Yesterday I posted an article on a Kickstarter campaign that surpassed its funding goal but failed to produce the promised game. The responses to the publisher’s letter to the backers ranges from “don’t worry about my refund” to actual legal action, with many angry comments in between. Yet, there’s another twist to this story having to do with the game’s designers/inventors.
I’ve been an inventor in the toy and game business for over a decade and during that time most of my experiences with publishers have been wonderful. Toy and game inventors place a lot of faith in their business partners. We have to believe they will take the item they’ve licensed from us and create a quality product, work with upstanding manufacturers who won’t rip them off, be honest about how many items they sold, pay us on time, launch the item on time and honor our contract. Obvious, they have faith in us too; they don’t want to see us knock off the game we just licensed to them with another company, withhold important information or share trade secrets. Overall, there’s a lot of trust shared in these sorts of agreements.
When The Doom of Atlantic City’s Kickstarter took a turn for the worst, there were four names that stood out: Lee Moyer, Keith Baker, Paul Komoda and Erik Chevalier. Lee, Keith and Paul all have their names plastered on the top of the campaign’s main page and Erik was the guy who broke the bad news to backers. But were all 4 of these guys at fault? I have no intention of playing judge and jury here, however, it was interesting to read the post from inventor/designer Keith Baker regarding the situation.
With a Kickstarter campaign most people advertise the inventors, designers and artists to entice people to pledge funds, and this is very different from how things are done in the rest of the toy and game industry. In my experience, the product is already finished before there is ever – if any — mention of my name. Therefore, my reputation is relatively safe. Sure, I could end up with a failed product that has my name on the box, but that’s very different than 1,200+ angry backers who are looking for some sort of refund.
Generally speaking, many of the gamers supporting these campaigns understand that the inventor/designer/artist isn’t always the publisher, but it’s not always clear what goes on behind closed doors. The stigma of a poorly executed project where people feel defrauded lingers regardless of how involved an inventor is. It’s the new side effect of Kickstarter campaigns. Still, to make it in this business you’ve got to have faith. Most of the inventor’s I know have at least one bad story to tell, but we all keep going for the love of the job.
In the past decade the business has really changed. Items used to get optioned pretty regularly, advances used to be large enough to pay our grocery and electric bills for a couple months. Now I’ve heard of companies asking for little or no advances, forgetting that most inventors already have materials and shipping costs – not to mention time – invested in an item and they need to recoup that before breaking even! In Keith’s post he talks about how he and Lee lost money on this project because he had to engage a lawyer. Now to repair their reputations they’re going to be publishing a print-and-play version of the game. It’s unfortunate that the item they had hoped to make money on they will now be giving away for free.
In the end, my heart goes out to these guys. Inventor/designers are in this business to make people happy and bring them joy, and the exact opposite has happened. It’s not easy being an inventor/designer these days and most of us are exploring as many avenues as we can to keep our incomes steady. Still, with the changing marketplace there are unforeseen pitfalls and we should take note.