting sim with perfect 1:1 controller and photorealistic visuals via whatever something like Oculus Rift has evolved to in ten years and I'd kick myself for getting in on the ground floor. Well the ground floor was there and everyone said "meh".

      As much fun as a game would be, if you want realistic sim with a 1:1 weapon, join a club.

      10 years might be a little generous considering the complexities of sword combat and the limitations of technology, especially in the gaming industry.

      I was really looking forward to seeing how this turned out but I had my suspicions pretty early on regarding the ability to achieve his plans.

      Last edited 19/09/14 2:09 pm

        Yeah, have to agree with this, although there are no clubs in my town, which would make the game attractive, but any sowrdfighting game is always going to have the letdown of no true physical feedback when pushing against an opponent's sword etc.

        I sorta get the gist of your suggestion...

        But that's kinda like saying to someone who enjoys Forza/GT to "get out and get a real car!" (a bit of a hyperbolic comparison but same premise somewhat) Simulations will have their own fans who just enjoy the "simulation" side of the game w/o being invested in the "real deal" and that's probably the lure of such a system/game

        Either way it's a shame it fell through

    If you would like to help fund further development of a game that is ALREADY playable and fun, take a look at my Kickstarter:

    Aw. I was totally looking forward to checking this out with the STEM.

    If nothing else, the 'Kickstarter Revolution' has been a good education for end consumers about the harsh realities of the business.

      It's interesting how some industries have adopted it so successfully (board games for example) and others are such a mixed bag.

        Board game production is a piece of cake compared to, well, just about anything really.
        We used to knock up board games in an afternoon as kids, and decorate them, make cards and pieces and the rules. Going from that to a full production board game isn't that big a step these days.
        Writing a game however, OMFG it is an insane amount of work, and the product may not even function at the end of it.

          Not really... making BG's has it's own headaches in actual production. Especially one's that involve plastic/resin figures. Sure rules/cards/boards are the easier parts but you still need to fork out proper production for said paper pieces... and this is all compounded when you throw in figures requiring proper artists to sculpt protottypes and then commisioning factories + Quality Testing and so on!

          And even then you will also have issues of missing parts/miscasts that need fixing as your send out your product. Tracing individual orders from hundreds to thousands of screwups can become a logistical nightmare =P Whereas in VG's it's a martter of just plugging in a post release patch!

          Last edited 19/09/14 10:17 pm

        I wouldn't say it would be too successful for BG's either..

        There has been quite a lot of drama on the BG/TT scene as well but it normally deals more w/ scope creep more than anything since a boxed game of 20-30 figs can sometimes balloon to 100+ figs and delays a plenty hit. That being said a majority of them still ship eventually.. I think the reason why VG's catch more flak on scope creep is the fact that comapred to some BG's (which become overglorified pre-orders at times on KS =P) is that games have an even longer dev time than BG's so when scope creep hits it's a lot more obvious on VG's than BG's

      Eh, at least they're given their money back. So it's not really a loss.

    Holy crap, is *that* what he looks like?

    Funny how everyone always quotes Snow Crash, I enjoyed it, but Cryptonomicon made Snow Crash look like a high-school assignment.
    Cryptonomicon is my all time favourite, five star read.

      I just finished Cryptonomicon this week - I agree, it's nothing short of amazing.

    Ahem! Die by the sword:

    They didn't learn from the past.

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