Mythic Games’ fall from one of the most successful crowdfunding-focused board game publishers of all time to one beset by financial woes has been swift. In the 18 months since the company took the unprecedented step of asking Kickstarter backers for more money to complete a project – the $5.6m-crowdfunded Darkest Dungeon board game – Mythic has faced spiralling costs, outsourced the entirety of its remaining workforce and given up on delivering two Kickstarters worth a combined $3.2m, instead selling the IP for those games to CMON.
The sale of Hel: The Last Saga and Anastyr’s IPs earlier this week sparked the greatest outrage yet from backers, after CMON announcing that neither game was “ready for publication in their current state and would require substantial effort to complete”. Kickstarter backers of both games, some of whom paid hundreds of dollars for extensive add-ons and stretch goals, will now just receive a ‘core box’ of CMON’s redesigns. Mythic co-founder Leonidas Vesperini spoke to BoardGameWire about the decision behind the CMON deal, the death threats he has received since, and where the future lies for Mythic’s remaining projects.
BoardGameWire: How did the CMON deal come about – did you approach them (and other publishers), or did they come to you asking about these IPs?
Leonidas Vesperini: Actually, from the very beginning of our problems, we contacted various publishers to see if they would be interested in buying our IP. We talked to CMON and Monolith (among others), who were interested from the beginning, but initially only wanted to acquire IP for projects that had been delivered. For undelivered projects like HEL and Anastyr, but also 6: Siege and Darkest Dungeon, we first tried to finish and deliver them ourselves. With Darkest Dungeon and 6: Siege, we succeeded (or will succeed soon).
For HEL, the game was finished, but releasing it as planned would have required us to ask our backers for a huge contribution, much higher than for the other projects where we had to resort to a contribution. For Anastyr, the game was far along but not finished. But as with HEL, producing the game exactly as we had planned would have required a contribution request that was far too high. In discussions with CMON, we were pleased to see that they could consider acquiring both IPs. As stated earlier, at this stage we preferred a solution that would allow as many backers as possible to receive a game, rather than a new, higher contribution request that would risk affecting a much smaller number of backers.
Where does this leave Monsterpocalypse and Rise of the Necromancers? Are you hoping for something similar to the CMON deal for those, do you anticipate asking for more contributions instead, or are those games likely to simply not deliver at this stage?
For these two games, the solution is to ask for a contribution. But the reactions to our communications are getting out of hand. It’s clear that we’ve inadvertently created and fed a bad buzz about our company. What’s more, the HEL and Anastyr press releases and Kickstarter updates have taken us to a new level: this time, people are attacking us personally. Benoît and I have received physical and even death threats. Some even go so far as to post our home addresses on social networks so that angry backers can find us. I know that this is an exaggerated minority, undoubtedly acting out of unreasonable anger.
Nevertheless, I also receive many messages of support. But I feel that an unacceptable threshold is being crossed, and you’ll understand if I take a little time before answering the question of what we should do about these last two games to be delivered. The mere fact of making announcements now immediately exposes physical people associated with Mythic Games. Some people seem to forget that there are people and families behind the names they insult.
Does the CMON deal provide financing for completion of future projects, or is it being used to pay down debt / other general running costs?
We’re happy with the agreement we’ve reached because it means that backers will get something back, and of course it helps us pay for the general operating costs that remain as we complete and ship the games in progress.
Your line on the future of Mythic has until now been – “we’re working hard and despite these problems have always delivered on our many campaigns”. Now that these two campaigns have failed to deliver, what do you see as the future of the company?
The only future we can see is to deliver the games that are still outstanding. The difficult decisions we have taken have allowed us to find solutions for several of them, which I hope will count in the final balance. Let me remind you of some numbers: Since its inception, Mythic Games has launched 15 projects on Kickstarter or Gamefound. Of those 15 projects, 13 have shipped or are about to ship: Mythic Battles: Pantheon, Time of Legends: Joan of Arc, Solomon Kane, Reichbusters, Super Fantasy Brawl, Time of Legends: Joan of Arc 1.5, Enchanters: EastQuest (and the Darklands expansion sold on our site), Steamwatchers, Super Fantasy Brawl Round 2, Darkest Dungeon (wave 1 shipped, wave 2 in production), and 6: Siege (produced and currently on ships). HEL and Anastyr will be shipped to backers by CMON, at least the base box.
That leaves Rise of the Necromancers (on Gamefound) and Monsterpocalypse. We’re currently focused on delivering Darkest Dungeon and 6: Siege, and then we’ll look for the best solution for the last two projects, as mentioned above. This is the only position we have on the future of Mythic Games.
Do you anticipate ever launching another Kickstarter campaign with Mythic, or do you think that would prove impossible now?
I don’t know if it’s impossible, because we’ve seen many unexpected turnarounds in business and politics. But as I’ve explained to you, the repeated media storms are tiring and getting worse. We don’t plan anything else for Mythic Games until we have delivered or found a solution for all our undelivered campaigns.
When does the licence for Monsterpocalypse [from Privateer Press] expire, and will that have any effect on whether you fulfil the Kickstarter?
The duration of the license granted has no impact on the delivery of the Kickstarter campaign. We are deeply sorry for the problems we have caused our partners who have entrusted us with their licenses. We’ve been through a terrible crisis that has hit our model hard. We’ve suffered the consequences, but unfortunately we’re also passing some of them on to our partners, and that’s very hard to bear. The only thing we can do now is to do our best to limit the damage.
Do you have updated timelines for shipping/completion of 6 Siege and Darkest Dungeon Wave 2?
6: Siege is on the boats, heading for the hubs. Between the weeks of shipping and deliveries from the hubs to the backers, we can expect delivery around April. Printing for Darkest Dungeon wave 2 will start after the Chinese New Year, so it’s too early to give a delivery date, but if all goes well, we can hope for September.
Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently with your Kickstarter projects over the past five years? Was any of this preventable?
In retrospect, I think we should have been more cautious and less confident in our model. We should have kept a tighter rein on our operating costs and found other sources of revenue, perhaps retail, sooner. We probably hired too many people, and these high operating costs condemned us to numerous and ambitious crowdfunding campaigns, where the slightest crash could have serious consequences.
What advice would you give to other Kickstarter-focused board game publishers given what you’ve gone through at Mythic in the last few years?
I’d tell them to be careful and diversify. Start small, have small structures to be flexible. Don’t try to grow too fast.
Does Kickstarter need to reassess its policies for how many projects a single company is allowed to launch? Would that have been useful to Mythic, in hindsight?
I don’t want to blame Kickstarter, they’re not responsible for the difficulties we’ve had. They change their terms and conditions all the time to adapt, and people’s spending habits also change. If it hadn’t been for the repeated crises we had, I think we would have been able to make it through. But our Kickstarter-only model was fragile and too risky when you have a big team.
Is there anything else Kickstarter could / should have done which would have aided your ability to fulfil these projects?
Again, Kickstarter is not responsible for our problems. Kickstarter is just a way to fund and deliver projects. Thanks to Kickstarter, we’ve been able to fund and deliver many ambitious projects. We’ve encountered difficulties that have hit us particularly hard, but we’ve kept fighting and looking for solutions. Although Mythic Games will not be producing them in the end, HEL and Anastyr have not been abandoned. They will live on, and backers whose disappointment we understand will have the opportunity to receive a box.