Kickstarter’s First Near-Failure Shows How Honesty and Transparency Are Key

Haunts

It was inevitable that, sooner or later, we would see a game funded through Kickstarter fail to see the light of day. It’s a fate suffered by countless games funded through the traditional, publisher-backed model, and there’s no reason games made possible through successful crowd-funding campaigns would be any different. If anything, Kickstarter games are more likely to fall apart prior to completion because most of the independent developers turning to fans for money do not have the deep pockets of a big publisher capable of keeping a project alive through adversity. Late last week, the developer of Haunts: The Manse Macabre delivered some alarming news to its Kickstarter backers, immediately causing some to assume it would become the first Kickstarter game project to die before being released.

Mob Rules Games, the indie developer behind this turn-based horror game, was seeking $25,000 through Kickstarter earlier this year. On July 6, it was fully funded, having received a total of $28,739 in pledges. Updates from the developers were delivered over the next months, including an outline of the anticipated budget and schedule on August 8. Things then went quiet following September 11, with an update not being posted until last week, on October 18. This one made it clear the lack of updates was due to problems being encountered in development and that the exact future of the project was now uncertain.

Both of Mob Rules’ programmers have left the company with the game in an unfinished state. It was known one of these would be leaving around now, except it was believed he would be able to continue contributing in his spare time. That has not proven to be the case, and the other programmer has (from the sound of it) unexpectedly left and decided not to spend his spare time working on the game. That means Haunts, which was written in an uncommon programming language, is incomplete and the remaining two employees don’t have the programming know-how to take care of things themselves.

In the initial post revealing the situation, Mob Rules’ Rick Dakan wrote, “We have spent all the money we raised, but I will personally refund out of my own pocket anyone who wants to withdraw their support, no questions asked. We’re going to make this game, and if you can hang on for what looks to be a long road ahead, we will get it finished, but that’s not what I asked you to sign up for and it’s not what you gave us money for.” A subsequent update clarified the money situation, explaining that there is money left, but much of it is owed to the IRS and what’s left would not be sufficient to hire a programmer to complete the project.

Dakan described the situation as “collaps[ing] at the finish line” and offered up some glimpses of what they’ve been working on. The trailer above, along with gameplay details shared on Mob Rules’ website, are meant to serve as evidence the money was not squandered; instead, it was a matter of things taking much longer than anticipated which resulted in the current predicament.

Haunts is obviously a far lesser-known project than something like Double Fine Adventure. Even so, this turn of events has sparked a discussion about the potential impact of a Kickstarter game failing to be released. Will it lead to a decrease in people’s willingness to pledge money to games seeking funding? Will developers have to alter their pitches in response?

Having spoken to handful of people with experience using Kickstarter, the consensus seems to be that one failed project will not have a significant effect — at least, as long as the project in question is on a scale similar to that of Haunts.

Dakan himself told 1UP he doesn’t believe “Haunts will have any major effect on Kickstarters in the future.” Only four to five out of the game’s 1,214 backers have requested a refund, an awfully small number even accounting for the fact that not all of those people are likely to be aware of what’s happened (I know I’m unable to keep track of all the goings-on of the projects I’ve backed). “I’ve gotten dozens of messages from supporters who not only are sticking with us, but they go out of their way to say that they knew the risks when they made their pledges and that they were supporting a cool idea that might not pan out,” Dakan said. “But I do think a large portion of that good will is something we earned by being as open and honest as we have been, and I hope that other developers who use Kickstarter follow our lead in that respect.”

That honesty and forthrightness has undoubtedly helped to quell any anger or frustration that may have arisen as a result of what’s happened with the game. In fact, beyond the outpouring of support from fans of the game, a number of programmers have volunteered to help make sure the game sees the light of day. This establishes a precedent for future Kickstarter projects that end up in the same position (and there will be more): tell people the truth and they might not only be willing to continue supporting you, they might even be able to help you.

By Chris Pereira

The Next Sonic 4 Episode Won’t be Out Until 2012

Sonic 4 Episode 1

It’ll still be a while yet before the next episode of Sonic 4 is released. Episode 2 isn’t set to be released until 2012.

Some companies, like Telltale Games, seem to have completely mastered episodic gaming. Seasons of Sam & Max, Back to the Future, Tales of Monkey Island, and so on have seen their episodes released on a regular basis without any major delays in between. Then there are examples like Valve, where episodic gaming was adopted in order to speed up the release of Half-Life games… and we’re now going on four years since Episode Two with no signs of Episode Three or Half-Life 3.

Rather than release one bigger version of Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Sega decided to break it up into multiple parts. Episode 1 was intended to come out last summer but was pushed back until later in the year, finally coming out in October. Episode 2 hasn’t really been heard from much, and with Sonic Generations set to celebrate the series’ 20-year anniversary later this year, it won’t be until 2012 that we get to see the next chunk of Sonic 4.

“This year, 2011, is the anniversary, so we’re focusing on the celebration title,” Sonic Team’s Takashi Iikuza told Eurogamer. “But moving forward to 2012, Sonic will still be going, so I’d hope to provide Episode 2 then.”

Iizuka claims this progression — Episode 1, then Generations, then Episode 2 after that — was the plan all along. The gap between Episode 2 and 3 is currently unknown because Sega isn’t even sure that a third game will happen at this point.

Whether or not it does will likely come down to the success of Episode 2. A group of diehard Sonic fans pledged to not support Sonic 4; they instead planned to give Sega money by purchasing the original Sonic. Unsurprisingly, that didn’t stop Sonic 4 from selling well enough to warrant a sequel. And while there are (publicly) no plans for the franchise beyond Episode 2 and Generations, if those two games sell well, it should be more than enough to guarantee more Sonic action comes our way.

By Chris Pereira

Zynga’s PrivacyVille Makes Learning About Privacy (Somewhat) Interactive

PrivacyVille

Zynga, which filed last week to go public, has just launched what it describes as a “game-like tutorial” to help those who play its games understand its privacy policy. And its name, as one could guess knowing only what’s contained in the previous sentence, is PrivacyVille.

It’s not much of a game, really; there are a set of CityVille buildings spread around a small town, and you click through them in order to learn about privacy matters. These include what data is collected when you play, how you can change notification settings if you don’t want to be alerted by e-mail that your corn is done growing, etc. A progress bar at the bottom of the screen fills up as you make your way through, and 200 zPoints for RewardVille (where you can purchase items for all of Zynga’s different games) await those who complete the fairly short, simple process.

In order to get those virtual points, you first have to complete a quiz on what you’ve learned. It’s not particularly difficult and could easily be completed without paying attention — a question about why Zynga collects user data offers up the following answer choices: to connect the world through games; to get a winning hand, to fight the boss; or to fertilize the crops.

Zynga claims this is the first time users are being rewarded for looking through a privacy policy. Whether or not that’s the case, it should be commended for taking something that’s an absolute drag to read and turning it into something interactive. That interactivity is very bare bones, though, so if you’re the type of person who already knocks games like FarmVille, Empires & Allies, and so on, this isn’t going to change your mind about Zynga.

By Chris Pereira

Black Ops 2 Gives Treyarch the Chance to Own Call of Duty

Look up the word “workmanlike” in the dictionary and you might see a boxshot of Treyarch’s Call of Duty: World at War. The game earned good, if not astounding, ratings from critics and sold amazingly well — just not enough to match Call of Duty 4. Treyarch has spent the better part of the past decade in the shadow of that game’s creators, Infinity Ward, listening to fans and media refer to them as the “B-team” in charge of the “off-year” Call of Duty games, but this year’s game, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, marks the first chance the studio has ever had to truly own the Call of Duty series.


Call of Duty: Black Ops


Getting their start with the series in 2005 with Call of Duty 2: Big Red One, Treyarch truly stepped into the spotlight with Call of Duty 3 in 2006. Receiving merely average reviews, the team couldn’t quite capture the magic of Call of Duty 2. When Infinity Ward reinvented the series in 2007 with CoD 4, fans expected Treyarch’s follow-up to continue on in the same vein as the early games in the series, and World at War’s WWII setting enhanced that perception. WaW certainly trumped CoD 3, but couldn’t quite hit the heights that IW turned out every two years.


2010 opened with the firing of IW leaders Jason West and Vince Zampella. With the future of the series’ founding studio uncertain, Treyarch released Call of Duty: Black Ops, break Modern Warfare 2′s sales records– making it clear that the studio was no longer the “B-team.” As far as most of the world was concerned Black Ops was as much a Call of Duty game as Modern Warfare. The next year began with Sledgehammer Games canceling or delaying their own game to help the weakened IW and almost every other Activision FPSs studio finish Modern Warfare 3 — which couldn’t quite match the critical reception of their last two titles.


With IW publicly partnering with other studios and Treyarch coming fresh off of the success of their last title, 2012′s CoD game — most likely called Black Ops 2 — will be the studio’s first chance to own the series in the eyes of fans and critics in the same way IW once did. Before 2012 the coming of every new series entry from Treyarch came with the presumed caveat in the minds of fans that as good as they game might be, it simply can’t reach the same level as an IW CoD game. The wild success of Black Ops came as a surprise to perhaps everyone by Treyarch themselves. Free of the presumption that the studio can’t rival IW, Treyarch now find themselves free to use innovation to shape Black Ops 2 and the Call of Duty series going forward.


MW3 should mark the end of the current iteration of CoD. The fundamental mechanics have reached a point where the law of diminishing returns makes further honing of extant gameplay systems a poor investment — reworked perks and kill streaks can only wow an audience so many times. Black Ops 2 could significantly shape the future of a series that needs change but has every reason to stay the same. The ever increasing commercial success of the series won’t come to an end this year, and a safe, conservative CoD game could certainly exceed MW3′s records if paired with the right setting and marketing. However, Treyarch has demonstrated an increase in confidence and talent with each iteration, and Black Ops 2 represents the best chance the studio has had in seven years to make the series its own.

By Ryan Winterhalter

Draw Something Now Officially a Zynga Title

Draw Something

Just as recent reports suggested, social game behemoth Zynga has acquired OMGPOP, the developer responsible for the smash hit Draw Something.

The company is not talking about how much it spent, but it’s said to be around $200 million — AllThingsD claims it’s a deal worth $180 million, plus about $30 million in employee-retention payments. That is a huge sum of money for the New York City-based OMGPOP, which was founded in 2006, considering that, prior to Draw Something, it was not a big-name company. CEO Dan Porter said during a media briefing today it had racked up only 20 million registered users prior to the launch of Draw Something about six weeks ago.

Its latest game has already dwarfed that, racking up 35 million downloads and quickly topping the iOS App Store charts. It’s also got more Daily Active Users than any other game on Facebook, a fact that was sure to catch the eye of Zynga whose Words With Friends and CityVille would ordinarily take the top spot.

It was widely believed Zynga would attempt to acquire OMGPOP to bring Draw Something under its corporate umbrella or, failing that, create its own Pictionary-style game. The latter is what allegedly happened with Tiny Tower, where Zynga expressed an interest in buying developer NimbleBit before releasing what amounts to a Tiny Tower clone when the deal didn’t pan out.

It’s possible OMGPOP was concerned about potentially being faced with a similar situation: Zynga comes out with an extremely similar competing product and spends millions to make it bigger. Simon Khalaf of analytics firm Flurry told Business Insider that OMGPOP could have ended up being worth a great deal more — perhaps even a cool $1 billion — which would be a remarkable accomplishment. With the game reportedly bringing in $250,000 in revenue daily, maybe it could have gotten that high, but the threat of a competitor (or the next big thing) coming along and putting a dent in Draw Something’s growth makes this the far safer move.

Draw Something

With Zynga’s assistance, the developer says it can now bring the features fans are demanding to the game faster, which will help to ensure its growth is sustained. Porter talked about fan-requested features like chat and the ability to save drawings as things we’ll likely end up seeing, and with Zynga’s support we shouldn’t have to wait as long to see these as we otherwise would have. (Considering these were among my few gripes with the game, I’m all for this.) Surprisingly, it was said there are no plans to change the name to fall in line with Zynga’s other asynchronous “With Friends” titles; I presumed an acquisition would mean we’d be playing Draw With Friends before long, but at least publicly that is not in the cards at the moment.

I’ve heard some people say they’re disappointed with the news and will stop playing the game. People are certainly entitled to do so if they don’t wish to give Zynga their money (and even playing the free version does result in Zynga getting money, as that version is ad-supported), but I don’t see myself suddenly stopping. It’s a really fun game that is deserving of the success it has amassed, and while I don’t like some of Zynga’s business practices (demonstrated by Dream Heights) the acquisition is not enough to chase me off.

If I were an investor in Zynga, however, I might feel a bit worried about the acquisition. While it’s exciting to get your hands on such a hot property, shelling out in the neighborhood of $200 million for a company with only one hit is a potentially dangerous business model. Words With Friends’ popularity has taken a hit recently, presumably as users shifted to playing Draw Something, in which case a chunk of Zynga’s enormous purchase fee is reacquiring some of the same users it once had and may have regained before long. Picking up this one developer isn’t going to break the bank for the company, but continuing to acquire any independent company with a big hit may prove to be unsustainable in the long run.

In the interest of ending on a brighter note, Zynga has shared some fun facts about the way people play, including the fact that people need to brush up on their art knowledge:

  • The most popular words in Draw Something are: Starfish, pregnant, hangman, six pack, boom box

  • The least popular word in Draw Something is latrine
  • The best guessed words in Draw Something are: Rainbow, catfish, sun, fish, house, god tornado
  • The least guessed words in Draw Something are: Oar, Metroid, Warhol, pounce, polaroid, meathead, Autobots

[Images courtesy of Facebook.]

By Chris Pereira

iZelda Brings Link to iPhone and iPad, Sorta

iZelda

There have been calls from investors for Nintendo to bring its many popular franchises to other platforms — iPhone and iPad, in particular. Nintendo of course has no interest in this; president Satoru Iwata has admitted that such a move would increase revenue in the short-term but would be bad for the company over the long haul. So while he’s made Nintendo’s position very clear on the subject, that doesn’t mean someone else can’t do the job for them.

I mean, legally they can’t, but who has time for a technicality like that? Not Audio Attack LLC, a company that seems to specialize in creating iOS games that flagrantly infringe upon others’ trademarks. A look at its list of iPhone apps reveals a very basic (a description that can be applied to all of its games) racing game that features a slightly modified version of the Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit app icon. Then we have Ultimate MW3 Blaster, a name that’s meant to bring Call of Duty: Modern Warfare to mind.

That brings us to Ultimate iZelda Climb, a game that was released on September 19. As the screenshot above shows, it’s a blatant rip-off of the very popular Doodle Jump, except without any sound (as pointed out by our friends at IGN in the video below, that’s strange for a company named Audio Attack) and a static image of Link from The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. Just to make the package that much better, the high score screen features black text that can barely be read against its background.

This isn’t the only Doodle Jump rip-off created by Audio Attack — several others exist, each ripping off a different franchise: Purple Dinosaur Jump (with an image of Barney as its icon), Jurassic Jump (with a modified Jurassic Park logo), 007 Spy Climb (featuring a horribly-stupid looking version of Daniel Craig from the cover of Quantum of Solace, pictured below), Ultimate WoW Jump, MW3 Jump, (with the word “Jump” poorly appended to the MW3 logo), and Hello Kitty Hop.

How any of this made it past Apple’s App Review Board is beyond me. (Meanwhile, the always-amusing NMA can’t get their iPad app approved and Alien Space Retro is targeted because of the look of its ship and asteroids.) One would expect that with the attention the app is suddenly getting, these won’t be around for much longer, particularly given that Audio Attack is asking $0.99 for each one.

Source: NeoGAF

iZelda leaderboards

007 Spy Climb

By Chris Pereira

Today in Gaming – 2/25/11: 3DS Blowout, PSP Price Drop

PSP price drop

In case you’re not already aware, the 3DS was released earlier today in Japan. As such, we’ve got stories on everything you need to know, including a breakdown of pricing around the world and what you can expect to see inside the box of a brand-spankin’ new 3DS. Check out our ongoing coverage here and stay tuned for more pictures, videos, and a new 8-4 podcast.

And if you missed it earlier this week, The Legend of Zelda turned 25 — so 1UP went all out to celebrate.

Today’s highlights:

  • The secret history of Killzone

  • We thought a new teaser website was counting down to Modern Warfare 3′s reveal but Activision says it’s a hoax.
  • An alleged image of Thief 4 has been spotted.
  • Jeremy Parish has wrapped up his Departing Salute series looking back at the some of the best games on DS.
  • Weekend Deals

And here’s what else happened today:

PSP Price Drop and New Greatest Hits

We still don’t know how much the NGP will cost, but Sony has given it some breathing room today by dropping the price of the PSP-3000 to $129.99. Sony also added several new games to the PSP’s Greatest Hits lineup of $20 games, including LittleBigPlanet and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. Some previous Greatest Hits titles have meanwhile been moved to the PSP Favorites lineup of $10 games; among those are Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core and Daxter.

Source

Parasite Eve Headed to PlayStation Store

The PlayStation Store in Japan gets a lot of PSOne Classic releases that never come to North America. It’s the source of much envy from myself and others. Parasite Eve seemed like just another example of this when it was released on the PSN in Japan last year, but an ESRB rating for PS3 and PSP versions of the game indicates that we’ll be seeing it in the U.S. before long.

Source (via VG247)

Lack of Move Support in Portal 2 Explained

Sony has thrown so much support behind the PS3 version of Portal 2, it seemed a bit strange that Valve wouldn’t also add compatibility for the PlayStation Move controller. Valve’s Chet Faliszek explained that it’s due to the fact that it wasn’t going to simply toss it in; it would need special attention, as the Razer Hydra got. Not only that, but Faliszek says he isn’t “sure it would make the game better.”

Source

By Chris Pereira

Apple Co-Founder and Former CEO Steve Jobs Passes Away

Steve Jobs

Just a day after the announcement of the latest iPhone, Steve Jobs has passed away.

Jobs, who was born on February 24, 1955 (making him 56 at the time of his death), was one of the original co-founders of Apple and served as its CEO for more than 14 years until resigning from the role this past August. He stayed on as chairman of the board.

He had been battling health issues (cancer, in particular) for years; he was forced to take a leave of absence from the company beginning this past January, though he still made appearances at several Apple events even during his time away. Although Tim Cook was named CEO in August and led yesterday’s iPhone 4S event, many had expected Jobs to make an appearance of some sort.

Apple’s board of directors released a statement a short time ago:

We are deeply saddened to announce that Steve Jobs passed away today.

Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve.

His greatest love was for his wife, Laurene, and his family. Our hearts go out to them and to all who were touched by his extraordinary gifts.

Apple’s website currently features the image of Jobs above on its homepage. It links to a separate page which reads, “Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Steve have lost a dear friend and an inspiring mentor. Steve leaves behind a company that only he could have built, and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple.” It calls for thoughts, memories, and condolences to be emailed to rememberingsteve@apple.com.

Embedded below is the memorable Stanford commencement address he delivered in 2005.

By Chris Pereira

Halloween, Scream Movie Studio Getting into Games

Halloween

The film studio behind Halloween, Grindhouse, and Scary Movie is getting into the games business, opening the door for new videogames based on its properties.

The Weinstein Company announced today the creation of TWC Games, a label formed with the help of videogame consultancy firm Beefy Media. The deal will help TWC Games to find developers and publishers to produce its new games which, from the sound of it, might have a focus on the digital side of the industry.

“The video game marketplace is changing at such a rapid rate,” said Weinstein co-chairman Bob Weinstein. “With all of the digital platforms, there are so many opportunities to broaden our audience with compelling, high quality, cost-efficient, video game entertainment.”

The Weinstein brothers co-founded Miramax Films in 1979, which would go on to distribute Clerks and Pulp Fiction before being sold to Disney. The duo then formed TWC in 2005. Some of TWC’s properties are specifically mentioned in the announcement, including Scream, Hellraiser, Halloween, Scary Movie, and Children of the Corn. With the exception of Scary Movie, the company clearly has a sizable stable of horror films to based its videogames on. Given the success of Dead Space and Resident Evil, that could be a genre that TWC Games chooses to focus on. It’s also possible the fact that primarily horror films were highlighted is simply a coincidence.

Were a Halloween game made, it wouldn’t be the first. There was an Atari 2600 game released in 1983 based on the original movie. And although its box art featured the same images as the movie’s posters, the game itself was devoid of any further connection to the big-screen version, including character names. Some imagination was required to connect the game’s knife-wielding antagonist to Michael Myers, who went unnamed in the manual.

Halloween Atari 2600 game

“Mobile, social, and console platforms” are noted as the potential platforms for TWC Games, so it’s at least claiming it won’t exclusively focus on retail console releases or Facebook games. Beefy Media will “oversee all production aspects of the games.” A post on Beefy’s blog notes, “[W]e have a bunch of products in development,” although you probably shouldn’t count on hearing about the particulars anytime soon.

By Chris Pereira

PAX to Highlight These Ten Indie Games in August

Atom Zombie Smasher

In an effort to get some additional exposure for certain indie games (rather than focus only on the huge, triple-A games you’ll be exposed to advertisements for online, on TV, etc.), the Penny Arcade Expo highlights ten indie games at PAX Prime. This year’s lineup, selected by industry experts from a list of more than 100 choices, has been announced today and includes some really good titles.

“Every year the showcase of new indie gems are one of the highlights of the show,” said Penny Arcade’s Robert Khoo in today’s announcement. “In always chasing the next big blockbuster, too much of our industry is dedicated to making the same game over and over again. The PAX 10 is one way that indies with innovative game concepts can get in front of the community.”

Each of the ten games will get free booth space at PAX Prime. Last year’s event saw more than 67,000 people attend; that’s a tremendous amount of attention these indie games are being offered that they otherwise might not have the capability of garnering. That’s not for lack of deserving it, though — Jamestown is a really fun, cool-looking shooter and I’ve played hours of Atom Zombie Smasher since picking it up on Steam earlier this week. Both of those are currently on sale on Steam, as is Solar 2.

Jamestown

The complete list of the PAX 10 follows below. You can find out more at the official PAX Prime website here. This year’s show takes place from August 26 through August 28 in Seattle, Washington.

  • A Flipping Good Time – PC

  • Antichamber – PC
  • Atom Zombie Smasher – PC
  • Fez – Xbox Live Arcade
  • Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony – PC
  • Snapshot – PC
  • Solar 2 – PC
  • Splatters – PC
  • Vanessa Saint-Pierre Delacroix & Her Nightmare – PC
  • Word Fighter – iOS/Android

By Chris Pereira