Tales from the Kickstarter Crypt: Areal

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Crowdfunding has been a hot topic over the last couple of years, and with good reason. It’s brought us some good games, promised us some great ones for the future, and created a few controversial stories too. Whatever you think of it as a means for funding games, it certainly gives us plenty to talk about. Over the next few weeks in Tales from the Kickstarter Crypt we’re going to take a look at some of the failures and successes of the crowdfunding model .

For our first week we have an absolute nightmare of a Kickstarter campaign, with some interesting twists in the tale. Areal was brought to Kickstarter by developer West Games, and they promised to make a spiritual successor to the seminal PC game S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl , a shooter in which players traverse a mysterious radioactive open world. West Games planned to develop this within two years, and release it for the PC, the Playstation 4, Xbox One and the Wii U.

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Many S.T.A.L.K.E.R fans were excited, and people began to back the project. But, suspicions were raised by the small funding goal set by West Games, with only $50,000 being asked for. This seemed a very small sum of money for a project of the scale and scope which was being proposed. Lead developer, Eugene Kim told Russian site Games-TV that in fact this money was only needed to be able to attract the attention of larger investors. Or, at least that’s what he said at first.

On the company’s Kickstarter homepage Kim then said that the developers had pooled their own money, and were simply using Kickstarter to take them over the line stating:

“Unlike most companies, every one of our employees has invested their time and money into making Areal. The budget that we’ve pooled together covers salaries and some aspects of game development. We need the Kickstarter and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. community to support us by helping us cover the rest.”

However, in another interview with Kotaku Kim claimed that the project in fact already had investors lined up:

“What I can say is that Microsoft has reached out to us and is interested in our project. With that said, we will remain independent in any case and will release on all the platforms we listed. Of course we need people’s support to help us get the game out there, and of course, the more people contribute, the more resources we have.”

Understandably, people began to grow suspicious at all of these different explanations.

Allegations of Misused Assets

Another thing which raised suspicions about this Kickstarter, was the assets being used in the video on the games Kickstarter page shown below, which seemed to show footage of the original S.T.A.L.K.E.R games, without labels. What was new appeared to be stock Unity assets, which would be fine if West Games weren’t claiming to be designing a new engine from the ground up.

However, even the various screenshots and assets shown by West Games faced accusations of being photoshopped or stolen from other sources. Wiiudaily.com investigated and posted the following images.

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The above picture shows the Areal Kickstarter image on the left, while the right image is from a Unity Medieval Utility screenshot. The Areal image looks fairly obviously like a photoshopped version of the Unity image.

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These assets from S.T.A.L.K.E.R 2 and Areal certainly look mighty similar too.

The Development Team

One of the main selling points for Areal was that it was apparently being developed by people heavily involved in the creation of the first S.T.A.L.K.E.R game. However, this was thrown into doubt when developer Vostock Games, made of a large portion of the original S.T.A.L.K.E.R  development team, claimed that this was false. This led to vicious claim and counter-claim by West Games, until Vostock Games clarified that they merely meant that stating “brought to you by the creators of S.T.A.L.K.E.R” was disingenuous, as S.T.A.L.K.E.R had been created by many people.  Much damage had already been done by this claim however, with many now proclaiming the entire Kickstarter a fraud.

This was further complicated by the fact that people discovered that photos of the development team on the Kickstarter page were available on a stock photo site, for sale. This did prove to be innocent enough however, as the picture were taken by a friend, and the team had agreed to this use of the photos. Yet, once again, much damage was done by these accusations before this clarification was provided.

Friends in High Places

Things then took a turn into the decidedly surreal when West Games claimed they had received a letter from Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Despite they themselves expressing doubts about the veracity of this letter, they published it anyway;

“Dear Eugene,

My daughter told me about your game called Areal, which is the spiritual successor to STALKER, and told me that she payed money to support your project on Kickstarter. I also love video games as well as shooters, and I like this idea. It’s important that our people do not shoot at each other, but instead, play games like this.

The first part of STALKER took place in Ukraine, and in the second game Areal, you put all events in the center of Russia – and if this is a war with mutants in a video game, then that is very interesting. I attentively familiarized myself with your idea and I really like it.

If you give me the chance to play the alpha version of the game, when it is ready, then I invite you in advance to the Kremlin, to meet personally, be ready to play a little bit and talk about the interests of young people, the gamers of our country.

Best regards,

[Signed]

V. Putin”

Personally, I’d love this to be real just for the comedy factor, but I think it’s a little hard to believe.

Vicious Kickstarter Comments

By this point West Games were recieving extremely nasty comments on their Kickstarter page. West Games claim that, as a Ukranian Developer, they are under attack as a direct result of a Russian conspiracy, with relations between the two countries being what they are at the moment.

They also received many negative comments from a rival developer and S.T.A.L.K.E.R mod creators, Misery Ltd., who later backed down and agreed to stop posting them. But once again, none of this exactly created trust in the Kickstarter campaign.

Kickstarter Suspend the Campaign

In the final days of the Kickstarter campaign, the game was some way off achieving its target funding goal of $50,000. However, somehow, the company received almost half the total funding goal within the last two days.

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Looking at this graph from Kicktraq though, you will notice that on one of those days there were no backers, and on another only 2. Now, I’m not 100% certain as to the accuracy of these graphs, but if correct, that certainly looks pretty suspicious.

What we do know however, is that after the campaign met it’s funding goal, it was suspended by Kickstarter. As far as I am aware they have provided no reasoning for doing so, but many have stipulated this suspicious funding activity may be the reason why,

And so concludes one of the strangest and most bizarre Kickstarter campaigns I’ve ever heard of. A sorry tale for sure, and at the end of it I’m still not totally clear as to whether this campaign was devious, naive, or just stupid.

Join me next Wednesday for more Tales from the Kickstarter Crypt. Muhahahahaha!

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6 thoughts on “Tales from the Kickstarter Crypt: Areal

  1. Wow, crazy story! This sounds like a couple of fifteen year old’s just trolling the Internet, seeing how much they could get away with. Vlad Putin requesting an alpha copy, seriously?

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  2. Ironically we just covered this on my last podcast. It’s an interesting story, but I want to believe that the devs are scamming. Hard to say for sure.

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  3. I think the devs were slightly dishonest and it bit them in the ass big time it seems. For example the photos, not telling the whole story behind their involvement with Stalker, the letter from Putin ….this is the shit of Trolls. I think they’re a real team, but I think they’re idiots. They tried to hype up their campaign with overblown claims and it backfired it would seem. Good summary. I didn’t have all these details so this certainly paints a different picture.

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