How Being Very Transparent May Have Saved A 'Failed' Kickstarter Project

from the only-mostly-dead dept

For a while now, we have been highlighting many stories about the successful crowdfunding of movies, music, books and games. This new source of funding for creative content has been an exciting time for indie artists and those wanting to break free of traditional funding models. However, this funding model is not without its risks, something that Kickstarter has recognized with a change in the way projects are presented.

So what exactly happens when a successfully funded project fails to meet its completion goals? Well, reader Marcus Wellby sent along a story about one successfully funded game project that has hit some major roadblocks to completion. Haunts: The Manse Macabre, although successfully funded, has run out of money and programmers and was in danger of never being completed.
Haunts sought $25,000 (£15,590) from Kickstarter but the project proved popular and meant the game's developers got $28,739 (£17,895) to fund completion of the game. Prior to the funding appeal, Haunts creator Mob Rules Games had spent about $42,500 getting the basics of the title completed.

The end result was supposed to be a haunted house horror game in which players could take on the role of the house's inhabitants or intruders investigating what lived within it.

Now Mob Rules Games boss Rick Dakan has revealed that the game's development has prematurely halted.

"The principal cause for our dire condition is that there are no longer any programmers working on the game," said Mr Dakan in a blogpost updating backers.
You can see Rick's full explanation of the problems the game has had over at Kickstarter. With all the cash and programming problems, Rick felt so bad about letting down the backers that he was willing to refund, out of his own pocket, anyone who wanted their money back. While most companies will silently kill off projects that do not meet expectations, his forthcoming post about the state of affairs actually had a positive effect on the project's future.

The next day, Rick posted the following update.
I've had a lot of interested emails from programmers offering their help. Thank you all very much! There's a lot to sift through and I'm not sure what the best way to proceed will be, but I am very encouraged by these offers and want to try and figure out the best way to take advantage of this opportunity. I've reached out to a good friend of mine who's an expert in collaborative open source development, and he and I will talk soon. I also want to discuss this exciting development with Blue Mammoth and get their take on it.
By being open about the problems he was having completing the game, the community came in to offer their help. Granted, this is a unique circumstance, but having such a dedicated fan base is wonderful. Had he let the game fester with no updates for longer than he had, he might have been met with more hostility than encouragement. That would have made it far more difficult to find any kind of solution.

Finally, in the most recent update, Rick announced that after considering the situation and the best way to move forward, he will be open sourcing the game with over thirty programmers offering their help to complete it.
We're going to finish developing Haunts: The Manse Macabre as an Open Source project. The source code has been open from the beginning, but now we're going to fully embrace open development model and making the game entirely open source. We've had about thirty programmers from a variety of backgrounds, including many proficient in Go, who have stepped forward and offered to help finish the game. We're still in the process of setting up the infrastructure for issue tracking, source control, documentation wikis, and other tools necessary before we can begin in earnest, but we hope to have that all up and running within the next week or two.
While this story is far from over, it is a great lesson in the risks of any project whether crowdfunded or not. Projects can fail, they can have problems, they can be shuttered. The key takeaways from this story, however, are (1) being transparent (rather than hiding) with supporters can do wonders and (2) being flexible and willing to change course can help. Rick notes that there's been plenty of press coverage about the supposed "failure," but much less about what happened after...
We've gotten a lot of press coverage, most of it in the general vein of, "Look, see, Kickstarter projects can go bad, so be careful!" I think that's a fair and useful point to make. But we're committed to being the follow-up story. You know, the underdog who comes back from the brink of collapse and proves a resounding success!
Yes, this is a story that highlights the risk in any kind of crowdfunding endeavor. Backers may be out the money they put in with nothing to show for it. However, if those who run these projects will be open and honest through the whole process, stumbles and falls included, even if the project never comes to fruition, then the potential that such a failure will damage their reputation and future projects can be mitigated. And heck, maybe you will be struck with a miracle and your project will come back to life.

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  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 30 Oct 2012 @ 8:48pm

    Despite what one might assume looking at the world of tech today, there is great merit in just being upfront.

    Most of the big companies just shovel unfinished crap out the door to meet a deadline and pray they can patch it better. When a company comes right out and says, what we have right now is crap and I'm sorry, we are delaying launch until we get it worthy of your money - it shows a human side and actual concern that the customer just isn't some magical money paying machine.

    As the money was raised on Kickstarter for this project, it was totally in their best interests to keep the backers in the loop. Had they just been met with well it died see ya, it would have been an absolute failure. Being open and honest often can have good results.

    Just earlier today you posted about Stardock and what they did to make up for pushing crap out the door. This should be the bar to which the industry strives to meet. Open to the customer and treating them as more than an ATM or pirate out to rob them.

    Being customercentric has its rewards.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    vegetaman (profile), 30 Oct 2012 @ 9:34pm


    "But how will studios compete without being able to produce $100 million dollar games, Pirate Knight! Without shitty studio games with loads of bugs and hordes of DRM and DLC, how can the studios expect to recoup their costs they spent on creating DRM and DLC instead of shipping a product that worked!?

    ...Maybe we just need to charge for bug fixes. Yeah, that's it! You have to pay for perfection, right!

    Somebody write me up a patent! And trademark the sentence before the last! And let's extend copyright while we're at it, for the sake of the newly owned Mickey Mouse Star Wars franchise!"

    (I realize after typing this joke post that it seems slightly tangential... But it truly is a commentary on thinking outside the box.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    jameshogg (profile), 30 Oct 2012 @ 9:56pm

    You know the analogy that creators should be paid to create as a career, and not to monitor the royalties of copies, the definition of which would be something like a royalty-watching-career? I.e. a plumber is paid once to build the toilet, and not every time you flush it?

    Well, I ask you guys this: would it not make sense for crowdfunding to provide incentives retroactively? What I mean by that is making an album from your own budget at first (with your band's own guitar, bass, drums), then once the album is made collect crowdfunded incentives for the RELEASE of that album, not its creation. In other words, give us $x and we will release the whole album on YouTube, here are a couple of singles we have on offer for demo. Because then they can use those funds to make the NEXT album, and repeat the process to get funds for the album after that. This way consumers can guarantee a release of content. Wouldn't that be the next step for a site like Kickstarter?

    And wouldn't promoters/publishers see this, and tap into the idea by providing money to help promising bands along with initial costs in return for a share of the incentives? They surely must already do this to some extent by lending studio equipment on the bet that the album will make X sales.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 30 Oct 2012 @ 11:12pm


    It seems that in this case, and similar ones, an Open Source model may be the way to go in the first place. Perhaps a Kickstarter style site where donating programming hours as well as dollars is accepted?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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