Friday, May 24, 2013

When Kickstarter Disappoints

Kickstarter is an online crowd funding platform enabling creators to raise money for projects. People pledge certain amounts of money and often receive rewards based on how much they give. The creators set a threshold for donations. If the threshold is met or surpassed, the project is successfully funded. If not, backers won’t be charged. Creators pitch their concepts on Kickstarter, using videos, pictures and text to outline their grand vision, and rely on backers to plunk down their cash in exchange for the final product.

The concept launched many independent projects which otherwise would have languished without interest or financial backing. Kickstarter projects range from arts, movies, games, music, literary works or anything else. Backers are often rewarded “stretch goals” if the amount of money reaches a certain amount over the initial threshold. This equals more perks, swag or collector’s items for backers and entices potential donors to give to the project.

I first heard about Kickstarter last year. Al Lowe, one of my favorite video game designers from my youth, had a Kickstarter project to resurrect Leisure Suit Larry.

Back in the 1980s, I discovered Leisure Suit Larry and the Land of the Lounge Lizards. The game featured a white leisure suit wearing doofus who fancied himself a lady’s man, Larry Laffer. The object of the game was to move Larry around Lost Wages, a city modeled after Las Vegas. Larry visited a bar, disco, casino and other locations looking for ways to seduce the women he met, and failing badly in the process, usually with hilarious consequences. I remember hunkering down in front of my ancient IBM clone and laughing my ass off at a crass and funny video game. 

Leisure Suit Larry melded humor and adventure games seamlessly and created a spunky hero you rooted for, sympathized with and laughed at. Yeah, Larry was a dork, but his pathetic attempts to play Casanova resonated with my then-18-year old self. Sierra, the company that published Leisure Suit Larry back then, released five more Larry games, the last being Leisure Suit Larry 7: Love for Sail, set aboard a luxury cruise ship. For those counting, there was no Leisure Suit Larry 4. For the full explanation of that, see

Though for adults, the Leisure Suit Larry games were mildly risqué and not gratuitous in content. Al Lowe soon became my hero. A humorist, programmer and game designer, Al brought a fresh style to video gaming I hadn’t seen before. In creating Larry, Al made gaming fun for me. In those early days, my favorite video game designers were Steve Meretzky, Richard Garriott and Al Lowe. They didn’t just make games. They made damn enjoyable games.

So last April when I discovered a company called Replay Games would be remaking the original Leisure Suit Larry with Al Lowe and Josh Mandel, I had to donate money to it.

This was a dream come true, a chance to have Al Lowe making games again, and a Leisure Suit Larry game, no less!

When the Kickstarter ended, attracted 14,081 backers and raised $655,182, well over its set goal of $500,000.

I pledged $150, the “Left’s Bar Pack” level. Backers at this level would receive a copy of the game, a soundtrack CD, a book of game art and other swag such as a shot glass, coasters, breath spray and a “reveal” pen featuring one of the ladies from the game. Backers who pledged at least $75 would receive the Alpha and Beta builds of the game to test before initial game release.

Beta testing a video game would be a dream come true, and having that game be Leisure Suit Larry only sweetened the deal. I was in gamer geek heaven!

The game was slated for release on PC, Mac, Linux and tablets. PC and Mac users would get a shot at testing the game and providing feedback to the developers at N-Fusion Interactive. Backers waited many months for the programmers and designers to create the game, and Al Lowe and Josh Mandel promised an all-new adventure, with new puzzles and an extra love interest for Larry.

After waiting patiently, I soon learned in the world of software development, not all platforms are equal.

Macs comprise 7 percent, while Windows XP users equal 85 percent of computer users worldwide. I was raised on a PC, but switched over to Mac in 2004 and haven’t looked back since. If Replay Games vowed I was going to Beta test the new Leisure Suit Larry game on a Mac, then so be it.

Or so I thought.

The Feb. 14 Kickstarter update from Replay Games contained news about the Alpha test. Codes were sent to qualifying backers to unlock the Alpha version through Steam, an online gaming site. Finally! After many months, our patience would be rewarded with the first rough look at Leisure Suit Larry Reloaded.

Except for Mac users, that is.

Replay Games president Paul Trowe reported the Alpha would only be accessible to Windows users:

“Unfortunately, this build is for PC only. It was the only way to get you guys something today and I had to personally make the call. I apologize to all of our Mac and Linux users out there. The Beta will have Mac support for sure and ‘hopefully’ Linux support.”

Disappointed, I dug in and waited three more months. Well, naturally Mac users would be cast aside. It’s a Windows world, after all. But the Beta build would be accessible to us Mac users! That’s where the rubber meets the road, the Beta test. We’ll dig in and scour that build for bugs and I’ll be an official Beta tester for a major videogame.

Except now I won’t.

Replay sent an announcement out May 10 notifying backers the beta build has been delayed, but would be released the following week, even for Mac:

“We’ll announce it here when the beta goes out. It will include French, Italian, German, and Spanish (“FIGS”), and we’re hoping for a Mac version as well for testing.”

On May 14, Replay Games released the key for the PC Beta build only.

According to developer Josh Mandel, uploading the Beta to Steam is a “very strange and complicated process, and no matter who tried it, there were timeouts and multiple other issues. Sending the Mac version is even more complicated than the PC version, so N-Fusion is working on that (they are amazingly patient people), but it will be a few days before the Mac beta build is up and available.”

Okay, so apparently putting the beta on Steam can only be done when the planets are aligned, when the virgin is sacrificed at midnight and while you’re doing the Chicken Dance. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, it’ll only be a few days of waiting. I’ve been patient thus far. That Mac beta will soon be mine.

I Tweeted Josh Mandel, and asked him if the elusive Mac beta would be uploaded this week.

He replied: “We’re hoping so. Uploading it to Steam has been a major PITA and a big distraction to the big-squashers.”

PITA, if you don’t know is an acronym for “Pain In The Ass”. 

So the Larry beta is as good as mine!

Except it’s not.

In a May 20 update from Paul Trowe, Replay Games announced they would be delaying the release of the game from May 31 to the end of June in order to correct the many bugs discovered during the Beta testing. This is Beta testing with Windows only, mind you.

But that’s not the only turd in the biscuit barrel:

“Mac version is being tested now, but not via Steam.”

Wait, what? They’re not releasing the Mac Beta? After we were promised such a Beta build would be available to us?

I Tweeted Paul Trowe for a confirmation.

“So there will be no LSL Reloaded Mac beta via Steam?” I Tweeted.

“Sorry, Eric, but no. I know, I suck…” he replied.

Logging into the Replay Games site, Kickstarter backers can access a menu of options listing which rewards are available for download. As of this week, only the access key to the Alpha and Beta testing of Leisure Suit Larry Reloaded for the PC was the only item available. A depressing item for the Alpha and beta testing of the game for Mac remains inaccessible, but present. I had a feeling they were originally going to offer beta testing to Mac users, but decided against it.

Look, I understand logistics with game development can be a nightmare. You’re juggling so many things: deadlines, quality control, production, shipping. It’s one major headache.

But when you promise someone something on Kickstarter, when you say prospective backers will receive a certain reward for pledging above a certain monetary level, you better move heaven and earth to deliver it to them.

Replay Games had every intention to give Mac users access to the Alpha and Beta of Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded. They failed to give it to them. While PC backers received their Alpha and Beta builds, Mac users were purposefully denied access without a clear reason why.

If a business promises something to their clients and doesn’t deliver, I’m going to complain. Hell, I have every right to in order for management to rectify things.

This hasn’t soured me on Kickstarter. Since the Replay Games Kickstarter, I’ve backed seven other projects. Delays are inevitable, but I’ve always received what was promised, even if it arrived from China late by several months.

I’m incredibly patient. I can out-wait anything. However, not getting a chance to experience the Beta testing and play the game before general release stuck in my craw. I don’t despise Replay Games, nor do I wish anybody at N-Fusion any ill will. I want this game to succeed. I want the designers and writers to grow flush with wealth and create more Larry adventures. May their women grow large with children and may their houses remain bountiful and may they sup of the milk and honey that is sweet fortune. So I don't have a grudge against anyone involved in this project.

What I have a problem with is enticing Mac users who pledged over $75 with the opportunity to Alpha and Beta test the games, and taking the reward away mid-stream. It’s like Charlie Brown running towards the football and having Lucy yank the it away at the last second. Charlie Brown hits the ground, gets a concussion and Lucy says something stupid and pithy. Good grief!

I empathize with Replay Games during this past year. Game development is a tough business, but if you produce a stellar product, it can be lucrative, especially with the Larry franchise and the original creator’s involvement. Making the call to exclude Mac users, brushing us aside while giving PC users access sharply stings. They lavished PC users with the Alpha and Beta testing, while offering ham-handed excuses to the Mac customers.

PCs rule, after all. Mac users can take a back seat. After all, in a car, the back seat is where you get fucked.

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