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System Shock’s massive setback proves everything in crowdfunding is a gamble

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The real risks are rarely disclosed

Nightdive Studios

Nightdive Studios’ reimagining of System Shock, which raised more than $1.35 million on Kickstarter against a $900,000 goal, seemed like a sure thing.

It had the support of big names in the industry, with the goal of remaking a classic. There was a playable demo available for you to try before you supported the project. The Kickstarter page itself was filled with details about the game’s production. It would be hard to find a crowdfunded game that seemed to be a safer bet.

The project has since cratered and, while the developers say they will eventually deliver a finished version of what they promised, it’s probably best not to get your hopes up. This is the latest demonstration of in the risks involved in game production — no matter how prepared the team may sound on paper — and it’s yet another lesson that it’s unwise to contribute to any game with money you’re not willing to lose.

There was no reason to be skeptical

It’s always interesting to go back to the “risks” section of Kickstarter projects that fall apart; you quickly learn the difference between stated risks and the real issues of game development.

“One of the biggest risks with any project is the completion timeline,” Nightdive said on the Kickstarter page. “Early on in a project, estimates are far less accurate than later. Fortunately, we’re starting this campaign at the 25 percent mark in development, so our estimates are more accurate than usual. Still, game development can be unpredictable at certain stages, and we understand that. Our goal is to do our very best to complete the game as outlined by our funding and stretch goals.”

The problem is that the team moved away from the promises of the Kickstarter to work on something that sounds completely different.

“Maybe we lost our focus,” Nightdive Studios CEO Stephen Kick said in a statement today. “The vision began to change. We moved from a Remaster to a completely new game. We [...] strayed from the core concepts of the original title.

“As the budget grew, we began a long series of conversations with potential publishing partners. The more that we worked on the game, the more that we wanted to do, and the further we got from the original concepts that made System Shock so great.”

No one is ever going to voluntarily write something like “the team may adjust the scope radically and eat up all the money, creating something we never described on the page we used to get your money” in a risk section, but that situation happens with some regularity. Double Fine’s Broken Age was ultimately split into two parts and suffered multiple delays, and that game came from a team that knew the realities of the business.

This isn’t a rare situation, and it won’t be the last

These things happen; I’m not interested in pointing fingers or assigning blame right now. Game development is hard, and trying to deliver on a specific set of promises when something bigger and shinier seems within your grasp has proven difficult for many teams in the history of this business.

The System Shock project is now delayed, the budget is depleted and backers are going to be upset. The stated goal is to release what was promised in the next 18 to 24 months, but delivering on those promises has become much more difficult due to mistakes made since the successful Kickstarter campaign. Nightdive Studios has let some people go, and has to come up with the rest of the budget on its own.

If publishers weren’t interested in helping to fund the remake’s completion before, finding outside investment is only going to be harder now that everyone knows about the bungled first attempt to make the game.

But the lesson for the fans is a simple one. Nothing is a sure thing when it comes to crowdfunding, no matter how slick the campaign appears or how many promises are made. It’s fine to believe in a project and to help fund it, but always go into these situations knowing that you may or may not ever see the game you’re trying to support.