Areal studio founder Eugene Kim addresses crowdfunding controversy in exclusive interview
With a new, in-house Areal crowdfunding campaign underway, West Games founder Eugene Kim took some time to answer a few questions about why the Kickstarter was suspended, what he knows about the big, late-day contributions that pushed the project past its goal and why the studio continues to use Stalker assets to promote its new game.
The new Areal crowdfunding campaign was launched very shortly after the Kickstarter was suspended, seeking the same amount of money—$50,000—and offering the same rewards for the same donation amounts. But a number of questions remained unanswered, so we put them to Kim:
PC Gamer: Has Kickstarter contacted you to explain why the Areal project was canceled?
Eugene Kim: Kickstarter basically sends you a standardized letter that gives you a list of possible reasons for why your project might be suspended. They do not take the time to give a personalized response, and that's perfectly understandable, since Kickstarter manages thousands of projects. Their policy on suspensions are final, so none of our backers have been or will be charged for pledging on our Kickstarter. That's why we have restarted funding via our website, and we're doing pretty well so far.
PCG: The Vice article you say brought in a lot of new donors ran on July 21 but Kicktraq indicates only 31 backers that day, and 13 the next, with a total donation amount of $1105. The big donations that pushed you over the top came before it went live, on July 19 and 20. Where did those big donations come from?
Kim: We were suspended right when the vice article was getting a lot of views, which was unfortunate. But it's still such an honor for motherboard to write about us. I highly suggest checking out the Russian Roulette series that they have up on youtube. There were 2 big donations; one for 10,000 and the other for 5,000. They both came from Russia and were first time backers. I can't say for sure, but I think that they weren't real, and if our Kickstarter continued, they would have probably retracted their pledge at the last second. This happened before on our second day; a guy named Ivan pledged 10,000 dollars, and then retracted that pledge. Keep in mind that Kickstarter does NOT charge anyone before a Kickstarter ends (they only authorize your credit card). It's kind of like bidding on ebay in a way.
PCG: How does the crowdfunding campaign on the Areal website work? When backers pledge to this campaign, is the money taken immediately?
Kim: It works in the same way as most other direct-to-site crowdfunding campaigns work, with a great example being Star Citizen. Actually, at the top right corner, you can see how much we've raised, as well as our base goal. You can see stretch goals in the store section. Our site is constantly evolving, and we are working hard to make our website as user friendly as possible.
PCG: Given the controversy surrounding your use of Stalker assets in the Kickstarter campaign, why are you still using the Stalker trailer to promote Areal on your site?
Kim: Because we have every right to use S.T.A.L.K.E.R. footage for our trailer. If that is controversial, then so be it. We also have a video of our team on the first page and an early gameplay prototype teaser in the gameplay section."
Kim claimed that many of the Areal Kickstarter's problems arose from people trying to discredit it, including around 200 backers who pledged $1 each but then withdrew their pledges, one or two at a time, whenever a new backer signed up. He offered a link to an image that he claimed was a list of those backers, and while its legitimacy is impossible to verify, the names on the list do correspond with names of those who backed the Areal Kickstarter.
He also acknowledged that West Games is partially responsible for the trouble, because it didn't do a better job of addressing the unexpected controversy. "To be completely honest, we have never been in this type of situation before," he said. "We know how to make games, but haven't been as adept in publicity."
Yet the controversy doesn't appear to be over. The fund-raising total in the top-right corner of the Areal website that Kim mentioned is not actually a running total at all, but simply a number hard-coded into the page's HTML. It hasn't changed all day.
Update: Eugene Kim responded today to our inquiries about the Areal crowdfunding counter, which at the time of this update had reached $12,500. "The number is updated by hand around 3 times a day. That's going to change, and we are going to add statistics like you see in Star Citizen," he wrote. "We have a standard refund policy of 30 days (which is more [than] paypal's policy), so if someone changes their mind, then they are free to get their money back. We're adding in a lot of new features for our website, with some of them being a Russian language version, FAQ and forums eventually. We also post updates relatively frequently on our website, and on facebook."