"We were subject to constant hostility from Russian Kickstarter accounts (we even got death threats)," says West Games.
A few days ago West Games, founded by former S.T.A.L.K.E.R. developers and led by Eugene Kim, was on the verge of completing a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund its latest project, an open world post-apocalypse title called Areal. Then the campaign was suspended after raising more than $10,000 over its funding target of $50,000 and with 2 days left to run. Now West Games has started up another crowdfunding effort, this time on its own site.
West Games says it doesn't know exactly why Kickstarter canned the crowdfunder, and says that under the rules it can't even contact Kickstarter to find out why, let alone message its backers to let them know what's going on. West Games blames the controversy surrounding its project for the debacle, claiming that a significant number of companies make their livelihood on S.T.A.L.K.E.R. spin-offs and were afraid of its spiritual successor; these companies, West Games alleges, resorted to a dirty tricks campaign to get the Kickstarter pulled.
However the bigger problem, West Games alleges, may be Russia. "Ukrainians and Russians are in an information war right now," it says, "And as a Ukrainian developer, we were subject to constant hostility from Russian Kickstarter accounts (we even got death threats). There are over 16,000 comments on our Kickstarter, which is unprecedented for the amount of supporters that we have, and a lot of our comments are hate filled."
That much is true, as even a cursory glance at the comments thread for Areal's Kickstarter shows. However Kickstarter has been telling people a different story, according to some of the backers. One commenter alleges that Kickstarter sent him this message:
This is a message from Kickstarter's Trust & Safety team. We're writing to notify you that the Areal (Suspended) project has been suspended, and your $1.00 USD pledge has been canceled. A review of the project uncovered evidence that it broke Kickstarter's rules. We may suspend projects when they demonstrate one or more of the following:
A related party posing as an independent, supportive party in project comments or elsewhere
Misrepresenting support by pledging to your own project
Misrepresenting or failing to disclose relevant facts about the project or its creator
Providing inaccurate or incomplete user information to Kickstarter or one of our partners
Accordingly, all funding has been stopped and backers will not be charged for their pledges. No further action is required on your part.
Several of the Kickstarter backers allege that abysmal communication, and a lack of reliable updates, played a significant role in the Kickstarter collapse. Though the campaign did reach its goal, that was thanks mainly to two huge donations, each well over $10,000, on the 19th and 20th of July. Intriguingly, this spike is not matched by a spike in donors; either a very small number of rich people jumped on board at the last minute, or someone tried to spoof the system.
These donations coincide with an update from West End that suggests Vladimir Putin, acting on advice from his daughter, sent West End a letter of support. According to the letter, Putin's daughter pledged on Kickstarter, but the letter doesn't say how much. Putin has two daughters; the letter doesn't say which liked Areal.
Does West End have a point? It's impossible to say, and probably will remain so. It's barely plausible that a Russian disinformation campaign might want to squash a Ukrainian game developer, just for giggles; after all, what would it cost, bar a few hours, a fake letter, and a few fake donations? It's not as if pro-Russian supporters haven't been accused of doing things in Ukraine far more insane than that.
It's also plausible that West End invented the letter as a flimsy excuse to cover the donor spike that pulled the Kickstarter over the finish line, or that the game is a put-up job from start to finish. Heck, it's also just barely within the realm of possibility that the Putin letter is real, and that Putin's daughter actually did drop a considerable sum on the Kickstarter. I doubt Vegas would offer great odds on that one, but the probability is still greater than 0, even if by an infinitesimal amount.
One thing ought to be borne in mind by potential donors: Kickstarter doesn't demand the money up front, but the same cannot be said of West Games' latest fundraiser.