DISCLOSURE: I worked alongside the developer featured in this story on an unrelated project back in… 2010-ish? All information obtained via public record (Kickstarter pages, Steam forums, etc).
We all know the big success stories. Those that made millions of dollars. Well, I say “success stories”, but if we look at what was actually delivered, the story changes. The “Double Fine Adventure“, which made more money than God (His Holiness Cage, not the other one), delivered what can only be called half a game and then used the proceeds from the half-game’s sale to produce the other half. The other half suffering some well-documented quality issues as a result.
There’s also the (finally) recently released Mighty No. 9. (Be on the lookout for our review, written by Steve Welsh.) If you’ve been taking a look around, you already know it’s a technical wreck, with rumors of bricked WiiUs, a PC version that fails antivirus checks, etc. I won’t speak of the full game’s quality, that’s Steve’s job, and I haven’t played it myself. There’s also the PR disaster that is Keiji Inafune saying “It’s better than nothing.” when confronted.
With such high-profile financial successes missing the mark and making headlines as a result, what about the smaller successes that you don’t hear about? The ones that just squeaked by before the deadline and didn’t get any press before or after? No one ever really says anything about any failure to deliver or lack of quality on those, and it’s hard to wonder why these things don’t get much in the way of coverage. Telling these cautionary tales seems like the job of the media, doesn’t it? I’m going to detail one that had such angry backers, it drew my attention and almost immediately angered me as well.
Four years ago, a game called FleetCOMM was put up on Kickstarter. It had an estimated release date of August 2012, a whole 4 months of dev time allotted from the page’s creation date at the beginning of April 2012. It hit its goal and then some, raising $17,427 on May 5th of 2012. Shortly afterward, on the 22nd of May 2012, an IndieGoGo campaign was also launched, which managed to raise a whole $30 out of a requested $12,000 before closing.
August of 2012 came and went. A Steam Greenlight campaign was launched for FleetCOMM, which was successful. In October, it was announced another Kickstarter would be launched for the game. The second campaign would later be cancelled, the first signs of which appear in a December posting, with promises of more updates to come in January of 2013.
These updates did not appear. Matter of fact, there was absolute silence until mid-April, which saw the announcement of the cancellation of an update. Later that month, daily updates were promised. None were delivered. Absolute silence until August. You’ll notice a pattern emerging: A promise for more updates, total silence for months, a litany of excuses, and the announcement of yet another delay for FleetCOMM. The only breaks in this pattern are the months of January and February 2015, where the second “reboot” of the project was announced, and updates were somewhat regular. After March 3rd 2015, well… the pattern resumes. Nothing more until November of the same year. On May 24th, 2016 (One month ago) – “Steam keys will be going out today.” A quick look at the Steam forum and Kickstarter page for the game shows that many of the 450+ backers are without keys at the time of writing.
The launch date, according to Steam, was May 24, 2016. This is after numerous delays while on Steam, amounting to about a week between the original listed release and the actual release. During this time, the steam forum was flooded with threads asking about if FleetCOMM would actually release. Tight moderation came down, deleting every single post, and locking it to people who owned the game, which was no one, as the game wasn’t on sale yet. The forum would re-open eventually, each delay causing yet another flood of “Is this ever coming out?” threads, leading to the aforementioned tight moderation, locking, and so on. Even inquiries to the developer’s Twitter account regarding the game’s status resulted in hostility and a block. (Granted, I probably could have been nicer about it.)
FleetCOMM, as it currently stands, is a tutorial, with a promised release of additional levels (Otherwise known as The Rest of the Fucking Game) on June 1st 2016, and each chapter of the game to be delivered on a weekly basis. The Twitter and Steam accounts of the developer have been silent or made private for the last 18 days as of time of writing. The backers are still without keys, and don’t seem to have any recourse for getting either what they paid for or their money back.
This is the unfortunate danger of Kickstarter, where you’re more likely to get a turd than a nugget of gold for your money, if you get anything at all. Sure, there’s the exceptions, but they’re just that: Exceptions. For every Darkest Dungeon, Divinity: Original Sin, Shadowfall Returns, or Elite: Dangerous, there’s going to be 1,000 FleetCOMMs or Mighty Number Nines. Nothing I say is going to change the fact that these projects are going to get funded, but I can at least hope that after reading this, someone will say “I’m not going to be that guy.” and deliver a quality product with the money they’re given.
Oh, and before I call this done: Did you finish your game, Slade?