It was supposed to be a dream game for fans of strategy-role-playing games, but instead it became a disaster. Unsung Story, which crowdfunded over $US660,000 ($828,631) in 2014, is one of the biggest Kickstarter failures of all time. Let’s zoom out and look at the whole debacle, shall we?
This story originally appeared in August 2017.
The company Playdek announced that it has bailed on Unsung Story, handing over the development rights to another company. It’s the culmination of nearly four years worth of shady behaviour, broken promises and wasted money.
To give you a sense of just how big a failure Unsung Story has been, I’ve put together an entire timeline of events from the past four years. It’s pretty remarkable to see it all in one place. Let’s start from the beginning.
18 September 2013: Final Fantasy Tactics Yasumi Matsuno makes a grand announcement: Alongside the board game company Playdek, he will be developing two games in a universe called Unsung Story. One of those games will be a digital card game, and the other will be a strategy game. In a press release, Playdek says that both games will be out by the end of 2014.
14 January 2014: After staying quiet on the project for a while, Playdek makes another big announcement: They’re crowdfunding Unsung Story, with a goal of $US600,000 ($753,301) on Kickstarter. It sounds like the dream game for Final Fantasy Tactics fans, promising to “re-imagine a classic game genre, as Yasumi Matsuno weaves together one of the complex and rich game worlds that he is known for, with inspiring class based tactics game play”. There’s no mention of the digital card game or, for that matter, anything about multiplayer.
The estimated delivery is July 2015.
In the coming weeks, there’s some brief controversy over Unsung Story‘s platforms and reward tiers — a controversy that Playdek addresses through backer updates — but for the most part, it all seems promising. Playdek is saying all of the right things. I back the game for $US20 ($25).
3 February 2014: Playdek’s PR company contacts me with a very cool offer: “Thanks for your recent coverage of Playdek’s Unsung Story and the Kickstarter campaign. We may have a really interesting interview opportunity for you. Would you be interested in an interview with Yasumi Matsuno about Unsung Story? We would like for the story to run Feb. 10 and it would be a Q&A format. Those two points are very important.”
I tell them that I’d be happy to do the interview, but that I can’t let them dictate either the date or the format. Playdek’s PR company says they will get back to me.
6 February 2014: I follow up. Their PR responds: “Sorry it took so long! I just found out last night that he won’t be able to do this interview. I apologise for any inconvenience.”
12 February 2014: With just two days left, Unsung Story‘s Kickstarter campaign is not yet funded. I encourage Kotaku readers to go back it. This will later become one of the articles I regret writing most.
14 February 2014: Unsung Story hits its crowdfunding target just a few hours before deadline, raising $US660,126 ($828,789). In the coming weeks, Playdek’s community manager will post a series of mundane updates about the staff and other high-level details surrounding the game.
21 March 2014: A backer update: “We will continue with these weekly updates so you know we are still thinking of all of you, and it won’t be long before we will be able to share lots of content with you about Unsung Story! Great things are on their way!” In subsequent updates, Playdek talks about the digital card game it had mentioned in September 2013, much to backers’ dismay. Unsung Story‘s Kickstarter had talked about a spiritual successor to Final Fantasy Tactics, not a card game.
31 July 2014: Playdek’s community manager gives a timeline of promises for the rest of 2014, which includes more gameplay details and the opening of backer-only forums to discuss Unsung Story. The company also clarifies, in response to backer confusion, that the strategy game everyone wants will be happening before they release the digital card game. At the end of this update, Playdek writes: “We will be back next month to give you another update on our progress on Unsung Story.”
August 2014: Playdek does not post any new updates. It’s the first of many promises that the company will break.
5 September 2014: Playdek posts an update, the first of three more throughout 2014. It’s all basic stuff, including some details on the story and gameplay of Unsung Story. Nothing worth much attention.
20 February 2015: Months of silence since the last update (November 2014) leave fans asking just what’s going on. A year after the conclusion of Unsung Story‘s Kickstarter campaign, Playdek has not yet shown any gameplay, but in a new backer update, the company posts a handful of screenshots. They look… rough.
Backers begin to wonder just where their money has gone.
15 May 2015: With the original estimated release just two months away, Playdek posts a new Kickstarter update promising that it will release a development timeline over the winter. “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 [winter in Australia].”
June 2015: There are no updates.
July 2015: There are no updates.
August 2015: There are no updates.
21 September 2015: Joel Goodman, Playdek’s CEO, takes to Kickstarter with a dreary update, saying that progress on Unsung Story has moved more slowly than he’d hoped. It’s not clear why, just three months ago, the company told backers that development was “progressing nicely”. Goodman says that Playdek has been dealing with financial issues and that they’re looking into working with outside publishers. He also says that Unsung Story will be delayed to 2016.
Goodman adds: “As it has been said, these things do happen in game development, and all of us in the industry and without have seen significant delays on some major games and franchises that were previously announced. However, they of course do not have a great KS community involved in the progress of the game as we do, and it is on us for not involving you as much in our process up to this point. The theme here is we will work to rectify that, and will outline the plan going forward, one that we will keep you in the loop henceforth.”
Then, Goodman casually outlines a development timeline for Unsung Story that will begin with a “PvP [Player vs. Player] beta release” in June 2016. This is the first time that the Unsung Story Kickstarter has ever mentioned the term “PvP”. Backers are alarmed. They gave $US660,000 ($828,631) to Playdek because they wanted Yasumi Matsuno’s spiritual successor to Final Fantasy Tactics, not because they wanted a multiplayer game. Goodman later adds that an “entire single player experience will be rolled out to all backers”, but fans are beginning to lose faith that Unsung Story will ever happen.
30 September 2015: During an AMA on Reddit, one backer asks Joel Goodman if he has proof that there’s been development on Unsung Story. Goodman writes: “On the next major update we will have video footage of in-game gameplay and will go into more details on the UI development direction.” Goodman also makes it clear that Matsuno’s involvement with Unsung Story has already ended.
20 October 2015: Playdek posts an update with the video Goodman promised. It looks horrendous. “Next month we will have a more thorough video going over the specifics in combat,” the company says.
November 2015: There are no updates.
December 2015: There are no updates.
January 2016: There are no updates.
6 February 2016: Playdek sends out a Kickstarter update apologising for the delays and telling backers that the company is again going through financial hardship. Shockingly, Playdek adds that it will be pausing development on Unsung Story to focus on other projects. “For Unsung Story, we will explore options for outside development help,” the company says. “We will get back to you as soon as we can with any progress and status update.”
It remains unclear where the Kickstarter money went. Playdek dodges questions on whether it will offer refunds to backers.
27 February 2016: In an optimistic update, Playdek says that it has been able to secure more funding and that it will have more information to share in March.
March 2016: There are no updates.
6 April 2016: Playdek says it is still aiming to release a playable PvP build of Unsung Story in spring. “And so, we want everyone to know that we are close to being on track with our latest development plan, and should have some game specific development updates to start sharing in May.”
May 2016: There are no updates.
28 June 2016: Playdek again apologises for the lack of updates, promising new information in July. “As of now, we estimate to have new art, screenshots and design details to show by September, and we will have another design update for you next month.”
July 2016: There are no updates.
August 2016: There are no updates.
21 September 2016: Playdek says it has struck a deal with an outside company to handle development not just on Unsung Story but on “other Unsung branded games in the future”. Ambitious! “We had hoped to have some design and art progress to show by this month, but we are just now getting the time we need to spend with our partner on the core mechanics and the game world and need to do this before providing updates with visual content progress,” the company says. “Rather than making estimates as to when we think content updates will be ready, we will stick to updating on the design progress more regularly, and then update you when we have a good step forward with some content progress, whether it be concept art or screenshots of in-game progress.”
23 December 2016: Playdek again apologises for the lack of updates and promises to keep backers informed on a regular basis. “In next month’s update, we will cover the specific specialisations from the Schools of War and Divine that will be in the first playable, and will also go over some of the weapon types associated with each class. Future updates will cover the magic system and environments. We appreciate the support and patience the backers have shown towards this difficult development cycle, and we look forward to demonstrating the progress we are making throughout the new year.”
January 2017: It may shock you to hear that there are no updates.
February 2017: No updates.
March 2017: Silence.
April 2017: Nope.
May 2017: Lol
21 June 2017: I email Joel Goodman: “Last we spoke (in September of last year), you said that Playdek is doing its best to deliver Unsung Story, and that you’d like to loop me in on further updates. But I haven’t heard anything since then, and the project hasn’t been updated since 2016. What’s up? Is this still happening?”
He responds: “In about a week or so I should have some solid news to share with you that will positively impact the project. When I do I’ll reach back out to you. Thanks.”
28 June 2017: There is no news. It will take another month before Playdek updates its Kickstarter backers again.
1 August 2017: Playdek breaks its eight-month silence, telling backers that it has decided to jump ship. A game company called Little Orbit will take over development on Unsung Story.
Little Orbit, a small company that was previously responsible for several licensed games involving properties such as Barbie and Adventure Time, says it is starting from scratch on Unsung Story. Little Orbit CEO Matt Scott says the company is using Matsuno’s original designs but will be making a single-player game, not the multiplayer version of Unsung Story that Playdek had discussed.
Scott tells Unsung Story backers that the company has not received any of the Kickstarter money. He also says that he did not pay “any significant amount” to Playdek. “We felt it was better for all involved if Playdek no longer had any attachment,” he says.
“Lastly, we want to respond to those of you that have reached out asking for refunds,” Scott says. “I can’t know the sheer amount of frustration you have endured. We are here to help, but we aren’t in a position to do that right now. Please know that we are starting from scratch without the money you actually invested, so all of our funding needs to go into the game and delivering this Kickstarter. If we start giving refunds right now, it will simply hurt everyone who backed the project and limit our ability to finish.”
It remains unclear what Playdek and Joel Goodman did with the $US660,126 ($828,789) they raised on Kickstarter.