The Doom That Came to Atlantic City

The Doom That Came to Kickstarter

Geek Culture Kickstarter Tabletop Games
The Doom That Came to Atlantic City
The Doom That Came to Atlantic City prototype which I played last year. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Chuck Lawton’s post about how Kickstarter is broken really made me stop to think about the way I, as a blogger, approach Kickstarter projects. When I reviewed The Doom That Came to Atlantic City last year, I treated it the way I approached most Kickstarter board games. That is, I judged it mostly on the gameplay and the artwork that I’d seen, not on any examination of the project’s business plan. I’d communicated mostly with Keith Baker (the game designer) and Lee Moyer (the artist), but hadn’t had any direct interactions with Erik Chevalier, the project owner (and the one who was ultimately responsible for the Kickstarter project).

I sat down and played a prototype, with the understanding that the artwork was representative but not necessarily final. The miniatures we used while playing were from other games, not final versions. Nothing was production quality, but that was expected. At the time, it seemed like a fair enough way to evaluate a board game—I was glad that with board games you can get a good feel for how a game actually will function, despite the quality of the homemade prototypes. (This is unlike most video games or manufactured products or, for that matter, movies and books.)

However, I generally didn’t take into account the project creator’s ability to get the promised goods manufactured and shipped with the amount of money they were charging. I’d say that’s because it’s the backer’s responsibility, but that’s not entirely true. It’s mostly because it just hadn’t occurred to me. Many of the projects I back (and write about) are from people I’ve never heard of before. That’s the nature of Kickstarter—it’s for people who have a cool idea but don’t already have a method of producing it. It’s what allows indie designers to succeed without relying on the gatekeepers of traditional publishers.

But, of course, traditional publishers have a few things going for them, not least of which is knowledge about printing and delivering a game: how much it costs, how long it takes, the format for graphics files, the fees for international shipping. For everyone who’s publishing a game for the very first time, none of this is a given. In many cases, you don’t even know how much you don’t know.

So far in the projects for which I’ve received final products, there have been fairly few that I’ve been unhappy with. Sure, there are delays, but I’ve backed enough projects that I just automatically assume they’re going to be delivered late. Some are extremely late—maybe they’ll show up one day, or maybe we’ll get an update like Erik Chevalier’s where they finally admit that it’s just not going to happen. The number of projects that I’ve written off as losses is a pretty small percentage.

I’ll continue to back projects as my time and budget allow. Yes, there are some projects that have been significantly delayed. My longest waits so far completed funding in May and June of 2011, with no signs of deliverables yet. Why do I continue to pay for the privilege of waiting for a product that may not live up to its expectations? Well, it’s because I still like the concept of people trying new things, of bringing ideas into reality, of making mistakes and learning from them. I like to support the dream—however ridiculous it may seem—that you can get a foothold in an industry in which you have nearly no experience. If we only supported projects that we knew would succeed, that would be a sad state of affairs.

But the news this week—along with this other board game project that is allegedly a fraud—has made me stop and think about how I should cover Kickstarter projects. The truth is, sometimes it’s hard to know whether a project creator has the business skills to match their creative idea. Sometimes stretch goals do make sense—and sometimes they’re just adding on more expense that hasn’t been accounted for. If I have to do due diligence before I can write about what seems like a fun board game or a clever documentary project, then I can guarantee that I won’t have the time to cover Kickstarter projects in the future. (Aside from the fact that, short of doing some serious snooping, I’d probably still have to rely on the project creator’s word for it.)

I can’t pretend that I have no responsibility at all in the matter. I currently have a few other Kickstarter projects that I’ve been preparing to review, and I’ll probably be adding another section about the business end of things if I have relevant information. But, like I said, for a lot of projects, that’s going to be a big unknown—it’s up to you to decide whether to treat that uncertainty as an opportunity or a warning flag.

One final note about The Doom That Came to Atlantic City: As Chuck mentioned already, game designer Keith Baker’s response is posted here on his blog. He and artist Lee Moyer are working on reformatting the game to make it available to backers as a print and play—not what they were envisioning from the start, but they’re doing what they can to provide something that backers can still play. Perhaps someday the Doom will come to Atlantic City, but for the immediate future this will have to do.

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9 thoughts on “The Doom That Came to Kickstarter

  1. Another good post about KS, Jonathan. Thanks.

    One interesting thing that starts to happen with failed KS projects (not failed funding, but projects that get their money and then drop away before backer rewards are provided) is the amount of energy spent into tracking down project leaders and uncovering other bits of news.

    For example, reading through the comments today for DOOM!, I found that some backers (I did not back this project) have tracked down a few interesting things about Erik, the project manager. He’s apparently removed his resume, his Facebook and Twitter accounts are locked or gone, and a lot of other items are disappearing as it appears he is cleaning house. The concern is that he’s still got money left in the account and is getting ready to disappear. Never discount a small percentage of backers who will make it their mission to hunt you down if you disappoint them!

    At a minimum, I’d like to see Kickstarter (and other fundraising sites) put together a complete list of all projects that have failed to deliver. This list could be used to help backers consider the risk of backing future projects from the same sources. These individuals could use different company names, of course, but that’s where KS could go the extra mile for all backers and do some additional background checks on the companies and individuals behind new projects. Might keep Erik and folks like him from abusing the system again.

    1. Jim, that’s a common complaint about Kickstarter: they tend to bury or hide failed projects, preferring to project an image of success. As a business model, this makes sense: you want more people to launch projects so that you get more commission—and if you show people that only about 50-60% of projects actually succeed, then perhaps fewer people would use your service. Of course, the “failure to deliver” is harder to define, unless the project creator actually admits that the project isn’t happening or some backer does some legwork and figures out that the project creator went on a big spending spree. At what point does “delayed” become “failed”?

      In the case of Doom, I’m still leaning toward bad/foolish business practices rather than intention to defraud. The Odin’s Raven case, as well as the recent Kobe Beef Jerky project that got canceled right before funding, seem to be more clear cases of fraud, where the person never meant to do anything but take the money and run. But I guess time will tell. I’m not going to defend Erik’s actions, but I do think that backers are no more likely to get their money back by trying to sue him for it than waiting to see if he honors his promises to refund. Whether he went on a spending spree or just had poor planning, I doubt he just has $122k sitting around that can be returned to backers.

  2. I would say you can still review with the same time/effort as you have used before, and instead of making it your personal mission to find out if the owner has a solid business model, just include in your review a note of how much of the business model is actually mentioned on the KS page (don’t even have to say if it sounds reasonable, just point out “This guy has absolutely no information about shipping costs or manufacturer contracts… be careful”).

    Would also be useful to attempt to contact the project manager before you post your review, and include a note of how hard it may have been to get a response.

    1. Jacob, usually we have ZERO problems getting an email response if we reach out to someone about a possible GeekDad post. We get tons of Kickstarter pitches sent to us as well… so the speed of response isn’t really an accurate measurement while funding is going on. Now, when the funding has been achieved and project is over and work is being done behind the scenes? That’s when you can often get the true picture of a project manager. Still, DOOM! provided LOTS of updates that were all “Everything is fine, project moving forward” and those updates seem to be complete fabrications. Until Erik posts new information about what was going on behind the scenes, backers are left shouting FRAUD.

      1. Exactly. Kickstarter now requires the “Risks” section which hadn’t been there at the beginning, but that’s easy to fake. The question is how much time I should spend trying to figure out whether the answers on the page are actually real. Is there a way to tell if somebody’s telling the truth when they say “we have a manufacturer lined up and ready to go”?

        As Jim said, everyone’s eager to answer questions while the funding is going. It’s only after the campaign closes that you start running into problems. If I had a project creator who never responded to my questions, then that’s a red flag. I’ve only had that happen once, when I mentioned to a project creator that I’d run into some issues playing their game. Their response was “Oh, well, maybe it’s just not for you.” Needless to say, that one didn’t get a review.

  3. I recently launched my first KS (its still live). I find this whole scenario incredibly frustrating.

    Honestly, KS has a TON of backend issues limiting campaign creators while hiding live projects in their site, while completely overlooking the international shipping issues, not integrating stretch goals, and really doing nothing to promote projects. KS is the embodiment of hipsterism. More often then not the campaigns they promote are so off the wall, and out of touch with the community.

    Meanwhile, from my experience in manufacturing both Doom and Odin’s campaigns should have been able to be in everyone’s hands for a fraction of the funding that they have raised.

    I estimated that if the Doom publisher had worked with Panda Games, he would have been able to:
    Manufacture for $15K (1,500 copies at $10 a piece {higher-end})
    Audit (important for selling to euro retailers) at $3k {again higher end}
    Import at $4k to multiple drop points
    Pay an additional in shipping at $15k (way high-end).
    $5k for tees and other knick-knacks

    He raised $150k, 10% ($15k {again higher end}) is lost to KS and Amazon. Leaving him with $135k to produce a product. All-in-all, he only needed around $50k of that to produce his actual game and get it into everyones’ hands judging by how far along the artwork etc was. I’m disappointed and frustrated by the turn of events. 🙁

  4. Correction, sorry he had $122k-ish. But, that doesn’t really change much else. That also doesn’t include post campaign contributions too if he used backer-kit.

  5. I’d say slap on a disclaimer that you’re reviewing gameplay only. If screening the business project isn’t your area of proficiency, don’t do it. That is, if I need several pieces of information to evaluate a KS project and you can provide one of them, that’s at least more than I had to begin with. It’s up to myself to evaluate the business end, and the creator to make the pitch that we can invest in him.

    Silver Gryphon Games has a Facebook page that has some discussion about KS from the creator’s business POV. Mebbe get in touch with the page owner for a guest column or two? (: http://us-mg6.mail.yahoo.com/neo/launch?.rand=fql1var47q7fi#mail

  6. If you evaluated it as a game, I hope you noticed that it’s a monopoly clone which they have worked 10 years on. There are thousands of people in this world with a monopoly clone they worked 10 years on. But because it pushes the right geek in-joke buttons (“Cthulhu!!”) it gets funded anyway.

    This is what frustrates me about Kickstarter. It rewards good marketing immensely over good production, because it has no mechanisms for discovery or evaluation. Games from first-time designers filled to the brim with clichés (I mean, “Kingdom Death: Monster”?) vastly outsell games from publishers that actually have some critical sense and experience with what works as a game. And some of these publishers even play along and would rather hammer the geek trope buttons (I’m looking at you, Dice Hate Me) than play their critical role.

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