Monday, April 15, 2013

Guardians of Order's Mark MacKinnon Resurfaces...On Kickstarter!

Back in 2006, it all started with a post from George R.R. Martin on his website (I couldn't find an archival version but I copy/pasted it onto a blogpost here back then, and I copy part of it again now:
I regret to announce that Guardians of Order, the Canadian games company that issued the GAME OF THRONES role-playing game last fall, is closing its doors and going out of business.
Although the GoO website remains open and there is some fan activity on the message boards there, it would appear that orders are no longer being fulfilled and emails to Guardians itself are going unaswered. The company's office has been vacated, and the company phone has been disconnected, When I finally reached GoO's owner and president Mark MacKinnon last week, he confirmed what many had come to suspect -- that he is shutting down operations. MacKinnon is presently attempting to place some of GoO's games with other companies.
Interestingly, at the time, the speculation was that Mongoose would end up with Guardians properties (a little known fact is that Mongoose white knighted the publication Guardians last few books before White Wolf stepped in to help with the Game of Thrones and BESM 3e games). We all know now that White Wolf ended up owning the properties.

MacKinnon followed up with a classy post on the (now defunct) Guardians of Order website:
First, an apology. I am terribly sorry that George Martin broke the news about our situation. That is certainly not how I wanted the information to be released, and I had thought that my frank conversation with him about A Game of Thrones-specific issues was in confidence. This is the second time now that someone other than me releases very important news about Guardians Of Order, which leaves me frantically trying to patch the holes. The polite and proper thing for me -- as President of the company -- to do would be to contact all of our creditors (which includes some great freelancers and industry associates) FIRST and explain the situation to them. I was working on that process when my efforts were derailed by one simple website post. So I am very sorry that someone else took it upon himself to release this information. It's not how I was proceeding to handle things.
The archive is also non-existent but (with forethought) I also copy/pasted MacKinnon's post onto a blog post. I also did an extended blogpost that archived a timeline of the blowup and meltdown. Updated:Thanks to +Eric Franklin I have a link to the Guardians LiveJournal (which has some interesting things to show). We probably shouldn't be surprised if this suddenly disappears.

It also came to light a year or so ago (over in a thread on RPGNet) that MacKinnon had not only failed to pay freelancers for a number of the final products, and had stiffed publishers in the company's Magnum Opus program, but he had also kept PDFs up on the OneBookshelf site that he no longer had the rights to sell. Unfortunately I do not have a link and the RPGNet site is notoriously hard to search. If someone can find a link to this, plese let me know in the comments here, or over on G+, and I will put the link up in this post. Updated: I found the thread wherein it was discovered that MacKinnon had been selling the PDFs (including licensed anime properties that he no longer held the license).

Now, MacKinnon has resurfaced, with a project for a board game called Upon A Fable over on Kickstarter. He even uses shots of games that freelancers never received payment for in the video on the project page. Some have called for funds raised from the Kickstarter be used to to pay back those who were never paid. I doubt there's any legal recourse, since Guardians is long gone and I am sure that they held the debt rather than MacKinnon directly, and I'm not going to assert moral recourse in this case. My reasoning for posting all of this is so that people can be informed and, hopefully, not throw good money down a deep, dark hole. This is someone who has already demonstrated a willingness to take money from a number of sources, not pay the people who have done the work and ignore communications before disappearing.

There are also a few red flags with this project. This isn't the first time this project was attempted on Kickstarter. According to a post over on the Board Game Geek site, made back in March:
This game marks my first published design in over seven years ... and I made a critical mistake. I assumed that a professional Kickstarter campaign presentation, combined with attractive graphic design and engaging game mechanics, would be sufficient to reach my Kickstarter funding target. How wrong I was. Within the first 48 hours of the campaign, I knew the funding attempt would fail; shortly thereafter, I made the decision to cancel the campaign.
It is interesting that you cannot find the original project, and that the BGG posts don't actually list MacKinnon by name. According to some emails I've read, posts on BGG threads asking about the previous non-payment to freelancers have been deleted from the site.  Also, there was a quote from their Facebook page that came to me in my email that said:
With our reworked pledge plans we are also in the position to lower our funding goal to $25,000 from $30,000. Although our costs to proceed with the project will exceed $30,000 -- printing high-quality board games is expensive! -- we are backing Upon a Fable with some of our own money as well since we will selling additional copies through retail store channels as well. Any profit to be made will be on those back-end sales and not just by meeting our minimum Kickstarter funding goal. We want to give Upon a Fable the best chance to succeed, which is why we settled on the $25,000 target.
Undercharging for a project is never a good sign that the people will be able to deliver on the project. They are already in a hole on funds, and should something unexpected happen...they will be even further in the hole. The email gave this link, but when I followed it I couldn't find the exact passage. I may just be blind. Updated: I am blind. It turns out that the above quoted bit came from an April 11th update to the Dyskami Publishing Facebook page.

Hopefully people will read all of this, follow the links and read a bit of the history before deciding to put their money on something like this.