Untamed Isles is a Pokémon-style MMORPG that created quite the buzz, in part for its intention to integrate NFTs and crypto. However, the very vehicle that helped drive its Kickstarter to prominence now appears to be the one crashing the project into a wall. Is the project in hibernation, or is this another rug slip?
For those who read my work regularly or listen to the Mint One podcast, you will know that I coined the term “rug slip” and jammed it into crypto’s vernacular. For a longer description, click the link in the paragraph above, but for a TL;DR, here you go: a rug pull is a type of scam and intentional. A rug slip is when a project is mismanaged to a degree that either its token and economy crashes, or development ceases. The primary differentiator is intent; while the outcomes of rug pulls and slips are often similar, a rug slip isn’t a scam.
What Is Untamed Isles?
I loosely followed Untamed Isles and was never quite sure what to make of it from a Web3 standpoint. Although some appeared to see it as a blockchain game, the involvement of blockchain was fuzzy in places and far from a feature they spent a lot of time pushing. In fact, on their Kickstarter, a small 149-word section was dedicated to blockchain’s involvement, and little of that had any useful information. Furthermore, the blockchain integration was scaled back.
Now, despite the game coming first and crypto second (which I don’t disagree with), Untamed Isles is going into hibernation and ceasing development because of crypto.
What Happened to Untamed Isles?
In a recent blog post, Phat Loot Studios, the team behind Untamed Isles, announced that the development was on hold after they had essentially run out of money. The game raised over $800,000 (NZD), reaching 420% north of their funding goal, and away they went. One of my initial reservations is how on earth anyone can be expected to make an MMORPG for $800,000 USD, let alone NZD; that genre is infamous for being a money-sink and a tremendously ambitious game type to make. Nevertheless, they hired more than 70 staff and spent over 2 years developing.
Now, the money side of things gets more confusing to me when you look at those numbers. If they hired 70 staff for 2 years on $800,000 NZD (I doubt it would have been 70 for the full 2 years), then if split evenly (again, it wouldn’t have been), each staff member would have earned $3,711.79 U.S Dollars per year. Nevertheless, they are likely to have had some investors and it is these investors who, given the economic landscape, have pulled out and left Untamed Isles broke, or so they suggest.
Well, this hasn’t gone down well with backers, as one might imagine, but this story has the whiff of a rug slip. Firstly, as several people on Twitter observed: if the game was crypto second, how has the crypto markets tanking caused this game to go with it? Well, there may be an unsettling answer to that:
We leaned into the crypto market and expanded rapidly off the back of the positive interest. When the crash came, we ended up heavily exposed with too short of a runway. The game remains game-first, crypto-second in design, but crypto funds have become, and remain, essential in getting us to the release.
This is going to need unpacking sooner or later. What does “leaned into the crypto market” mean? Some suspect that the funds in fiat that were raised through Kickstarter were invested in crypto. That borders on an unconscionable degree of recklessness and I’m not sure I’m cynical enough to believe that happened. That said, I’m unsure what leaning into crypto markets can mean if not that. The first sentence sounds as if they dumped a portion of their Kickstarter funds into crypto, rode one of the waves to profits, expanded, but then failed to prepare for the inevitable dip.
There is also another area that leaves a sour taste: “We will be keeping on a small team to work on our smaller titles to release as soon as possible.” How can this studio justify working on other projects while 3,052 backers are left out of pocket and without what was promised to them? And, to be clear, these 3,052 backers are not getting anything out of their belief in the project:
I don’t want to assume the role of holier than thou, but that response simply isn’t good enough. One of the worst parts of rug pulls in Web3 gaming is that no one is held accountable for the failures and losses. I do not believe for a second that Untamed Isles is a rug pull, but rug slips cannot happen without consequence either. I appreciate the difficulty of creating a game as an indie studio, but there is no way in which backers can be left with nothing for their money and blame not fall on the project’s creators.
This is another sad story that will, unfortunately, mar Web3 gaming, despite the spurious role blockchain likely played in Untamed Isles. The backers have a right to feel aggrieved and the current explanation is severely lacking. The extent to which Phat Loot Studios has wronged their backers and fans is yet to be determined, but there are some troubling words in that statement and I wouldn’t be shocked to hear rumblings of legal action.
Let’s hope, for the sake of the backers, that the development team behind Untamed Isles finds a way to continue working on, and delivering the game. As it stands, that does not seem likely.