The pessimists in all of us were right. That nagging voice in the back of our heads warning us that, “it’s too good to be true,” are now gloating in victory. The first gaming Kickstarter scam, Mythic: The Story of Gods and Men, has been uncovered and shut down, with the only trace left of it the actual campaign page.
It takes a special kind of evil to use a service designed for turning dreams into reality for nefarious purposes, but that’s just what “Little Monster Productions” and Seth Westphal allegedly of Mission Viejo, California, have done. According to Kotaku and BetaBeat, the flim flam was uncovered due to sleuthing conducted by Redditors and forum denizens at SomethingAwful and Rock, Paper, Shotgun.
It turns out that everything, and I mean everything, about this was utter fabrication. The art was stolen from DeviantArt users and other sites around the Internet, the descriptions of the rewards for funding were lifted almost entirely from The Banner Saga’s Kickstarter page and even the images on the now-defunct Facebook page were illegitimately repurposed from Westphal’s (supposed) former employer, Burton Design Group. BetaBeat received comment directly from Alfonzo Burton of the Burton Design Group,
“I know the guy in the video. His name is Seth Westphal and he lives in Mission Viejo, CA,” Mr. Burton wrote. “He’s a former employee of Burton Design Group and stole our artists images and company studio images. I’m trying to spread the news of this guy so the industry can be on the look out.”
As someone who is a huge proponent of crowd funding, and thrilled those who have successfully campaigned for their projects, I am saddened, disappointed and frustrated that there are individuals out there who would stoop to such levels. Not only has this person’s actions (and, this does seem to be the work of a single person) tarnished the concept of crowd funding, but this incident is forcing us to suspect even the most legitimate of projects. However, there might be a silver lining.
This scam was identified, contested and shut down before anyone lost a single dollar (which also forces us to question if Westphal really understood Kickstarter at all). The Mythic incident should serve as a cautionary tale for anyone considering backing any project’s crowd funding appeal. This time, funders were fortunate, but only for the investigative work of average forum users doing superb analysis of something that just seemed too fishy. Next time, things may play out differently.
Alternatively, rather than something sinister at play, a project may fall apart due to overestimation of capabilities and/or underestimation of resources required. We’re already aware of projects running into unforeseen complications, (Star Command is the most well-known example), but not every project manager is going to push on in the face of adversity. Some may cut their losses and walk away with a healthy sum of backer funding.
While we can hope that this is the only time someone is malicious enough to abuse the system, we should be on our guard. Investigate the projects. Find out who is working on them, what they have done before and what kind of reputations they have. Look for more than concept art and lofty promises that simply don’t seem feasible with the funding goals. Most importantly, expect to lose everything you put behind project. You aren’t funding a game, comic, theatrical performance or musical composition, you are funding a person (or group of individuals) and their idea. When the final product does come to fruition, as it will in many cases, breathe your sigh of relief and feel proud for having helped make it happen.
We’re in very new territory with crowd funded game development, an it’s as exciting as it is educational. Let’s just hope we don’t suffer from too many hard lessons along the way.