The Yogscast's Yogventures was the first Kickstarter I ever saw that set off alarm bells in my head.
If you've never heard of The Yogscast, understand that it is huge. Originally started in 2008, The Yogscast has grown into one of the most popular YouTube groups. Its main channel has over 7 million subscribers, with individual videos regularly receiving over 500,000 views. They're a big deal. They're not a flash in the pan.
Building off that success, The Yogscast lent its name and host likenesses to a Kickstarter from Winterkewl Games. The game, titled Yogventures, was to be an open-world sandbox title emphasizing adventure and player control — not unlike the kind of games The Yogscast had become popular from making videos about.
The Yogventures Kickstarter quickly raised over $567,000 from 13,647 backers. A closed beta of the game was released to backers in August of 2013. And then the developer and The Yogscast went mostly silent about the game.
Today, it was officially canceled.
I first stumbled onto the Yogventures Kickstarter back when it was still raising funds in 2012, and two worrisome things stuck out to me immediately.
First, I had never heard of Winterkewl Games. My initial thought was that this was a new studio, presumably made up of industry veterans. What little the Kickstarter page reveals about Winterkewl backs that up, promising "long-time veterans of film and game companies — working at the highest levels of production." But it provides no actual details about what companies the Winterkewl employees are veterans of, what game and film projects they've previously worked on that would earn their trust with the $250,000 asked for.
Whatever the answer to that, the Kickstarter write-up makes one thing all too clear: This was to be the studio's first game. That point raised my second set of concerns: Yogventures, as described in its Kickstarter, was an overwhelmingly ambitious project. Here's an incomplete listing of some of the things promised in the game:
- Randomly generated worlds
- A fleshed out crafting system
- A complex in-game physics engine
- Full support for modding
- "Adventures" featuring characters based on The Yogscast's hosts
- Fully editable and destructible terrain
All of this and more from a small studio's first project. Sound too good to be true? Well, it was.
13,647 Yogscast fans were so passionate that they readily handed over their money
A poor response
While I ended up being scared off from backing Yogventures despite my appreciation for The Yogscast, there's something I want to be clear on: I completely understand how the project raised as much money as it did. Those insane video view and subscriber numbers I mentioned earlier should drive home the point that The Yogscast has a lot of people who are passionate about what it does. 13,647 of those people were so passionate that they readily handed over their money. And now they're left with ... something, at least, but not what they paid for.
In an email sent to the Kickstarter's backers by The Yogscast's Lewis Brindley, those who gave their money for one game were offered another — Brindley promised Steam keys for a similarly ambitious open-world sandbox game called TUG, which launched in early access form earlier this year. Brindley did not clarify what backers would receive to replace Yogventures if they already owned TUG or were not interested in it.
That's not the only moment of tone-deafness in Brindley's email. He refers to Winterkewl Games stopping work on Yogventures as "actually a good thing as the project was proving too ambitious and difficult for them to complete with their six-man team." Six-man team? There's an important fact that sure wasn't mentioned on the Kickstarter page and may have made some backers think twice.
Brindley tries to distance The Yogscast from the Kickstarter, referring to it as "Winterkewl's project." However, the language on the Kickstarter page is the exact opposite. It is written from The Yogscast's point of view, with Winterkewl introduced as a companion brought in to help out, not the owner of the project. "Why are the Yogscast making a game?" one header on the page asks. The answer is in first-person, from The Yogscast's perspective. It was sold to backers as a Yogscast project. Now that it has failed, we are told it was not that at all.
Keen-eyed readers will note that the project creator on Kickstarter is listed as "Winterkewl Games LLC." Even keener eyes will dig a bit deeper: the Winterkewl Games profile page on Kickstarter has a bio leading with "Yogscast LTD" and linking to The Yogscast's website.
Of course, that might be why The Yogscast wants to distance itself from the project. They're not legally responsible. The now-defunct Winterkewl Games is. And of course, Kickstarter itself won't guarantee projects, leaving burned backers on their own.
For what it's worth, Brindley stresses that The Yogscast is talking to "a whole bunch of potential partners about other cool games and exclusive content we can provide" for backers. But the cheery tone of his note has already rubbed some people the wrong way.
Contrast the tone of Brindley's email with this devastating post from Winterkewl Games' private forums. Written at the start of this month, this post was the first indication fans got that the project was in trouble.
The post details the studio's impending bankruptcy, the unnamed developer's own financial and marital problems stemming from an obsession with finishing the project and more. It points to "lack of experience in planning and managing a project of this scope" as a reason for the failure, though that didn't stop Winterkewl Games from taking on the project initially, nor The Yogscast for trusting them with it.
The post from Winterkewl reaches a conclusion that should be obvious but is all too easy to forget when you're passionate about something:
"If you promise the world and don't take into account the amount of time and resources you really need to make good on those promises you find yourself in a position where you can't move forward without more funds but you can't generate more funds without moving forward."
On being vigilant
Make no mistake: Both Winterkewl Games and The Yogscast are to blame for what happened here. They misled fans in the initial Kickstarter pitch and made unrealistic promises that should have been reconsidered from the start.
But here's the catch: A lot of people on Kickstarter want your money, and a lot more are going to in the future. Some of those people will be people you really like and want to support. But with Kickstarter itself refusing to step up and take any action against those who default on their promises, it's up to backers to begin being much more discerning about what they're putting money toward.
This isn't the first Kickstarter project to fail after being funded. It's not even the first in the games space. For example, the Code Hero Kickstarter ran into similar problems: Developer Alex Peake pitched something wildly ambitious, raised over $150,000 based on its potential and then hit the realities of the time and resources needed to create what he'd promised. "I'm not a professional game producer," he told Polygon.
it's up to backers to begin being much more discerning about what they're putting money toward
Or there's Haunts: The Manse Macabre, a turn-based horror game that raised a mere $28,739. A little over a year later, the project's creator admitted to overspending the funds, and released what was done of the project as open-source. "The principal cause for our dire condition is that there are no longer any programmers working on the game," Rick Dakan wrote at the time.
These are all cases of projects led by creators who didn't have the experience and probably shouldn't have been able to pull in the money that they did. The only difference with Yogventures is the sheer size and the amount it raised thanks to a rabid fan base.
This is not a call to stop contributing to Kickstarters. I love Kickstarter. I love it for the awe-inspiring success stories. I love it for the games that may never have existed if not for financial support from fans. I think the existence of crowdfunding has added infinitely more than it has taken away from the gaming space in the last few years.
But as part of that crowd, I'm increasingly wary of where my money is going, and I think others should be as well. It's worth pushing down your excitement over an idea that sounds awesome and reading the fine print. Who is really going to be working on this? Can they pull it off? And how upset will you be if you contribute money and it turns out they cannot?
In a follow-up response to Polygon, The Yogscast called Yogventures' failure "a matter of deep regret for the Yogscast."
"We put a lot of faith in the developer Winterkewl," the message stated.
So did fans of The Yogscast. Next time, maybe they won't be so trusting.
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