HEX: Shards of Fate – a Little Startup That Couldn’t

The end of 2020 was signified by what may seem a rather insignificant event: closing of servers and services of HEX: Shards of Fate – a rather small computer trading card game (TCG) that over the course of its years slowly faded into obscurity after getting millions of dollars of support on Kickstarter in 2013.

We will look into the history of HEX and try to put into retrospective what went wrong and which lessons we can take out of it.

The Kickstarter

The HEX Kickstarter launched in May, 2013 and gathered over 2 million dollars from 17,765 backers. It may not seem like much in 2020, but at the time it was quite an achievement because the genre of computer card games was not as prominent as it is now. For reference: the current CCG headliner “Hearthstone” from Blizzard Entertainment was announced in the same year but didn’t quite get traction until March, 2014. HEX, on the other hand, led by Cory Jones from Cryptozoic, had gathered quite an attention from fellow lovers of card games in general and of popular TCG Magic: The Gathering in particular.

At the time HEX was clearly a project of passion. Cory Jones seemed to have put all his heart and soul into what could be the next big thing in a vast world of computer games. The promises were astounding: frequent card sets, fully supported player versus environment (PVE) modes, scenario campaign, and even a possibility of completing scenarios together with friends for additional rare items. It was like a card game dream come true.

So many people bought into that dream. HEX became the 11th highest-backed video game on Kickstarter at the time.

What Went Wrong

It’s not like HEX developers didn’t try. It just seemed like they had bitten way more than they could chew. Apparently, there were some severe problems with their latest build of the game when it was presented on Kickstarter, so they had to switch programmers which delayed and limited the game.

What’s more, in March, 2014 the company got hit by a lawsuit from Wizards of the Coast, creators of Magic: The Gathering. Apparently, WotC weren’t quite pleased with possible competition with very similar game mechanics and gameplay feel. The lawsuit was eventually settled on conditions mostly unknown to the general public, some changes were made, and a lot of resources spent.

All of this combined into steady decline of the game as it became increasingly obvious that the developers, already behind on most of their promises, were slowly getting more and more behind the curve. People, albeit with a delay, were still getting new sets to buy card packs and play against other people. PVE content was put on a backburner along with PVE-oriented players.

The gameplay, although somewhat innovative with transforming cards and other digital-only mechanics, was quickly becoming more and more stale, and when players started voicing their discord, the developers stopped socializing and faded into obscurity leaving behind a lonely voice of a community manager who mostly ignored the inquiries into the state of the game. The game development was put on hold in 2018 when many players were already mentally done with it. Presumably, only a skeleton crew of developers left to keep the lights on, and everyone else moved onto other projects.

In 2020, it was announced that the servers will be closing at the end of the year. In December, 2020 the game was closed.

The Lesson of Startup Mismanagement

The idea of HEX was so much more the reality of HEX. The game itself – from Kickstarter to its unremarkable finish – was so mismanaged that it had wasted all it had: the hype, the extremely welcoming community, the services built around it, and the good will of its players.The developers of the game had vision of want they wanted to get in the end result, but somewhere along the way (very, very early), something went off which has caused a chain reaction that ultimately made the project unviable. The lawsuit didn’t help, either, but when you make a game that is extremely close to another product backed by Hasbro, you should anticipate at least some problems coming your way.

Sometimes the process is unpredictable. We here at SeoBrothers know it really well: plans change, circumstances change, the only unchanging thing is the change itself. You absolutely should have long-term plans, but you reach going from goal to goal and you prepare for the unexpected to happen at every moment.

HEX was a beautiful idea that could be one of the best card games in the modern world in a niche currently occupied by Hearthstone, Legends of Runeterra and similar. It was innovative and, most importantly, fun. But it had a dated payment model, a close similarity to another popular product, and a terrible management, which led to its downfall. And in its falling lies a lesson for all of us to better understand, better prepare and better anticipate when it comes to startups.

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