CLANG development halted by funding drought, but “isn’t dead in dead-parrot sense”


Remember CLANG? The one with all the swords, and Gabe Newell making a joke in the pitch video? Oh, how we laughed. Neal Stephenson raised an at-the-time unthinkable $526k to make sure we’d never have to talk about Die By the Sword ever again.

Only, better not toss your bookcase-hogging copy of Treyarch’s ‘90s whatever-it-was out just yet – Neal’s outfit Subutai Corporation have run out of money. It transpires they’ve had a really awful time of it finding investors this past year.

While Subutai have stretched their Kickstarter funding “farther than expected”, they’ve as yet failed to find the publisher backing needed before they can lift their bright-orange finished project triumphantly from the forge. Their current plan is to turn off the machines and “hoard beans” until they’ve found the cash to see CLANG through to release.

Subutai began courting possible investors in early 2013 in what they believed was a “timely fashion”, long before Kickstarter funds were due to dry up. However, they’ve since been stuck in a months-long holding pattern with various potential partners.

“Even in favorable circumstances, the search for funding can last a staggeringly long period of time,” write the developers. “At any given point in the fundraising process, one or more conversations is underway with possible funders; each of these conversations tends to spread out over a span of months and to turn into its own separate drama complete with moments of hope and reversals of fortune.

“The dreaded term ‘next week’ makes frequent appearances in emails.”

The first reason Subutai cite for their difficulties will come as no surprise: increasingly risk-averse publishers in a still-rubbish economic climate, at the end of a console cycle. Consider that CLANG’s success is tied to the development of nascent swordfighting hardware, and its pool of possible funders looks very small indeed.

These problems aren’t unique, but Subutai have also come up against one that is: something they call the “Neal Stephenson fan obfuscation hypothesis”.

“The potential financiers most likely to talk to us are Neal Stephenson fans,” the developers explain. “Once they have actually met Neal and gotten their books signed, it turns out that they are not really that interested in our project. But they don’t want to make Neal Stephenson feel bad and so they don’t give him any useful feedback; instead they just go dark.

“In the meantime we have wasted a huge amount of time on them. We were slow to cotton on to this”

Similarly, the team have encountered a “wall of incredulity” that Stephenson would have any trouble finding funding for any project he’s put his name to. Curse you, Neal. Curse you and your rather good books.

Right now, the CLANG team have chosen to find temporary work in the Seattle area and continue to work on the project on an ‘evenings and weekends’ basis until the prayed-for funding comes.

“The project isn’t dead in dead-parrot sense until the core team has given up on it and moved decisively on to other projects,” they write. “Other events such as declarations of bankruptcy can also serve as pretty reliable markers of a project’s being dead.

“In the case of CLANG, none of this has happened yet.”

In the meantime, the team have issued a plea for patience to their backers.

“We always knew that this was going to take a while and that we’d hit some bumps along the way,” they conclude. “And we feel that the decision we’ve made is much better than the alternatives which were to [a] quit, [b] panic and sell out, or [c] get into a bad relationship with the wrong investor.”

So it isn’t mismanagement that’s put Subatai temporarily out of business, and you can’t fault them for dedication. But that unpalatable fact remains: they’ve become the second Kickstarter darling to run out of money this summer. Has your opinion on crowdfunding changed at all in recent months?