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Restructuring and squatting: The latest Kickstarter debacle
Restructuring and squatting: The latest Kickstarter debacle
July 28, 2014 | By Mike Rose

July 28, 2014 | By Mike Rose
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing

There's trouble brewing for another video game Kickstarter campaign, as a developer has postponed work on his funded game, and subsequently been accused of squatting in a Californian condo.

Maksym Pashanin ran a successful Kickstarter for a game called Confederate Express at the end of 2013, but later admitted that due to restructuring at his company, development on the game had been postponed.

In its place, the developer revealed a new game Knuckle Club, and said that all backers of Confederate Express would receive a "free reward pack" for Knuckle Club.

But another strange turn of events has been brewing alongside this, as it was suggested that Pashanin has been squatting in an Airbnb condo for the last few weeks, as spotted by Polygon.

Pashanin himself appears to have confirmed that this is the case, leaving a comment on his own Kickstarter page which reads, "Ok guys, what's the latest deets on the drama? 10/10, would squat again."

This has led many of his Kickstarter backers to believe that the entire thing was a scam all along, with one backer stating, "Never in my life have I felt so betrayed and ashamed of having given money to someone."

This comes weeks after Yogscast admitted that its 2012 Kickstarter for an open-world sandbox game called Yogventures has been cancelled.

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Jacek Wesolowski
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Now that there have been a few publicized failures in a short time span, I think it's a good time to discuss crowdfunding's biggest vulnerability, namely the fact that you're essentially buying a promise, and not a product. This is how all investment funding works, but crowdfunding is at an additional disadvantage, because people who are actually giving their money are, in most cases, not equppped with any relevant professional knowledge and experience.

In comparison, traditional publishers may often fail to employ game design expertise in their decision making process, but at the very least they use a different set of criteria, that is: market feasibility. As much as I would like producers and project managers to be more versed in game design, they generally tend to be at least vaguely aware of what is technically possible within given time and budget constraints. This is not to say I want them back - quite the opposite. However, simply removing them from the landscape creates new problems without solving any of the old ones.

Crowdfunding activists aren't going to become game design and production experts any time soon, because this isn't something you can do by reading articles on Gamasutra. You need to actually spend a few years making games. Alternatively, you could spend a few years researching games, like good game journalists do, but we can't ask journalists and new media folks to replace producers, because that would put them in a conflict of interests (as the Yogscast affair illustrates).

We can't simply ask project creators to discipline themselves, either, because that would be naive. If you want to win crowdfunding community's favour, then the most efficient way to do that is, by far, to make an even more attractive and convincing promise. Charisma prevails over doing one's homework in this case. If we leave things the way they are, we're going to see an increase in marketing efforts, which means that a Kickstarter project is going to become an investment, which in turn means that you're going to need money in order to get more money, which means that it's no longer going to support small developers the way it does now. We're also going to see more and more charismatic developers who don't necessarily know much about game development, but who are very good at selling themselves. Basically, it's going to be traditional publishing all over again, only with less accountability.

One option I find worth exploting is peer review, or an audit. Show me your documentation and your prototype, and I'll give you a SWOT. If there's a glaring error in your assumptions, I'm pretty much guaranteed to spot it. I'll put it all in writing, and then you can keep the report and improve your project, or you can publish it so that eveybody knows someone experienced believes in you. For someone like me, such an audit isn't that much work - I think two or three days of reasearch and an interview would be enough. I wouldn't necessarily have to get paid for it; it could be a kind of community service. I'm using myself as an example, because I think this process would work best if it relied on low-profile experts with documented track record. Audits by celebrities would eventually devolve into PR stunts, while audits by people without track record would lack credibility. One important detail is that someone like me doesn't have much incentive to lie. My reputation as a developer is worth more to me than a profit share in a fradulent $500k project.

Another option is, well, the return of the publisher. There are a few sort-of-publishers in the indie segment already, and they're run by people with technical and/or creative experience, which is a good thing. It might actually work, but only if it's widely adopted, and only if the community manages to develop some widely accepted best practices. For instance, I like the general premise of the deal that Indie Fund offers to developers, but that's just something Indie Fund does, and not an industry standard. If every publisher uses completely different methodology, then people aren't going to be able to keep track of it, and we won't achieve the kind of transparency that I think we should be aiming for.

Doru Apreotesei
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My biggest hope is that all these Kickstarter train wrecks eventually force backers to grow up, and stop naively idolizing all the wrong things in the industry, for all the wrong reasons.

Then again, I've hoped for that for the last two years now, and it still hasn't happened:

Tyler Shogren
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Mark Troyer
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I think educating the public on the risks that happen during game development is about as effective as smokers reading the surgeon general's warning on tobacco products. Gamer's that want to see a specific game come into existence know there are development risks but hope that their money in combination with the advertised skill of the developer will overcome the risks.

I think the public would have an easier time trusting a group of known 3rd party developers who can interview and leave a score or feedback on how weak or strong the plan is. A sort of Metacritic but for game project planning. In an ideal world, all kickstarter projects would post their roadmap and not be afraid of feedback from other professionals. Even if some features aren't fully understood, various ballpark estimates could be compared to help identify risky areas.

Now I have no idea who would sign up for reviewing projects but there is value to the crowdfunders in that they have professional 3rd party feedback and there's value to the developer in that they have feedback from peers which may actually help keep their project on track.

Judy Tyrer
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I believe we, as a community, need to back efforts such as those by the Washington state prosecutor to bring fraudulent companies to task. There are no penalties for defaulting on your Kickstarter contract and I believe there needs to be.

Now saying that halfway through development of my Kickstarter funded project and while facing insufficient funds myself, this is a very daring statement. So I'm putting my money and my ass on the line here when I say it. But if we want crowd funding to succeed, and I know I do, we have to get those who are insincere out.

Luis Blondet
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"I believe we, as a community, need to back efforts such as those by the Washington state prosecutor to bring fraudulent companies to task. There are no penalties for defaulting on your Kickstarter contract and I believe there needs to be. "

No, but there are serious consequences to your reputation and that is penalty enough. I don't want the brute force of government involved in this as it will cause more harm than good and it will not solve any problems, it will only change the problems and increase them in number.

Imagine if i was charged of fraud for being unable to deliver on my Kickstarter? I would've never been given the opportunity to reverse the damage the contractor did. I am still raising funds to complete the game while juggling all the pitfalls of life. I work very hard for said funds, 14 days in a row and 12 hours a day in the hot Texas sun. Why would i be swept with the scammers while i'm striving to realize my promise to my backers?

I could've quit. I'm always advised to just declare defeat or to develop another game instead, but that is not what i promised, that is not what the backers backed.

So, again, if the government gets involved it will only attract rich companies or those who can game the system and leave anyone else with a dream and no money or clever schemes out.

As a community, if someone spots a scam of some sort, they can just educate the public on it to warn the herd. After all, you may back a project but you still need to give a final OK in order to pay the amount you pledged. One could easily pledge $1 just to access the Comments section and warn the real backers.

My point is that there are ways to deal with scammers besides involving government and shutting down one more venue for broke-ass indies to realize their dreams.

Jeff Leigh
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With every scam that is successful on Kickstarter, other scammers are emboldened and will begin drafting their own plans.

Projects that fail or are canceled without serious repercussions against those failed to deliver likewise fuel scams and more failure. If an environment equally rewards failure as it does success, failures will quickly outnumber successes.

Christopher Colton
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I think it's important to make a distinction between Kickstarter projects that fail despite their best efforts (say, due to poor management or not having had a clear strategy for delivering a finished product) and those that are actual scams. Lumping in Yogscast (which seems a very obvious example of the former) with Confederate Express (which sounds like it was highly suspect from the beginning) is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Punishing scams and fraud is definitely something that should happen, but I don't see any reason to punish legitimate failure; that is, after all, a risk of investment.

Ron Dippold
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Minor nitpick - I don't think Yogs made anything near a 'best effort' here, seemingly being very detached and cavalier with the money. (Winterkewl seems to have put a lot into it, but were just overwhelmed, as anyone would have been given the scope and schedule ).

But I don't think they were trying to scam anyone, they were just totally unqualified to manage this, so your larger point that intentional scam is a much different type of problem still stands. And then there are some projects where the owners know what they're doing and have done this before, and it should have worked out but Stuff Happens, usually involving a factory in China. Those are the most 'interesting' because they're hardest to predict, so that's real investment risk.

Luis Blondet
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"In its place, the developer revealed a new game Knuckle Club, and said that all backers of Confederate Express would receive a "free reward pack" for Knuckle Club."

Terrible decision. The backers didn't back Knuckle Club, they backed Confederate Express!

Ben Newbon
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People who lose money by backing 'unsuccessful' kickstarters are in no better position than those who lose money gambling on the stock exchange. They have no leg to stand on when complaining.

If they had no knowledge of game development or did little research into the actual viability of the campaign promises, they're as bad as anyone investing money blindly on a random fun sounding company in any industry.

In the few cases where the kickstarter has actually been a full on scam, sensible investors would have done their research and seen through it very early and decided not to back them from the outset. Blindly throwing money at shiny things should not be encouraged nor protected by law.

Will Hendrickson
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This is terrible!

When these guys fail, *especially* big names like Yogscast, it hurts the small indie teams the most, and has almost no effect at all on large companies.

And, due to the nature of the crowdfunding system, this erosion of trust happens more strongly on failed projects than building of trust does on successful ones. Eventually, crowdfunding will mature fully and it won't be useful as a funding platform anymore.