Funding a Kickstarter is never a sure thing, but it’s safe to say that once your project gets funded, it’s only a matter of time until the champagne is broken out.
For Vancouver studio Victory Square Games, that celebration never happened. Victory Square’s game Elementary, My Dear Holmes!, which we talked about last month, reached its Kickstarter funding goal on August 26, but by September 6 their project was suspended by Kickstarter, with only a week left to go.
Why it happened, not even studio founder and CEO Sam Chandola is sure.
“Kickstarter does not release any comment when it suspends a project, it has not given us any information,” Chandola told us Monday. “Honestly I am as much in the dark about the matter as most people are out there.”
The prevailing theory online is that their project has been astroturfed by fake accounts – essentially allegations that Victory Square is filling their project page with fake pledges to reach their goal and acquire Ouya funding. Elementary was being funded partly by Ouya’s Free The Games Fund, which promises to match the money earned on a Kickstarter game provided it is a limited exclusive release on the Ouya console and that the game reaches its funding goal.
Chandola calls the allegations absurd, but admits there was suspicious activity in the last week his Kickstarter was active. “When the claims were first brought up I of course naturally was like ‘no that’s silly, that’s not happening.’ But then when people were adamant about the whole issue, I myself reported the matter to Kickstarter and Amazon Payments. If I was doing these fraudulent activities, I would not be going and reporting the matter to Kickstarter and Amazon Payments,” Chandola said. Victory Square was told by Kickstarter that it was fine and to continue promoting their project, but a few weeks later, their project was suspended.
Fans and backers on the Kickstarter’s comments page, which remains up, have both supported Victory Square and vilified them. Backer suspicion isn’t unwarranted however – over the first weekend of September, the first Free The Games Fund game to reach its funding goal finished its Kickstarter at $171,009. The game was MogoTXT’s Gridiron Thunder, a pro football Ouya game that was under intense scrutiny and suspicion throughout its campaign under similar allegations of astroturfing.
The game raised a lot of money from a very small pool of backers, with 8 individual accounts pledging $10,000 each. With only 183 total backers, that meant an average $934.48 was pledged per person.
Elementary, My Dear Holmes! and Gridiron Thunder are so far the only two games to reach their goals from the fund, and both games have encountered similar scandal.
While both companies deny any astroturfing, Chandola admits that a possible reason his project may have been suspended might have had to do with an accidental Kickstarter terms-of-service breach. “We announced a contest after we hit our funding goal saying we would give out one of four consoles to people who have backed us and to anyone else who might be backing us from this point on,” Chandola said. “That’s actually against Kickstarter’s terms of service, because that’s a raffle, which is not allowed by Kickstarter.” When Chandola found out about the rule, he immediately removed the offer and promised to refund anyone who had donated to them solely because of the contest.
Victory Square plans to continue development on Elementary, though Kickstarter funding is out of the question. But Chandola is still planning on acquiring private funding. “It’s not been 100% finalized, but yes, we got some emails from a couple of people who read our side of the story as well, and we’re back and forth with them right now.” If the team can fund the game through private funding, Chandola says they won’t be releasing on Ouya. “The only reason we were going with Ouya Free The Games Fund was because it was a guarantee against low sales. Ouya does not have that huge an install base to justify being exclusive to them for six months because that is a death sentence for us in terms of our sales. We’ll go Android and iOS definitely. We’ll definitely go Windows and Mac and Linux as well.”
On Tuesday, Chandola released a message to all of the backers on Victory Square’s website, apologizing for the controversy and explaining that the game is still planned for release.
While Victory Square is confident they might yet release their game, the suspension and controversy hasn’t been easy for them. “It’s something very sad for us, and we’re trying very hard right now to try and cope with the issue,” Chandola said. “There have been a lot of allegations going against us, against me personally as well. Some people believe us, some people don’t and that’s fine, those who don’t believe us have a right to their opinion, but it’s just difficult to get our side of the story out there.”