Raise your hand along with us if you saw this one coming: Indie MMO TitanReach has apparently ceased operation just half a year after receiving a supposed massive cash injection.
This story comes with receipts, as we’ve been covering this game for quite a while, and it’s got piles of strange and shady behavior in its brief history, so buckle up. Back in 2020, Sydney-based Square Root Studios launched a failed $430,000 US Kickstarter, following it up with plans for an Indiegogo. The studio and its fans flamed media for pointing out the potential for abuse in flexible-funding, but the Indiegogo never materialized anyway, and within a few months, the developers were posting that the game needed funding or it would meet certain doom. Doom was apparently averted with the release of a credit storefront, which was exactly the type of flexible-funding people had been suspicious about in the months prior. Then the studio bungled with a statement it later stealth-retracted about its poor working conditions and worker pay, and its community lashed out at us for covering that too.
In the spring of 2021, the game hit early access with a $70 price tag with plans to launch in 2022, but by summer, the early access pre-alpha also went free-to-play and a few weeks after that the devs suspended development as they said they were out of funding. A month later, the developer resurfaced to claim that a mysterious unnamed angel investor had arrived to fully fund the game. That dev, Unravel, said he’d be increasing the team size to 23 people with proper wages. Here’s the lead dev a few days after that, marveling in his team’s good luck after getting the check.
“I was in a position where I could have blocked this person and bought a nice house, a Tesla, and not had to worry about my family’s future. I like to think I’m an honest and loyal person, but even in this situation I would be lying if the thought didn’t once cross my mind.”
A week later, bizarrely, the servers were shut down and communication went dark as the game went into what the team called “private development,” and you will be entirely forgiven if you forgot all about the game after that – in fact, that might have been the goal.
Now, multiple gamers have come forward today with screencaps from the game’s Discord, where developers apparently announced that the studio is closing and the game’s development has come to an end. No real explanation for the cancelation is given. Unravel says that $1M was spent on development of the game, a fifth of which came from players.
“This ride has not been easy, nobody tells you that building cool products like this requires so much more than just your love for it,” he wrote. (Everyone tells newbie devs this; this is new gamedev 101.) “A shy solo programmer turned game dev thrown into the deep end dealing with a community, company, management, public and private drama, finances, and what feels like everything but development.”
Unravel also indicates that his plan for the game was some sort of crypto/NFT implementation – in fact, he spends more time explaining his elaborate plan for NFTs than he does discussing the death of the game.
So, what’s happened to all that money that the angel investor has supposedly given them? “[N]o I am not running off with the funding – we were funded in monthly installments,” Unravel insists. Astute readers will note this doesn’t entirely line up with his comments from back in September, when he said that the investor had doubled the large sum of money he’d asked for – enough to, again, set his family up for life. Either way, it’s unclear whether the investor pulled out or perhaps never existed at all. We simply have no idea, and the abrupt wiping of the studio’s communication channels doesn’t lend itself to a charitable read here.
In any case, it’s a pity for the players who were fleeced for $200,000 over this project – yes, even the players who harassed us for covering the game’s peculiar behavior all along.
When you look up Hayden Deboar on Twitter using the screenshot provided by the backer, his old handle, @HaydenDeboar, is gone. However, Google is apparently lagging behind, so a Google search shows that in fact the handle was just swapped to a new one for Obsessive Games – @GamesObsessive.
Obsessive Games claims to be working on a an Itch.io game called Guild Hall Adventures, which already exists and in fact ran a failed Kickstarter back in September under the name Zachery Fitzgerald – the same time the TitanReach investment was announced and TitanReach took its early access servers offline. The new studio claims to be in South Africa, rather than Australia, where Square Root Studios supposedly was, and this game is on Steam too. The account goes back almost six years; it’s been tweeting about Guild Hall Adventures since June 2020 (right before the TitanReach Kickstarter); before that, there’s a long silence and even earlier references to other games, a Patreon under a different name, and even a game tagged #gamergirl. It’s not clear whether this is the same person or the Twitter account was merely sold between indie developers repeatedly, but we note again this developer’s long-documented history with deleting things to cover his tracks, so we just don’t know.
All in all, it’s sounding much more like gross mismanagement of funds by a studio that did not understand the way investment and tax law work – and even less like an indie “shy solo programmer turned game dev thrown into the deep end” to whom “nobody [told] that building cool products like this requires so much more than just your love for it.”
The original Reddit thread with screenshots of the announcements in Discord has been removed, unfortunately, but we saved copies and will be uploading them above.