Kickstarter, a polarising crowdfunding website that has become a useful tool for aspiring game developers, should maybe reconsider its policy on helping backers of failed projects get their money back. Otherwise, games like Project Phoenix will keep hurting crowdfunding for everyone.
In 2013, a Japanese composer named Hiroaki Yura raised over $US1 million ($1.3 million) for Project Phoenix, a game that he wrote "will set a new standard of excellence for the Japanese gaming industry". It promised to be the product of Japanese and Western talent including the legendary composer Nobuo Uematsu, among other superstars. Four years later — and you probably know where this one's headed — Project Phoenix is nowhere to be found.
In 2015, the game's creators admitted that it was nowhere close to being finished, promising a new release date of 2018. And earlier this week, the Project Phoenix team put up a new update that says, among other things:
We expect to make our backers happy will require higher quality assets and more programmers. To this end we stopped investing the returns from our music business into art assets and instead drove them into a different smaller production, with further assistance from private investors. Should this tiny product succeed those private investors have promised to invest significant capital into Project Phoenix. In this way we have been able to expand our in-house development staff and work towards a bright future for Project Phoenix. Instead of financing salaries and running costs out of Project Phoenix we have been building a team out of the budget of this tiny project. Work has continued on Project Phoenix, but only things for which budget existed. If you have been wondering why the past few months have had lots of story updates, that is the reason why. We are very excited for this tiny project which will be announced in May. It is fun to play and we are proud of that.
Should it hit the success we are hoping for it will set our team in a position to deliver Project Phoenix anything we had hoped for. This is not a plea to support that project, please consider it but understand it is not Project Phoenix.
In other words, just like the disastrous Final Fantasy Tactics spiritual successor Unsung Story, Project Phoenix is never happening. Which is a shame. Although this campaign always seemed shady to me — too many sketchy claims and lofty promises — it's a bummer that 15,802 backers will never get their money back.
Way back in 2012, when games like Pillars of Eternity and what was at the time called the Double Fine Adventure shattered Kickstarter records, we all thought that Kickstarter could revolutionise the video game industry. And to some extent, it has — without Kickstarter, we wouldn't have Shovel Knight, FTL, Divinity: Original Sin and many other successful games. But high-profile failures like this can leave a whole lot of people feeling burned, to the point where they won't put much faith in future Kickstarter projects. Which sucks for everyone.