Lawful Neutral: TUG’s Nerd Kingdom is the Real Slim Shady

What we know about the studio that took $300K from gamers, was secretly bought out, and then vanished.

    
19
TUG

I hate being disappointed. I doubt I’m alone. In general, I try to temper my expectations and accept negative outcomes just as much as positive outcomes. But it doesn’t always work. One particular case is with Nerd Kingdom and TUG. I am very disappointed that TUG never really saw the light of day. The vision the Nerd Kingdom sold me in 2013 during its Kickstarter is one I’m still very much sold on. But it’s a pipe dream now as Nerd Kingdom, the company behind TUG, is no more. Nerd Kingdom’s parent company, IGG, dissolved the studio in May of 2019.

Given the circumstances of how this game took money from the public and then went belly up within a few short years, I thought this would be a great topic for Lawful Neutral, so I went researching to try to figure out what exactly happened to Nerd Kingdom and where it all went so wrong. What I found disappointed me a second time, this time not because TUG never saw the light of day but because Nerd Kingdom was not, and might not have ever been, the kind of company it presented itself to be. There are two stories of the history of Nerd Kingdom, the one that company told and the real story happening behind the scenes. The result is that Nerd Kingdom was a great deal more shady than I ever knew.

For a quick background overview of the history of TUG, check out MassivelyOP’s retrospectives from 2017 and the more recent one from 2018. Nerd Kingdom did not reply to our request for comment for our previous piece.

Trouble at the NK Corral

Nerd Kingdom’s meandering and sad history could take up the entire article, so I’m going to cut through to the salient bits. Nerd Kingdom was founded in 2012 in Texas and launched a successful Kickstarter in 2013 for TUG to supplement existing investment money. The founders said they’re making a different kind of survival game and boasted of the scientists and academics on staff to show just how different it would be. Gamers were on-board with the idea too, and they generated $300,000 on Kickstarter.

By 2014, Nerd Kingdom had an alpha version up on Steam and seemed to be cruising along fine. But then in late 2014, an investor unexpectedly pulled out, forcing Nerd Kingdom into a massive layoff to make ends meet and try to finish the game. By December 2014, Nerd Kingdom had found a replacement investor and things were trending positive again. At the time, Nerd Kingdom was quiet about who exactly the investor was. Investigative Journalism to the rescue: Chinese mobile developer I Got Games (IGG) was the investor.

From associate to acquisition

Now this is where things start to get interesting. According to IGG’s 2014 Annual Report, in addition to picking up 61.7% of NK’s shares, IGG also got two Director seats out of five in the investment. At this point, IGG didn’t consider its current role in Nerd Kingdom to be a controlling interest; it characterized NK as an “associate” of IGG, as opposed to a subsidiary. While on paper this meant that Nerd Kingdom maintained creative control, it’s the kind of control that comes with a wink and a nudge. IGG was basically keeping the company afloat at this point and paying most of the company’s salary. It’s creative control in the way that my dog has creative control of where he runs when he’s on a leash.

With this new influx of money, Nerd Kingdom seemed to make a recovery, putting out a few patches here and there until 2016, when it announced it had a received a $8.5 million from an investor who respected the vision for the game and allowed Nerd Kingdom to maintain control of the company. The reason for this sudden influx of money is a bit up in the air, but it’s probably safe to assume that Nerd Kingdom was, again, out of money. Who was that investor, you’re surely asking yourself? Why, it’s our old friend IGG! According to IGG’s 2015 Annual Report, on November 13th, 2015, IGG gained a controlling interest in Nerd Kingdom in the form of a third Director slot. I want to note here that in Nerd Kingdom’s announcement about the new money, the studio conveniently left out that it was now a subsidiary of IGG and that IGG was now officially calling the shots.

That’s especially interesting when you consider that in the same announcement, Nerd Kingdom started floating the idea of free-to-play for TUG. IGG, being a mobile developer and now in control of Nerd Kingdom, likely had a hand in that push, though of course NK wouldn’t have admitted to that since it was apparently trying to suppress the fact that it had been acquired. I think it did so successfully did for the most part. Until I started researching, I myself was unaware that IGG’s involvement extended as far back in Nerd Kingdom’s life as it actually does.

After this announcement of new funds and new directions, Nerd Kingdom went largely silent for a year. It finally resurfaced in February 2017 to announce that prototyping had begun! But after that point everything was largely silent again. Gamers had virtually no insight into what was happening. There were a few posts to social media until September 1st, 2017, but all those accounts have since been deleted. After that point, we never heard anything official again from Nerd Kingdom. The final reference I could find was at some point in 2018, TUG was “put back to development after an unsatisfactory internal test…” according to an Equity Research report.

And at that point, the trail dries up. There are only token references in the Board of Directors to Nerd Kingdom in the 2017 Annual report, and no references to Nerd Kingdom in the 2018 Annual Report. The next piece I found was the dissolution paperwork. Over on the TUG subreddit, there’s some speculation about what happened between 2017 and 2019, specifically in reference to the team and assets being used in a new game called Best Buds. Outside of a few random references on YouTube, that game doesn’t show up in any of IGG’s financials or anywhere else. (The subreddit community is working hard to try to keep TUG alive and elicit some kind of response from IGG. Bounce on over if you’d like to join them.)

MassivelyOP reached out to IGG and IGG’s counsel for comment on the situation for this piece, but at the time of publication, IGG hasn’t responded. We reached out to Nerd Kingdom’s lawyers as well, with the same result.

Riding off into the dissolution sunset

I don’t know what actually happened to Nerd Kingdom and TUG, and the people who do know aren’t talking. Whatever good intentions Nerd Kingdom started out with, it definitely appears that it turned pretty shady pretty fast, between deliberately hiding its acquisition and refusing to deliver the transparency it had promised to its player backers.

My original hope for this article was to find out what recourse Kickstarter backers (including me) have since we never saw a finished product or even an explanation for what had happened. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to come up with anything, and with IGG ignoring our request for comment, I wasn’t able to confirm or deny that IGG assumed Nerd Kingdom’s Kickstarter liabilities in the acquisition.

At the moment, Nerd Kingdom and TUG function best as a cautionary tale for putting money into Kickstarter and a reminder at how easy it is for game companies to make off with crowdfunds without any legal recourse for the donors – ’cause, you know, we needed another one of those.

Every other week, Andy McAdams braves the swarms of buzzwords and esoteric legalese of the genre to bring you Massively OP’s Lawful Neutral column, an in-depth analysis of the legal and business issues facing MMOs. Have a topic you want to see covered? Shoot him an email!

19
LEAVE A COMMENT

Please Login to comment
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
Reader
Patreon Donor
Loyal Patron
Schlag Sweetleaf

.

nk take the money.gif
Reader
Chris Henzler

I wanna say if anyone from steam sees this article, while it is very good and gets the basic info out there, ALOT of what the OP says in here is very misinformed and the article, while I think, gets alot of it right, is something I wanna say from doing 1 year or research of all this, and the tipster that sent some of this t the op, it has many errors and alot of info that is wrong

I have tried to contact the OP on a email and discord about corrections, but he ignored it so I do not wish to bug him about it, I just want anyone who comes here from any link to know r/tug is very well informed, and you should go there before making a final judgement reading the article

i am only making a big deal about this because the community /tug is slowly getting big here, and I want to make sure that what happened to Nerd kingdom since 2o17 is not mis·con·strued in any way and its very important to note yes me and r/tug has tons of SOURCES to back up every claim as r/tug has a huge working in progress timeline/research being compiled

I would like to thank andy for sharing this, even weeks after, but would kindly ask him at the very least put a disclaimer on his posts that this article is only based on what little information he knows about it

again andy I emailed you weeks ago I only hope you reread my messages or at the very least put a disclaimer, this again is very important to me as steam and other places I cannot go to spread around rumors and facts that are not facts.

Reader
Chris Henzler

hello my name is chris, aka redakdal, I have been the one uncovering all this for over 2 years, please go to r/tug we have alot of cool stuff there that will make you want to come back, and also something you can only get at r/tug that I won’t spoil it here

I would like to say thanks to Massivelyop for doing this article, the main 2 goals are

1. give backers as much stuff from TUG as we legally can
2. archive the history and versions of TUG to keep it safe for the backers and the community so that despite Nerdkingdom being gone, alot of us aren’t giving up on TUG , even if we have to finish yourself, which I will say believe me we have enough research and resources to do so,

again trust me, go to r/tug or our discord : https://discord.gg/yEujpyX you won’t regret it

again thanks, don’t give up hope guys

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Brazen Bondar

oooh! Changed computer systems and I can finally log into Massivelyop again!! Anyhow, I backed TUG and played through many of the earlier iterations. The game seemed to be developing fine in creative mode, then they decided to focus on PvP. To me, that seemed to divert away from getting the game in good playable shape. Then it seemed that the game lost focus all together. But the last two iterations I played with the grandson were survival minus the PvP. We both enjoyed it. The crafting was interesting and you had to think carefully when going out gathering. A couple of times I didn’t put down torches and lost my camp. You needed the torches to keep the critters from eating you and to mark the way…Another time I was mining resources and dug so deep in the cave, I couldn’t get out! And then, just like that…development stopped all together. There were always too many cooks in that NERD Kingdom kitchen and I wondered many times how all those different goals would mesh together. It’s a shame nothing was officially released. The potential was there. The State of Washington sues failed kickstarters if it thinks there is fraud. I doubt Texas would.

Reader
cursedseishi

It’s less the state is willing to sue failed kickstarters, and more so depends on backers willing to invest in it. Washington won their case because they were able to argue the project failed to comply with the Consumer Protection Act in Washington, but the case was only for backers who lived in Washington. The kickstarter I believe you may be referring to, as an example, had 810 backers. But 31 of them lived in Washington, and therefore there were 31 charges of violations regarding the CPA brought with it.

Also, said project was based out of Tennessee but because of the nature of crowdfunding one can argue to an extent that business is being handled in states outside of that which gives room for people to push charges with local laws. Which is why that lawsuit was brought forward through Washington’s specific laws regarding protections. Washington has precedence though, so they might have an easier go of it by citing said prior suit. Others would largely depend on your state of choice’s protections which I’d recommend people look into for such things.

Heck, before Little Orbit stepped up to handle larger games and took over Unsung Story (a big-name failure in this regard), I’d been recommending in the comments for people to do the same, and for those who lived in Washington to look into that.

… Of course, people would rather parrot the ‘as part of Kickstarter TOS blahblahdieblah, I want a refund’ in the comment section when said TOS makes it clear Kickstarter has no hand in it and any refunds must be sought outside of Kickstarter should the project runners refuse to answer.

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Brazen Bondar

Interesting info about the Washington consumer law. I hope some of the TUG backers live in Washington! At a minimum, a company needs to have some accountability for how the money was spent, even if it isn’t possible to deliver what was promised. After all, when you donate to a Kickstarter you have to do it with the awareness that the game might never release, but you shouldn’t be subjected to an outright fraud.

Reader
cursedseishi

There is stipulations when you start a project that you should (emphasis mine) do an accounting of where money has been spent as well as any sort of reparations or refunds one can do should the project prove unfeasible to finish and deliver on. The problem is, Kickstarter handles their business much like Steam–utterly hands-off, and reliant on the community to do much of anything.

The TOS is written to absolve Kickstarter of any connections to the projects, failures or success or fraud, and moves the responsibilities to the Backers to enforce everything though. Of course that also means we are then expected to shoulder the burden of any legal or investigative cost, time money or anything else. To that end, I’ve yet to see or hear any Kickstarter projects (or IndieGoGo, GoFundMe, Fig, or however many adult-themed crowdfunding platforms there are) actually uphold that voluntarily and show the costs and where money went.

There’s been several projects I’ve backed that have gone the way of TUG. A good… 90% maybe of them decide to simply go dark and erase any media presence they have so they can just disappear. Aside from those? One had run into issues with a person proving to be dishonest and stealing from the company (used loosely here). While another has ran into a spot of hardship–but has been offering refunds for those interested and is working on the project as they are able for whoever is left.

Heck, some of those same projects who decide to go dark? They crop up elsewhere plenty of times. There was even a kickstarter creator who made several projects, earning absurds amounts of cash in the process, who later tried to peddle their crap on Shark Tank (or a show in that style, there’s multiples). Which… honestly? It would have been interesting to see them scam one of those individuals on it, because said individuals have the sort of cash handy to just throw about a million dollars for a lawsuit if they were bored.

Reader
cursedseishi

Reminded me of this, ouch…

Was one of the backers who bought into the idea of a survival world that actually wanted to be more of a world than just another big box of resources and ganking. And it was a shame the game has such a… muddied disappearance. Whether its some NDA keeping what employees might exist mum on the rumored asset flip that ‘Best Buddies’ is often referred to as, or even the simple fact that they failed their backers almost right off the bat–by keeping them out of the know in regards to where the game was really going.

There is a 2.0 version of TUG floating about for those wanting to google it. A real basic-alpha version of the game, maybe even pre-alpha, that was developed as the views of the game internally soured. Heard it was an interesting shift, but personally…? I’m dumping this game entirely. I’ve only been burned by a few projects, and unfortunately this has turned into one of them.

Reader
Chris Henzler

go to r/tug for the tugv2.0 launcher, it is not just alpha version, its the exposed engine that Developers and modders were given to test out bugs in early 2017 and from what INO had said on the blog, even encouraged devs from other companies to use their exposed code to make a game out of it, they wanted to host some mod jam or twitch like stuff showing it off, but yea that never happened

Reader
PanagiotisLial1

IGG aka I Got Games used to have many successful small client games along with some browser games. Also they were the publisher of Voyage Century for years.

The game porfolion also included populars like tales of the pirates, godswar and petgames like mythwars 1 and 2, wonderland and angels online.

Suddently at some point they decided(while games were successful and still making money) to turn to mobile games stopping all support(but not sales based on them) for PC based games in their list. The next step was removing all forums based on these games so you cant even post to complain or ask something. Finally there was almost game left and they turned 100% to mobile.

During their PC tenure they were known to provide some fun -not so time consuming- games but heavily monetize them too. Still I had played a lot Mythwars 1, Voyage Century and Tales of the Pirates. Tales of the Pirates lives on private servers nowadays.

some more info can be found there but I can see they miss some of their old games
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IGG_Inc.

One of these games they miss was Zu Online which was quite popular too for a while:

Reader
Chris Henzler

https://youtu.be/x-d4SCH9Q-Y they haven’t made a orginal idea ever, the steal ideas from other mobile games

and you can guess TUG is being replaced by craft legends, a terreria game that mobile users will actually be able to play

Reader
PanagiotisLial1

They werent mainly “creators” but rather game service providers in the mold of others of that era(example old aeria games). Not that many were created by them. Voyage Century was provided too. I practically stopped visiting them on their website when they stopped providing PC mmos.

Reader
Chris Henzler

yes, I did ALOT of research on them, the actual IGG doesn’t make any games, they buy up companies like Nerdkingdom and its purely based on trends on the market

I played voyage century, it had the feel of ripping off world of warcraft

not to mention the are on the HK stock market as 799. publicly buying and selling stocks,

and also they are located in the Cayman Islands, that is know as a tax haven for big corporations and a couple of years ago an independent study known as the “Panama papers” uncovered millions of companies dirty laundry, alot of which were using shell companies to avoid telling investors of alot of companies

I believe that they kept NK until the end of 2018 to get some nice tax cuts that you can get in the USA, and while I am trying to get the writer/editor to fix this, NK was alive in 2018, working on a pikimen like linear game that reused alot of TUGv2.0 assets, as I know from talking to an animator alot of tugv2.0’s models can be ported into unity

but the end result of that is IGG dropped this as well and at the end of 2017, their business ended in texas, but they were made as an entity in California, they only were doing business in texas

the most funniest part of all this is IGG is one of the MANY MANY mobile companies that pay some youtubers to pretend to play IGG games like lords mobile, that is clearly a cgi movie/ video file they were told to put in it

Reader
PanagiotisLial1

100% you confuse Voyage Century with something else. Voyage Century(also provided as Bounty Bay on other provider) was one of the first naval based mmos based on the ages of exploration with galleons, cannons and such. The other game you can compare it with is Uncharted Waters Online. Also VC was made by snail games. Actually I wouldnt be surprised if it was Snail Games first western localization game given how old Voyage Century is. To how totally opposite to WoW it is a video 10 years ago:

As a provider on PC IGG used to heavily monetize their games including VC. That used to be the main problem back them. But they also sunsetted them in a snap keeping them just some time without any support and without even forums for people to ask help. Generally I do not got a good view of IGG as a game handler but they were lucky to have games like VC and Tales of the Pirates that were unique on their day

Reader
silverlock

The bizarre thing was it was a good survival sand box at one point so why didn’t they release that and save some face?

deekay_000
Reader
Patreon Donor
deekay_000

i watched a stream for it. it was pretty janky but probably serviceable given the genre. it would’ve generated some sales beyond the kickstarter just from the general interest for it before the qq set in and they went radio silent.

Reader
Chris Henzler

many reasons

the untiy build was sorta like the fake zelda game trailers that Nintendo who show off, then 2 years later it would be something completely different, Kickstarter had tons of creators that would make something as if it was the final product, then downgrade

take yogventures, a game that looked great at e3 and on the yogscast videos, but once they got that money they scrapped the unity engine and went with voxels engine, having to recode the entire thing from stratch

the same thing with TUG, the FIRST version of tug was a unity engine , running on something called a voxel farms

but when they went to steam, they dropped it and made the enternus engine, which is nothing more then Lua and c++ together

at the end of the day I understand they wanted to make a whole new game, because then it aws be something they can call something there own, but the whole problem is they picked dtx11 which in 2014 was something low end users struggled with

TUGv2.0 while not the tug we were promised, was going to be in opengl, and it was supposed to require as the lowest specs it could run it on

but it seems like it all went to hell when INO was still struggling to either find another paid 2 win mechanic, or maybe someone within the company had sold out not only INO but the community itself to what could be a power play money for money

but thats just a hunch