Two years ago, beloved science-fiction writer Neal Stephenson launched a crowdfunding campaign to start making a realistic swordfighting game. The Clang Kickstarter notched more than $500,000 towards that end. But a game never materialized and, as announced today, people who backed Clang are starting to get their money back. The game, it seems, won't be happening.
In a long message titled "Final Update" on the Clang Kickstarter page, Stephenson talks about the journey of the in-development title after the crowdfunding campaign ended:
Last year, Subutai Corporation delivered the CLANG prototype and the other donor rewards as promised. The prototype was technically innovative, but it wasn't very fun to play. This is for various reasons. Some of these were beyond our control. Others are my responsibility in that I probably focused too much on historical accuracy and not enough on making it sufficiently fun to attract additional investment.
Members of the team made large personal contributions of time and money to the project before, during, and after the Kickstarter phase. Some members, when all is said and done, absorbed significant financial losses. I am one of them; that has been my way of taking responsibility for this. The team had considerable incentives—emotional and financial—to see CLANG move on to the next round of funding. They showed intense dedication and dogged focus that I think most of our backers would find moving if the whole story were told. I will forever be grateful to them. In the end, however, additional fundraising efforts failed and forced the team to cut their losses and disband in search of steady work.
In this last update, Stephenson says that people who have asked for refunds have received them. The author of Snow Crash also addressed his own silence regarding development and explains why he's pulling the plug:
I have delayed talking publicly about these projects for a long time because I kept thinking that at least one of them would reach a point where I could describe it in something other than generalities. I apologize for that delay. But now a year has passed since the last update and I've decided that it's cleaner and simpler to cut the cord, and announce the termination of CLANG. Future announcements can then happen in their own good time, giving any new projects a fresh start.
Stephenson and his game-making partners seem to have run into the problem that he acknowledged—established video game entities not wanting to take a chance on something different when Kotaku spoke to him last year:
In that "Pause Button/State of Clang" update eight days ago, Stephenson cited a risk-averse climate in the video game industry as one of the obstacles he and Subutai dev team are facing. I asked him if there was a particular moment of rude awakening, where he realized that no entity would be willing to take a chance on a experimental, small-to-midsize game even with his sizable cachet attached to it.
"It was more of a slow, dawning awareness of what that climate was like," Stephenson said. "After you've had a few of these conversations go the same way, you start to recognize what the overall pattern is."