The Case Of The Disappearing Kickstarter

It's the biggest fear of anyone who spends $10 or $50 to help fund a new game.

You see a cool-looking game on Kickstarter or some other website where creative people can ask fans to help pay for their projects. You think it sounds awesome. You give them your money, maybe in exchange for some cool swag, or a copy of the game when it's released. The Kickstarter is funded. Everyone's happy.

And you never hear from them again.

In August of 2010, Brooklyn-based game designer Max Drzewinski raised over $10,000 for a side-scrolling action-adventure game called Perdition (whose art is pictured above). With this money, Drzewinski and his team promised they'd create a prototype of the game and pitch it to publishers in hopes of getting their game picked up and distributed on services like Xbox Live. They promised that backers would receive concept art, t-shirts, and other Perdition-themed goodies in exchange for their donations.

Two and a half years later, Perdition has disappeared.

The latest update from Drzewinski's company—called, incidentally, Abandon Hope Games—says that the project isn't dead yet. That was in August of 2011. The latest update on Perdition's Kickstarter page is from December of 2010.

Last week I reached out to Drzewinski to ask about Perdition. He said the game is still happening, and he sent over the following statement:

As our flagship game we feel that its first impression is paramount and we have a high standard for its level of quality. We don't want to compromise anything to meet an arbitrary release date, so we've been taking the time to polish every detail and interaction before we release it to the general public. In the long run, we believe our backers will appreciate the effort we've put into making it a beautiful, seamless game. Importantly, we will also have something that we are proud of.

I asked why he hasn't said anything to the people who gave him $10,000, but he didn't respond. I called him this afternoon, but haven't heard back.

And Perdition's backers haven't heard back either.

"Wow, it has been a while since I have heard anything from these guys," said Anibal Arocho, a video game consultant for Hit Detection who gave $20 to Perdition.

"The last update I received was February 9th 2011, asking for my address so that they could send my reward," he told me in an e-mail. "Never received any reward or any further updates. There was a 'VIP' page that had a gallery, but the username and password no longer seem to work. Honestly I had forgotten all about it. Not feeling particularly burned or sour about this, just curious what happened."

So what can people like Arocho do in cases like this? While Kickstarter won't give out refunds, the crowdfunding site says that creators are legally required to dole out the rewards that they promise for each donation. I reached out to Kickstarter last week to ask about this specific case, but they have yet to get back to me. For now, I'll just quote their FAQ:

Is a creator legally obligated to fulfill the promises of their project?

Yes. Kickstarter's Terms of Use require creators to fulfill all rewards of their project or refund any backer whose reward they do not or cannot fulfill. (This is what creators see before they launch.) We crafted these terms to create a legal requirement for creators to follow through on their projects, and to give backers a recourse if they don't. We hope that backers will consider using this provision only in cases where they feel that a creator has not made a good faith effort to complete the project and fulfill.

At least one unhappy Kickstarter donator has sued a creator in small claims court and won, so legal action is viable in situations like this.

Last year, Kickstarter made quite a few waves within the gaming world: the site's game projects earned a whopping $83,144,565 in 2012 alone. Some of those projects, like Double Fine's adventure game and the Android-based Ouya gaming console, made millions of dollars.

And while we've seen some of these game projects succeed—Ouya, for example, will be out this June—how many more will turn out like Perdition? How many people disappear after earning thousands of dollars? How many people will never receive the rewards that they're promised?