Whew. Now here’s a blast from the past. Anyone else remember The Arkh Project?
If you don’t, that’s okay; 2012 was a simpler time. This was several months before the online reaction to Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs. Women Kickstarter brought the misogyny ever-present in the games industry out of its damp little cave and into the spotlight where authorities in the industry could finally notice what we had all been saying for years. This was two entire years before a certain ‘ethics’ movement would, ironically, force tech companies to confront the racism and misogyny rife in the industry, despite the movement’s proponents best intentions. More or less, this was back before the idea that there was a diversity problem in the gaming industry was taken seriously by more than just a few of us.
But then along came The Arkh Project, a crowdfunding project that promised to deliver a game on the scale of Kingdom Hearts, featuring a diverse cast of characters that we don’t usually see in gaming. It purported to be everything a lot of people were asking for. Maybe even myself, if I had been able to get over my distrust of crowdfunding projects in time.
But there were… problems with Arkh. It quickly turned out that the team apparently behind the game was wholly unqualified to produce a game of the magnitude that they were offering (which is not an uncommon happening in the world of crowdfunding, if I’m honest). The closest thing that any of the team had to actual game development experience was a 2D visual novel and the entire crew seemed to be comprised of “idea guys”, people who have a lot of good ideas but nary the skill to actually see them brought to fruition.
The concept presented by the Arkh team also pretty much failed from a social justice standpoint, even, as outlined here.
The team lead, who is the real star of this post, Riley was pretty quickly outed as being a rather toxic person with a lot of gross things to say about Asian and naitive people, women and many, many more. So people were, justifiably, pretty reluctant to throw money at a game project by a team with little to no game development experience but quite a bit of experience in harassing and abusing others online. These concerns weren’t allayed by the fact that the project was being crowdfunded on IndieGoGo, which, unlike Kickstarter, allows campaigners to keep whatever money they collected even if they do not make the funding goal.
But Arkh did eventually make money. Only $5,000 out of the $100,000 that they were asking for, but people had donated and that money from then on belonged to the Arkh team. Who then proceeded to do fuck all with it. Actually, no, they did commission a few bits of concept art and less than one second of a walk cycle animation. Was that $5,000 worth of progress? Decidedly not.
And then The Arkh Project faded away. Riley eventually deleted their tumblr blog, but I don’t know when or for what reason, and the word ‘Arkh’ became synonymous, to some small group of people, with overambitious crowdfunding projects and their inevitable collapse. I sometimes bitterly wonder if Star Citizen will eventually go the same route…
But now Riley’s back, this time with another crowdfunding for another game. The goal is somewhat more realistic this time, at just $10,000 for- what’s this? Just a prototype so that Riley can start another crowdfunding campaign for the money to complete the rest of the game. Ten thousand dollars for a prototype? I’m not entirely sure how complex of a prototype Riley is aiming for this time around, but every game prototype I’ve ever worked on was manageable with $40 worth of Monster and quite a few sleepless nights.
This new project reeks of the same over-ambition that crippled Arkh. Whether or not this is a genuine over-estimation of what the team can get done with what money they’re asking for, or something more malicious, I can’t say. But I personally wont be donating to this new campaign. Although Riley has addressed concerns relating to their last project, they seem to be adamant on denying that their previous failures had anything to do with their own behavior and has taken a “shit just happens” stance on the whole thing. They also claim to have plenty of code on GitHub but refuse to show any of it, and their explanation on why doesn’t actually explain anything and goes off on some tangent about how crowdfunding has changed since 2012. Or something I don’t know.
I look forward to seeing whether or not Riley can ever eventually produce a game, and I’ll happily buy, play and review it if they do, but their track record doesn’t give me much hope. I don’t want to become the smaller-scale version of whomever is giving Peter Molyneux millions of dollars to fail to live up to promises.
People like myself, and hopefully you too, we deserve games with better representation than what we’re getting now. We not only deserve more diversity in characters, but also in the teams working behind the scenes in the gaming industry. If you know anything about me you know that I have a vested interest in the tech industry becoming more a safe haven for people like me and people like Riley. But Arkh was not what we deserved. And I have a strong feeling that this latest project wont be either.
I hope I’m proven wrong.