Cognition Dissemination: The Project Phoenix Disaster

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve covered a sizable amount of crowdfunding campaigns over the last few years. I’ve primarily done that through the “A Kick for Kickstarters” feature, along with the “Fistbump for a Fig” and the once-used “A Go for Indie GoGo” offshoots, but I also covered some in individual posts before debuting those. That said, it’s tough to cover every one that pops up, as it’s easy for some to slip under the radar when many of them go live simultaneously. There were times when I also got burnt out with the feature, thanks to covering too many at a time too quickly.

However, one of the biggest projects I regret not posting about is Project Phoenix, well remembered as one of the first high-profile Japanese crowdfunding efforts. But I wouldn’t have covered this like the ones referenced above, as despite it being successful, there were several warning signs during the campaign that suggested its development would go horribly awry.

Crowdfunding helped revive western genres that were either struggling or dead, like point-and-click adventure games and isometric RPGs; so logic followed that this could work for Japanese teams who also wanted to undertake similar projects, and Project Phoenix appeared to be that. That it also had talent like Nobuo Uematsu on board for the music helped, though the rest of the team wasn’t anywhere near as well-known. The project made a little over $1,000,000 upon finishing in September 2013, more than ten times the initial goal of a mere $100,000, and met many stretch goals along the way. With that amount, many believed this game would, as director and producer Hiroaki Yura grandiosely claimed, “set a new standard of excellence for the Japanese gaming industry.”

Nice concept art, though.

It’s been nearly four years since the campaign finished, and to say we’ve seen nothing close to a masterpiece in the making would be a massive understatement. Since then, the developers and communication team have made several promises through backer updates, but their inefficiency and mismanagement has shown in many of them. They also uploaded a test demo showcasing their intentions for the game, where the main project resembled Warcraft III with chibi characters. Basically, it didn’t come close to resembling the concept art on the main page.

While there were serious warning signs, this campaign occurred during a more innocent time for crowdfunding. It was before people realized that developers had the potential to underdeliver, especially when they promised “a new standard of excellence.” Since then, Project Phoenix has become a poster child for the kind of campaign that should be avoided.

At the time, the producers had nothing but concept art to share, as the actual game was in an extremely primitive stage. It’s a trend the audience has become warier of, but they knew how to make it seem legitimate at the time. But that was a result of their overpromising. For instance, during the crowdfunding phase, the team teased that a popular programmer would be coming on board to accelerate the development process. That ended up being David Clark, who was working on Ori and the Blind Forest at the time. He never joined the team due to various circumstances (perhaps its mismanagement), which led to them hiring another programmer whose name wasn’t given in early 2016. Since this hindered the development process, the game was delayed for many months.

It was also mentioned that game designer Vaughan Smith, whose largest credit was working as a QA Analyst for LA Noire, left the project in 2015. Yura is also primarily a violinist with no prior non-music direction or production credits to his name. Both were huge warning signs.

The game was originally planned for release in March 2015, a mind-boggling target considering they had nothing to show with the campaign around 18 months before then. At the end of 2015, they provided a new timeframe of 2018 at the earliest, around three years later than originally planned, which would give it an over-four-year development period. Since it’s now 2017, and we’ve seen nothing substantial, even that timeframe is looking optimistic.

It’s a pity the game doesn’t even look half this good.

The most recent update came on April 23rd, over two months after the last one, which detailed the Pathfinder class. It’s nice that they’re still updating their backers on features the game will have, but that’s currently the last thing they’re looking for. There’s a lengthy development update attached to the post, where they discussed their continued desire to create higher-quality assets and hire more programmers for its development to run efficiently. It doesn’t paint a positive picture regarding whether it will release next year.

It’s been a while since the Project Phoenix Kickstarter, and bungled high-profile efforts like it and Unsung Story have forced people to be more hesitant to pledging with certain projects. Unless a big name is behind the project, it’s impossible for one relying only on concept art to be funded these days. It’s understandable why an outlet like Kotaku would say that projects like this one ruin Kickstarter (and all crowdfunding, by extension) for everyone.

I still feel bad about not posting about this in 2013, given the early massive warning signs. But that’s why I started covering some more obvious examples of Kickstarters that could face poor mismanagement down the line, and honestly, I hope there aren’t any to cover in the future. We’ll see if Project Phoenix eventually releases, but there’s a better chance of the opposite happening.

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