Spirit Siege development on hiatus, could spell trouble for Kickstarter backers

Spirit Siege reached its $55K Kickstarter goal, but the project recently went on hiatus. Should backers be worried?

When the Spirit Siege Kickstarter campaign launched back in August 2014, the game was hailed as revolutionary: a mobile strategy game. The strategy genre has a reputation for slow, methodical gameplay, but developer Nova Heartbeat was confident it had found a way to change all that.

By September 2014, Kickstarter backers had fully funded Spirit Siege to the tune of $55,555. On July 15th, Nova Heartbeat's Ben Frazier confirmed that the game's development was on temporary hiatus, leaving backers worried the game will join the ranks of other failed-yet-funded Kickstarter projects.

What happens when a funded Kickstarter fails?

Crowdfunders don't have much legal recourse when a project goes under. Although the last few years have seen fraudulent project heads prosecuted for failing to deliver on their promises to backers, the law isn't on the donors' side. That's because crowdfunders cannot, by and large, legally invest in a project; the criteria for venture capitalists are steep and exclude over 97% of the US population. Because donation campaigns, such as those hosted on Kickstarter, cannot provide donors with stakes in their business and creative ventures, they hand out rewards instead. But donors might not even receive these, if the projects they back never make it to shipment.

To make matters worse, Kickstarter does not guarantee that backers will receive anything from campaigns to which they donate. Board member Sunny Bates acknowledges that the nature of crowdfunding - in which large amounts of donors pledge small amounts of money to help campaigns reach massive financial goals - is open to abuse:

I think that because where the bulk of the projects are is between the $25 to $1500 range, are you going to go take legal action on something that you put $50 into? I mean you tell me. Maybe if you put $10,000, sure. Or $1000, maybe. But if you lost $25 or $50 then you're a little disappointed and you think the [project creator] sucks.

But that's the beauty of crowdsourcing, it's not really worth your effort — you're disappointed and you're angry that somebody would do this because it does feel like they're duplicitous and they're trying to pull the wool over the crowd's eyes, and clearly they can't. But I think legal action, when you syndicate it out and you have hundreds of backers for any one project, it's a very different story.

So what's the deal with Spirit Siege?

On June 5th, Nova Heartbeat posted an update to the Spirit Siege Kickstarter page, noting that that day was to be programmer Josh Russell's last. Frazier assured fans that the team would "continue to develop the game and keep [them] updated on the goings-on. Until next week!" This is the last update before the July 15th hiatus announcement.

Frazier's update last week hints at Russell's departure being one of the driving forces behind his game's hiatus. The release states that "development on Spirit Siege [will shut down] while we look for an engineer to finish out the work on the project." Frazier goes on to mention that donors who pledged enough to receive beta access on iOS and Android would receive the build "[a]t the end of July." No hard dates were listed.

Despite Frazier's assurances "that the game will become publicly available to everyone, and it will be as soon as we are able," the lack of communication from Nova Heartbeat to its fans is concerning. At the time of this writing, the Spirit Siege Twitter account has not been updated since April 23rd. Combined with the lack of social media activity, Frazier's month-long abandonment of all Kickstarter updates is suspicious, at best. And, perhaps most concerning of all: the Spirit Siege website continues to accept payment for alpha and beta testing access.

Of the 503 backers who helped Nova Heartbeat raise over $55K, each gave, on average, $110. Ten donors gave the developer more than $500, with three generous people each giving $5000. That's a lot of money, more than enough for backers to consider legal action for an undelivered game.

I reached out to Art Director Arisa Scott for comment. I'll end this with her reply:

Spirit Siege is on track for delivering a solid beta at the end of this month (successfully fulfilling all of our backer tiers). Game development is filled with ups and downs, and we are pausing while we find the right person to do the last bit of development work. We’ve been really thankful for the amount of positivity and support we’ve received from our backers. All of our play testing feedback has been very positive, and we are eager to bring this game into the world as soon as we can.

Let's hope that's true. 

Published Jul. 25th 2015
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