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Kickstarted game's commercial failure pushes developer to bankruptcy

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Woolfe: The Red Hood Diaries, a fantasy-themed 3D platformer, released on Steam in March of this year. After a successful Kickstarter that brought the team more than $72,000 and a community of nearly 2,400 backers, it failed to sell enough copies on the open market. Today, after years spent in production, developer GRIN announced it would shut its doors.

"It’s done, there is no way back. We tried, we failed," wrote Wim Wouters, founder and CEO of GRIN in a blog post dated Aug. 10. "The team is now dismantled and we have requested bankruptcy [as we are] unable to pay outstanding bills."

Steamspy, a web tool that samples available user data to estimate Steam sales, says the game is part of the collection of slightly more than 38,000 customers.

GRIN, based in Antwerp, Belgium, was a contract software development house. In the past, they had produced educational software as well as training simulations to pay the bills. Woolfe was their first attempt to release an independent game since the company's founding in 2002. (Notably, GRIN is not affiliated with the Swedish developer behind the 2009 Bionic Commando reboot that went bankrupt later that year).

In early March Polygon spoke with Wouters about the final push of coding and testing the game before launching on Steam.

"We have six people: two artists, two programmers, a writer and myself," said Wouters, "So we needed a QA team and we didn't have the budget to hire one. We went to [Steam] early access and it really, really helped us."

It helped because those early access buyers, who paid $10 for the game, became the fledgling studio's QA team. While those early access gamers who are working on Woolfe paid the full price for the game, they're happy to contribute for free, Wouters said.

That's in part because everyone knew what they were getting into when the pre-bought the game. Wouters and his team have been talking about the assistance they need since Kickstarting the title.

"We specifically mentioned that," he said "It's a very short period before launch, six or seven weeks before launch. And they really get it."

But even the generous donation of their paying customer's time wasn't enough to push the game over the top to a successful commercial launch.

"Once the sales numbers began rolling in," Wouters wrote, "the consequences of our beautiful adventure started to become painfully clear.

"I guess our public silence the last few months already said a lot. It is not out of disrespect that our communication dropped to almost zero… it is out of shame. ... With Woolfe being the most passion driven thing we have ever created, it feels horrible to live with the feeling we let you down."

Among their missteps early in the process, Wouters points to the decision to make the game fully 3D.

"The optimist in me led me to believe we could actually pull off making a 'bigger' indie game. I really wanted to prove an indie game did not have to be rendered in pixels or stylized as a solution to cut development costs. I wanted to believe that a team of 6 to 10 people could make a game that looked and felt AAA. Boy was I wrong!"

Wouters goes on to say that many of the rewards destined to be shipped off to backers are already produced. The company merely lacks the money for postage.

"All the backer stickers and letters of enlistment just need a stamp," Wouters wrote. "All the poster sets printed, signed and ready. The artbook is ready to be printed, the soundtrack is ready for distribution, the DVD case is ready for production. But we have literally no money whatsoever to pay for stamps, let alone print the artbooks and dvd-cases.

"So with a heavy heart I have to communicate that as of now the IP of Woolfe, all of the assets and source code is now for sale via the appointed trustee."

Woolfe is still available on Steam.

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