What Happened to 'Scale,' The Game That Let You Shrink and Grow Everything?

In 2013, 'Scale' raised more than $100,000 on Kickstarter. Five years later, it's still not released. Why? Here's what we learned.
December 11, 2018, 5:31pm
​Image courtesy of CubeHeart Games
Image courtesy of CubeHeart Games

It’s easy to see why people fell in love with Scale’s pitch. Players have a gun that allows to you to increase or decrease the size of almost any object around you. Transform a tiny butterfly into Mothra, or a massive canyon into a sand castle. It’s not hard to imagine building a set of clever puzzles out of such a concept, which explains why designer Steve Swink and his team managed to raise $108,020 in October 2013. When the Kickstarter launched, Scale’s release date was estimated to be a little more than a year later, December 2014.

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It’s December 2018, five years after the Kickstarter closed, and Scale hasn’t been released.

As part of an ongoing series at Waypoint, I’ve been fielding requests from readers about games they were excited to play. Games that seemed, at one point, tangible and real, but for whatever reason, they fell off the map, unclear if they’re delayed or dead. So far, I’ve taken a look at the sci-fi horror game Routine, the sad robot game Reset, Michel Ancel’s prehistoric open world, WiLD, and the wild 4D puzzle game Miegakure. Today, we’re looking at Scale.

There has been reason for anyone worried about the game’s status to be, at the very least, concerned. The game’s official website still has a spot to process pre-order payments, but includes a trailer from 2013, and Swink hasn’t tweeted since September 2016. If you were just casually looking for an update on Scale, it’d be easy to conclude the project was dead.

Part of the problem, a problem I’ve seen with several games over the course of this reporting series, is a lack of communication. Updates in some places, but no updates in other places.

Scale’s Facebook page, for example, had regular updates during the crowdfunding period and a few months after, but then took a year between updates—April 2014 to April 2015.

“Is the game still in progress or abandoned at this point?” wrote one backer in response to the April 2015 update. “Last email update I got as a backer was over a year ago.”

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Then, the page goes dark until early 2018—nearly three whole years. It comes back with regular updates, including new screen shots, coinciding with the launch of a Twitter account.

YouTube wasn’t a help during that time period, either; there were a few videos after the Kickstarter, archives of Swink playing Towerfall with his buddies, and two podcasts.

The weird part is that Swink and everyone else working on Scale were, in fact, providing regular updates to people, it’s just that it was only happening back on the Kickstarter page.

19 updates in 2013. Nine updates in 2014. Seven updates in 2015. 17 updates in 2016. Eight updates in 2018. (2018’s includes a backer-only one called “Alive!” from a few days ago, which I suspect might have been prompted by me poking around.)

The biggest update came in July 2017, which Swink dubbed “the return.”

“I'll just quickly say something very important: sorry if you assumed the worst,” said Swink. “I know it's really important to keep everyone updated. In this case, it was a conscious choice to focus on development. […] As backers you are right to expect updates and right to be worried if you don't get them.”

The reaction from backers was mixed. Super fans who’ve been following Scale for years, sympathetic to Swink’s plight, happy it’s not dead, and pushing back on folks calling it a scam. Other backers asking for a refund, upset at infrequent check-ins from the developers.

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“Please update on the progress of this,” wrote one backer. “Even if it's just a case of saying ‘Still working, nothing important to mention.’”

The frequency of 2018 updates came with another huge milestone from March: a playable version of the game for backers of a certain tier. That’s as good a sign as any for a game.

The regular updates slowed, as they’ve done in the past, over the summer. No more new screenshots. This happened around the same time as the last backer update on Kickstarter, a closer look at the team refining Scale’s art, “making it easier to make more of, and also (and most importantly) so that players can easily understand what's scalable, what's not.”

After some digging, I managed to track down Swink for my own update on the game. He declined a formal interview about the last five years, but passed on a statement :

“We're lovingly chipping away at the game. Games are hard to make. This one has been much, much harder than anticipated. Lots of obsessive reworking to try and make something great. And I have not done a good job of managing scope, particularly with art and narrative. The usual reasons games are delayed for ages, especially with super small teams.

We're running mostly silent at the moment since there doesn't seem to be much point to an update which isn't 'hey Scale's done, this is when it's coming out!' There's a lot of game now, though. We're looking forward to release. I hope people who dig puzzles find something they like and that our backers enjoy it.”

Making games is hard. Promoting games, especially when they’re not done yet, is also hard. It’s not surprising small teams end up focusing on the easier problem that’s in their direct control—development—while punting on the part that doesn’t exactly contribute to the game coming out any faster. Crowdfunding complicates matters, as you suddenly owe a debt of responsibility to the people who helped financially prop you up, but where’s the line? How much transparency is required, given lots of folks are likely to be critical no matter what?

If I was to offer one takeaway to developer after a year “What Happened To?” stories, it would be to err on the side of being brutally honest. If you need to take a break from sharing updates because it’s not proving helpful, tell people. If you’re going to disappear for a year, let them know. You’re more likely to get some slack from the people that matter if you are upfront, even if the news is disappointing. Simply disappearing erodes trust over time.

Swink’s statement to me is not a release date, but I’ve reported enough of these by now to have a certain feel, and my gut tells me we’re more likely to play Scale at some point than not. Maybe that’s my own wishful thinking; I think Scale looks cool as hell.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you have a tip or a story idea, drop him an email: patrick.klepek@vice.com.

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