Why Shadow of the Eternals’ high-profile crowdfunding is floundering

4 Posted by - May 13, 2013 - Crowdsourcing, Opinion, Rewards & Loyalty, Uncategorized

On the Kickstarter scale of things, Shadow of the Eternals looked like as a slam dunk. It’s the spiritual successor to Eternal Darkness, one of the most revered titles ever released on the Nintendo Gamecube, from the same underdog team of developers. It even has a demo trailer that wouldn’t look out of place on stage at someone’s E3 press conference.

And its fundraising is not going well.

Out of a goal of $1.5 million, Shadow of the Eternals barely passed the 10% funding mark in its first five days, with roughly $156,000 raised. Most Kickstarter campaigns do the bulk of their funding in the first 48 hours. Shadow’s third day of fundraising only saw a gain in the $1000 range.

Today a campaign just launched on Kickstarter,  but at $14,000 in to a $1.35mil goal it doesn’t seem to be making much headway.

What’s going wrong? It could simply be that the funding crowd put the brakes on a deal they don’t entirely care for. Because while Shadow of the Eternals has a lot going for it, its developer has ignored or sidestepped a lot of things those enthusiast investors need.

Foremost among them: trust. Shadow’s campaign didn’t initially roll out on Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, or any official crowdsourcing site that states and strictly enforces its funding rules. Developer Precursor Games set up a donations page on their own website, which clearly lacks Kickstarter’s all-or-nothing safeguards. The FAQ on Shadow states that their goal is “flexible.” Asked directly by James Brightman of Games Industry International what might happen if Shadow doesn’t raise the full $1.5 million, Precursor CEO Paul Caporicci replied, “At the end of the 30-day campaign, we’re just going to evaluate our options.”

That suggests Precursor might not immediately refund pledged donations if they fall short of their goal…something Kickstarter does automatically.

Then you have the team itself. Precursor is essentially the remnants of the now-shuttered Silicon Knights, including its controversial creative director, Denis Dyack. While they did indeed make Eternal Darkness, Silicon Knights’ last two games were the universally reviled X-Men: Destiny and Too Human, the mediocre super-flop that plunged the company into a failed legal dispute with Epic Games.

The court ruling in that case ordered all remaining copies of Too Human destroyed…a sentiment echoed by many game reviewers. Other stories of mismanaged funds have floated around the Internet for years.

If that didn’t eat up whatever goodwill Precursor had, one final thing does: a flimsy promise that donors will have direct involvement in Shadow’s development.

Those kinds of promises have shown up frequently in Kickstarter campaigns — the recently released Stardrive even features five playable factions created by top-tier donors. In Shadow’s case, anyone who contributes gains membership into the Order of the Unseen — basically amounting to access to a restricted forum where, according to Caporicci, “allows backers to stay in communication with Precursor, suggesting anything from insanity effects to include, story elements, what platforms to support, etc.” Given the sophistication of the demo — built in CryEngine — and Dyack’s own history of butting heads with fans over creative choices, it’s easy to be skeptical about just how much impact community members can hope to have.

It also seems very lightweight compared to a $5000-tier reward (one taker so far) to design your own sanity event, a signature gameplay feature from Eternal Darkness. Suggestions can be ignored, and when placed against someone who’s paid to get hands-on, it feels more likely that they will be.

And of course, donors might question what they’ll get for their money. That $1.5 million will only fund the first installment in a proposed episodic series, not a complete product in itself. Precursor’s plan seems to treat later episodes as stretch goals for hitting unspecified marks above and beyond the initial $1.5 million. Thus far, that doesn’t seem to be much of an issue. Shadow is on track to miss its goal by a wide margin, suggesting its story will never be finished. That’s a possibility guaranteed to alienate gamers.

Kickstarter proved time and again that the community would cheerfully send money to a talented developer with a great idea. Arguably, Precursor has their great idea — certainly, they have a better presentation than most indies could ever hope for. They just left far too many question marks on the table.

Gamers have expectations when they play a game. Now they’re applying that scrutiny to become more savvy funders. Caveat emptor, indeed.