Unknown Realms: The Siege Perilous, is a successfully backed Kickstarter campaign for an 8-bit fantasy computer role playing game (CRPG) being developed by a wife and husband team called Stirring Dragon Games. It draws its inspiration from the awesome CRPGs from the 1980s; The early Ultima games, Legacy of the Ancients, Questron, Wizard’s Crown, Legend of Blacksilver, Phantasie, and more. Unknown Realm is being developed for the PC and the Commodore 64.
Unknown Realm: The Siege Perilous on Kickstarter
Unknown Realm: The Siege Perilous launched its Kickstarter campaign back on December 15, 2016. I recall coming across the campaign and watching the developer’s video introduction. It totally captured my attention and sucked me in. Strong memories and stronger emotions of past 8-bit CRPGs I played as teenager in the mid to late 80s overwhelmed me.
Here is a link to Unknown Realm’s Kickstarter Page to see for yourself: CLICK HERE!
The Unknown Realm campaign was a huge success. Many websites and e-magazines, as well as motivated fans of the Kickstarter campaign spread word far and wide to make it so. There were even some famous backers, like Lord British himself (Richard Garriott, the creator and designer behind the Ultima games), who backed the project for a whopping sum of five thousand dollars.
Unknown Realms captured the hearts and imaginations of many. The goal that the developers at Stirring Dragon Games had set was to raise $65,536.00 in order for their being able to complete and release the game. By the end of the campaign they in fact raised $126,343.00 on Kickstarter, almost double what they estimated they would need.
A total of 1246 backers supported the crowd funding campaign.
The estimated in hands date the developers at Stirring Dragon Games had set for the game was to be in the hands of backers by the Christmas Holiday 2017.
Unknown Realm: The Return Of Feelies
Unknown Realms: The Siege Perilous had a very interesting aspect to many of the reward/backer tiers. The return of the feelies!
Back in the 1980s many games, especially CRPGs, came with extra items in the game boxes. Items like color printed cloth maps of the game world, or a unique dice, or some other trinket related to the game. They were called ‘feelies’. You would buy the game and not only get a floppy disk(s) and a game manual, but some other goodies as well.
Collectors loved the feelies. And one of the things that resonated with many of the backers of Unknown Realms were all the feelies the developers planned to incorporate into various backer levels.
Some of the feelies that were part of the Kickstarter campaign:
- Wooden tavern dice
- Cloth world map
- Bestiary guide book
- Dog companion figurine
- Engraved wooden keyboard overlay
- Realm Stone
- Working C64 game cartridge
- Soundtrack Disc
- Signet Ring
- and more…
One of the backer levels even included a complete Commodore 64 gaming system along with game posters and other items, and yes, people signed and paid in their money for such rewards.
Tier levels ranged from $10 all the way up to $9000. Though no one pledged at the $9000 or the $5000 tiers, one person did pledge at the $2000 tier… I think that was Richard Garriott, but could be wrong.
Unknown Realm: Green Light On Steam
Shortly after the Kickstarter campaign ended Unknown Realms was voted on and accepted to be released on Steam via their Green Light voting process. This method of getting games accepted into Steam has since been suspended and a new system is now in place, but back in the day this was an accomplishment and worth to be noted.
Unknown Realm: A Successful Kickstarter Campaign
The Kickstarter campaign began on December 15, 2016 with a goal to earn $65,536.00. By December 31 it was 100% funded and the backers kept coming. On January 19, 2017 the campaign ended and made $126,343.00.
Fundraising continued after the Kickstarter was complete via PayPal as well as Megafounder. It is unknown how much more money had been raised through those other means.
As mentioned the estimated in hands date for the game was in time for the Christmas season 2017. That date seemed plausible as the developers mentioned in their campaign for Unknown Realms the following statement:
“The game itself is currently in a pre-alpha state and nearing feature completion. The game world and locations are already designed, although names and such are subject to change. The bulk of the remaining development time on the game side will be spent finishing game levels, puzzles, NPC dialog, and the normal play-testing and bug fixing.”
Stirring Dragon Games: After The Kickstarter Campaign
As I write this post it is now October 2021, three years and ten months have passed since the developers of Unknown Realms: The Siege Perilous, Stirring Dragon Games owner’s, Bruce Gottlieb and Laura Gottlieb, had originally calculated the game would be released to the backers.
On January 18th 2023 it will have been a total of six years since the Unknown Realms Kickstarter campaign was funded and many backers are upset. Over on the Kickstarter backer forum that I frequent, I see that the backers are beyond livid and considering options for taking legal actions against Stirring Dragon Games in the form of a class action lawsuit.
I personally backed the campaign for $142.00, and while I am not one of the angry backers out there, I will admit I am feeling let down and disappointed. However, I am still very much hopeful that this game will see some sort of release in the future – that would make me rejoice!
So what went wrong? What happened to all the money raised through crowdsource funding, a lot of which was meant to pay the costs of getting all the ‘feelies’ made for the backers?
Update 1/4/2023: Today I was refunded my $142 backer donation. I never asked for a refund, but I got an email today that stated my contribution was being refunded.
Unknown Realm: Lack Of Communication?
Communications from the developers at Stirring Dragon Games during the Kickstarter campaign and in the handful of months that followed was stellar. They interacted heavily with the backers and even expressed how they loved the sense of community that had been created between themselves and all the backers.
Here is the quantity breakdown of Updates from the Developers per Year after the Kickstarter campaign was funded:
- 2017: Eleven Updates
- 2018: (game was past due at this time) Three Updates
- 2019: Two Updates
- 2020: Four Updates
- 2021: There Have Been No Updates
- 2022: As of June 2022 still no official updates.
- 2022: On October 10 the developers posted that they were preparing a FAQ and Beta Test Application to screen game testers. Yet, as of December 26 there has been no other updates, no FAQ, and no Beta Test Application.
The problem with the updates that did occur, as expressed by the backers on the Unknown Realm Comments Page, was the lack of any content that detailed how the game development progress was moving forward.
Many of the posted updates the developers did share detailed real life issues they were having and had nothing to do with what they were working on. Other updates were simple ‘Holiday Well Wishes’ and updates on merchandise they were selling on their website. Due to the lack of any game progress being shared backers became concerned the game was not even being worked on and began asking for video content and other proof that the game was in fact near completion as stated in the Kickstarter campaign.
Sadly, many of the backers started to feel like they had been swindled by the developers, and that Unknown Realm: The Siege Perilous was nothing more than a scam. Personally, I don’t think any swindling occurred.
Bruce and Laura Gottlieb (The owners and developers at Stirring Dragon Games) expressed many times that they did not want to share any game information for fear of ruining the game for the backers. Updates were few and far between and hollow – the updates didn’t have any actual game update news expressing where things were at in development.
Personally, I would like to go on record here and say that I do not believe Stirring Dragon Games was out to scam anyone. I do feel they are out of touch with reality in regards to game development. Further, they have no concept of public relations, brand building, or marketing.
Stirring Dragon Games: Shutting Out The Backers?
Over on the Unknown Realm Comments Content Page backers were seething and some even demanding updates or refunds. The developers had once praised the sense of community and heralded the communication they had during the live campaign, but now they were using passive aggressive methods of communication to try and shut the more vocal backers out.
A Vicious Circle
With the game well past its expected release date backers began making more and more inquiries asking for new updates and a timetable for the release. The developers were mostly silent and stating they didn’t want to give any gameplay away that would ruin the game for people who would later play it.
To paraphrase the overall situation: Eventually as a year passed with lack of valid status updates backers began to get ‘testy’ and pushed harder for an update. In the Community Content Page the developers started to complain that the backers were being negative and that is made it hard for them to even want to work on the game. Eventually as another year passed things just got worse. Backers wanted a status update on exactly where the game was towards being finished, the developers refused to give any such update and instead when they would post something it was all fluff about family life or things not directly related to were Unknown Realm was in development.
- The backers wanted a valid update.
- Stirring Dragon Games refused to give such an update.
- The backers began siting Kickstarter rules for Campaign Creators and how they are supposed to provide updates.
- The developers said the backers were being negative by making such requests and began blocking backers from their social media sites. They also claimed that writing updates took time away from working on the game, and that they would prefer to focus on the game and not updates.
- Backers began to ask where all the money had gone to that was raised in the Kickstarter Campaign for Unknown Realm and wondered if their feelies were even going to be able to be fulfilled.
- More silence from the developers and how backers were too negative to talk to.
- And it goes and on…
Going Rogue And Breaking From The Backers On Kickstarter
In late Winter/Spring 2020, the developers created a separate site off the Kickstarter page (accessible through their Stirring Dragon Games website) for backers who wished to contribute $10 per month in exchange for more game development progress reports. That just made things worse between the Kickstarter backers and the developers. Per the Kickstarter agreement, Creators are supposed to keep their backers updated with progress reports… going off site and only giving updates to backer who agree to pay in more money was a breaking point for many.
It was hoped that anybody who did decide to provide that extra financial support, and if there were indeed updates being made to those people, that they would report back on Kickstarter what was going on off site. Well, I joined their update backer site and paid the $10 per month for four months, and there were no updates provided that proved the game was being worked on, it was all fluff with no substance.
Unknown Realm: The Current Kickstarter Situation
As mentioned previously, in June 2022 the Kickstarter campaign will have been funded for five and half long years where it raised $126,343.00 on Kickstarter ($60k above what the developers claimed they needed) to deliver on their campaign.
The backers that still take the time to post on the Unknown Realm: The Siege Perilous Kickstarter Page are upset, angry, disappointed, and hurt. The developers, Bruce and Laura Gottlieb, refuse to communicate with anything of substance, other than to say they are still working on the game, and that it will be coming out someday. They do not comment on the feelies or where the game is in the development process. Many backers suspect it was no where near the level of completion that Sitting Dragon Games claimed in their Kickstarter.
Money raised in the Kickstarter campaign was supposed to fund all the feelies that were promised in the various backer tiers, as well as cover some developer expenses needed to get the game into the backer’s hands. Where did all that money go? After five years is there any left? It is a valid question, as is the current state of the game’s progress towards completion.
Sadly there is some speculation all the money Stirring Dragon Games raised had been used for their personal medical bills and to move from California to a different State.
Unknown Realm: For Me Personally
When I saw the video that Bruce and Laura Gottlieb created for the Unknown Realm: The Siege Perilous Kickstarter Campaign, I was filled with excitement the likes of which I cannot put into words. At the time I was going through a small mid-life crisis and had been looking back fondly on my childhood as a Commodore 64 gamer in the mid to late 80s. I loved playing CRPGs like Legacy of the Ancients, and everything Bruce and Laura presented in their Kickstarter Campaign pulled hard at my hear-strings.
I wanted to see the Unknown Realm Kickstarter get funded, and I did all I could to spread word on my social media accounts. Desperately I wanted to play the game, and I made plans that when it was going to be released I would take a week off from work just to focus on playing the game.
When time passed and news of the game’s development was lacking I stayed positive. Most Kickstarters don’t deliver on time and go long, so I was not too concerned.
As timed passed I remained optimistic despite how the Kickstarter community turned negative. I have commented a few times in support of desiring a concise update in the Comments section, but as of late I am feeling that the game will never be released – I hope I am wrong, because I would really love to play the game.
Is there a PC only release in the future? Maybe.
Stirring Dragon Games & Burned Bridges
The developers at Stirring Dragon Games had entered onto the retro game design/development scene with a mighty bang. People were highly excited for Unknown Realms: The Siege Perilous to be made and released. Talk about the Kickstarter campaign ranged far and wide, and even had a long forum thread over on the Lemon 64 Forums (that turned foul over the years as the developers faltered, found here).
Sadly, even if Bruce and Laura did release their game in its full glory with all the ‘feelies’ and other extras seen on their Kickstarter campaign page, they burned far to many bridges to expect any further support in future endeavors they may hope to have.
There is no way they would ever get the hype, excitement, and the crowdfunding they got for Unknown Realms, on any future project. They destroyed all their credibility with the retro gaming community with the way the conducted their campaign over the past three years.
Sadly a lot of what needs to be accounted for in the eyes of the backers, and potential future backers, is what happened to the money they raised? How did they utilize it? Will people who backed for feelies ever see them?
Other Crowd Funding Negative Affects
Sadly, because of the way the Unknown Realms Kickstarter has evolved, there are many retro Kickstarter games that are not getting funded. Why you may ask? It’s the negative vibe that has grown from The Siege Perilous campaign and how it has indeed creeped into other Kickstarters. People are skeptical about donating to such things.
Unknown Realms: The Siege Perilous, Conclusion
Have you been following the events around Stirring Dragon Games and their tarnished Kickstarter Campaign? Perhaps you are a backer like I am? Maybe you didn’t jump in to back it, but are following along with how things have deteriorated over the past years?
The developers had a great community that at one time supported them. Then that retro Commodore 64 gaming community turned on them when they refused to provide game updates.
Of course Kickstarter Crowdsourcing Campaigns are never guaranteed when they are funded, there is risk involved when the backers provide money. It would be nice to know where things stand after nearly five years have passed.
What does the future hold for Stirring Dragon Games and Unknown Realms: The Siege Perilous? We shall see. I am trying to be hopeful, as I would love to play the game.
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