Unsung Story Is A $660,000 Kickstarter Disaster

Unsung Story Is A $660,000 Kickstarter Disaster

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.


  • If they switch what you backed, could you request chargeback from your CC in regards to fraud? Not delivering what was promised? Not that they just didn’t deliver, they actively changed it.

    • I’d expect most banks would say that was a forseeable risk and if you took it to court you’d presumably have to prove they had an intent to defraud at the time, which would be difficult.

      I’m not a lawyer, that’s just a total guess

    • Considering the KS was from Feb 2014, I’d guess most banks would be past the cut off date for doing chargebacks; but I’ve never done a chargeback so I could be completely wrong..

    • … it does not impact the single player campaign mode as far as content and depth
      Based on this statement, their legal argument would be “you are getting what you backed, plus multiplayer”.

      Whether or not this is true is a different matter…

    • That’s a pretty narrow view.

      Many established people/organisations use kickstarter to get things going.

      The Veronica Mars movie proved to WB that there was a market for it and they helped fund it.

      A card game that makes like 6 million dollars is not going to have trouble getting made etc.

    • I agree. I’ll leave the kickstarting to people with deeper wallets and/or less sense than I. I’m happy to buy an early access game that’s priced right for what it offers *right now* but throwing money at an idea that’s barely beyond the drawing board is a bit rich for my blood.

    • I’d say you’re losing out. Kickstarter works to a degree, you’ve just got to keep in mind that regardless of any obligations the campaigners have to backers you could be throwing your money down the drain. I backed Satellite Reign and it worked out really well, but it was a small studio with a big vision so I limited myself to what I’d pay for the game at retail. If it had of went badly I’d be annoyed at whoever was to blame but I’d only be out the price of a game.

      Stories like this aren’t a reason not to back projects, they’re just a reason to be cautious about backing.

      • I backed Sky Sharks. I really have no idea if it will ever happen or not. Just the possibility of that was enough for me. And they already had a really good trailer/opening scene or whatever already done.

        But most other things have been pretty safe. Exploding Kittens was great and a lot of fun. Veronica Mars movie surpassed my expectations and it was so much fun seeing all the old cast again. Znaps look pretty handy and look to be on target so far.

    • Only back people with a track record of proven success, such as the people who did the successful Shadowrun KS’s, Wasteland 2 KS etc. I have only backed the third Shadowrun game and the new Bard’s Tale game, which is the third one by the Wasteland 2 devs. I have also backed some books, but all of them are by Silence in the LIbrary who have a solid track record of delivering good short story anthologies in ebook, paperback, hardcover and with all the cool rewards they promise.
      It’s like investing – do your research, don’t pump your cash into any company that has a fancy looking pitch, see who the long term solid performers are etc.

  • Damn, I remember reading about this and was really interested in it. Just seems like another company looking at what’s popular right now and thinking they can make more cashola from a PVP game where they can charge microtransactions. A real shame as the guy directed one of my favourite RPGs in Vagrant Story

  • “Give us money and we will give you this apple.”
    “Thank you for your money. We will give you this banana as promised.”
    “Next year.”

    • “Give us your money and we’ll use your money on seeds, land and gardeners to grow an apple tree. If all goes to plan, we’ll give you an apple from that tree because you helped us try and grow it.”
      “Thank you for the money, unfortunately the weather this year was pretty terrible and one of our gardeners got whooping cough, but we’ve managed to grow a banana tree. Here’s a banana. Don’t worry though, this is just a stop gap. The apple’s are coming, it’s just gonna take a little longer.”

  • I’ve backed 2 Japanese based KS’s.. both have left a very sour taste in my mouth. There are others that have failed here and there on a few minor promises.. but largely released within boundaries of the original pitch.. is it something about the Japanese game development industry that is different?

    • I think there may actually be a cultural difference with how Japanese companies operate that makes working with the public like this very weird. If I had to guess I’d say they’re used to more structured chains of command with people in lead roles being given more freedom to use their own judgement and less accountability with the public.
      I also get the impression a lot is lost in translation. This specific Kickstarter campaign was probably dictated and translated, so the developers may have intended it to be more like Double Fine’s ‘let’s get Tim Schafer, the guy who did these games, to make a new adventure game’ campaign only to have it turn into ‘Tim Schafer wants to make a game exactly like these’ (although it seems unlikely given their responses). I know Comcept’s recent Red Ash Kickstarter had huge communication issues and a fundamental misunderstanding of what people expect from a Kickstarter campaign (on top of a bunch of other stuff).

  • Iv’e only ever crowdfunded one project (Lazer Team – Rooster Teeth) because i trusted that company enough that they would do what they promised. They have been amazing with constant updates and communication with the backers so I haven’t been burned there. but i don’t know if i would back anything from anyone else tbh.

    • I see it more like an unregulated stockmarket where most investments end up being totally lost. Which is still a massive gamble, but doing your research and only backing a proven performer can help much more than in gambling.

        • Correct, but so too is buying a game at retail that’s broken and doesn’t live up to its promise. Wasn’t there a Batman game released recently that wouldn’t work on PC or something? It’s not just the crowd-funded games that don’t work as they should, your statement applies to all videogames or, indeed, any form of investment – there are no guarantees that you’ll get your money back or what you paid for.

  • I haven’t backed many games in crowd funding projects but the few times I had I looked at it the same way I view gambling. You have to be willing to lose that money and get nothing in return. If you can’t accept that you could get nothing back (or something different than your expectations) then don’t get involved in crowdfunding.

    I’ve only been burned once with Star Forge…backed it on IndieGoGo because what they were doing was great….then in beta they’d gone a completely different direction, game was looking bad and no-where near finished. Saw an update saying they were near release…I looked at it in disbelief because it didn’t resemble their goals or even come close. They then released it and it was basically the same thing as beta…not to mention the horrible FPS issues it had.

    So yeah, got burned but didn’t complain because I didn’t expect to ever get a game to play when I backed it…just hoped that I would.

  • I’m more concerned with the idiotic “this is why I don’t back….” responses, can you stop showing the world how ignorant you are? It must get tiring to be so stupid. You wouldn’t assume random headlines on anything else was wholly epresentative of every scenario, would you? For how much people love to pretend they can see through media, this is a pretty dim and narrow perspective. This is a clearly dodgy situation but in no way representative of kickstarter as a whole but rather a highlight pf risk and a starting point for discussion. You don’t have to arbitrarily take a side on every issue, just think for once.

    • Pretty sure you’re the idiot here, pal. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion and to decide how to use their money. Kickstarters carry inherent risk and this demonstrates what can happen when things go awry; if I choose to be risk averse on the basis that I don’t want to lose out on ventures like this, it’s a completely legitimate choice.

  • Dang this sucks.
    Thankfully the only things I’ve backed have been fairly positive experiences (Grim Dawn and Hover: Revolt of Gamers).

  • No idea on how to manage a project and look what happened….

    Is it sinking it yet games industry learn to adapt and manage your projects better from other industries.

  • I’m disappointed to read reactionary upset backer rambling as a full article on Kotaku. I would agree backers of Unsung Story have reason to be concerned with the state of this project and the poor communication.

    However, consider ‘The Banner Saga’. This was another KS single player RPG that ended up delivering an extra battle arena mode first to polish combat systems, then was finally delivered long past the original estimated delivery date. In the end it was an extremely well-received game, and the arena mode DID help them design the combat systems.

    So put down the pitchforks and wait to see how your KS backing gamble will pay off.

  • Lol. I love it when the “I’d never back a kickstarter campaign, so stupid, idiots, all your faces suck” people come out of the woodwork. You obviously have no idea how amazing the platform can be. There are ALWAYS risks when backing a project, but like any other kind of investment you just have to be smart about what you back and why. And be willing for that money to be lost obviously. I have personally backed 115 projects over the time kickstarter has been active, and of that number, I’ve had maybe 4 bad experiences. 1 resulted in a refund, 1 final product just sucked and 2 went AWOL. The rest have been amazing.

    If you go in actually understanding the concept of kickstarter it’s fine. I’ve had one other experience with Duelyst (which was the refund) where the conceptual focus of the game changed, but you just have to be willing to lose out if something goes south 😛

  • This article is a bit overboard. They are providing the PVP in addition to the single player story. Sure the delay in release date is massive and the project does seem to have been mishandled, at least they are still working on it and trying to release it. I’m a backer of this and am still interested in how it turns out. There are way too many games out there to play in the meantime, i’m sure people can wait for one more!

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