West Games Kickstarter for Areal, a game which West calls the "spiritual successor" to the STALKER series, has been cancelled by the crowd-funding company, with all pledges returned to their originators.
A statement sent to backers last night doesn't specify exactly what forced the move, beyond the fact that rules were broken, and West Games itself has its own ideas. What's certain is that the move marks the end of a campaign consistently mired by controversy.
Right from the off, the Areal campaign angered many by using the STALKER name, with rival company Vostok Games accusing West of using assets from the STALKER series in promotional campaigns and lying about what STALKER team members were working at the developer. More criticism came from the developer of the STALKER Misery mod, who made long posts on Areal's Kickstarter comments. Legal heckles were raised, and both companies seemed to think better of pursuing it further.
Since then, Areal's fortunes have vacillated, with sometimes suspiciously large and sudden donations appearing in the campaign's coffers, C&P spam both supporting and damning the project littering the KS page, and a mixed press reception. Whilst West Games thanked some outlets for the exposure, the team lashed out against what it perceived to be unfair press treatment from Forbes and VG247. In perhaps the most bizarre turn of events, the team also recently claimed to have received a letter of support from Russian president Vladimir Putin, who you would imagine probably has slightly bigger fish to fry even during the periods when he's not busy resurrecting the Cold War.
Questions had also been asked about the goals of the campaign, with the $50,000 target deemed too insubstantial to be of any real use for a built-from-scrath project looking to launch on four platforms. Although that target had been cleared by the time the campaign was shut down, with $64,000 total, many claimed that the KS campaign was only ever intended to seed a quest for bigger funding. That's academic now, however, as Kickstarter's "review of the project uncovered evidence that it broke Kickstarter's rules."
"The fact is that there are a lot of companies that make their livelihood on STALKER, so when we showed up on the scene, they saw us as a threat and did everything that they could to stop us"
West Games issued a statement to Polygon, explaining that it plans to re-open a funding campaign on a private basis, going as far as to claim that the current Russian/Ukrainian conflict has contributed to the campaign's poor reception.
"The fact is that there are a lot of companies that make their livelihood on STALKER, so when we showed up on the scene, they saw us as a threat and did everything that they could to stop us," the statement reads, referencing the protests from Vostok Games and the Misery team.
"People also need to take into account that Ukrainians and Russians are in an information war right now, and as a Ukrainian developer, we were subject to constant hostility from Russian Kickstarter accounts (we even got death threats). There are over 16,000 comments on our Kickstarter, which is unprecedented for the amount of supporters that we have, and a lot of our comments are hate filled. Some sites, in light of this, chose to report based on sources from direct competitors or from the myriad of comments based on lies. Others chose a neutral ground, because of the confusing situation around us, and still others wrote positively about us. All in all, more than a 1,000 news results come up when you type in "Areal Kickstarter" on Google.
"After Vice news wrote an article about us, people started contributing every minute, but Kickstarter was afraid of the controversy surrounding our project, so they suspended funding. We set our base goal at 50K; even with 2 days left, we raised more than 64 thousand dollars, and our competitors were doing everything that they could to stop that. Kickstarter is a business, and that was their decision. We were not warned, we do not have a say in the matter, we cannot notify our backers, we cannot message our backers, and we can't post updates anymore. That is how Kickstarter chose to act.
"We are the creators of STALKER, and we know that we can make Areal even better than that series, because of advances in technology, gameplay mechanics, and story. We need your support to make that happen, so we have opened up a website wherein we will continue to raise funds. We ask all supporters of Areal who read this, to please head over to our site and contribute there. PayPal is used for safe checkout, but you do not need a PayPal account to donate. Thank you for your understanding."
Areal was not West Games' first Kickstarter project. A previous game: Space Pioneer failed to clear its target in March, 2014.