The Developers Who Cried Wolf: The Truth About Publishers

Yes, I’m back*, so you can all stop begging. Before I begin, I just wanted to give a shoutout to the University of South Florida, who apparently linked one of my posts on their forums because it was about their professor. I’m a little sad I can’t see the thread. But it’s good to know that a post I wrote three years ago is still somehow relevant. Actually, it’s pretty sad to know that that particular one is still relevant, so let’s talk about some even bigger assholes.

allisontitle

Lilith Didn’t Know They Were Lost at the Time

If we know one thing about game developers on Kickstarter, it’s that they HATE publishers. All they do is change all the good parts of your game, give you unreasonable deadlines, and steal all your money, am I right? Finally, with Kickstarter, we can show those fucks who’s boss, and put the power in the hands of the fans, where it belongs. Who’s with me?

Not Lilith, the developers of Allison Road. But the minute a developer came knocking and told them “Hey, I Found Out About You”, they dropped their Kickstarter like the worst habit holding the hottest potato. Check out the unquestionably damning phrasing here:

“We have decided to withdraw the Kickstarter campaign to allow us to commit 100% to an opportunity that will give us the chance as a team to create the best game possible.”

The chance to create the best game possible. I thought that getting rid of publishers and having a direct relationship with your fans is what did that. Isn’t that the rallying cry of every e-beggar developer? Isn’t that what Lilith themselves said before a publisher showed up?

fundamentalpart

“We want you to be a fundamental part and share in our journey of making Allison Road.”

And how do you do that? Well, by giving us money so we know who to listen to, of course. Oh, but a real company wants to invest? Well, maybe you don’t need to be THAT fundamental. Don’t worry, we’ll give you some forums to litter with your bad ideas.

So let’s get one really important thing straight here: developers are going to go with the money. I’m not even saying that that’s a bad thing, that’s just how it goes. But what’s important to note is that that holds true even when it comes to Kickstarter. You can bitch about publishers all day, but if the alternative is Kickstarter, where does that honestly leave us? With fans – not necessarily any smarter or more experienced than a publisher – calling the shots. And which fans? The ones with the most money, of course! Is this honestly the face of true democratization of indie game development? No, you just substituted a single company for hundreds or thousands of people who are probably less qualified to do much of anything related to game development.

beingapart

And hell, if I was working on a project with Allison Road’s reward tiers, I’d look for an excuse to back out, too. Do you really think they want your family photos or your band’s shit song in their game? Seriously, one of the reward tiers was for you to give them an original song for their game. Not only is that backwards, because if your song is worth a shit, they should be paying you, but it’s just a hassle for them to curate these terrible songs from anyone with $500 to drop on being featured in a video game. Any sane developer would rather answer to a publisher than do that.

But maybe this situation is a little unfair to judge, since the fans will never get the same chance they had to affect the game. We’ll never know what a crowd-funded Allison Road would look like. Maybe we should look at another game that did go through with their Kickstarter.

Maybe we should look at Midora instead.

midoraconcept

Developer Epic Minds got $73,470 (or, more accurately, fans paid that much) to make a cute little old school pixel art action-adventure game called Midora. That happened last July, and the journey to release since then has been harrowing to say the least. But why, you may ask. Isn’t this a success story, the American dream of selling promises on the Internet for real money in action?

No. This is a story of utter failure and lies.

An update went out recently titled “Calling all publishers and investors – let’s talk numbers.

Publishers? I thought your Kickstarter was a success, and the fans were your publisher. The red flag is raised here:

“I feel it is time to be as transparent as possible and even give you actual numbers.”

And not a moment too late! Well, actually about 15 months too late. Isn’t lack of transparency one of the cardinal sins that Kickstarter was supposed to rid us of? Weren’t publishers the barrier preventing developers from being honest and open with the fans? Now instead of lies and deceit coming from big publishers, they can come straight from the mouths of the developers! What a wonderful age for indie gaming indeed.

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But I’m pushing it too far, right? They didn’t actually lie… right?

“I will admit that the amount needed to create this game was largely underestimated for the campaign. I knew that the game would need more than $60,000 to be made.”

Well, there’s that then. I would applaud you for your honesty, but one of my hands is a little busy reaching for my pitchfork.

It’s often stated with some (or a lot of) pride that developers on Kickstarter ask for way less than any AAA game requires for funding. I (and I’m sure many others) have suspected that one of the reasons for this is that they are setting their funding goals low to squeeze some money out of people, give backers hope that they will reach their goal, and with any luck, go way beyond their stated funding goal, closer to what it would actually require to make the game. Until this post, however, I’ve never seen it so willfully admitted.

“With $60,000 in our hands, it would have been rather easy to create an Early Access and go from there.”

If you’re thinking right now “but you just said that you knew $60,000 wasn’t enough”, then you’re right. But, the doublespeak of Epic Minds is not to be trifled with: $60,000 would not have completed the game, but it would have been enough to make the Alpha/Beta so that they could sell it, and fund the continued development by selling it on Steam’s Early Access. That, of course, is a terrible plan, because it’s pretty likely that they won’t make enough from Early Access sales to fund it all the way to completion, and all we’ll end up with is another perma-Beta Early Access game on Steam. No thanks.

midorascreen

Now, the post states that they’ve spent “Between $45,000 and $50,000” on development. So they seem to be saying that they are somewhere around $10,000 to $15,000 away from Early access, right?

“If you want to know exactly how much money we need to finish this game, I will tell you: between $120,000 and $150,000.”

Instead of getting a straight answer to that, we’re treated to the same weird evasive technique of switching back to talking about completing the game instead of getting it to Early Access – you know, the point where someone could actually load it up on their computer to prove it’s a real game that exists outside your imagination? I don’t know what happened to the Early Access plan, and I could write an entire post on all the lies and half truths throughout their updates, so it’s impossible to tell how much of this is actually trying to be transparent, and how much of it is just more conflicting info to confuse you further. The subject of Early Access is only brought up in terms of its failure here, and talk of the future is all about completing the game, so it seems like the idea of Early Access was abandoned.

So, after all of the admissions of guilt, lies, and poor planning, what’s the way forward?

“I would like to call all publishers and investors that could potentially be interested in the game.”

That’s right, crawling back to a publisher. It’s weird how not being accountable to a real company with contracts and deadlines resulted in lying and countless delays. They really made a great case for a publisher to swoop in and save the day.

I wish that I had dedicated a post to Midora, because there are so many other things to cover, but this post isn’t about a Kickstarter failing to deliver on its promises. This is about the bigger lie: the lie that you, the fans, are better than publishers for getting quality games made. The lack of accountability alone makes it unlikely you’ll see your Kickstarted game get made, and the new attempt at a crowd funding platform for games only adds brand new disasters waiting to happen – and you better believe I’ll be writing about them when they do.

Until then, I hope you’ll stop funding Kickstarter games, and get a job at a publisher. Then you’ll really get to show them who’s boss.

*I’m not actually back, I just found something I really wanted to rant about. It may happen again at any time or never. Who knows!

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4 thoughts on “The Developers Who Cried Wolf: The Truth About Publishers

  1. HE'S BAAAAACK says:

    DAVID HAS RETURNED

  2. Yaji says:

    YES! REJOICE!

  3. witchkiller says:

    I can finally shave again!

  4. witchkiller says:

    This Novemberween I’m thankful for David coming back.

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