Sinking Simulator: the curious case of a tiny dev team divided and a pulled crowd-funding campaign

Stays above water.

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What happens when a crowd-funding campaign for an in-development video game promises features that are unlikely to ever materialise?

And what if the creator of the video game didn't want the crowd-funding campaign in the first place?

In the case of Sinking Simulator, an eye-catching 2D physics sandbox game that lets you create a structure before sinking it, the crowd-funding campaign was cancelled - and the brains behind it sacked from the project.

Sinking Simulator is the work of student Luke Wren, but its Indiegogo and Steam Greenlight campaigns were the work of one Francis Racicot, aka Pac0master, a French-Canadian living in Quebec.

It was Racicot who commissioned Wren to create Sinking Simulator. The Indiegogo campaign, which Racicot launched to raise money to pay Wren for development duties, asked for just $500. It had raised over $4500 before it was shut down.

Wren describes Pac0master, whose first language is French, as an "ideas guy". In a letter to Indiegogo published on his blog Wren wrote: "He's made zero contribution to development. He's also a bit of a liability, making wild feature promises and expecting me to be able to keep to them."

One feature mentioned in the Steam Greenlight pitch is NPCs, "like crew members and civilians." Crew would keep everything in order and civilians would panic and die if in water for too long. Qualifying this feature, the Steam Greenlight page says it "may or may not get implemented".

But it wasn't until his "latest fantastic promise" that Wren fired his client.

"There is no way Pac0master should be involved in the development of the game," he said, "so it's now going to be developed independently. There is also no way he should be trusted with so many people's money. I guess you should consider the project failed."

Wren added in a blog post: "The game is going to go in much more interesting directions if I don't make too many promises early on, and I'd rather surprise than disappoint. Watch this space. Thanks for the understanding."

Wren has contacted Indiegogo and Steam to ask that Sinking Simulator be hauled off their websites, and Racicot has since published a notice on the Indiegogo page warning visitors against donating.

According to Wren, Racicot has already paid the Steam Greenlight fee and an artist and he for work already completed. But in a new twist, it seems Racicot doesn't have the money to refund all the Indiegogo backers who forked out their hard-earned cash, now that Indiegogo and credit card fees have been accounted for.

Racicot has refunded "almost everyone" who donated over $10, he claims, but those who donated less have been left out in the cold.

"I understand that people have lost confidence," he wrote in the comments section of the Indiegogo website.

"I apology [sic] for the confusion caused by the recent discussion between me and Luke Wren. I did many things wrong and I am trying to fix it."

"The project was also to learn me codding [sic] so i can help him out," he added. "I just screwed it up by promising things and he got mad at me. I never meant to do bad things i was just too close to the comunity [sic] and wanted to design the game like people wanted me to instead of following my dev. Now Luke Wren is developing the game on his own without the need of a Backing founds [sic]."

By way of compensation, a philosophical Wren has vowed to release Sinking Simulator to all those who backed the project free of charge - once his exams are finished.

"While I can't claim to be responsible for any of the choices he made that lead to the current events, I can't help but feel bad for the guy," he wrote. "He's in a sticky situation. You may also have noticed he struggles with communication, which doesn't ease things. Hopefully I can clear it up a bit for him.

"If I can ease things at all, I'm happy to give the final product for free to all backers, refund or not. (Yes all 496 of you.) My little thanks for the incredible support, whether I asked for it or not."

Some backers have been left nonplussed, however. One, called Markus, called on Wren to take over the Indiegogo campaign himself. "The people who donated want to support the developer and get the game in return," he said. "And since the people who donated to the campaign pretty much 'pre-ordered' the game (by the use of the perks) they bought the game with the help of IGG."

Another backer, called "randon", donated a whopping $100 - and doesn't want his money back.

"As a fellow programmer (corporate world), i would love to see you continue working on this and i fully support you," he wrote.

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