Kickstarter game project exposed as a probable scam

A few weeks ago I wrote about Kickstarter's crowd-funding impact on the world of gaming. Since then I've watched a number of game projects get successfully funded, and sadly, a few miss their targets.

My gaming buddies and I are talking a lot about Kickstarter and what its lasting impact (if there is one) on the gaming business will be, and one topic that comes up over and over is what will happen when someone posts a project that's a scam.

I think a lot of Kickstarter pledgers are going to be surprised when a game they kick in money towards fails to materialize and they find that they have no real recourse. That money is just gone. Kickstarter makes this clear but not everyone reads the fine print and with some of these projects we gamers get pretty excited and rush off to pledge our support.

Happily that wasn't the case with Mythic: The Story of Gods and Men. This was, at first glance, a legitimate looking project. The developers, Little Monster Productions claimed to be composed of twelve industry veterans, nine of them from Activision/Blizzard, and they were looking for $80,000 to fund an action RPG. They had concept art and a flashy video introduction to the game featuring someone who identifies himself as Seth Westfall, creative director of the game. 83 people pledged a total of $4,739 before it became clear that Mythic was an apparent scam.

It turns out that all the assets that "Westfall" was showing us were copies of art from other sources. A commenter named Mark on the Kickstarter project page pointed out:

"The concept art at http://www.mythicthegame.com/concept-art.html was blatantly stolen from two different people in the competition at http://conceptart.org/forums/showpost.php… and the character art was stolen from this guy http://genzoman.deviantart.com/ (anubis:http://genzoman.deviantart.com/gallery/… ) (ra: http://genzoman.deviantart.com/gallery/… ) and the facebook page which recently went down had pictures of offices like this: http://i.imgur.com/uTCBT.png which were blatantly stolen from Burton Design group: http://www.burtondesigngroup.com/studio/ In summary, this is a blatant scam."

Initially "Little Monster Productions" attempted to defend itself:

"A few members of our team worked at BDG last year beforeother found out the owner was being shady with funds. They left and joined our team shortly after. As for the concept art, it seems we have been subjected to false claims of ownership right to our concepts. The game itself is well in progress and is NOT a scam of any kind. Thank you for understanding. If you have any furthure questions please feel free to ask."

But soon after, the project was canceled and the Little Monster Productions account was deleted. Catastrophe averted, this time.

In hindsight it's "obvious" this project was a scam. If you watch the video, "Westfall" isn't at all convincing and further comments pointed out that the Pledge Rewards were more or less copied from the successful The Banner Saga project. Plus, $80,000 for a project being created by 12 people? That's awfully low. But it's easy to get caught up in the moment with all the positive buzz surrounding Kickstarter these days.

The good news is that the alleged scammers (to be clear, we know the project was canceled and the account deleted, but we don't actually know for sure it was a deliberate attempt at a scam) didn't get a dime; when you pledge towards a Kickstarter project, no funds are transferred until the project makes its goal, and this one was shut down well before then.

One commenter on the project said "What worried me the most is how Kickstarter allowed this to be posted in the first place. Is there no QA here?" and the truth is that no, Kickstarter doesn't, as a matter of course, vet projects. That's your job as a potential backer. Every project has a "Report this project to Kickstarter" link at the bottom and if you see something that seems fishy, please use that link.

The Kickstarter FAQ says:

"It is the responsibility of the project creator to fulfill the promises of their project. Kickstarter reviews projects to ensure they do not violate the Project Guidelines, however Kickstarter does not investigate a creator's ability to complete their project.Creators are encouraged to share links to any websites that show work related to the project, or past projects. It's up to them to make the case for their project and their ability to complete it. Because projects are usually funded by the friends, fans, and communities around its creator, there are powerful social forces that keep creators accountable. The web is an excellent resource for learning about someone’s prior experience. If someone has no demonstrable prior history of doing something like their project, or is unwilling to share information, backers should consider that when weighing a pledge. If something sounds too good to be true, it very well may be."

Bottom line: until someone reports a project, Kickstarter probably won't look at it. It's up to you to do your homework and make sure a project is legit before you decide to pledge. And it isn't just deliberate scams you need to watch out for. An over-confident designer might just fail in his or her attempt to deliver the promised game.

Unfortunately I doubt this will be the last scam we see on Kickstarter, so let's all be vigilant and work together to ensure that the 'bad apples' don't spoil the whole process.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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