The Problem With Kickstarter And The Failure of CLANG

Have you ever backed a game on Kickstarter? Multiple games, you say? Well, aren’t you a regular venture capitalist (without the possibility of a return, that is). I’ve backed my fair share of games as well, but not just because I enjoyed their presentation, or the features they were offering. Not even for the pledge rewards. I did it because I’m addicted to gambling, and ultimately that’s what Kickstarter is; a gamble.

Have you ever heard of CLANG? I wouldn’t blame you if you hadn’t, but a lot of people have; 9,023 to be exact. Doesn’t seem like much on paper, huh? Well, those people managed to raise over $500,000 in funding for CLANG, a game whose name makes more sense when you know that it’s about swords. Neal Stephenson, science and historical fiction author (Anathem, Cryptonomicon, The Confusion, etc.) was — and likely still is — dissatisfied with how swordfighting is portrayed in video games. What’s the best solution to such a problem? Make a your own swordfighting game. Had I known that this was an option, I’d be playing a racing game where the cars are constantly in autopilot and I always win by default.

Despite its complicated premise, CLANG received its funding — perhaps rightfully so, as it displayed quite the argument for its development costs. But that’s where things get complicated; the development costs. You see, games are very expensive to make. Some much more than others, but they all cost more money than most of us are likely to earn in a lifetime. There’s a reason publishers don’t take risks on crazy-ambitious titles, or oddball genre defining experiences. That’s what crowd funding is for, right? Remember those games you backed on Kickstarter? You know, those games you pledged your hard-earned money for like an incredibly early pre-order? According to CLANG’s Kickstarter page, it’s no longer in full-production mode, and has instead become a weekend project.

“We’ve hit the pause button on further CLANG development while we get the financing situation sorted out — we stretched the Kickstarter money farther than we had expected to.”

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The money provided by loyal fans and backers is now gone, and most of the developers behind the game have taken to find work elsewhere. While terrible news, it’s not really the big issue here. We’ve gone over this; games are very expensive to make, and it’s entirely understandable when money dwindles during development. I mean, developers eat too, don’t they? The problem is that the $500,000 dollars was never supposed to fund development of the game, and was simply a nice chunk-of-change that the developer required in order to attract a publisher or venture capitalist firm for proper backing. Such a situation that makes the already huge risk of investing in a video game even riskier, since most publishers back games that, you know, have the potential to sell a lot. Not really a list you’ll find many swordfighting games on.

The developers answer regarding its inability to find a publisher isn’t reassuring, either.

“Rather than invest in innovative new titles, the still-surviving publishers tend to keep their heads down, grinding out sequels and extensions to well-worn AAA franchises.”

That’s true. I agree completely, I mean… wait, isn’t that what crowd funding is for? Isn’t that the whole purpose behind reaching out to fans for money? You know, do it yourself because a publisher won’t. Oh, but it gets worse, because evidently taking free money from people on Kickstarter in exchange for a promised product is a “hidden catch.”

“Kickstarter is amazing, but one of the hidden catches is that once you have taken a bunch of people’s money to do a thing, you have to actually do that thing, and not some other thing that you thought up in the meantime.”

I can’t say that I’ll always be extremely choosy about who I back on Kickstarter, as I’m a man of ambition and wonder (and a relapsing gambling addict), but deception is a tricky thing, and while there’s still a glint of hope for CLANG according to the remaining folks involved, I’ll be sure to ask more questions when something seems greater than the sum of its parts. For the full update, read the CLING Kickstarter page.