Update at 06:42, 10/09/2013:
The following is an except from a statement posted by CEO Sam Chandola on the Victory Square Games website:
“So why did we get suspended? It would be a lie to claim that I have the 100% correct answer. Kickstarter did not give a reason to us, and it does not comment on suspensions. Do I have my suspicions around the suspension? You bet I do…
“Some people allege that I have a hand to play in this. That I orchestrated the whole campaign. That I am an evil overlord who laughs like a maniac in the middle of the work day to scare all our employees. Those people have a right to their opinions. You’ve probably heard me saying this to the media, but I want to say this to you personally as well: Not me, nor anyone at Victory Square Games did anything to astroturf our project. We did not do it ourselves, we did not pay anyone to do it, we did not ask anyone to do it. If we had, I would not have reported my own project. I created four accounts for my immediate friends and family, and the employees we have at Victory Square Games created a few for their friends and family to donate. We operate from a huge shared office space with 7 other companies, and so we coaxed some of those people to donate as well…
“So if we did not astroturf ourselves, do I know who did it then? Do I know what vile sorcery is this? Do I know who tried to make us look like shit and succeeded? No, I don’t. I wish I did. Do I have my suspicions on whom I think did it? Yes, I do. But they are suspicions. Strong suspicions, but suspicions nonetheless. And I will not make claims based purely on suspicions.”
We really feel for the Victory Square Games’ team: to have such an interesting project end in such a fashion must be devastating. Fortunately however, this doesn’t appear to be the end for Elementary, My Dear Holmes as ‘people to access with capital and people who like to invest in high technology’ have reached out. Nothing has been finalised as yet but the developer is hoping that that game will eventually be released on on PC, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android, and possibly some consoles too, after at least six months’ work.
MogoTXT have finally posted a thank you message to backers on the Kickstarter page for Gridiron Thunder, and have clearly decided not to comment on the allegations against them. Unfortunately, this silence has led to many gamers continuing the debate on forums across the world so it seems like they’ll eventually have to release some kind of statement if they wish to avoid further controversy.
Update at 15:52, 09/09/2013:
MogoTXT’s campaign for Gridiron Thunder ended on Kickstarter around sixteen hours ago. A total of $171,009 was received from 183 backers – that’s 228% of the funding target and an average pledge of just under $935 from each person.
Eight backers pledged at the $10,000 tier meaning that these alone assured the success of the project. Interestingly, there has been no thank you from the developer to their supporters as yet; this has become something of a tradition once a campaign closes. MogoTXT’s silence will only fuel further debate about the allegations described in our original article below.
This is something that was picked up on by a comment on the Kickstarter page by Naz earlier today: “What, devs didn’t even bother to post a new victory dance video?” Robert H. Oates III replied, saying that he had found a GIF on the OUYA Forum. The latest comment is an observation from Will R, shown below.
We’ve yet to receive the ‘personal message to backers’ mentioned by Victory Square Games’ CEO Sam Chandola on the Kickstarter page for Elementary, My Dear Holmes. As always, further updates will be added to this article as we receive details.
Update at 10:08, 07/09/2013:
“This is a message from Kickstarter Support. We’re writing to inform you that a project you backed, Elementary, My Dear Holmes!, has been suspended by Kickstarter… As a policy, Kickstarter does not comment on specific reasons for a project’s suspension to the creator or backers, but included below is information from our FAQ regarding suspensions. Project suspensions are not reversible.
“A project may be suspended by Kickstarter if it:
Following on from this, the comment shown below was posted by CEO Sam Chandola on the Kickstarter page:
Despite these troubles, MogoTXT’s campaign for Gridiron Thunder still seems to be continuing and, with only thirty-seven hours left to go on the clock and $114,453 received, it seems unlikely that the developer would decide to cancel the Kickstarter now. We’ll bring you more updates as we receive details.
Original article at 11:33, 06/09/2013:
We recently published a preview on Victory Square Games’ upcoming point-and-click adventure, Elementary, My Dear Holmes. In response to this we received a comment asking whether we would be doing a follow-up on their ‘Kickstarter funding irregularities’ so, in the name of good journalism, we’ve done just that.
First we’ll start with a bit of history. Back in July 2012, OUYA launched a Kickstarter campaign for their new games console. This was to be powered by Android and developers would have access to the hardware’s open design so they could produce titles ‘for the living room’, taking advantage of the television. A goal of $950,000 was set but nobody could have predicted the popularity of the project: OUYA received a total of $8,596,474 from 53,416 backers – that’s over 900% of the funding originally asked for.
The campaign became an instant ‘Kickstarter darling’ and has been one of crowdfunding’s biggest successes to date. But unfortunately this hasn’t stopped the console from coming into some bad press following on from its launch on 25 June 2013. It has been plagued by complaints of late deliveries and sub-par performance; it’s been described as ‘an ungainly mess of a consumer product that requires more work than it’s worth to get the most out of it’ by ITProPortal; and a terrible advertisement uploaded to YouTube has since been pulled. It’s safe to say that the launch of the OUYA wasn’t exactly handled in the best way and the console now has a battle on its hands to be recognised within the gaming industry.
In an attempt to raise the OUYA’s profile and expand the interest generated by the Kickstarter campaign, on 09 August 2013 the company launched their Free The Games fund. The idea behind this is commendable: for any eligible game products launched on the crowdfunding platform from this date until 10 August 2014 that meet their funding target and raise at least $50,000, OUYA will match every dollar up to a total of $250,000. A condition is attached: titles benefitting from the scheme must be exclusive to the console for at least six months after their release.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on 18 July 2013, CEO Julie Uhrman explained that OUYA was starting the scheme to mark the one-year anniversary of its own successful Kickstarter entry. She went on to announce a further incentive for interested developers: “The kicker, at the end, is whichever [campaign] raises the best will get a $100,000 bonus.” She concluded by saying: “What we’re doing is hard. Building a game ecosystem is hard. We’re leaders in this space. The audience is helping us get better because of loyalty for the product we’re building. We have a strong community and a brand that’s getting better every day.”
On 26 August 2013, a post was made on OUYA’s blog announcing that the company had received over thirty submissions from developers during the first two weeks of the Free The Games fund. Thirty Kickstarter campaigns were registered to launch over the coming months and ten had already gone live (this has now increased to eleven), two of these being MogoTXT’s Gridiron Thunder and Victory Square Games’ Elementary, My Dear Holmes.
This brings us up to the present time and sadly here is where the story turns sour. On 20 August 2013, a backer called Larnell posted the following comment on the Kickstarter page for Gridiron Thunder: “Don’t know if you all want to fill in the OUYA community at ouyaforum.com but they are saying that you guys [are] maybe trying to scam people because you have $51,000 and only 48 backers, also you plan on coming out in Sept which is super close and you have licensed players??? Or [likenesses] thereof… more people want to donate but are scared.”
Meanwhile on the unofficial OUYA Forum, Victor Coleiro noted in a thread two weeks ago: “I don’t get it. There are only 47 backers who have pledged about $2,400. Yet the total says they are over $50,000 – I must have missed something, or there’s a mistake somewhere.” It was initially suggested that there may be a glitch with Kickstarter but then the following was posted by Dan Tilly: “…it says they have 46 backers. However, only 39 people have picked a perk. So that means 7 people donated without wanting anything in return. Also doing the math those 7 people donated $50,000 of the 52k total. Seems a little fishy, no other Kickstarter pages are having bugs.”
Then on 26 August 2013, a supporter known as Goat made the following comment on the Kickstarter page for Elementary, My Dear Holmes: “Could you please explain [to] us why in the backer list many backers are simply created out of an alphabetical list of first names (check for yourself if you don’t believe me), and why it’s their first project backed ever (so not even backing OUYA)? Also how your funding got so successful so fast (honestly I like adventure games, but there’s nothing exceptional about your campaign)? Could it be because OUYA promised to double the pledges to your project?”
Both Gridiron Thunder and Elementary, My Dear Holmes have reached their funding targets relatively quickly, with the former achieving $75,000 in eighteen days and the latter raising $50,000 in thirteen. Of the ten original Kickstarter projects mentioned in OUYA’s blog post on 26 August 2013 these are the only two that have been successful so far. The next biggest achiever is the campaign for Check: Chapter One which, at the time of writing, has received thirty percent at nine days left on the clock; and there are three other projects that have have currently received minimal backing and are showing as zero percent.
OUYA game campaigns have unfortunately had a lot less success than the console’s Kickstarter: of the thirty-four completed projects we managed to find, less than a quarter have actually been victorious. And of those that have been a success, the average amount of funding received was only around $2,400 despite an average of $184 being it. Take a look at the chart below – when compared to successfully-completed and current OUYA title campaigns, you can see that Gridiron Thunder and Elementary, My Dear Holmes are striving for a lot more.
Following on from this, the average number of backers for victorious OUYA projects is 842. Elementary, My Dear Holmes keeps to this trend with a current figure of 843 supporters, but Gridiron Thunder has so far managed to achieve $104,104 from only 156 people. The average donation given for the successful campaigns is almost $24, while Victory Square Games is receiving a higher $67 and MogoTXT is getting a massive $667.
To make matters worse, suspicions in connection with the identity of certain supporters have been raised. As noted on NeoGAF, many Gridiron Thunder backers have used newly-created accounts on Kickstarter and some of these have duplicate names. Fanboys Anonymous have reported that a person named Alivia Das made a pledge but the photograph accompanying her profile is that of Alivia Kail who went missing two years ago. And finally, it has been highlighted on the Kickstarter page for Elementary, My Dear Holmes that ‘hundreds’ of backers have used stock images of celebrities with the same first name (although it’s reported that many of these have now been changed).
So there’s definitely something odd going on here – but what? There’s no hard evidence to suggest who’s behind this ‘scam’ or even if there’s a scam going on at all, despite how adamant some arguers are on their forums. Theories are currently being debated across the internet, with people hinting that MogoTXT and Victory Square Games are creating fake backers for their campaigns in order to hit their targets and fleece OUYA out of their million, or that unscrupulous developers are slandering each other in a bid to get their hands on the $100,000 bonus.
It has also been suggested that OUYA themselves may be behind the suspicious pledges to ensure that their Free The Games fund is a success and generate publicity. In a comment on Polygon’s recent article on 29 August 2013, Talaviir said: “Hopefully it’s not something like OUYA themselves backing certain projects. Would be a bit embarrassing to them to create this program, but then none of the games participating get funded because who would want to give money to a developer to make a game exclusive to a platform so few people own.”
Another theory being argued is that the developers have been forced into a corner by OUYA and as a result are creating fake accounts to ‘back themselves’. According to a post by Yare on the Something Awful forum on 27 August 2013, shown in the screenshot above: “OUYA was supposed to directly fund MogoTXT to make the game, but [they] flipped and changed the deal when they had the brilliant idea to run the [Free The Games] Fund instead. So a game that had just started development a few weeks prior and had months to go before shipping… had to scramble to put something on a Kickstarter nobody planned for and ship something afterward ASAP to get paid.”
“We’ve seen the controversy around the games and we’d love if you would let the community know a couple of things:
- We’ve heard our community’s concerns and appreciate their interest in OUYA and not being scammed.
- OUYA has now contributed monetarily to these two games or any other games participating in the Free The Games Fund program.
- As of now and as far as we know at this point both Gridiron Thunder and Elementary, My Dear Holmes comply with our rules and regulations so we will be moving forward with funding. If that changes, we will let you know as we always do.
- We really just want to support game development while bringing great content to OUYA – this was our full intention with the Free The Games Fund and we hope that spirit is embraced.
“…We have had some generous donors but so have other Kickstarter campaigns. In our case, we have very deep roots in Silicon Valley and great ties to fellow tech entrepreneurs in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. We also have friends in the professional sports world who want to see us succeed. I don’t think there is anything wrong with having generous supporters, and we make no apology for this It does not violate any Kickstarter or OUYA rule.
“Some of the people who initially accused us of being a scam later said, when we showed that we are working on the game, that our game is not very good. So far as we can tell, these criticisms were made by people who have not developed a game of any note. As seasoned developers know, very few games look good until they are actually complete and we took pains to try and explain this.
“What is really unfortunate is that some people, while being so cynical about our motives, repeatedly chose to disregard Kickstarter’s standard for behaviour which is set forth in its community guidelines… If people do not want to support a project, they really should just move on. If they think that they can do better, they can start their own project for the OUYA which is what OUYA would want.”
The last part of this statement is obviously directed at those who have posted their allegations on the Kickstarter page for Gridiron Thunder. This obviously isn’t a laughing matter but we had to chuckle when we read the Wong’s reply shown below to the very vocal Goat.
“I will not shy away from acknowledging… that we do have quite a few first-time backers… This is a concern that I myself brought up with Amazon and Kickstarter. At the same time, we at Victory Square Games are grateful and thankful to all our backers.
“We do not know everything about who they are, what they do, or their personal tastes – but we do thank them for their support. It is not our place to judge how people want to represent or express themselves, but I am hoping to get clarification from Kickstarter sooner than later. After I raised the above mentioned concern, Amazon replied back to us saying that we should confirm with Kickstarter.
“Most [of the audience to which we advertised] are Sherlock Holmes fans, but not traditional gamers, so we are hoping some of them got converted into new backers as well. And while we’re talking stats, our pitch video has been played over 5,5000 according to Kickstarter dashboard, thus leading to many backers.
“It doesn’t help that we are being mentioned alongside Gridiron Thunder and their massive donations in most articles, but we are determined to cooperate and make a game that will make our backers proud.”
As well as providing a copy of his emails to Kickstarter and Amazon Payments to Polygon, Chandola has also been vocal on his campaign with the majority of his comments being directed once again towards Goat. Most recently, he has been asked to explain pledges received from friends and family after the following comment was posted by Riggo: “Another amazing fact is that there is a backer named Samarth Chandola (seems awfully close to the creator’s name) that has backed 3 other questionable projects that the new accounts have swarmed to!”. Below is his response.
So at the moment all three parties are defending their innocence. As mentioned above, although there seems to be something dodgy going on somewhere there’s no hard evidence to prove it. It’s true that the other OUYA projects participating in the Free The Games fund aren’t doing so well but there’s nothing really suspicious about that; with only ten entrants so far, the fact that two have passed their funding targets isn’t far off from Kickstarter’s finding that seven out of ten gaming campaigns fail.
Even if MogoTXT or Victory Square Games are lying about their projects and their suspicious backers – and there’s nothing conclusive to say that they are – they wouldn’t be directly violating any terms. Sure it’s morally dubious, but the conditions of the Free The Games fund don’t specifically forbid the sort of behaviour they’re being accused of (although OUYA does reserve the right to disqualify entrants if they ‘corrupt or affect the administration, security, fairness, integrity or proper conduct’ of their scheme). Kickstarter’s official guidelines don’t include rules that prohibit people from donating large sums of money and the platform absolves itself of any responsibility for enduring a project’s ability to produce results.
So, it seems like the campaigns for Gridrion Thunder and Elementary, My Dear Holmes aren’t scams unless their developers don’t deliver and run off with OUYA’s cash. And seeing as the funds will be paid out in increments and are dependent on several milestones – 25% when the campaign ends, 50% when the game is commercially available on the console, and the remaining 25% when the exclusivity period ends – no developer will see the majority of that money without first releasing a title.
As stated in the Kickstarter FAQ: “Backers should look for creators who share a clear plan for how their project will be completed and who have a history of doing so… If a creator has no demonstrable experience in doing something like their project or doesn’t share key information, backers should take that into consideration.” 1001-Up.com backed Elementary, My Dear Holmes because we liked the concept for game and found Victory Square Games to be lovely when we worked with them on our preview. But supporting a campaign on a crowdfunding platform isn’t a guaranteed winner and comes with a risk. Think before you part with your money – don’t back a product that you have your doubts about – and don’t donate a dollar only so you have access to post numerous rants on a Kickstarter project’s comment section. That’s just poor behaviour.
At the end of the day, the Free The Games fund will hopefully see more developers come forward and create titles that are of a much higher standard than the current OUYA library of games ported from mobiles and tablets. As long as no conclusive evidence is found that OUYA, MogoTXT and Victory Square Games have been up to something dishonest, most people are unlikely to have any real cause for concern – although there’s no denying that this case is an interesting one and OUYA has an uphill battle on its hands to be recognised within the gaming industry.
What are your thoughts on this subject? Do you already own an OUYA or has the talk of scams put you off buying one? As always, let us know in the comments section below.