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Kickstarter Drama: Conquistador, Shadowrun and Eisenwald

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Kickstarter Drama: Conquistador, Shadowrun and Eisenwald

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Sat 13 April 2013, 00:19:43

Tags: Aterdux Entertainment; Expeditions: Conquistador; Harebrained Schemes; Kickstarter; Legends of Eisenwald; Logic Artists; Shadowrun Returns

It's been an interesting week on the Kickstarter front. Not just because of the big projects like Torment and Project Eternity, but also because some of the news that's been coming from the Codex's smaller "pet projects". Unfortunately, for those projects, it hasn't been interesting in a good way.

Logic Artists' Expeditions: Conquistador was supposed to have been released on February 28th. Three days before that date, the development team announced that the game was going to be delayed, due to unspecified "distribution complications". They also announced that they would be using that delay to implement multiplayer capabilities that had not been part of the game's original pitch. In the discussion thread of our preview of the game (which was awkwardly published on the same day as that announcement), members of the Logic Artists team admitted that the "distribution complications" involved commitments they had made to a publisher, something which was confirmed in a Kickstarter update that was published on April 4th. I quote:

A week or so ago we let slip on our forums that we’ve signed a deal with bitComposer to bring the game to market. This deal has changed precisely zero things about the game. We didn’t want a publisher to interfere with our product (hence our use of Kickstarter to fund a considerable part of it) and bitComposer didn’t want to interfere with our product, so that all worked out nicely. Just to be absolutely clear, we already had multiplayer done and polished by the time we signed this deal, that was entirely our own decision and bitComposer had nothing to do with it.​

[...] So what’s with the delay? Well as you may have picked up from our embarrassingly uncoordinated attempts to explain it, there is more than one reason for that. First, the delay was because we were talking to bitComposer. Then the delay was because we were waiting to work things out with some major distributors, and though we’re still waiting on that, we expect to be able to release the game this month.​

Now, if you know anything about the Kickstarter crowd, then you're probably well aware that words like "multiplayer" and "publisher" are not exactly music to their ears. This news sparked a bit of a flamewar on the Codex, with a significant number of posters refusing to believe that bitComposer was not behind the decision to implement multiplayer. It did not help that both the game's Steam Greenlight entry and its website were abruptly taken down, making it appear as if Logic Artists had been suddenly taken over by a hostile entity.

A developer from Aterdux Entertainment (more on them later) who had corresponded with the Logic Artists team showed up to explain the situation from his perspective. It would appear that the Expeditions: Conquistador Greenlight campaign was going nowhere fast, and that the primary motive for the publisher deal was to ensure the game's quick admission to the Steam marketplace, which as you may know, is the only guarantee of significant revenue in today's digital distribution economy.

Greed or survival? It's ugly business all around, and Logic Artists' reputation may be permanently tarnished due to their poor handling of this affair. But still, Expeditions: Conquistador is a small game, with a small budget provided by just over 1500 backers. What if a Kickstarter game with over 36000 backers and a budget of nearly 2 million did something equally questionable?

As it happens, that's exactly what occurred just 5 days later on April 9th, when Shadowrun Returns developers Harebrained Schemes published this Kickstarter update:

After a lot of prototyping and research, we decided that our best delivery option for OSX/Windows/Linux is to go the route that great games (like Skyrim!) have taken and embrace Steam and the Steam Workshop. Steam allows us to provide up-to-date downloads and patching along with a vibrant ecosystem for developing community-created content and file sharing.​

So, we're happy to announce that all Backers will receive a Steam Key for the game and will be able to contribute and browse community-created content using Steam Workshop.​

We realize that for some of you, releasing on Steam isn’t your first choice but there are a lot of really great things we get from this decision that allow us to focus on the game rather than on making things like backend servers to deploy and manage shared content. From the start, we’ve had to make practical decisions like this one to ensure we get the most out of the support you’ve given us. We consider this to be the best option for everyone.​

Now, that may prompt the question, “What about DRM-free?” To honor our original promise of a DRM-free version of the game, the Harebrained Account Website will also contain a downloadable version of Shadowrun Returns that does not include Steam integration. While this version will include the Seattle story (and Berlin, via a one-time update), without Steam integration, it will be unable to browse and play community-created stories from within the game. Any future DLC will only be available through Steam.​

Combined with the news from last month that Shadowrun Returns would lack core CRPG features such as looting and game saving(!), the impression one gets is that this project has also run out of money, forcing the developers to cut corners and make questionable compromises. Needless to say, this news did not go over well with the game's backers, as evidenced by the response to that update (now at 1000 comments and still going). "DRM" is another one of those words that one must never utter on Kickstarter.

On that same day, Aterdux Entertainment, developers of Legends of Eisenwald, published a Kickstarter update of their own. As you shall see, it would appear that they have taken the lessons of the Logic Artists incident to heart:

We will have to delay the release of our game until September. Experimenting with gameplay and applying all polish, taking care of UI things – all this is taking us much longer than we thought it would. Taking longer will benefit our game and make it better overall, even though delay is not something we are really happy about. We will talk more about it below. ​

Also, we are fortunate to have found a new executive producer (yes, the sword reward has found its owner!) and this is good since our Kickstarter funds are pretty much spent, with exception of the amount reserved to fulfill physical rewards. This gives us a guarantee that we can bring our project to completion and ensure that we can release our game in good quality.​

The rest of the update is a long and frank explanation of Aterdux's current situation. They too have run out of money, and their "producer" is a wealthy Russian businessman who is funding the game's prolonged development cycle. Despite Legends of Eisenwald having more backers and more funding than Expeditions: Conquistador, this news has been received with a far lesser degree of outrage. It definitely helps that "producer" is a less toxic word than "publisher", but the lesson is clear - communication matters! Eisenwald is apparently doing quite well on Greenlight, and hopefully we will be able to report on its admission to Steam on April 17th.

So, that's what happened on Kickstarter this week. Quite amazing really that it happened all at once. The question is, is this just the tip of the iceberg? Is it impossible for a high quality Kickstarter game with a budget of less than 3 or 4 million to successfully conclude development without the developers running out of money and being forced to make ugly compromises? Will those bigger Kickstarters eventually run out of money too? Discuss!

There are 473 comments on Kickstarter Drama: Conquistador, Shadowrun and Eisenwald

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