Ouya Involved in Kickstarter Crowdfunding Scandal
"Consumer trust above all."
Kickstarter, the biggest crowdfunding platform on the internet, has in a very short amount of time managed to become indelibly linked with game development and gaming culture. When the Ouya took its chances with the people on the internet, it was met with an overwhelming response. From a "modest" $950,000 goal, it raised over $8.5 million and became an instant Kickstarter darling.
Not, of course, that the cute little Android console has managed to make it without more than its fair share of bad press. From bad controllers to late unit shipping, a pitifully small collection of titles, and a terrible lack of price transparency, the Ouya has had to fight an uphill battle to be recognized within the gaming industry.
In an attempt to ensure continued Ouya interest, and to get their hands on some big buzz titles as Ouya exclusives, the company launched its Free the Games fund earlier this summer - a promise to double the funding for all successfully Kickstarted game titles (up to $250,000) in return for six months Ouya exclusivity.
Now the first Free The Games Kickstarters are starting to wrap up... and people are starting to ask questions.
Suspicious Backer Activity
For both crowfunded titles Elementary, My Dear Holmes and Gridiron Thunder, an unusually high number of backers with no prior funding experience set up accounts within the month to support them. Add in the fact that many of these accounts contributed unusually high amounts ($10,000+) during periods of lagging activity, looked like bot accounts (celebrity photos, suspected computer-generated mashups of names, etc.), and quickly reorganized while several disappeared in the wake of community suspicion, led many people to question the legitimacy of these games.
In one case, one backer (now gone) was a proven fake account using a fake name and picture of a woman who has been missing since 2005.
As suspicions continued to pile up, the game developers themselves were beginning to question the identities of some of their backers.
Sam Chandola, head of Victory Square Games who are making the recently-funded point-and-click adventure Elementary, My Dear Holmes spoke to Polygon a few days ago, saying that he contacted Kickstarter himself to verify whether the backer accounts were real, providing this exchange:
I am currently running a crowdfunding campaign for a point-and-click adventure game, Elementary, My Dear Holmes.
A good number of our backer profiles have no previous Kickstarter history. These profiles joined in July/August 2013, and have profile pictures of famous celebrities instead of real people. I previously reached out to Amazon Payments for clarification and they suggested I get in touch with you.
This could be a really random coincidence (our ad-campaign reached out to over 20,000 Sherlock-Holmes fans, some of whom could have become first-time KS users), or not. If it would be possible, we would like to know if there is a correlation between the payment method registered to a number of profiles from our backers list.
Thanks for writing in, and congratulations on the success of your project!
If you'd like to know more about backers who have found your project, you can always take a look at their profile to get a better feel for them. It's very possible that these first-time backers have found your project through your outreach, or just by browsing Kickstarter - I wouldn't be surprised if Sherlock Holmes fans had a way of sleuthing these things out! And of course, if needed, you're also welcome to message any backers who you'd like to know better, if you really have hesitations about their pledge.
That said, I'd just suggest continuing to promote your project, so that if for some reason these pledges don't go through or there are otherwise issues (as can occasionally happen with first-time backers) then you're still above your goal. When it comes to getting new backers, we see time and time again that getting the word out through your own existing networks is the most effective. Many people browsing Kickstarter do look around for new projects to back, but the majority of the people who find and back your project will be friends, friends of friends, or fans of the work you do.
I recommend considering what type of people might be interested in your project, and thinking about how to reach them. Consider reaching out through blogs, other websites, or even events. For more tips on how to promote your project, check out our Kickstarter School linked below.
Best of luck,
From this exchange we can assume that it doesn't look like any help from Kickstarter is forthcoming to look any deeper into this one yet.
As for Gridiron Thunder, the Kickstarter reached $78,466 with only 142 backers, with an average of $533 per backer. The game received under $100 every day during its first week, then spiked with new backer offerings a little over $10,000 for a couple days, slumped, then made over $25,000 on two separate days again before slumping.
Fake accounts continued to pop up, confusing the legitimately suspicious accounts with more troll activity. This one screen capped below is an example of an account that was made solely for the purpose of making this comment:
Because of all of this activity, many users have suggested that the staff may be backing the games themselves in order to reach Ouya's Free the Games requirements which is, of course, against Kickstarter rules.
Andy Wong, CEO of MogoTXT, makers of Gridiron Thunder, responded to these accusations when asked by Polygon:
"Some of the first accusations made against us was that we were scam artists who would take the money and run and not build the game that we promised. They made this accusation despite the fact that the developers on my team previously worked at companies like EA, Kixeye, Glu and so forth. Did they really think that all 10 of us would run off to Bermuda or the Bahamas with $78,000. It's almost comical.
"The current accusations are in the same vein. While we can't stop people from making baseless accusations, we will prove them all wrong again."
Now the only voice left in the "wasn't me" party is Ouya's... which has been noticeably silent in all of this. There has been no comment yet from that quarter to respond to the accusations.
What do you think?
I don't enjoy pointing fingers needlessly on baseless suspicions, but there is a great deal of interesting activity going on with these Kickstarters, and the biggest link between them is their involvement in the Ouya's Free the Games Fund. However, it does make one consider... what exactly would Ouya get out of it? A game that is proven that people don't actually really want that much?
End result? I don't know. All I know is that from the first I have not been a big fan of the Free the Games fund. As I pointed out about a month ago when the fund was announced, the developers are tying themselves down for half a year to a platform that relies more so on them for exposure than they are on it. But add in the fact that the company seems to be involved in every new piece of internet drama that pops up, I'm doubly glad that my favorite Kickstarters have given them a pass.
How about you?