Kickstarter Scam: What Areal Can Teach Us

Is this Kickstarter project a scam? Don't contribute to suspicious campaigns like Areal and Mythic. Here are some tips to make sure you're giving to a trustworthy project.

If you follow video game news or frequently give to Kickstarter campaigns, then you’ve likely heard the recent uproar over the Areal Kickstarter project. For those who missed the news, the Areal project turned out to be a Kickstarter scam—or at least dishonest. After reaching then exceeding its fundraising goal, the campaign was suspended by Kickstarter before being funded.

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News outlets have more of the details, but the issue at hand is that Kickstarter is becoming a hotbed for scams, particularly in the video game category. Don’t let a stranger walk away with your hard earned money. Here are some tips for making sure your donations are going to a trustworthy cause.

Let Areal be a Lesson: How to Spot a Kickstarter Scam

When it comes to donating to Kickstarter projects, especially in the video game category, it’s important to do your homework and make certain that the project you are about to help fund isn’t a Kickstarter scam. Unfortunately, not everyone knows how to properly research a Kickstarter campaign, so we’ve come up with a checklist to help you fund trustworthy Kickstarter video game projects.

Does this Kickstarter Project Violate the Terms of Service?

First things first, actually read the Kickstarter ToS and their Rules. Does the project you want to contribute to violate either the rules or terms of service? If yes, or if you are still uncertain, then you might want to hold on to your money. The rules section even goes so far as to lay out a number of things that are prohibited as well as requirements projects must meet.

Research the Project Creators and Principals

Try digging for more information to help you determine whether or not the project is trustworthy. Look at who is involved and who’s created the project. It’s not uncommon to see video game projects touting that their creators hail from major studios or that they’ve worked on popular games. That doesn’t mean anything unless you can verify it. Such was the case with the popular Kickstarter campaign for Mythic, as well as Areal (see the Areal Kickstarter screenshot below). The problem was there was no name-dropping, no one you could look up to verify that they had, in fact, worked on the games they claimed. By contrast, the Ouya Kickstarter project dropped names all over the place making it easy to look up anyone involved and verify their history or, you know, their existence as a real human being.

Areal Kickstarter Claims

Things to Look For When Researching Project Creators and Principals
  • Do they have the industry knowledge and experience necessary to make this game come to life? Look for Linkedin profiles or other profiles listed on trustworthy sites.

  • Have they worked on similar projects?

  • Search their name on Google. Add the terms “fraud” or “scam” to the search. Find anything? Read these second results thoroughly, accusations of scams online are rampant and not always fair to the accused. Take scam accusations with a grain of salt.

  • Company interaction on Kickstarter page. Real projects tend to have frequent and valuable updates on a fairly regular basis. If a company ignores questions from backers, or makes infrequent or very vague updates, that could be a warning sign. Be especially aware of game footage that seems vague. One of the Areal giveaways was that the posted game footage could have come from any FPS game.

  • Look for press releases or articles on trustworthy sites that promote or talk about the Kickstarter project. PR is time consuming and expensive—not something most scammers are going to bother with.

What Should I Do if I Suspect a Kickstarter Project of Being a Scam?

If you think a specific Kickstarter project is a scam, the first thing you should do is report it to Kickstarter by using the “Report This” button at the bottom of the product page. External resources are also available. The website Kickscammed was created to report and investigate Kickstarter scams and to provide a catalog of suspicious projects so that would-be crowdfunders have an alternate source when judging a project’s trustworthiness.

There’s also Kicktraq, which charts the progress made by Kickstarter projects with easy to view charts and graphs. Since one of the tell-tale signs of a fake Kickstarter campaign is inconsistent contributions, you can go to their site and input the projects name to see a history of donations.

If there are unusual spikes in fundraising or the project gets a massive mystery sum right at the end of what might otherwise be described as a lackluster campaign, then something is probably up. Check for press releases that match the dates donations spike, if there aren’t any then proceed with caution.

You can view the chart for Areal on Kicktraq and see that there’s an initial spike at the start of the campaign and then virtually no activity until the end of the campaign. That indicates there’s a good chance that the project creators donated initially to drive interest, then donated again at the end to capitalize on a last-minute push that relies on the excitement surrounding a nearly-funded project and the sense of urgency that comes with meeting the funding deadline.

In the end, if it looks suspicious wait to see if anything changes—see if posts from the page operators become more credible. Otherwise, simply avoid funding projects that aren’t clearly legit.

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Josh Squires
A copywriter and content writer for numerous companies and blogs. Hates humidity, loves Asian food and Crows manga.