I hate making blog posts like this one, but sometimes, I feel I have no choice.
Let’s talk about when crowdfunded projects, specifically for tabletop roleplaying games, fail. More to the point, they succeed on reaching or exceeding their monetary goal, but take way too long to deliver, or simply never deliver at all.
First of all, I believe this to be a particularly rare situation, but it does happen, and I feel that sometimes behavior like this needs to be called out. Many might think this only occurs with small, fly-by-night creators, and I’m sure that is true to some extent, but it also occurs with larger, well-established creators and publishers, as well.
Case in point: Let me give you an example of a disappointment (thus far), from a larger, well-established creator. Specifically, I am referring to “Urban Shadows, 2nd Edition“, from Magpie Games. I, as well as many others, backed this project due to our love for the first edition of this game, as well as trusting Magpie’s tradition of successful Kickstarter projects. This was about as close to a sure deal as you can get in Crowdfunding.
Alas, this project was funded back in November of 2020. Nearly two years have passed, and according to the most recent comment from the company regarding this game, they are still writing it! Please note that the game was originally set to be released in December of 2021, fully 13 months after it was funded, which is more than enough time for most crowdfunded TTRPGs to be delivered… especially ones that are an update to a second edition of an existing game.
Meanwhile, in August of 2021, Magpie started a Kickstarter project for their TTRPG based upon the anime series “Avatar: The Last Airbender” called “Avatar Legends“. This game, which started its project nearly a full year after “Urban Shadows 2nd Edition” did, is on schedule to ship in November of 2022, with the goal of being fully delivered to backers by the end of 2022. In short, “Avatar Legends” would appear to have been given priority in development/production over “Urban Shadows 2nd Edition”, based upon these timelines. I have no proof of this, of course, it is only my opinion, but it certainly looks like this is the likely reason US2E is so delayed.
Anyway, “Urban Shadows” is still being developed, and is already the better part of a year late. Yes, there have been situations beyond the company’s control, that have caused delays (chiefly, a global pandemic), but at some point one has to wonder if this project will be delivered at all. I still have faith in Magpie to deliver this game, eventually, but I doubt I will back another one of their crowdfunded games in the future.
If this were happening with a project from a smaller, or less respected creator than Magpie, I would say it was likely a scam at this point.
So that’s an example of a project that is perhaps questionable, but not a complete failure at this point. What about a project that is nearing the status of an absolute failure? Well, it pains me to say this, because I really like this creator’s previous work, but I would have to say that “Perilous” pretty much qualifies. This game, from well-established creator Jordan Palmer, first got funded on Kickstarter back on November 19th, 2020 (coincidentally, the same day that “Urban Shadows” completed their Kickstarter run). But unlike Magpie’s game, “Perilous” is actually fully developed, and has been for some time. Jordan has been selling the digital version of the game on his Itch.io page since November 24th, 2020, less than a week after it completed its crowdfunding on Kickstarter. That may have been an early access version, I don’t know, but the point is that he was confident enough in the game to make it publicly available almost two years ago.
Of course, as with seemingly all crowdfunded projects, there have been significant delays over the last few years, many of which have been out of the creators’ control. I think we all get that. But when you are telling people to go to your page over on Gamefound to pre-order a copy of the printed book and GM-less cards, then provide those people zero information at all regarding the status of the project, you can expect those people to start to question things. In fact, it is the utter lack of communication out of Palmer which I think really bothers most backers. There have been zero updates or comments from Palmer on the project’s Gamefound page (as mentioned before), only the rare comment on its Itch.io page, and over on the original Kickstarter page, they haven’t seen an update since last July.
In that July update, Jordan said he had received his copies of the book from the printer, and believed backers would be receiving theirs “within the near future”. Since then, no one has heard a peep from him regarding “Perilous”, but he has put out at least one new game that I know of… so there’s that, I guess.
I have spoken to Jordan through direct messages over Twitter a couple of times last Spring, and he seemed optimistic regarding the books arriving soon. But here’s the thing: I’m not, nor are a good portion of the backers of this game. When a game creator goes much more than a month between updates on their Kickstarter project, I get a bit nervous about them (another problem Magpie has with “Urban Shadows”, by the way). When they start selling their game digitally on various platforms, before ensuring that books are shipping to their backers, I get even more apprehensive. When they stop talking altogether, and use even more crowdfunding sites to try to sell copies of their game – without any communication there at all – that’s when I question whether this will ever deliver.
Oh, I should also note that, when it comes to those of us who have pre-ordered over Gamefound, I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t had an issue there. For example, we never got our digital copies of the game, not without going to other measures. Since he doesn’t answer comments on Gamefound, some – myself included – have taken to posting on the Itch.io page, where Jordan said he checks Gamefound every week, and sends out links for the game for the new preorders. But that’s not accurate, or we wouldn’t have to go looking for them on another page. I preordered months ago, and never received any link from Jordan. The only reason I got a digital copy of the game is because it was in a bundle for charity that I backed.
I believe that we all understand that times are tough right now, but things are getting better than they were over the last two years. I have seen literally dozens of TTRPG projects, large and small, be backed and delivered off of Kickstarter since both “Urban Shadows, 2nd Edition” and “Perilous” completed their runs. I have seen games not only backed and delivered, but they have put out expansion content, which was also backed and delivered before these two have delivered on their aforementioned games!
At some point, you have to say “enough is enough”. Kickstarter, and the other crowdfunding sites, need to hold their creators accountable, when their projects teeter on the edge of failure like this. Here are some suggestions:
- Mandatory Updates. If a creator is late with providing updates (meaning more than one month between posts) to their backers, that creator will have their ability to create new projects on that service suspended, until such point that they prove they will be communicative in the future… let’s say posting six straight months without late posts, or proving in that time that they have delivered to the majority of their backers.
- Exclusivity clauses. Kickstarter (and other crowdfunding services) should include exclusivity clauses in their terms of service, which would help prevent a creator from selling their game/product on other services (DriveThru RPG, Itch.io, Amazon, Ebay, or other crowdfunding sites), prior to the product being shipped to backers on the original service. Preorders over the original service, or over their designated pledge manager are one thing, selling the project all over the place while original backers and preorders are left hanging is quite another!
- Creator Ratings. Some services allow you to provide feedback on how a project you have backed is doing, like Kickstarter does, but I don’t believe they allow you to rate the creator of said project. This might well be abused by trolls, but I’m starting to think that maybe a Yelp-like rating system for creators should be instituted on Kickstarter, Indigogo, Gamefound, and so forth. This would lend incentive to creators to provide better communication and customer service to their backers, where right now, there is little more than word-of-mouth reputation that might be sullied by a creator providing a bad backer experience.
Obviously, most creators are doing a fine job, and I applaud them for their hard work during these trying times. But then again, there are some – and I’ve only mentioned a couple of the creators here, there are many more I could have spotlighted – who really are problems in the crowdfunding community. I would love these creators to prove me wrong, I really would, but at this point…