In January of 2014, a company called Playdek launched a Kickstarter promising a spiritual successor to one of my favourite games, Final Fantasy Tactics. It made $US660,126. I really wish I hadn't backed it.
I and 15,823 other suckers gave money to Playdek last year for Unsung Story, a game they said would be "a spiritual successor in a storied line of epic tactical RPGs designed by Yasumi Matsuno," director of FFT and Vagrant Story, among other games. The impressive Kickstarter pitch promised a story-heavy strategy-RPG that sounded like the Tactics sequel fans have been craving for years now. I backed it, and I wrote about it several times on Kotaku. Now I regret that. Unsung Story has become yet another one of Kickstarter's many disasters — a frustratingly opaque project that's apparently switched focus and has left tons of backers asking for refunds.
When the Unsung Story Kickstarter first launched, Playdek promised that the game would be out in July of 2015, but in an update sent to backers yesterday, CEO Joel Goodman wrote that it's been delayed to late 2016 thanks to layoffs and other unfortunate financial circumstances at the company. Fine. Delays happen. What's more alarming is that Playdek seems to have switched focus on Unsung Story to make it more of a multiplayer game, and that their new development timeline is all about player vs. player combat rather than the narrative-heavy single-player game that the Kickstarter initially promised.
Check out the new timeline, via yesterday's update:
Phase One June 2016: Initial PvP beta release for online testing. This will include multiple arenas and two character schools with fully functional game play.
Phase Two August - Sep 2016: Additional schools will be added, post beta feedback from the previous phase. Other online features TBD will come online.
Phase Three October 2016: Online skirmish mode against the A.I. will be added, allowing for A.I. balancing and testing that will include all of the feedback gathered from the online PvP beta game play. The Design and Art backer tiers will be involved with their respected character and scenario creation process.
Phase Four Post October 2016: While the online PvP beta testing is going on, the scenarios for the first two episodes will be blocked out and built, and the scripting will be adjusted as the A.I. is balanced from the beta feedback. When these episodes, along with character creation and item collection are polished, the first two episode campaigns will be released.
Backers are, understandably, furious about this development. They gave Unsung Story over $US600,000 because they wanted a spiritual successor to Final Fantasy Tactics, not a multiplayer game — in fact, the words "PvP" and "multiplayer" aren't even mentioned on page of the original pitch. The Kickstarter comments are now full of people asking for refunds:
I feel the same damn way.
Really, I should have seen this coming; there's been an aura of sketchiness surrounding this project from the beginning. In February of 2014, as the Unsung Story Kickstarter was winding down, Playdek offered me an interview with Matsuno, but they added a caveat: I'd have to publish it in Q&A format. I told them that I'd love to do the interview, but that I couldn't agree to a condition like that, as we at Kotaku prefer not to let outside parties dictate how we publish our stories. They said they'd get back to me. Three days later, they cancelled, saying he wouldn't be able to do it.
After the Kickstarter succeeded, things went quiet for a while. Updates were sporadic and insubstantial, especially through 2015. Months would pass without a word from Playdek, but in May, they wrote: "Development on the game is progressing nicely. As we continue down this path we will finalise a development timeline to share with everyone later this summer."
Turns out development wasn't progressing all that nicely, but backers wouldn't learn that until way later. Playdek was MIA all summer — we were all left in the dark as to why the game had slipped past the originally-promised July 2015 release date — and when their update finally went live yesterday, it left a very bitter taste in backers' mouths. I can confidently say this because I am a damn backer.
Last night, I e-mailed Playdek's Goodman to ask him two questions. For starters: why the sudden switch in focus to PvP? Weren't players expecting a single-player story game?
"The PvP focus is not a sudden switch, but more importantly to the backers, it does not impact the single player campaign mode as far as content and depth," he wrote. "The best way to ensure that the campaigns have balanced scenarios with good A.I. is to gather play testing data from online players in head to head matches, and then polish the game with that feedback... Due to the lack of consistent updates the backers did not know that this has been our internal development approach, but the idea that online game play was going to be in the game was covered in the KS video, as well as subsequent updates. It is a bonus to the single player story experience."
And I asked if Playdek would be giving out refunds to backers who requested them.
"We are delivering the game and rewards that the backers are entitled to," Goodman wrote.
That would be a no. So those of us who backed Unsung Story are stuck waiting until late 2016 for something that seems nothing like what was originally promised. Even Delita would be ashamed by this.