Over the years, I've backed over 40 Kickstarter projects. Most of the them have delivered as promised, but Confederate Express turned out to be a spectacular failure.
The Confederate Express campaign launched on Kickstarter way back in 2013. The game was touted as “a strategy-oriented tactical RPG”, and the campaign launched with an impressive tech demo showing off the pixel art graphics engine. Confederate Express got mentioned by high traffic gaming sites like PC Gamer, and Destructoid, which undoubtedly boosted the campaign’s popularity. When it ended, 2,386 backers had pledged nearly $40,000. Several of the stretch goals were met, some of which drastically expanded the scope of the game. A small venture capital investment firm also threw some money at the game. With the extra money, the developer decided to use to expand the scope even further.
While the extra money sounded like a good idea in theory, it didn’t work out very well in practice. Adding more features means adding more complexity, and the addition funding wouldn’t be available until after the developers helped the VC firm finish another project. After Confederate Express was successfully funded in November 2013, little was heard until July 2014. The developer, now using the company name Kilobite, announced Knuckle Club. With that announcement came also the news that the development of Confederate Express had been postponed, citing “recent restructuring of Kilobite” as the cause. Kilobite also tried to get Knuckle Club funded through another Kickstarter campaign, but the site suspended the campaign before it reached $1,000.
By now, most of the backers were screaming bloody murder, and they started to dig around in the dirt to try to figure out was really going on. The media also got involved, and what they discovered was quite fascinating.
Squats and Scams
It turned out brothers Maksym and Denys Pashanin were running Kilobite out of a one-bedroom condo in a gated community in Palm Springs. They’d rented the Palm Springs condo via Airbnb, and paid in advance for 30 days. Unfortunately for the owner of the apartment, California law says that you can claim residency anywhere, regardless of whether or not you own the place, if you’ve been living there for 30 days. So now the Pashanin brothers were effectively living in the apartment - and not paying rent.
While squatting in Palm Spring, they tried to scam people out of as much money as possible. Me, I got conned out of the $10 I pledged to the Confederate Express campaign. But when major media outlets started covering their operation, Kilobite and the Pashanin brothers disappeared off the face of the Earth.
Late 2017, however, the Confederate Express campaign suddenly woke from what seemed like eternal hibernation. The brothers posted a “A Personal message to our backers". In the post, they seem as repentant sinners who want to make amends. Confederate Express was now “very close to being finished, and we are working extra hard to deliver the best we can”. All they needed now was a little extra money, which they hoped to rise through pre-purchases on Kilobite’s brand new itch.io page.
The Confederate Express of 2017 did not come across the way the 2013 version did. Gone was the strategy-oriented tactical RPG. Now the game is described as a game with “MOBA-like tactical gameplay mechanics”. Two weeks after the come-back post, a new updated was published on Kickstarter. This time, Kilobite came to the conclusion that the scope of the original Confederate Express was enormous. They also revealed that the game they pitched on Kickstarter had an estimated budget of $400,000 - over ten times the amount the campaign had raised.
Still, they vowed to “get the game shipped, at any cost”. And on the 22nd of April this year, the miracle happened. I received an e-mail from itch.io with a Steam key for Confederate Express. Kilobite had, over 4 years after their game was funded, manage to release it. I’m not sure if Kilobite is worth the ten dollars it cost me, though. The pixel art style resembles that of the original Confederate Express, but the similarities stop there. The 2018 version of Confederate Express is just a pale shadow of its 2013 self.
Any Lessons Learned?
Despite Confederate Express turning out to be such an amazing mess, I haven’t learned a single thing. I still pledge money to various Kickstarter project. Just recently, I supported 198x, where “over-the-top arcade action meets coming-of-age drama, blurring the lines between game and reality”. Sounds good to me! And during the research I did to write this post, I took a couple of breaks to look for other interesting campaigns to support.
Most of the projects come through in the end. Some of them take their bloody good time, though. That will probably be an interesting subject to explore in another post. But I’ve had hours of great entertainment from the games I’ve got through Kickstarter campaigns. I’ll continue to throw my money at great concepts, ideas, and developers in the future.