A Timeline Of Unsung Story, One Of The Biggest Kickstarter Failures Ever

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.


Comments

    In before "Kickstarter sucks, nobody should ever back anything" thread tarring dozens of fantastic delivered games with the same brush as a couple of disasters.

    Last edited 03/08/17 10:01 am

      I was actually curious as to which way has been more successful for smaller company games, whether it be through Kickstarter or Early Access.

        Early access games at least have some game associated with them, even if just a tech demo, whereas many Kickstarter pitches start with just a dream and some free time.

        I'm not sure that you'll ever get good data on any difference since so many EA games now are just part of the perpetual beta disease infecting PC game development generally. (As if EA Paladins, for example, isn't already a fully working, immensely popular game...)

        The main problem I see with EA for indie games is that EA is quite commonly used after startup capital is spent with a prayer that income from selling during EA is going to fund the remainder of development, instead of using EA to seek player feedback and assistance with bug squashing. And of course, if that income isn't forthcoming the game folds and those few who have paid up end up wearing it.

        At least Kickstarter is upfront that you're looking to fund the development cycle and no money is paid if your nominated budget isn't reached. Of course, it's up to backers to determine whether the amount being requested is actually likely sufficient to fund development, and we now know from experience is that it often isn't, but that becomes a buyer beware issue at that point IMHO. (And I have been burnt by a couple of pitches myself, although not by this one.).

        Last edited 03/08/17 11:01 am

      To be fair, Kickstarter and Indiegogo and GoFundMe are all scams, and I will proudly call them so until they start using full escrow with insurance. Basically, money goes to escrow and the developer can't touch it without documentation behind its use. They can't open up for requests without agreeing to that term.

      Should the developer not produce at least a beta by their target date without changing that date, they're required to refund 100% of the money when asked. Some backers may "hold out hope" and that's fine. Let them. Those that think they're being duped should be able to get 100% back to move on.

      This is the reason banks won't lend money without capital; risk mitigation is Business 101.

        Kickstarter is funding a dream, not a product. People with great dreams aren't necessarily good at project management or estimations, so you should expect failures. On the plus side there have been a lot of great games produced. Personally I backed Wasteland 2, Dreamfall Chapters, Broken Age, Pillar of Eternity, Torment: Tides of Numenera among others. I have enjoyed all of these. Read the kickstarter, watch the video and look at the rewards tiers. Consider the available information before backing and you will be OK.

        There was controversy over Broken Age needing more money and releasing half on Steam to get more money. Personally it didn't bother me, I had already gotten my money's worth out of the developer documentary, so if the game had never released I would still have been satisfied. In terms of community involvement they have still been the best during development.

        Interestingly, Paypal tried your idea by attempting to hold Red Thread games money for Dreamfall Chapters in escrow, until Red Thread managed to release the money (see https://www.pcinvasion.com/dreams-falling-paypal-freezes-dreamfall-chapters-funding). Some developers don't have any other cash apart from the Kickstarter, so holding it in escrow would kill the project.

      "dozens of fantastic delivered games"
      "couple of disasters"

      That leaves a lot of games in between.. dozens + couple < total game kickstarters.
      I'm thinking this "couple of disasters" is only the tip of the iceberg.

        Like all PC games, Kickstarter games end up as either great, mediocre (the vast majority), and disasters. I have backed 94 games, plus or minus a couple, and my ratio has been around 10/30/10 with around 40 still under active development and communicating regularly.

        Of the released games these include my game of the year so far this year, Night in the Woods, and last year, Rimworld, and the year before, Rebuild: Gangs of Deadsville; plus gems such as Grim Dawn, Divinity Original Sin, Death Road to Canada, War for the Overworld, Factorio and the Shadowruns.

        In practice, having a look at the games in my Steam account, I might reasonably conclude that I've in fact had far better odds from Kickstarter than I've had from my random Steam sale purchases generally.

        I'm not clear how you've managed the logical jump from the fact that every Kickstarted game isn't a brilliant award winning gem to "disasters" being only the tip of the iceberg.

        Last edited 03/08/17 2:15 pm

    Why would anyone think an amazing game could come out with such little invested. Never back something unless they have something playable to show already.

    Article would be better with a broader scope, this is literally just you listing a bunch of information chronologically. Basically reads like you're salty about your lost $20 and wanted to yell about it. It's been 3 1/2 years, just let it go.

      It's been 2 days since they said they were not going to deliver on the kickstarter

        Two days since they officially stated it wasn't going to happen, yes.....after nearly four years of broken promises and set backs etc etc. Was this 'announcement' really a surprise to anyone? Clearly not for the author. Confirmation of obvious state of affairs seems to be a more appropriate description.

        But anyways, my point was more that the article is pretty much just a chronological fact dump about something that the author is specifically invested in. The author's not saying anything - there's no value added if you already know the facts - and they're only writing about it because they have a personal attachment to the subject matter. It's lazy, and it seems that more and more of the content from the US site is like this.

          the article is pretty much just a chronological fact dump

          A Timeline Of Unsung Story, One Of The Biggest Kickstarter Failures Ever

          I mean...yeah, that's exactly what it is.

    Yep, when people give companies money with virtually no strings attached, there are bound to be tragedies like this. The company might say that it'll treat the backers with the same respect that it would treat a publisher, but let's face it, that's just not happening.

    I backed it, but wrote it off long ago. As much as the new company may not have the best libraery, they have at least delivered games. And I take the scrapping of what was done as a promising sign, since it was crap. I have nothing more to lose by letting them have a fresh go without pre judging them. :)

    It was interesting to take a look again at that article that the author linked and said now to regret. The article was pretty much the author saying over and over "I don't get why this game is not getting funded, I mean, sure [red flag], but still." And so on with many, many red flags. Hindsight is 20/20.

    "Where did all the money go?"

    Well the first 12 months of development. If not even less. 600K is nothing to develop a game on. It is literally 10 mid tier developers for 12 months and you are out of cash. Which is about enough to give you what you saw in those screenshots. And that's not including all the other overhead of licensing software, renting an office, etc.

    The real issue seems to be that they were gambling on getting way more than their goal, which is what most kickstarters are guilty of (but hey if you ask for 5 million dollars, you aren't going to hit that goal), or that they were wanting to gain publisher funding once they had a successful kickstarter to base off.

    Surprised no one has brought up Star Citizen as a comparison. Super huge Kickstarter that some feel (wrongly) that it's a scam and they're going to vanish with all the money.

    There's a reason why they do youtube shows and are constantly generating reports.

    The only game I ever backed was Friday the 13th.
    I'm glad I did. It's fun (albeit a little rough) and the devs more than delivered in my opinion.
    It's a shame that not all games make it to the finish line successfully. Whether it's due to backers being scammed or just poor business management on the company's part.

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