3. Clang, Swords and Silence

clang

Clang -- a proposed one-on-one sword fighting game for PC -- is a little tricky to talk about. Making games, you see, is very difficult. Things don't always work out the way developers plan them to, and the big wigs of game publishing are notoriously risk averse these days. So it's hard to fault the developers of Clang for running into trouble. The problem with Clang was more to do with how it handled that trouble; falling prey to one of the biggest and oldest problems in Kickstarter's short history. A lack of communication.

Let's go back to the beginning. Besides being incredibly nerdy, this reimagining of medieval sword fighting had the backing of one Neal Stephenson. Stephenson being the author of Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon, and one of the godparents of post-cyberpunk literature. So he fit right in with the game's pitch, being another great big nerd and all.

The first big no-no was the pitch itself. Head to the project's old page and you'll notice that by modern standards the written case for Clang is more of a bread knife than a bastard sword. That is to say it's short, and pretty light on details about how things will get done. It also makes only the slightest mention of the fact that the crowdfunding would have been used as seed money, with more investors hopefully coming aboard over time.

That's basically the name of the Kickstarter game these days, though even now a lot of people think that every game should be made on pocket change and artistic purity. Back in 2012, when the ambitious stab-em-up earned its $500,000 in donations, it was anathema. Not to be confused with Anathem.

Things didn't get really dicey (arguably they never did, given that the game never came out) until early 2013. That's when Stephenson and developer Subutai Corporation went silent as the stone where they kept their swords -- for nigh on five months. If you're looking for a sign that your favorite funded Kickstarter is deader than chivalry, that's clue number one.

When Clang did come out of its coma it was only to tell everyone it was on life support. The developer "hit the pause button" on the game, leaving its backers wondering what the hell that actually meant. What it meant was that Clang was dead, as anyone who'd ever heard of "development hell" could see. Even so, it was very nearly a full year before Stephenson and the gang pulled the plug on the whole ordeal, citing a lack of publishers interested in funding a game about realistic feudal combat, and started issuing refunds. Admittedly that last bit was damn decent of them.

Well, at least there are still new Stephenson books to nerd all out over.

 

4. Free the Games Fund, Return of the Ouya

ouya

It's easy to say now that the Ouya was a cheap, plastic paperweight that would have probably sucked at keeping your documents from blowing away, now that you mention it. The hundred dollar Android console must not have seemed like such in March of 2013, however. Because that's when 63,416 backers pledged nearly $8.6 million to make the dubious cube possible. At the time of this writing it even sits as the sixth highest earning project in Kickstarter history.

Pretty much the second people got their hands on it, however, it became clear that the Ouya would go down in history with the N-Gage, Gizmondo, and Mis-Teeq as scandalous and forgotten. It's controller stuck, it's games stunk, it's online component was bunk, and its sales were less than what a reasonable person might call desirable even under modest expectations.

Regardless of its quality, the Ouya hardly looked like a scam. Well, depending on who you asked. The real -- and very nearly quite horrible -- shit-show came later. It came with the Free the Games Fund.

ouya game

Being an abject failure pretty much right out of the gate, the folks behind Ouya did what they could to entice developers toward their candy-coated cabin. The program promised to match the funds of any Kickstarted game, which promised a limited window of exclusivity on the Android box. While many devs took issue with some of the specifics, misguided or not the whole thing at least seemed on the up-and-up. On Ouya's part, at least.

In came two games: Elementary, My Dear Holmes and Gridiron Thunder. Eagle-eyed onlookers quickly noticed that both games were getting rather huge chunks of change from Kickstarter virgins. Some of whom borrowed the names of celebrities, and in one instance an actually missing person case. One gentleman, then developing a game called Dungeons the Eye of Draconus, even openly admitted that he had gamed the system to corkscrew Ouya out of the matching cash.

Kickstarter caught wind of Elementary, My Dear Holmes in time to turn the donation faucets off, while the developers of Gridiron Thunder took themselves out of the running (you can decide for yourself if it was due to guilty consciences). To put a shameful bow on the whole ridiculous affair Ouya went bankrupt before giving out most of the money owed to those Kickstarters that did earn their way legitimately. This came as something of a shock to certain indie devs who had planned their income around such promised pay.

Thankfully, the Ouya brand's new owner worked to make things right.