CLANG and the Pitfalls of Kickstarter

It’s not a new story: cool project solicits funds on Kickstarter (or a similar crowdfunding Website), fails to meet its lofty financial goal, and disappears into obscurity. The majority of Kickstarter projects receive less than 20 percent of their funding goals, while 11 percent never see a single donor. That’s not a fantastic batting average.

But what happens when a cool project with a geek-celebrity cheerleader makes its goal, backed by thousands of contributors, and still needs to hit the “Pause” button? Nobody’s really sure, but the crowdfunding world is about to find out: the Subutai Corporation, which was co-founded by bestselling author Neal Stephenson, has announced that its CLANG project (9,023 backers on Kickstarter, who contributed $526,125) is officially on hold for the time being until the team can get its financing situation in better shape.

For those who haven’t been following the project, CLANG is a video game that attempts to portray medieval dueling in a realistic light. Should the game eventually come to life in its intended form, it will include a hardware controller that will allow the player to swing a virtual sword in real time, just like an actual knight of the realm. The initial release (again, should the developers actually finish the project) will feature one-on-one sword-fighting; subsequent versions could weave in an adventure narrative of some sort, although that part of the plan seems a bit more nebulous.

In a posting on Kickstarter, the CLANG team suggested that the game industry’s somewhat-moribund state is at least partially to blame for the holdup. Major gaming studios such as LucasArts have closed, while others are struggling to make payroll. There’s also industry-wide uncertainty as the current generation of consoles reaches the end of its lifespan, and dedicated mobile gaming devices such as the Nintendo DS struggle to maintain their market-share in the face of robust gaming ecosystems on Google Android and Apple’s iOS.

“The overall climate in the industry has become risk-averse to a degree that is difficult to appreciate until you’ve seen it,” the team wrote. “It is especially bemusing to CLANG team members who, by cheerfully foregoing other opportunities so that they could associate themselves with a startup in the swordfighting space, have already shown an attitude to career, financial, and reputational risk normally associated with the cast members of Jackass.”

While the core team hasn’t abandoned CLANG quite yet—despite new investors’ unwillingness to commit to the additional funding—the quest to obtain extra monies and commitments is a daunting one. “When a couple of promising leads fell through for us in a short span of time circa May,” the Kickstarter posting continued, “it became obvious to us that our essential people would have to find other ways to keep body and soul together during an upcoming span of time, of indeterminate length, during which the CLANG project would be unable to pay them.” For the time being, CLANG has been reduced to an “evenings and weekends” project for the developers.

The Subutai Corporation is holding out hope that the next generation of hardware will demand audiences (and game studios, by extension) to demand fundamentally new games on the market, which could create an opening for CLANG. In the meantime, the only thing the potential CLANG audience can do is twiddle their collective thumbs. “Our only efficient choice is to keep doing what we’re doing and wait for the right investor to come along,” the team wrote. “The right investor for CLANG is one who has some pre-existing interest in what we are doing,” whether that’s something as simple as a lifelong obsession with sword-fighting.

A story like this isn’t likely to cool the collective ardor for crowd-funding passion projects (especially if said projects are backed by a celebrity of some sort), but it does suggest that even the most well-financed projects can still devolve into messiness.


Image: Subutai Corporation

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