Former Staff Accuses Project Phoenix Director of Embezzling $1 Million from Kickstarter Money for New Game

A former PR manager and marketing staff for the Kickstarter-funded and mostly delayed Japanese RPG Project Phoenix has accused the game’s director of embezzling money from the crowdfunding campaign and using towards funding a completely new game.

Tariq Lacy, former PR manager and marketing staff at Area 35, is now claiming game director Hiroaki Yura embezzled that money and used it towards Area 35’s new game, Tiny Metal. Yura responded by accusing Lacy of sexual harassment during his time at the Tokyo-based company.

Project Phoenix raised over $1 million in crowdfunding back in 2013, and it hasn’t really seen a substantial release or any semblance of a release window since then.

Here’s the entire post, which is now deleted:

My name is Tariq Lacy, and until recently I worked at a company in Tokyo called AREA 35 as a marketing and PR manager for TINY METAL, a game that will launch tomorrow.

Two months after I was hired at AREA 35, I had learned that the company funded this project by running a scam through Kickstarter. They gathered several famous creators and ran a campaign known as “Project Phoenix”, then used the $1,000,000 received from the campaign to fund the “TINY METAL” project.

Here’s how it happened: after they received the Kickstarter money for Project Phoenix, they subsequently shut down their original company (Creative Intelligence Arts, or “CIA”), then used that same money to establish AREA 35 and pay for staff, equipment, and an office to make TINY METAL.

The company’s CEO, Hiroaki Yura, asked me to deflect any accusations that this money was from anyone other than private investors; in actuality, Hiroaki first used the vast majority of the Project Phoenix Kickstarter, then asked for additional money from private investors only after funds were running low. I told Hiroaki to remove me from all matters regarding Project Phoenix so that I would not be implicated in this affair.

You will notice progress reports on the Project Phoenix Kickstarter blog, as well as their official Project Phoenix blog. These were written periodically by Hiroaki Yura himself in order to assuage fears that the project was dead. The nature of these blog entries, through their infrequency and intentional ambiguity, reveals to us that the project never was meant to be released. To Hiroaki, this ruse under the guise of a campaign and blog – was merely an effective means to receive funding while removing any obligations to investors.

Unfortunately for us all, industry legends, indie creators, and gamers alike, this man’s deception represents an enormous blow to the health of our industry, besmirching our medium while robbing each and every one of us of the trust that fuels our relationships with fellow business partners, developers, and consumers.

We must do what we can to call out the unjust. I hope that my coming to you on this issue is a step toward more righteous business practices in our industry.

We deserve better. You Project Phoenix backers deserve your money back.

What’s even stranger is that shortly after the post was deleted, a surprise delay was announced for Tiny Metal for exactly one month after its planned release tomorrow.

Coming from this, a post was sent out to social media and Niche Gamer directly via a press release. It’s meant to confirm the game’s delay, but it subtly notes the former post by Lacy is completely illegitimate:

PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM THE C-in-C
To be read to all troops

Urgent communique: We have a saboteur! A former soldier intercepted and changed battle plans and instructions without his superior officer’s approval. He was caught and removed from the front lines, but escaped into enemy territory! He is now sending out his own propaganda messages to our soldiers. We are working to recover the damage, but we must delay our invasion date to Dec. 21. I want every soldier to know that I have complete confidence that we will successfully deploy without further delays. I know you are eager to go into battle. I know our enemy is strong. But together, we will prevail! Onward!!!

Lieutenant Nathan Gries of Artemisia needs more time to gather his forces, and the next planned release date will hopefully be in time for Christmas on December 21st.

It remains to be seen if these claims from either parties are true, but it does seem like Yura has an affinity for attempting crowdfunding through Kickstarter, as Tiny Metal ran an unsuccessful campaign on the platform as well. When its Kickstarter failed, they said development would continue (as they noted that was the case from the beginning).

However, it is worth noting the anime “Under the Dog” Creative Intelligence Arts successfully funded on Kickstarter with veteran Japanese anime creators literally ran into issues due to what they publicly chalked up to as creative differences, forcing CIA and Yura (who acted as creative producer) out of the production entirely.

Lastly, it’s worth mentioning Tiny Metal is seemingly a real game that could actually get a release – it had a playable prototype since its announcement and Sony Music’s new publishing arm “Unties” is publishing the game, across PC, PlayStation 4, and the Nintendo Switch.

How do you feel about the entire debacle? Is your trust in crowdfunding/Kickstarter lower, or was it nonexistent already? Sound off in the comments below!

Brandon Orselli

About

Big Papa Overlord at Niche Gamer. Italian. Dad. Outlaw fighting for a better game industry. I also write about music, food, & beer. Also an IT guy.

  • Neojames82

    This kind of news shows that this game is for certain never going to be finished. This and some other projects are the reasons why people are really feeling KS fatigue. And that sucks because some really good things have come out of KS, gaming or otherwise. Yet I think that the people that run KS should really REALLY start putting in tougher regulations on projects.

    I’ve always said this and it needs to be fully implemented that if you want to do a video game kickstarter project, you HAVE to have some sort of working demo/alpha build before you are allowed to create a project.

  • Mr0303

    Case #1466135 why crowdfunding sucks.

  • Taiho

    And why not go to the police with such a case like this? It seems this person has insider knowledge of what happened and if there’s even a little bit of evidence, it could lend credence to their claims. Right now it’s all hearsay.

  • GodHand

    I dunno, the mystery meat mudskin gaijin PR guy with the SJW twitter account seems trustworthy to me. Clearly he wouldn’t be trying to poison the well before any allegations against his behavior came out.

  • Audie Bakerson

    Don’t donate to kickstarters!

  • bdp

    i forgot this even existed.

  • Neojames82

    He name just screams SJW doesn’t it? Isn’t this the same jagoff that worked for 8-4?

  • You had me wondering for a sec. Looks like he used to do work for Gumi, and Nintendo HQ in WA state before that.

  • Justin Williams

    People like him are always trying to launch their bullshit project off of someone else’s money and when they fail miserably, they talk shit and fade back into obscurity to dream up another way to get more money they haven’t earned. Doesn’t matter if it is their shitty hiphop album, game, comic book, etc…. they are all full of shit and should be avoided.

  • I give them one thing: at least they stayed in character when giving out the warning about him!

  • ProfessorFluffy

    My take is that Lacy is probably telling the truth on this and Yura is trying to cover it up by taking advantage of the ‘sexual harassment’ outrage that’s going on. Ironically, by calling Lacy a sexual harasser in order to discredit him, Yura kind of discredits himself when admitting he was aware of that behavior while having the authority to fire him…

    Also I find it sort of odd that they would delay the game over this. Unless they could clear themselves of the accusation within the time of the delay, they probably would have been better off releasing it tomorrow before more people could learn about the story.

    My bet is they are probably going to try to scrape together to to try and prove project phoenix isn’t dead within this delay period.

  • random

    Cool racism there buddy.

  • InkViper

    Tariq Lacy follows Connor Krammer, Gamasutra and three prominent members of ResetEra!!! so he probably is a sexual molester. lol…

  • iswear12

    faggot

  • InkBrush

    It’s really sad when a extremely small portion of them are ok. ( Shovel Knight, A Hat in Time, and Hollow Knight. ) While the rest are just massive shit shows.

  • Joe

    Yeah, every kickstarter I’ve ever donated to has been delayed by 6 months to 5 years from the original promised release date. And so far, 3 have turned into utter shitshows where it looked like my money might be lost (Unsung Story, Bear Simulator, and a 3rd one I won’t name for now out of sympathy for the overworked guy left still trying to finish the thing). Even the successful ones still haven’t delivered all promised rewards after a year or two.

  • BFG

    And yet people have donated to the endless Sekai Project kickstarters

  • BFG

    The additional problem with Kickstarter is that it gives a safe spot for the “creator” by receiving all the budget money (and often more than initially expected) without worrying if there will be profits or not, later on. The money was donated by people, not borrowed by the publisher. Thus no restraint.

    That means the “creator” dont have worry about the quality of his product after all.

  • ProxyDoug

    *”Tariq Lacy, is now claiming game director Hiroaki Yura embezzled that money and used it towards Area 35’s new game, Tiny Metal. Yura responded by accusing Lacy of sexual harassment during his time at the Tokyo-based company.”*
    Lacy responded by saying it is true and that is enjoying the oportunity to come out as gay.

  • EroBotan

    yup! donate to my patreon instead! patreon.com/erobotan

  • alterku

    Social media outrage is nearly always more damaging than the facts, including the results of legal intervention. Or they tried contacting the police first but it bore no fruit, which is also possible.

  • chaoguy

    It’s worth reaching out to Nintendo HQ/WA- even if you have to use subterfuge. I.e. Asking about Tariq since he’s seeking employment with you. “What’s he like?”
    Character rarely equals motive, but if he’s lied or acted inappropriately in the past it could mean something.

    It’s not abnormal for a sjw OR a Japanese dev to lie. What does shock me is how the devs stayed in character for the announcement when it’s so serious. Screw the cheery tone- break character and reveal the guy as a sex-pest! (if it’s true)

  • Kickstarter=Scam.

  • InfectedAI

    You thought bear simulator was a good investment?

  • mew

    Yura posted a demo of Tiny Metal kind of recently on the Phoenix’s KS page, so that’s that.
    As for Project Phoenix itself, it actually had its Steam ID’s leaked back in the SteamDB leak a few years ago. https://steamdb.info/app/319370/history/
    If it was really a fake game, I dunno why they’d made an entry for it on Steam.

  • McSuperNigger

    Tariq sounds like a nigger name