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Indie Games and Crowdfunding: What Happened to All These Games?

The year is 2016. Tumblr is enjoying its final years of glory before the Great Purge and the internet is just starting to get down from its DRAMAtical Murder high. You know, the high where the game was being illegally downloaded, streamed and memed en-masse. Did you know that in a few months you’ll finally be able to play the game legally? You’re welcome.

Following the success of DMMd and the discovery of the wonderful world of visual novel, a number of artists, writers and other creators want to try their hand at the VN medium for their own story, with varying success.

At the same period, the emergence of Kickstarter and IndieGogo as a crowdfunding platform and successful campaigns of LGBT-themed games like Coming Out on Top, ambitious creators launch their own campaign to an audience that is quite literally craving for more of those BL game and seeking an experience hopefully as good as DMMd or its predecessor Togainu no Chi was.

But soon, both creators and enthusiastic backers realize that making a game AND promising to deliver it at a set date is not all that easy and as glorious as it seemed. The most common project killers are:

  • This is the creator’s first ever game and they don’t know what they are doing, which leads to…
  • Underestimating a project’s cost: this happens on almost every crowdfunding campaign, even those made by industry veterans. Whether because the creator is afraid to ask too much and not reach the goal, not taking into account unforeseen costs like their PC breaking and needing replacement or only realising months after the campaign that actually, they need to pay for a proofreader, whatever crowfunding goal reached will only be a fraction, and oftentimes not even half of the final cost of the game.
  • Taxes, taxes and more taxes: Kickstarter takes 10% from the total reached. Add to that your country taxes and if you’re unfortunate enough to NOT live in the USA, where Kickstarter is based, and live in a country with no tax treaty, add 30% on top of that. Say you reach $10 000, after the 10% and 30% taxes, plus the backers whose payment was canceled (it happens), you’re left with a little more than $6000 for the whole deal. The amount you see is never the amount the creator will receive in their pocket.
  • The project becomes bigger, but not the creator’s wallet: you want to add more characters, more illustrations, more scenes to your game after you received the funds. You will have to pay for them from your own pockets. Also known as “feature creep”.
  • A staff member leaves, sometimes running away with the creator’s money and the need to find someone else or complete the job themselves.
  • Life happens: the creator started the project as a student when they had a lot of free time, they later start working and thus have less time and energy to make the game. Illness, family issues and suddenly having to take care of someone else, natural disasters and thousands of unforeseen events can take time and energy away from the creator who cannot dedicate themselves to their project as much as before.
  • Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

Note how most of these problems can apparently be fixed with more money. That’s why most BL game devs I know nowadays use a Patreon or another platform to get regular income from backers on the side. Not that it guarantees the money won’t be mismanaged and that your game will be made sooner, as you will see in a little while.

This post is about the BL game projects launched in the particular in 2016 and 2017, two years that saw many successful campaign, a wave of new creators and some of which are still struggling to deliver their game after 3 to 5 years.

To accompany the following information, I updated my BL game crowdfunding list, a detailed spreadsheet about all BL game-themed campaigns I know of. You can check it here.


Legend of Rune by Yesterjoy Games

Funded in : August 2016
Received: $ 29 246
We’ve been waiting : 4 years and 5 months

You play as the titular Rune, a fire mage who mysteriously wakes up outside of his prison and runs into a soldier willing to kill him, and a mysterious earth mage in a crop top willing to run away with him and help Rune find his father.

I vaguely remember the creators initially having a $5000 goal, and telling them that they could easily double it and reach it with a lot to spare –and I was right: Legend of Rune’s Kickstarter reached more than 300% of its initial goal at least partially thanks to its match-3 gameplay, or really, the addition of any “gameplay” that set it apart from its fellow BL visual novels. Another big factor was that Vietnamese artist Fuyuure illustrated it and added visual quality that was, in 2016, quite lacking in English, BL visual novels.

Following the campaign, the progress of LoR has been slow, but surprisingly steady. The longest the team went without an update is 5 months, between December 2018 and May 2019. In the latter date, they openly admit to having ran out of funds and raising a small fundraiser through merchandise to reach $800, an amount needed to fund the voice acting and make good on one of the campaign’s stretch goals. In the end, they only got $300, which they hopefully put to good use. Since they couldn’t pay for a voice editor, they’ll have to do it themselves and from experience, this is very time consuming and a pain in the butt to do.

I have no doubt that at least some things must have gone wrong in the span of 4 years and a half and their lack of social media presence didn’t help, but all in all, the whole thing has been much, much less messy than the next games I will describe in this post.

They planned to release an extended demo in December 2020 but didn’t make it. Hopefully they get it out in the next couple of months. I also know for a fact that the portraits and illustrations were completed around… early 2019? A short period in which Fuyuure was busy drawing all the remaining art pieces and thus couldn’t work on The Divine Speaker. That’s at least one thing down in Legend of Rune’s todo list.

It is still possible to support them by preordering the game through their official website if you’re interested.

What I get from this: think twice before putting a voice acting stretch goal. It adds a lot to your game but just like art, it is very expensive and time-consuming!


Sentimental Trickster by Justyna

Funded in: July 2016
Received: $ 9036
We’ve been waiting : 4 years and 8 months

From the Polish creator and comic artist Justyna, Sentimental Trickster is a slice of life, adult BL game that takes place in “Japan” where Haru is starting a new life in the city and moves into a dormitory full of beautiful men.

Following the successful campaign, Justyna released an extended demo, switched from Unity engine to Ren’py and revamped the CGs and sprites. She also started the project “Dear Monsters” with a friend which would be funded on Patreon and feature voice acting. From 2016 to 2018, the progress has been very slow but there was progress.

After a year with zero Kickstarter update, on July 6, 2019, Justyna wrote about her chronic disease: ulcerative colitis, a disease affecting the large intestine that can be debilitating and potentially life-threatening, which is the main cited reason for the delay. In later updates, family issues are mentioned. She also asked if anyone was willing to help her finish the game.

17 days later, on July 29, Yamila Abraham from Y Press Games wrote an update and officially overtook the project. She would take care of project management, programming and art coloring but agreed to leave the rest of the writing to Justyna, who at the time I’m posting this, finished 3 of the 4 routes. Yamila and Justyna’s writing styles were incompatible, or else Yamila would have handled that part too.

For those who don’t know, Yamila Abraham is the owner of Y Press Games, a company specialized in “gaymes” whose moto is “we always deliver on time”, even if “on time” means rushing to sell a product of supbar quality in which voice actors were paid peanuts and Yamila admitting on mistreating her artists into leaving in To Trust an Incubus’ artbook commentaries.

It comes at no surprise then, that the Kickstarter updates would go from this (July 2019):

"I bring this up because I want you to understand how serious this disease is. Stress causes flares, and every flare could lead to that same rupture I almost died from. Justyna is trying to go into remission. She does not want to end up in the same situation I found myself in. Remission is very possible with ulcerative colitis, but it’s important to keep stress low."

To this (January 2021):

"It happened on a New Years Eve.  Justyna uploaded everything we need to complete the game to our server.  We had to hold a gun to her head, in traditional American style, but we got it!"
"Then we waited.  Last year I told Justyna we had to put an expiration date on this contract.  It was taking much too long, and I felt very bad about all the unhappy people waiting forever and never getting an update.  "Finish it in 2020 or the deal is canceled."

Justyna had more crisis's, more health events, and serious family issues.  We didn't budge.  We were kind of assholes about this, if you consider everything she was going through. "

The same update states that the planned release date is around June 2021.

Now, I cannot speak for Justyna. Perhaps a kick in the butt was what really she needed and she’ll be thankful later for finally putting this project behind her and get rid of the not-delivering-the-product anxiety. Still, I can’t help but feel like there are better ways the whole thing could have gone and I can’t decide whether Sentimental Trickster being released on such condition is better or worse than the project being cancelled.

They could have, I don’t know, hired a writer whose style was closer to Justyna’s to help her complete the job, but that would have meant spending extra money that Yamila wouldn’t have been willing to spend and funds Justyna just didn’t have anymore. Still, I believe that would have spared everyone a lot of stress and delay.

What I get from this: get help when things are getting difficult but don’t accept help from Y Press Games.


Sakura Tempest by D-Ket

Funded in: May 2017
Received: $ 7 937
We’ve been waiting : 3 years and 8 months

From D-Ket, a team of people mostly from Germany, Sakura Tempest plays like a typical “Japanese high school romance” (later changed to college settings), which has the distinction of featuring a Japanese artist in an original English visual novel, who goes by the name Helga Waga. Another thing of note is that their Kickstarter reached their goal despite not featuring any demo or proof of concept. More on that later.

D-Ket posted irregular, though numerous updates (some only containing 2 lines) after the successful campaign, until somewhere in 2018 where the artist was mentioned to be sick in both the Kickstarter comments and during an October 2018 update.

The demo wasn’t released to the KS backers until July, 2018 (a year after the campaign) and made available to the public in mid-2019 (couldn’t pinpoint the exact day) on itch.io. You know, the demo that you should have been able to play since day 1 of the Kickstarter campaign.

While the updates are still irregular, you can follow Sakura Tempest’s Twitter where they show art progress of the game (warning: NSFW). I don’t know how long it will take, but I’m hopefull Sakura Tempest will, one day, be released. If not this year, then in 2022?

What I get from this: finish your demo before launching a Kickstarter.


Monstrous Lovers by Man-Eater Games

Funded in: May 2016
Received: $ 13 242
We’ve been waiting : almost 5 years (4 years 10 months)

Based in Mexico, Man-Eater Games’s first project was a monster romance game inspired by old horror movies. In a world where humans and monsters try to coexist, the main character, Christopher Wells, is transfered to a city with the highest monster population facing various socioeconomic isses and tries to learn more about them.

Monstrous Lovers was backed with much difficulty. Sekai Project made two (2) tweets about it and completely forgot about the game like all other BL games that went under their brand. IndieGogo allowed the campaign a one-month extension after they were close the goal, after which they finally managed to meet their goal.

Following the campaign, updates were posted monthly for a several months before, you guessed it, turning into a yearly thing. On the May 7, 2017 update, the dev wrote:

First of all, I (KillerQueen) personally owe you a huge, huge apology. I went from being an intern to a fulltime employee at my job, which included having to move countries for a couple of months.

(…) Since I was feeling bad already, I also avoided answering emails because giving excuses was just making me feel worst.

In 2017 also, Man Eater Games made and released another short game called Blind Men, which would later get a Nintendo Switch, PS4 and PS Vita and Xbox One port in 2020.

The last time we heard about Monstrous Lovers was in June 2019 where the voice actors were announced and an Indiegogo survey was sent to backers for their physical rewards.

I wish I could be hopeful about this one, as I was personally quite interested in the story but more than the release delays themselves, the complete lack of communication is extremely disappointing.

What I get from this: don’t post your progress only once a year, even it it sucks. Some backers will appreciate the update and know you actually care.


1st Degree by Parival Games

Funded in: November 2017
Received: $ 8 184
We’ve been waiting : 3 years and 2 months

Protagonist Rei Kuroshima is forensics graduate who is trying to solve a series of murders commited by someone they nickname “The Doctor”. He does so by copying the Doctor’s method of killing and discovers along the way that he has certain “urges”. Also lots of gay porn with and men with big boobs.

Since the end of their campaign Parival games has been dutifully posting updates twice a month from the end of the campaign until April 2020 (yay COVID), after which updates where more spaced but still present.

In August 2020, they released a spinoff game that can be played standalone and contains lots of porn and no gore (unlike the main title) called 1st Degree: What a Lovely Summer with the following description:

This side game is being made as a way to relieve some stress for the team as well as to earn some extra funds to make up for the content that was not originally accounted for in the Kickstarter budget. All profit from this game will be going back into the development for the main 1st Degree game.

1st Degree’s development has been slow, yes, but steady with progress almost every month. However the lack of news since August 2020 is a little concerning and I hope the whole team is doing alright. In the July 12 update, cited reasons for the game’s delay are the various life struggles the Parival team members are going through.

What I get from this: do post updates every months, having a stable financial situation goes a great way to get a project done.


Eldet by Marccus

Funded in: June 2016
Received: $ 30 835
We’ve been waiting : 4 years and 7 months

Created by the now prominent American Black artist Marccus, Eldet is a high fantasy story where you play as Kunal, a failed(?) magician who decides to join a prominent ancien ruins enthusiast in his tomb raiding adventures. The game distinguishes itself even to today’s standards with its diverse, LGBT cast with a variety of body types and rich décor of different cultures. Marccus does everything on his own: portraits, backgrounds, writing, programming and also music.

The development of Eldet has, however, been very rocky. Througout the years, Marccus left their part-time job to work fully on the game, their computers died and was replace twice, they moved out and got sick a couple times, reworked and added more and more things to the game in a snowball fashion and then in 2019, announced that the game was on indefinite hiatus, would be rebooted from the ground up, refunds were going to be issued without the backers needing to ask and the updates would be posted on their Patreon. In short, Eldet project as we know it was effectively dead.

In August 1st, 2019, Marccus said:

(…) there are countless things I’ve learned since then, including the knowledge that kickstarter likely wasn’t the best way to try to make this game happen.  I deeply appreciate being given th e chance to put a considerable amount of effort into trying to make it work, but at least for me, this wasn’t the way to do it. 

If you read my review about Eldet’s 2018 demo, then you know I was absolutely pumped for this game and awed by its quality through and through. The 2016 demo already looked great, yet the 2018 one blew it out of the water. I had discovered the game after the campaign and so didn’t have the chance to back it, but I was very saddened at how things turned out for such a promising project.

Comes October 2020 and Marccus hops into Kickstarter once again to announce that Eldet was now out of hiatus. 3 months later on January 1st, 2021 Marccus posted another update with the game’s progress and plans for the future:

  • The game’s title is no longer “Eldet” but named “Spirits of the North”
  • Spirits of the North will be divided into 3 games, which will all include different characters and couple.
  • The MC Kunal is much older than in the original game, at least in the first installment that will be released
  • Spirits will now contain more gameplay elements like puzzles and exploration, as well as a “world map” you can advance in like in RPG games.

As much as the news of the game reboot excites me, I can’t help but remain cautious and expect yet several more years for the game to be completed and Marccus to be finally satisfied enough with their game to release it to the world.

What I get from this: don’t try to live solely off your KS money, perhaps KS is not for you, done is better than perfect and more importanttly, cancelling things is fine, you just gotta own up to your mistakes like Marccus did.


What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger: the case of Seiyuu Danshi

Seiyuu Danshi

Not all games funded in 2016-2017 stayed in developing hell, and though the Indonesian creator Meyaoi went through a lot of hurdles during Seiyuu Danshi’s development, they came back stronger and went on to create the even more ambitious Banana Ranch.

Funded in: March 2016
Received: $ 39 197
Released in: October 2018
We waited: 2 years and 8 months

When Meyaoi started their Seiyuu Danshi! campaign as a university student back in March 2016 with a $5000 goal, they didn’t quite expect to reach almost 8 times the required sum and 836 backers. This doesn’t take into account those who backed later through Paypal.

Seiyuu Danshi, a game about the world of voice acting and dating pretty boys has several appeals that, at the time, were either rare or completely new: a “Japanese”-looking art that was closer to the BL game Western players were familiar with, the presence of actual dating simulator mechanics (giving your love interest presents, love meter, going on dates, lots of choices) as well as the guarantee that all sex scenes would be consensual with the ability to choose whether the protagonist can top or bottom in each session, something that, while more common now, was pretty new at the time and the opposite of what you’d find in Japanese BL games.

Tax hell

The first and perhaps biggest difficulty Meyaoi faced was being Indonesian in a crowdfunding website based in the USA: Kickstarter did not (and still doesn’t) support Indonesia and so, Meyaoi couldn’t receive the sum directly and had to rely on a friend living in the USA to receive the funds.

Meyaoi had to pay US taxes, which ended up costing them between $6000 and $8000, as they state in their February 2017 update. One year after the initial campaign, Meyaoi had already spent all of their KS funds and the game, while well along the way, was nowhere near done. In November 2017, the initial release date, Meyaoi offered refunding for those who asked and pushed the release back to June 2018.

In the end, after filling some more tax information, the amount decreased to $4000-5000. Still a big blow, but that it didn’t stop Meyaoi: the game’s first love interest route, Shiba’s, was released in August 2018, which was followed by the remaining routes until Seiyuu Danshi was finally available to the public on itch.io in October 2018. Later than planned, but only 2 years and a half after the original KS campaign, which is honestly pretty fast considering the amount of content (many players took more than 50 hours to complete it) and work Meyaoi had to handle on their own (writing, programming, interface, some of the art, marketing).

Voice acting hell

But the work was not over: Meyaoi still needed to send the physical rewards to backers and add voice acting to Seiyuu Danshi, which was one of the stretch goals reached two years prior. The auditions started as soon as May 2016, in which the English voice actors would be cast by public and backer votes for the love interests. The final game lines wouldn’t sent to the voice acting director (the voice of Haato, who did the Kickstarter trailer) until more than 2 years later in December 2018, where Meyaoi writes:

Sent the proofread dialogue sheets to the VA director a week or so ago. He responded by saying the number of lines were too much (…). I sent him a reply asking how many lines would he (and the voice actors) were willing to voice, and hadn’t received an answer since then. (…)

In January 2019, after a month of being ghosted, the VA director replied Meyaoi that he wouldn’t be working on the game. In the meantime, he allegedly used his experience as “Seiyuu Danshi’s VA director” to promote himself as a director for Camp Buddy, Full Service and The Divine Speaker. Note that 0 game lines had been voiced at that time.

Because that actor was somewhat prominent in the voice acting community, or at least the BL voice acting one, Meyaoi sook to avoid other English voice actors. They instead, with the help of Japanese Otome developer Roseverte, found Japanese voice actors to complete the job. 5 months later, Seiyuu Danshi’s voiced version was now available.

(For anyone wondering, the voice director was fired in late-2019 from The Divine Speaker and his name blacklisted from my BL game contact list.)

In October 2019, after sending the physical rewards Meyaoi posted the final update for Seiyuu Danshi. The game has since received numerous “after stories” you can receive from either their Patreon or purchase on itch.io.

Between September 2019 and April 2020, Meyaoi launched a 6-months campaign on itch.io (yes, you can crowdfund on itch.io) in which they raised $46,823, which they were able to receive with little fuss. Previously, they had tried to fundraise on Indiegogo but IGG no longer supported Indonesia.

It was a long and arduous 3 years struggle, but Meyaoi as a creator survived and lived to tell the tale. They also went on to be one of the very few BL game developer whose games are a major part of their income (versus minor side gigs or worse, money sink for some).

What I get from this: never give up and be careful of scammers, these are more common than you think.


Seiyuu Danshi isn’t the only successful BL game whose campaign ended in 2016-2017. There is also Argent Games’ Chess of Blades, Ertal Games’ A Hand in the Darkness and Mazjojo/Herculion’s Full Service, which received similar delays and financial troubles as Seiyuu Danshi due to Mazjojo being from Indonesia and the game containing porn. Still, these two years are in my mind the “dork years” of crowdfunding which developers looked at later for things not to do for their own campaign.

The creators who fundraised their games in 2018 onwards, for the greater part, learned the lesson from their predecessors and started longer campaigns (45 or 60 days as opposed to the usual 30) with overall higher goals. In particular, Love Shore, Valentyne Stories Necromancy and Night/Shade stand out as the games that asked and then received more than their $50,000+ goal and will hopefully bear fruit either this year or in 2022.

What I get from this all:

  • Set your goals high
  • Be mindful of your game’s scope, don’t add what you can’t afford
  • Keep a tight hold of every penny you get
  • Release your game within 3 years, after which many of your backers lose faith in you
  • Learn from those who failed (or succeeded) before you.
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Fable

An nonbinary BL enthusiast from France. Sharing BL game news since 2013, I also translate games in French during my spare time.

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