Another Kickstarter project fails: The Rise and Fall of YogVentures!

Hot on the heels of my article on why Kickstarter, and all other crowdfunding platforms, need to take a role in protecting the investment of project backers, another very high profile project has gone kaput.

The project is (was?) YogVentures! and Polygon have some of the most in-depth coverage of the failure

Crowdfunded to the tune of $567,665, the project was the brainchild of the team behind the “YogsCast” podcast. The plan was to build an infinitely customisable virtual world for multiplayer adventuring.

Yogventures is going to be an open world sandbox game designed first and foremost as a multiplayer experience. The game will allow you to create and shape worlds, then easily share them and play with friends! We’re going to take the idea of “build your own adventure” to the extreme. Yogventures will provide simple-to-use tools to design worlds that match your imagination and are packed with thrilling stories and epic treasures.

The development work, and a budget of $415,000 (the balance of the Kickstarter after payment gateway and Kickstarter fees), were handled over to “Winterkewl Games”. Although they boasted a roster of “top flight” talent, this was the be Winterkewl’s first ever title.

I didn’t read their Kickstarter page until after things had gone wrong but, coming from a long software development background, I can see red flags all over this project.

The Red Flags (Translated)

“This will be Winterkewl Games’s first title”

Translation: These guys have probably never worked together before and the management are probably newbies.

“Winterkewl’s artists, modelers, animators and programmers are partnering with us on this project to create the game our community wants. Whatever we together can imagine they will endeavour to make real”

Translation: We have no idea what this game is actually going to be but we’re pretty sure we can raise a ton of cash from our audience and we’ll figure it out after that. Making games is pretty cheap anyway, right? People do it in their bedrooms and stuff. It’ll befine!

“Lewis and Simon can barely manage a simple jumping puzzle – so the Yogscast aren’t going to be doing any actual coding! We aren’t programmers or artists but luckily we have close friends at Winterkewl Games who are.”

Translation: We are just going to take your money and hand it over to these guys. We don’t actually have any idea how this is going to pan out. It’s pretty cool that we can do this though, right? Right?

As I wrote on my previous blog about failed crowd funding projects, if you were looking at this as an investment opportunity then you would run a mile. Any VC would.

But’s not an investment, this is Kickstarter!

Indeed it is, and you’d be hard pressed to find a more perfect example of how crowdfunding can go wrong. The project page is in classic “Kickstarter” speak. Friendly, informal. These guys are great, we think you’re awesome, and if we work together well… that’s just going to be greatly awesome, right? There’s no sniff of a business plan here, there’s not even much a cogent idea. But personality goes a long way in crowdfunding and, with a large and trusting audience, Yogscast didn’t seem to have any problems smashing through their initial target of a measly $250,000

So, what REALLY went wrong?

In fairness to the team at Winterkewl, they have been probably more honest than many others when it comes to explaining where they went wrong, including paying one developer $35,000 for two weeks work.

“Because we had worked out a contract that guaranteed each of the principal artists a $35,000 lump sum payment, and we didn’t make any clear clause on how and why someone could legally stop working on the project, the artist in question got paid, worked for about 2 weeks and then stopped working on the project,” – Kris Vale, Winterkewl

“We had no way to force that person to pay back any of the funds and it was a bitter lesson to learn.” – Kris Vale, Winterkewl

That’s just one mistake, what went REALLY wrong, really?

YogsCast, smelling a rat it would seem, a one point reportedly demanded all the unspent money back from Winterkewl. According to reports online, this amounted to only $150,000, which was supposed to be (according to Winterkewl) spent on fulfilling physical rewards to backers and to hire a lead programmer.

**That’s right. They spent $265,000 ***before*** they had their project lead.

Kris Vale of Winterkewl takes this one on the chin:

“too many design changes and my in-experience as a project lead and programmer were what’s to blame for our company never really making what it was we set out to make.”

Design changes (also know as “not having an idea what you are making”) and inexperience – those same red flags again.

So, who IS to blame?

Lewis Brindley, of YogsCast, wrote to backers explaining

“we’re under no obligation to do anything”

but is finding time to blame Winterkewl.

“We’re not ready to make a detailed statement about what happened with Yogventures!. Winterkewl’s statement omits much and I would disagree with a number of points, but there’s no value in going into detail.” – Lewis Brindley

Winterkewl are blaming themselves.

Personally, I’m blaming Kickstarter.

How can this possibly be Kickstarter’s fault?

OK, I’m not exactly blaming Kickstarter, but all crowdfunding. Crowdfunding made this screw up possible. The more times I read the Kickstarter page, the more it sounds like the kind of plan routinely hatched by friends over beers in the pub. You all know these plans, and how they escalate.

  1. We should buy a pub
  2. We should buy a club
  3. We should buy a club in another country

These plans are normally put to bed by the far more deliverable plan of “We should buy kebabs” but imagine, if you will, a vast pub that is open 24 hours a day. Imagine that everyone in that pub is sitting around enormous tables and some people, those with the most sway and something to say, are handed a megaphone and allowed to shout their crazy plans out at all the other patrons. From somewhere, a bucket gets brought out. The bucket is passed, from person to person. Someone throws in some money. Someone else throws in some money. Suddenly, everyone in the pub is reaching for their wallet; the fervour of the crowd has taken over and suddenly the bucket is filling up.

“We’re in!” they all cry. We’re all buying that unknown club in that fictional foreign country. We’re going to be living like kings.

This is what this type of hair-brained scheme + crowdfunding scenario looks like to me. I feel for everyone involved because, right now, we’re surfing the crest of the crowdfunding phenomenon. Anything is possible. You can make that potato salad. If you build it, they will come.

Actually, they will come and give you the money and then to wait to see if you built it.

You’re just kicking these guys when they are down. There’s no winners here.

Actually, there were two winners. Kickstarter got paid. Amazon got paid.

Every backer who put their faith in YogsCast and Winterkewl put their money through Kickstarter and Amazon, neither of whom will do a thing about this situation. As Kickstarter go to great lengths to point out…

It’s the project creator’s responsibility to complete their project. Kickstarter is not involved in the development of the projects themselves.

Kickstarter does not guarantee projects or investigate a creator’s ability to complete their project. On Kickstarter, backers (you!) ultimately decide the validity and worthiness of a project by whether they decide to fund it. – Kickstarter’s “Kickstarter 101” page.

So, what happens now?

It’s anyone’s guess. Winterkewl Games has already told Eurogamer it will “disband”.

If you were hoping to get some information from yognaughts.com? Don’t bother – the domain has been transformed into a fairly sleazy paid-for-redirection machine. Having said that, it dropped me off on a page about how a “London Mum makes £4,397/Month from home”. Maybe the guys at YogsCast and Winterkewl should check it out. It would only take them around 6.45 years to pay everyone back.