Scam

So, How can you “remain on track with [their] internal scheduling” if PDFs were supposed to be done, laid out and distributed in June? Where’s the explanation for this? This whole thing was a scam from the start.

Do you always start screaming fraud when a publisher suffers delays?

(Note: not an Autarch person, don’t speak for them, this is just me, etc.)

I hope that huge wad of cash is generating market returns for the backers while the “internal scheduling” gets farther and farther off. Telling people they were pre-paying for professional product in about two months was a very different proposition from signing on to an open-ended “process.” Does Kickstarter support refunds?

Wow. You’ve got to relax.
This is just how stuff works. It’s unfortunate, but true.

I’m certain that Autarch is entirely honest and working as hard as they can to meet commitments, just as they did with the original ACKs game, but these things happen.

And for future reference, don’t back a Kickstarter with money you ever want to see again, because some stuff comes right to you, much of it comes later than you’d like, and few things are never heard from again.

If you want a proper “customer-shop” relationship, wait until a thing is out and then buy it retail.

Good to know. From http://www.kickstarter.com/terms-of-use:

  • The Estimated Delivery Date listed on each reward is not a promise to fulfill by that date, but is merely an estimate of when the Project Creator hopes to fulfill by.

  • Project Creators agree to make a good faith attempt to fulfill each reward by its Estimated Delivery Date.

  • Kickstarter does not offer refunds. A Project Creator is not required to grant a Backer’s request for a refund unless the Project Creator is unable or unwilling to fulfill the reward.

  • Project Creators are required to fulfill all rewards of their successful fundraising campaigns or refund any Backer whose reward they do not or cannot fulfill.

So basically, they can change the terms as much as they want, as long as a “good faith effort” was made to deliver the product on time.

Thanks for providing the chance to explain, scissors! Your reply makes me realize that I haven't been doing this well enough in the project updates because I see each one as telling an ongoing story. It makes sense that each should present a capsule of where we're at that can make sense on its own even for people who haven't been reading them all along.

I will be explaining shortly but want to get a reply in first just to let those who are reading this in real time know I'm on it!

OK, let's start by talking about deadlines.

We've certainly missed the originally announced goal of a PDF in June and books in August. As James posted in the backer update on June 4th, the delay was caused by family health problems that disrupted his work on Dwimmermount. At that time, he told us that the PDF could be expected in the fall, with the books arriving in the winter. These estimates of completion for the entire project are what I think of as external deadlines.

Over the summer, it became clear that we had two further problems:

  1. The drafts of dungeon levels still weren't arriving at the rate James had predicted in the June update, which would imperil even the pushed-back release date.
  2. My usual practice of posting only when there was new stuff to see on the project meant that backers weren't hearing anything from us at exactly the times when concerns about progress were most acute.

To address this, on August 10th I started posting weekly internal deadlines, meaning the individual milestones towards the overall goal. When I say that we're on track with our internal scheduling, I mean that the pieces of Dwimmermount are coming together according to the deadlines that each of the contributors agreed to in our weekly conference calls. From a project management standpoint, this is very good news because it means that there is enough reliability to make a reasonably accurate prediction about when the entire thing will be done.

From a backer standpoint, though, meeting internal deadlines doesn't change the regrettable fact that you won't have the thing you pledged for on the date we said you would. It's entirely reasonable to be upset about this, and it's a source of considerable pain for me too! I'll talk more about this in a second.

 

Delays are regrettably common in the RPG field; it's uncommon for a product to ship on its originally announced date. And a recent meta-analysis showed that the more a project exceeds its funding goal on Kickstarter, the more its rewards are delayed in fulfillment. So the situation with the Dwimmermount project isn't unusual, but for me and Autarch, it is an important learning experience. The other Kickstarters we've been part of went smoothly enough - despite considerable delays - that I didn't realize how many mistakes were left to make. Here are the ones I think contribute to the impression of the project being a scam:

  1. Not clearly setting expectations. When I wrote that the most basic reward everyone would receive as a backer on the project was "Watch Dwimmermount blossom from James' campaign notes, and help its development by downloading the latest drafts from autarch.co and playtesting them with your group" I meant to signify that the funds raised would be used for the ongoing development of the project. If you've signed on to watch drafts take shape, delays can be seen as part of the process, but it's a red flag if you were envisioning the funds as being used to simply produce something that was already finished. I regret not doing more in the initial Kickstarter page to explicitly set forth how much development remained to be done and why we prefer to do it this way.
  2. Unrealistic fulfillment dates. When we set up the Kickstarter collaboration, we accepted James' projection of when the writing would be finished. I don't know whether this ambitious schedule could have been met under the best of circumstances, but in retrospect it's clear that we should have adjusted the deadlines to account for the possibility of something like a family crisis coming up.
  3. Lack of communication at key moments. As I mentioned above, the approach of posting updates only when there was new content to share gave the impression that we were spending the time thinking about how to best fritter away a big wad of cash. The truth is just the opposite; it's when things look like they're going off the rails that we're doing the most project management work to try to keep Dwimmermount on track.

Those are mistakes already made, and unfortunately the best I can do now is try to not make them again. The weekly updates are an attempt to communicate better and be more transparent about what's going on behind the scenes. Sharing the progress towards the internal deadlines is something I'm doing so that we can arrive at more realistic projections of when the project will be done, and set expectations accordingly. 

Probably the most important thing to say is that we're committed to making good on our word with Dwimmermount. The amount that Autarch can do is limited first by the nature of the project - people want James Maliszewski's mega-dungeon, and the best we could do without him would be a Castle of the Mad Archmage-style reconstruction from his notes - and second by the fact that our contract with Grognardia Games had us manage the Kickstarter process and then turn over all of the funds collected and the responsibility for fulfilling the backer rewards. The project management role I'm doing now is unpaid and unplanned. That said, even if James has at times overestimated how quickly he will be able to fulfill his promises, I don't doubt he is committed to doing so. The continuing progress on level drafts is, for me, evidence enough that he's still working to deliver the dungeon as originally projected. 

 

This is an eye-opener!

I hope you and Autarch get a better deal if you take on similar arrangements in the future. It’s a shame that your commitment to the backers is becoming such a “learning experience.”

We weren't taken advantage of; those are the terms that we offered when James was talking about using a Kickstarter to fund Dwimmermount and we wanted to get involved. In some large number of parallel worlds that arrangement would have worked out just fine.

If it walks like a scam. Quaks like a scam. Smells lie your breath it is a scam. sorry if I feel as if someone got a lot of money and left us all, Autarch included, holding the bag. Perhaps if communication was better and the fucking creator of the project would talk about the project maybe I would not be do pissed. I mean he had time to pontificate about Dragon articles but says jack shit about a project we gave money to in good faith.

So wait a minute. He gets the money and then he has to fulfill his end? This is bullshit. So far nothing that he has done engenders any trust. In the future you need to be more upfront bout things like this. If I knew this I’d told him to stick it. He cannot even support Thousand Suns let alone fulfill his commitment to Petty Gods. How in the hell is he going to do this. I fell for you Tavis. My anger is with him and not you

You know what don’t piss on my foot and tell me it’s raining. I am entitled to pissed off. Also when I pay to get screwed I expect together what I paid for.

I think that "one draft of a level every two weeks" is a plausible answer to "how in the hell is he going to do this", especially given the previous history of completed projects. Getting the money first and fulfilling the rewards later is the basic premise of Kickstarter, which means it has to function on trust. Maintaining that trust is very important to me and I do want to be more upfront in future, so these are serious questions:

  1. What should we have said in the initial Kickstarter pitch that we didn't?
  2. What was it that we did say that made you trust this pitch given that you have issues with other projects James has spearheaded?

It walks, quacks, and smells like a young, optimistic small-press publisher discovering all of the horrible ways publishing can go wrong.

“Scam” is a very specific word. In this case, it means that there will never be a product, because the publisher took the money and ran.

Is that honestly what you meant? You believe the product will never show up because it was delayed? You believe that the Autarch guys are going to disappear with the money?

If you are angry about the delay (and you do appear to be), you can use a lot of words to describe that anger without making criminal accusations:

“irresponsible”
“bad business practices”
“naive”
“horrible delays”
“stupid”
“shitty”

Those are all harsh words. They will get the business owner’s attention. They will put a bit of tarnish on a publisher’s reputation. They will express, quite adequately and precisely, your anger.

Without getting into baseless criminal accusations.

If you want to say that the fundamental premise of Kickstarter is a scam, you could just link to the Onion: "Internet criminals are using a website called "Kickstarter" to bilk friends and families out of money for terrible, ill-conceived, and unnecessary 'personal projects.'"

Okay Tavis, you asked, and I will answer:

I think that “one draft of a level every two weeks” is a plausible
answer to “how in the hell is he going to do this”,

I do not. Why? Because he has not shown the ability to support any project he has announced, and has shown a willful disregard to getting this project, of which we have learned, he has all the money, to deliver said project.

especially given the previous history of completed projects.

Really? The last project he worked on to come out is 2006. As for the Rogue Games releases, everyone who follows that company knows he had a hand in creating their rule set. Everyone knows Colonial Gothic is someone else’s, and SS&S was worked on more by the other guy. Fuck, is it any wonder that he took his stupid Cursed Chateau and Thousand Suns with him to Grognarida Games? Why’s that?

Fuck, let’s talk about your partner’s recent track record of big talk and no delivery:

  1. Fourth Millennium announced with much flourish. A little Google Search:

http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?319002-Whatever-happend-to-Fourth-Millennium

http://roguegamesblog.wordpress.com/2009/03/10/in-which-richard-shares-his-madness/

  1. Thousand Suns? A game he professes great love for, and of which he did not support let alone do anything with. The Revision took forever, and all of his promised projects have not materialized.

  2. Petty Gods. This is the biggest scam. Fuck man, he has all the fucking art and writing. He says as much on his fucking blog. It has been two years, and still nothing. Why the fuck not? He has no problems begging for free game goods on his blog. Free art. Free writing. Why the fuck not beg for some fucking free layout help?

  3. Megadungeon.net – don’t even go to the URL, it is not there anymore. Remember when he got sand in his vagina about Cook’s stupid Dungeon a Day thing? And James makes all these proclamations that the shit should be free? Yeah, I do too (http://roguegamesblog.wordpress.com/2009/04/09/rogue-games-bids-you-to-enter-the-dungeon/). Where the fuck is it, and the content that once was there? What, this cannot be right? James would not do something like this? Well he seemed pretty fucking happy here (http://grognardia.blogspot.com/2009/04/megadungeonnet.html).

Did you even do your due diligence before you entered into the agreement with this lazy fuck? I mean, it’s fucking great you can show a list of projects, but what about talking to people who he has done work with? You left yourself open to this crap. Fuck, why did he form Grognardia Games and not stay with Rogue Games? Why has he been blackballed from other publishers?

Getting the money first and fulfilling the rewards later is the basic premise of Kickstarter,
which means it has to function on trust.

Trust is a too way street. Fuck man, if you say you are going to deliver X on Y Date, and not explain why the date is being pushed back in a reasonable time, you have to expect people to call foul. Reaper brings in fucking 4 Million dollars, and they are very clear in when you can expect the goods. If they can do that with little miniatures – I’m getting like 250 due to being a Vampire – in a reasonable time, you can get a fucking book out in a reasonable time frame.

Maintaining that trust is very important to me and I do want to be more upfront in future, so these are serious questions:

• What should we have said in the initial Kickstarter pitch that we didn’t?

That the fucking thing was not even ready yet! If I knew there was no finished manuscript, then I would not have given you my fucking money. How can you take money and not know their is no finished manuscript? That is amateur hour. I can understand using Kickstarter to fund the printing, I’d be cool with that. But to not tell people who have given you money in good faith that there is not even a finished manuscript in house is a fucking joke! If I knew I was funding someone to sit in his basement (http://maliszew.livejournal.com/618.html) and summarize fucking Ares magazines, and then get around to writing his fucking opus, I tell you to fuck off.

Also, if I knew this:

our contract with Grognardia Games had us manage the Kickstarter process
and then turn over all of the funds collected and the responsibility for fulfilling
the backer rewards. The project management role I’m doing now is unpaid
and unplanned.

If you said this from the start, then I would have said Fuck No. This is bullshit. You owe it to people who give money in good faith, that their money is not going to you, but to a lazy ass writer who cannot seem to stick with anything but introspection. Fuck man, if you did your due diligence – http://maliszew.livejournal.com/2002/03/05/ – you see he is a lazy fuck.

• What was it that we did say that made you trust this pitch given that you have issues with other projects James has
spearheaded?

I thought the manuscript was ready, and that by having a company in charge, they would take the lead. Was a wrong? Because check it:

If you are one of them, or if you are just discovering Dwimmermount, we need your
support to publish this project. Just as importantly, we need your feedback to make
the finished product as responsive to your needs as a gamer as it possibly can be.
As a backer, we’ll strive to provide you with opportunities to experience Dwimmermount
as a player. You’ll get maps and legends you can use to run it for others. And you’ll
get each successive draft of the text, so you can watch how your experience of turning
the written dungeon into a living realm of mystery and danger reflects James’ reverse
process of making his campaign notes into a form usable by others.

You remember this? You fucking wrote on the Kickstarter (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/autarch/dwimmermount). Here’s the part that cracks me up:

we need your support to publish this project

Maybe I’m an idiot, but when you write “publish this project” I fucking think it means that the manuscript is done, and it needs a little polish and then it will go to the printer. The last time I checked, publish implies close to finished. It does not imply, nothing is fucking done, and the fucking thing still needs to be written. Getting feedback on a near complete manuscript entering final edit is one thing. Getting feedback on a not even finished manuscript is another thing. If I knew this was just a way to give this lazy ass scam artist money I’d say no. If I just wanted to give this scam artists my money, I’d have donated via his donate button on his fucking website.

Fuck, he still has not gotten Petty Gods out. So if I knew James was spearheading this thing, I’d have said thanks but no thanks. He has no record of being able to fulfill any promises he makes.

The other thing that pisses me off, and others, is that he’s a coward. He is letting you take all this shit, when you do not have too. After all, he has the money and he is spearheading this, he should be answering to his critics and dealing with this. You were just the middle man. It is gutless to not respond. But fuck, he is probably too busy wearing his bathrobe and summarize an ancient copy of Pegasus to get around to this.

It’s not about the money Tavis. I’ve lost more in Vegas than this. It is the apparent dishonest nature of the whole thing. I’ve written off the fact my money is gone. I don’t care. I just want this fucking coward to at least own up to the fact that he scammed us.

I don't think you're an idiot - I very much appreciate your thorough answer, which helps me see how the things I thought were being presented clearly in the passages you quote were open to crucial misunderstandings. One of the pieces of advice I gave at the crowdfunding panel at Gen Con was to have lots of people read your Kickstarter text before it goes live and give feedback, but in this case I took that advice more for the reward structure and not as much for the basic pitch. I'd be grateful to have you as a beta reader next time around for the benefit of your very different perspective. To the extent that your feelings of being scammed stem from how you understood the promise, it is me that ought to be apologizing since I'm its primary author. 

The project is delayed but not at all abandoned. My sense is that the majority of backers would rather have the completed Dwimmermount than an apology.

You know what? Having at least some transparency from the alleged leader of this would be nice. James has gone quiet and the fact that he has no guts to at least speak up and interact speaks volumes. It is so easy to communicate when psychophants kiss your ass but when some dares to say foul he goes quiet. Shit maybe I have to give him a free game so he talks

As for avoiding any of my points above I’ll answer your question: sure I’d read what you want to send. But here’s the thing. I’m done with your company. There is this thing called trust. Because of this I do not trust you or a y other Kickstarter you might do. It’s a shame but I’m done. Actions have consequences. Tell Jimmy it’s because of him

Tavis, you have the patience of a saint. Your responses here should be in textbooks for how to deal with upset customers. I for one have very much been appreciating the weekly messages and the like. I actually feel a lot better about the state of the project since those’ve started up. Please keep them up!

I know how tough and unpredictable writing can be, it doesn’t always go at the pace you would like it to, but I’d rather have a late, and well written (and inspired) Dwimmermount than something forced that’s been pushed out just to get a certain word count.

I think one of the things people often misunderstand about Kickstarter is that it’s not really a transaction like a store. It’s an investment. Sometimes investments don’t work out, or they don’t work out the way you expected them to. If you want a one for one transaction then wait for the Kickstarter to be over and for the finished product to be available for sale.

Anyway. Thank you again Tavis for all of your work on getting this thing back on track and especially for all the communication!