In a blog post on November 12th project lead on The Dead Linger, Geoff Keene (check out our interview with him), announced that development will be "postponed indefinitely." The Dead Linger, an open world zombie survival game, was funded back in April of 2012, with development continuing ever since. Now, however, the team behind the game, Sandswept, is moving on to a new project that will be announced soon.
In the rather lengthy blog post, Keene offers several reasons and explanations as to what led to this decision.
Keene first discusses that the unforeseen costs of having to switch engines multiple times, coupled with underestimating costs of other parts of development, made their budgeting plans unsustainable in regards to the scale of the game he was looking to create in The Dead Linger. Combining what was generated in both the Kickstarter and subsequent Steam sales since The Dead Linger hit Early Access has not been enough to keep development going.
Directly related to that is Keene's assertion that the team is currently spending more on development than they are bringing in on a monthly basis due in large part to the lack of sales caused by the negative media surrounding the game. The negative media, Keene argues, was due in no small part to disgruntled contractors. Here is how he describes what happened:
A small butterfly effect that started very early on was when we informed a few of the staff that we could pay them very little, or none at all, with the funds we had at the time ... This was even something we established as team prior to the Kickstarter launching, at which time no one, including myself, was paid.
It’s never an easy decision to include some and exclude others from pay, but one that had to be made, and one we absolutely did not blind-side anyone with ... A very small portion of the staff members didn’t believe what we were telling them after we had some money coming in and decided that we had simply left them out to dry in favor of lining our own pockets, despite the checks I was sending our monthly to the majority of staff, and having only funds to continue that action for 6 or so months. To stretch that money as far as it would go, some people were paid little, or none. It wasn’t ideal, but it was where we were at the time. I talked individually with every staff member to get their monthly expenses and cover them on the bare minimum that we could. Some we could not. That’s just the way it was, and we were upfront about this from the start, and repeated it often.
When these few staff members’ very short contracts with Sandswept ended, they began to spread extremely negative (and completely false) allegations about where the funds had gone, as well as some strange things about my personality or work habits ...
Unfortunately, months and months (and in some cases, years later) these claims resurfaced and were picked up without verification or evidence by some blogs and youtubers and spread throughout the Steam forums, even spilling on to reviews about the game itself. We do appreciate that some of the blogs/journalists retracted their posts later on when we addressed the issue with them, and we are grateful for their integrity on the matter.
For the sake of full disclosure, the end of that quote definitely includes TechRaptor. Rather than go into the details of that, you can read the linked to post. To summarize it all, Keene asserts that disgruntled employees spread a lot of misinformation and false allegations that were then picked up and ran with by the media.
Finally, Keene ruminates on the possibility that he may have misread the market back when The Dead Linger development began, and that maybe he should have "settled for less," setting their aim a little lower to things the community seemed to be interested in. He saw others do the same with their games, and The Dead Linger just "lost the climb" against them.
Keene ends the post describing The Dead Linger's future. The game is unfinished, and there are no plans to release it—no abandoning it and calling it "finished" or "version 1.0." Instead, the game will be put on the backburner with a chance of returning to it in the future. When that will or could be isn't known.
He also mentioned that they will be attempting to drop the price of The Dead Linger on Steam for the foreseeable future, pending the pricing approval. He did not announce what that price would be. UPDATE: The price dropped to $5 and will be there for the foreseeable future.
Those still interested in the game may see some small fixes here and there as Sandswept does what they can to support the game, but nothing major. They will be keeping the forums for The Dead Linger going as well.
There are still a lot of assets and source code that will be left behind, but Keene says they may do something with it in the future—at least show some of it off. They are even considering the possibility of open sourcing the work to others. [Edit: To clear any confusion, the "open sourcing" was in reference to the code of the game itself, not necessarily the so far unused assets.]
As for Sandswpt, they will be moving on to a new project. Taking what they learned while developing The Dead Linger, they plan to move on to a new multiplayer game, Unfortunate Spacemen, the details of which will be coming soon. So far, according to Keene—as he said in our Q&A, which you can find below—they've only announced the name with details coming soon. However, we do know it will be in a smaller scope and in an entirely different genre.
One final thing to consider is what will happen to those backers of the game from Kickstarter. As we learned in a case ruled back in July, companies can be held accountable for failing to deliver rewards to backers. Of course, this isn't law, but sets a precedent other states could draw from if they wish.
Currently, Keene has stated in a forum post that they have no plans for backers of the game, as they currently have nothing to offer. Considering all of the rewards were either the game itself or some other in-game reward, like having a street named after you, that is not too surprising. While not explicitly stated, considering the game is no longer in development, one can likely assume work towards the rewards aren't either. In response to a question about backers (the full Q&A provided at the bottom of the article), Keene said they will be looking into what they can do for the higher pledges whose rewards have not yet been delivered.
We reached out to Geoff to answer some questions regarding The Dead Linger and Sandswept's future game.
TechRaptor: Why keep The Dead Linger on Steam, essentially in Early Access forever? Why make people pay for it, even if it is a significantly reduced price?.
Geoff: We aren't sure on the long-term plan for TDL, or its presence on Steam. There aren't a lot of projects to go off as examples. Early Access is still relatively new, and while there have been many games that have dropped off the radar or halted development, there aren't very many that actually came out and said "We're not doing this anymore." We're playing it by ear. As the game is still playable (albeit in an early state) and a lot of hard work has gone into it, we'll still offering it on Steam for a low sum ($5). This could change in the future, but I don't have any specifics to share right now.
TR: You spoke on this some already, but what will Sandswept be doing to repay The Dead Linger's Kickstarter backers?
Geoff: We are looking into compensation, but don't have anything to announce at this time. As all of our funds went into development, we don't really have much to give back. The Kickstarter backers funded us for a little over $150,000 for 6 months of development, which we did deliver on, and we did deliver game keys to the backers who pledged for them. Some of the higher tier rewards were dependent on the game being finished (i.e. virtual items) so we'll be looking into what we can do about those pledges in the future.
TR: With that that in mind, what are your thoughts on the recent Washington ruling regarding crowdfunders being held accountable for delivering reward tiers? How could that apply to The Dead Linger?
Geoff: I don't know the specifics of that, but it sounds like the person who started the Kickstarter was not entirely honest and misappropriated funds they claimed would go to physical rewards they never planned to deliver. That certainly isn't the case for us, up to and including the production of many of our rewards (but unfortunately never reaching the in-game stage where they could be added.) At any rate, we have an excellent paper trial and kept very detailed statements on where our money was spent; development costs and salaries for the team.
TR: Did reducing the scope during development ever cross your mind?
Geoff: We did reduce scope multiple times throughout, but there was a point where cutting more was starting to lose part of what The Dead Linger was all about in the first place.
TR: What is the single most important thing you and your team learned from your three plus years developing The Dead Linger?
Geoff: I'd say we learned the most valuable lesson; how to fail at something you put every bit of your effort into. Sometimes you work really hard, and you work really smart, and stuff just doesn't pan out. This happens to everyone at some point in their lives -- our failure is just a lot more public. If I can add to that, we've also learned the ins and outs of Unity and Unreal, and are now extremely confident in creating smaller projects within Unreal Engine 4.
TR: Will you be attempting to use crowdfunding, like Kickstarter, for your new project?
Geoff: That's quite possible, but not without a playable prototype for them to check out. As much negativity we may have created, we've been receiving a much larger amount of support and encouragement to go on and make our next game. The community will know right away if our next game is something they want to play.
TR: Many people may be skeptical of Sandswept moving forward, what do you want them to positively take away from this change?
Geoff: I would hope that our honesty through development and the way we shut down TDL is seen as our most forward gesture, and our best attempt at ensuring everyone understands what happened, and where we'd like to improve for our next games. We tried something big, and we failed to achieve what we'd wanted. Hopefully everyone understands that this is common, for any person, any team, and in any business.
TR: When might we hear on this new project, and is it something similar to The Dead Linger?
Geoff: Our next project is much smaller than The Dead Linger, and not at all in the same genre. All we've revealed so far is that it is called Unfortunate Spacemen, and you can check out the teaser site at http://unfortunate.space It's a prototype I pushed out over a couple weekends that we're now going to take on with the full team. We'll be revealing more about that in the near future, with a more official announcement and gameplay information.
Thanks for the questions!
TR: Thanks for answering them and getting back to us qucikly!
What do you think about the state of The Dead Linger? What does it say about the confidence people may have with Sandswept as they move on to a new project? Should Sandswept have to do something to repay Kickstarter backers?