A little bit of time has passed since the initial announcement that the Yogventures Kickstarter project has collapsed and the key parties have all had a bit to say. As a quick summary of events:
- In 2012, the popular Yogscast program, which attracts a lot of viewers with its Minecraft et al videos, announces that they are going to be developing a game with Winterkewl Studios that will be the kind of open world sandbox they love to play. Development was to be funded via a Kickstarter with a target of US$250 000.
- The Kickstarter is successful thanks to the popularity of the Yogscast, with $567 665 raised – more than double the total.
- The actual amount delivered by backers turns out to be $415 000 as some of the pledged amounts don’t come through and fees are taken out.
- Work starts on the game, with Yogscast responsible for delivering the physical merchandise promised in the rewards (and, as claimed by Kris Vale, founder of Winterkewl, Yogscast also arranges to get $150 000 of the Kickstarter money to cover physical rewards delivery and to assist in finding the project a programmer).
- Updates of the title show work-in-progress versions of the game. Potential players are invited to pre-fund the game through its availability through Steam’s Greenlight and pre-order on Amazon.
- A few weeks ago it is revealed that the project has collapsed, the money is gone and Winterkewl Games is likely bankrupt. The Yogscast sends a letter to backers saying that they are “under no obligation to do anything“, but will be giving all Yogventures backers free access to another game that they are involved in called TUG.
- Yogcast also says all money they received from this project is all gone – “spent directly fulfilling physical rewards for Kickstarter backers, packing and shipping the rewards, covering marketing expenses – including the booth at E3 2012 – and supporting the project” – and ultimate fault lies with Winterkewl’s failure to deliver.
- Yogscast receives all Yogventures assets from Winterkewl as agreed to in a contract between them. Yogcast then gives these assets to TUG’s developers, Nerd Kingdom, who aren’t going to even look at them.
It’s an entirely unsurprising mess.
Very early on someone else passed a jaundiced eye over the project scope of Yogventures and called it highly unlikely to happen. It was just too big and the amount of funding money wasn’t enough, plus this being Winterkewl’s first game. It’s very easy now to agree with this analysis, but the truth is that saying a Kickstarted video game is under-financed, under-resourced and overscoped isn’t actually a challenge. A lot of projects that go down this path are exactly that.
But it’s seen as churlish to say this out loud during the fundraising period, since a lot of attraction about Kickstarted video games is they are bringing dreams and aspirations to life. Telling people that their dream project is almost certainly doomed to failure is perceived as urinating on them from a great height, which very few people appreciate. (That doesn’t stop me, but I do feel bad about it.)
Video game Kickstarters are predominantly underdog stories. People love backing the underdog. Unfortunately they also expect the underdog to deliver, because they paid their money.
The Name On The Box
A while back I started a post about how to create a scam Kickstarter. I stopped writing it because it was a bit of a dick move and also because the majority of undelivered Kickstarters won’t be real scams, just failed projects (see above: under-financed, under-resourced and overscoped). One of my points in that post was around ‘authority / celebrity’ – find someone to promote your Kickstarter and provide it with legitimacy in exchange for a cut of the proceedings.
This is what we see happening with the Yogventures failure. If an inexperienced small studio had tried to raise a quarter of a million dollars to make a Minecraft clone, they would have most likely been ignored. But throw in a popular YouTube gaming channel who had a lot of viewers to promote their own project to, who was also getting money to supply merchandising rewards and “licensing fees” for their own game, and you’ve suddenly granted the project with legitimacy. After all, if Yogcast picked the studio, surely they’ve done due diligence and know that it can be done.
Yogscast have worked very hard to distance themselves from Winterkewl, claiming that they were misled and that Winterkewl overpromised and underdelivered. “[T]his project was started when The Yogscast was just [Lewis] and Simon making videos out of our bedrooms” was part of their comments about the failure. Aww shucks everyone, these simple YouTube folk trusted Winterkewl to deliver, and that trust was abused.
Although there is some truth in this statement, and one that has benefitted from Vale of Winterkewl’s habit of apologising repeatedly for everything, it ignores the old maxim that “if your name is on it, it’s yours”. Claiming ignorance about a project where Yogscast wrote the Kickstarter pitch as if they were hands-on all the way and were able to negotiate a large sum of money out of crowdsourced funds seems like a case of trying to pass the buck. Yogscast were very happy to have their name on a project that planned to receive a quarter of a million dollars and explicitly gave their recommendation to their viewers about backing the project through multiple promotional videos.
Much has been made of the story of Winterkewl / Vale paying all his principal artists US$35000 up front, only for one of those artists to start a new job two weeks later and keeping all that money. But to me, that’s a microcosm of this entire Kickstarter: people being given a lot of money based on some open promises. Backers put money into the project on the promise of the title being developed, but a large portion of that cash went to Yogscast merchandising and marketing, including an E3 booth for a title that was still in alpha. The Kickstarter page mentions a Dream Team of “artists, modelers, animators and programmers” at Winterkewl, but it was revealed that Yogventures didn’t have a main programmer working on it right from the beginning and no programmer could be found that was willing to sign on.
It turns out that making promises is easy and cheap. Keeping them is a different story.
No Refunds, No Obligations
Winterkewl are possibly bankrupt – and having passed their only real assets to Yogcast, who in turn gave it to Nerd Kingdom for free – so backers have no-one to target for refunds. Yogscast can point the blame at Winterkewl since it was their project, plus they’ve also already spent all the money they received from this Kickstarter.
Given that most backers only paid small amounts of money, it’s unlikely that it would be worth pursuing something through small claims courts.
Or in other words: heads they win; tails you lose.
Go On, Give It A TUG
Those backers will be receiving a copy of TUG, but this is apparently the most generous deal in video game history because it is one where no-one makes any money. Nerd Kingdom is apparently passing out over 13 000 TUG keys to Yogventures backers for free. Yogscast apparently spent more money on Yogventures than they received, so offering TUG as a substitute is entirely altruistic. Nerd Kingdom and Yogscast are just in a friendly relationship.
Unless, of course, Yogscast is planning to take a cut of TUG’s future revenue as part of this relationship. After all, it’s hard for any video game to stand out these days and getting coverage by something as well viewed as Yogscast can bring in a lot more players. The new YogDiscovery program will see Yogscast take a cut of revenue for any games it promotes. Handing out 13 000 game keys for a title that Yogscast is involved in certainly seems like promotion to me, especially if Yogscast entertainers start broadcasting TUG videos.
If you already backed either of these projects, you have no say in the matter, as seen among the Yogventures backers who want a refund over a copy of TUG but aren’t being offered it. How the original backers of TUG feel now that Nerd Kingdom have done some kind of deal with Yogscast is also unexplored. These titles are only possible because backers are willing to take a leap of faith, but there appears to be an increasing attitude of, “Shut up, we’ve taken your money” that forms the day after the Kickstarter cheque clears.
Kickstarted video games aren’t guaranteed and aren’t an investment. They also aren’t a charity or a source of responsibility-free funds. At some point video game Kickstarters are either going to realise this or they are going to see backer wallets start to snap shut.