The Yogventures Collapse: A Case Study in Kickstarter Video Games Failure

A little bit of time has passed since the initial announcement that the Yogventures Kickstarter project has collapsed and the key parties have all had a bit to say. As a quick summary of events:

It's a dwarf on a hill near a black building, taken from Yogventures.

A screenshot from Yogventures. Pre-alphas are meant to look terrible. (Image taken from: Kickstarter)

It’s an entirely unsurprising mess.

Very early on someone else passed a jaundiced eye over the project scope of Yogventures and called it highly unlikely to happen. It was just too big and the amount of funding money wasn’t enough, plus this being Winterkewl’s first game. It’s very easy now to agree with this analysis, but the truth is that saying a Kickstarted video game is under-financed, under-resourced and overscoped isn’t actually a challenge. A lot of projects that go down this path are exactly that.

But it’s seen as churlish to say this out loud during the fundraising period, since a lot of attraction about Kickstarted video games is they are bringing dreams and aspirations to life. Telling people that their dream project is almost certainly doomed to failure is perceived as urinating on them from a great height, which very few people appreciate. (That doesn’t stop me, but I do feel bad about it.)

Video game Kickstarters are predominantly underdog stories. People love backing the underdog. Unfortunately they also expect the underdog to deliver, because they paid their money.


The Name On The Box

A while back I started a post about how to create a scam Kickstarter. I stopped writing it because it was a bit of a dick move and also because the majority of undelivered Kickstarters won’t be real scams, just failed projects (see above: under-financed, under-resourced and overscoped). One of my points in that post was around ‘authority / celebrity’ – find someone to promote your Kickstarter and provide it with legitimacy in exchange for a cut of the proceedings.

A man asleep at his desk.

You’d think that someone took a good hard look at Winterkewl’s capabilities before signing a deal with them, but I guess not. (image sourced from: Flickr)

This is what we see happening with the Yogventures failure. If an inexperienced small studio had tried to raise a quarter of a million dollars to make a Minecraft clone, they would have most likely been ignored. But throw in a popular YouTube gaming channel who had a lot of viewers to promote their own project to, who was also getting money to supply merchandising rewards and “licensing fees” for their own game, and you’ve suddenly granted the project with legitimacy. After all, if Yogcast picked the studio, surely they’ve done due diligence and know that it can be done.

Yogscast have worked very hard to distance themselves from Winterkewl, claiming that they were misled and that Winterkewl overpromised and underdelivered. “[T]his project was started when The Yogscast was just [Lewis] and Simon making videos out of our bedroomswas part of their comments about the failure. Aww shucks everyone, these simple YouTube folk trusted Winterkewl to deliver, and that trust was abused.

Although there is some truth in this statement, and one that has benefitted from Vale of Winterkewl’s habit of apologising repeatedly for everything, it ignores the old maxim that “if your name is on it, it’s yours”. Claiming ignorance about a project where Yogscast wrote the Kickstarter pitch as if they were hands-on all the way and were able to negotiate a large sum of money out of crowdsourced funds seems like a case of trying to pass the buck. Yogscast were very happy to have their name on a project that planned to receive a quarter of a million dollars and explicitly gave their recommendation to their viewers about backing the project through multiple promotional videos.

Much has been made of the story of Winterkewl / Vale paying all his principal artists US$35000 up front, only for one of those artists to start a new job two weeks later and keeping all that money. But to me, that’s a microcosm of this entire Kickstarter: people being given a lot of money based on some open promises. Backers put money into the project on the promise of the title being developed, but a large portion of that cash went to Yogscast merchandising and marketing, including an E3 booth for a title that was still in alpha. The Kickstarter page mentions a Dream Team of “artists, modelers, animators and programmers” at Winterkewl, but it was revealed that Yogventures didn’t have a main programmer working on it right from the beginning and no programmer could be found that was willing to sign on.

It turns out that making promises is easy and cheap. Keeping them is a different story.


No Refunds, No Obligations

A 'Going Out of Business' sign.

The most valuable asset Winterkewl had was the assets it had created for the Yogventure title. Yogscast gave them to TUG for free. Think about that for a bit. (Image sourced from: Wikimedia Commons)

Winterkewl are possibly bankrupt – and having passed their only real assets to Yogcast, who in turn gave it to Nerd Kingdom for free – so backers have no-one to target for refunds. Yogscast can point the blame at Winterkewl since it was their project, plus they’ve also already spent all the money they received from this Kickstarter.

Given that most backers only paid small amounts of money, it’s unlikely that it would be worth pursuing something through small claims courts.

So despite the idea that Kickstarter Terms of Use requires that projects be delivered or the money returned, the Yogventures money is pretty vanished. For many, this fits the view of how Kickstarter works: if a project delivers, the creators profit; if it fails, the backers lose their money. The financial risk, or at least part of it, gets passed to backers in exchange for nothing tangible.

Or in other words: heads they win; tails you lose.


Go On, Give It A TUG

Those backers will be receiving a copy of TUG, but this is apparently the most generous deal in video game history because it is one where no-one makes any money. Nerd Kingdom is apparently passing out over 13 000 TUG keys to Yogventures backers for free. Yogscast apparently spent more money on Yogventures than they received, so offering TUG as a substitute is entirely altruistic. Nerd Kingdom and Yogscast are just in a friendly relationship.

Unless, of course, Yogscast is planning to take a cut of TUG’s future revenue as part of this relationship. After all, it’s hard for any video game to stand out these days and getting coverage by something as well viewed as Yogscast can bring in a lot more players. The new YogDiscovery program will see Yogscast take a cut of revenue for any games it promotes. Handing out 13 000 game keys for a title that Yogscast is involved in certainly seems like promotion to me, especially if Yogscast entertainers start broadcasting TUG videos.

It's Scrooge McDuck, saying, "I've taken your money, now shut up like you promised"

There’s no backer protection for what project creators do with the Kickstarter money after they receive it. That’s ridiculous. (Image sourced prior to modification from: Digital Hippos)

If you already backed either of these projects, you have no say in the matter, as seen among the Yogventures backers who want a refund over a copy of TUG but aren’t being offered it. How the original backers of TUG feel now that Nerd Kingdom have done some kind of deal with Yogscast is also unexplored. These titles are only possible because backers are willing to take a leap of faith, but there appears to be an increasing attitude of, “Shut up, we’ve taken your money” that forms the day after the Kickstarter cheque clears.

Kickstarted video games aren’t guaranteed and aren’t an investment. They also aren’t a charity or a source of responsibility-free funds. At some point video game Kickstarters are either going to realise this or they are going to see backer wallets start to snap shut.

9 thoughts on “The Yogventures Collapse: A Case Study in Kickstarter Video Games Failure

  1. Aaand as a software developer myself, this is why I almost never Kickstarter video games. Risk is far too high, far too easy to go over budget, and unless you’re making something small-ish (FTL comes to mind) with not a bajillion art assets or ultra complex gameplay, $450,000 just isn’t sufficient.

    Good breakdown of the whole situation.

    • FTL is an interesting example itself, given that the developers estimated the project was something like 70% complete before they went for their Kickstarter. They’d already spent a long time working on the title.

      In contrast a lot of people seem to start their video game Kickstarters soon after coming up with just enough of a game so they can show off the screenshots, then plan to sell their title through pre-funding / early access to keep their development funds going. Increasingly it looks like a terrible funding model with almost no consumer protections.

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      • Not Alpha access, but offered a demo of the game while the campaign was running. Maybe this would be off your normal scope of finding the completion rate compared to the funded rate of games that had “90%” of work done.
        In any case continue the great work.

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