The Death of Video Games on Kickstarter

From guest writer: Eric Schucht.

Crowdfunding is a fairly recent tool that has allowed game developers with projects either too small or too strange to receive funding. Instead of going to Sony or Nintendo to foot the bill, why not go directly to the players instead? It’s a way to cut out the middleman and sell your game directly to the consumer. Most games on the Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform, are low budget indie titles, but for a while there was a steady stream of big budget games raising millions of dollars. Games like Yooka-Laylee and Mighty No. Nine promised fans a return to once popular genres but left many disappointed. So why are crowdfunded games that are spiritual successors to classic franchises, made by experienced developers with millions in funding end up “OK” at best? And why do unknown developers with games with limited funding instead of millions make hits like Undertale and Shovel Knight?

Back in the early 2010’s at a time when the iconic Mega Man series lacked any recent or current titles in development, fans desired a return of the Blue Bomber to 2D platforming. Enter Capcom veteran Keiji Inafune. Having worked on over 30 Mega Man games over 23 years as an art designer, Inafune promised fans a spiritual successor to Mega Man with his studio’s game, Mighty No. Nine.  The game was supposed to be new take on the genre while bringing back everything that made Mega Man great.  Many fans bought into the idea. Mighty No. Nine was the 4th most backed video game on Kickstarter. At the campaign’s end in fall 2013, it racked in over $3.8 million in funds. The hype was huge. Inafune even said in an 2014 interview with Kotaku that there was interest  in developing a larger meta-franchise for Mighty No. 9 beyond the release of the game, including comic books, cartoons, and even a possible live action movie.Mighty_No._9_cover_art

But red flags started to pop up after multiple delays and the failure of the game developers second Kickstarter campaign, Red Ash: The Indelible Legend, which failed to make its fundraising goal. In 2016, fans were finally given what they had paid for: one of the biggest disappointments of the year. Unpolished, unattractive, over complicated and most damning of all, boring. What was supposed to be a love letter to the genre was a jury duty summons to a disappointing weekend.IGN said it best in it’s review, writing: “The soul of the Blue Bomber is nowhere to be found here.”

The would-be successor to the Blue Bomber was not the only nostalgia driven title from Kickstarter title to spectacularly fizzle. Yooka-Laylee, the spiritual successor to Banjo Kazooie, was received modestly at best. Millions of dollars in crowd funded money for a game that just couldn’t hit the same marks as its predecessor.  It was a lack luster game that had no where near the same level of polish or inventiveness as Banjo Kazooie or other games in the same genre. So what happened?header.jpg

Yooka-Laylee and Mighty No. Nine are clearly influenced by their predecessors, but lack what makes those games fun or memorable. These projects feel like fan games rather than games made by professionals. They don’t stand on their own from the originals they’re based upon and play it too safe. Instead of unique experiences, these games just copy elements of these classics franchise while failing to add anything special. Mighty No. Nine is just plain boring and unoriginal. It’s  a worse off clone of the original, and anyone can see that. Why play a terrible knock of Megaman when you can go play the original? The same goes for Yooka Laylee which also suffers from inconsistency and a lack of polish. In the end, these games will be remembered as disappointing “could-have-beens”. Yooka Laylee’scontrols and it’s inconsistent level design lead to an unfun and forgettable experience. Mighty No. Nine was one of 2016’s biggest disappointments and Yooka Laylee one of 2017’s, so I’m not excited to see what million dollar Kickstarter game will come out to disappoint us in 2018.

Crowdfunded games like Undertale and Shovel Knight succeeded, not because they have the most experienced developers or largest budgets, but because their creators understand what the games they’re influenced by. Undertale clearly takes inspiration header (1)from Nintendo’s Earthbound and Mario RPG series, but stands on its own as a unique experience. It took what made those games fun and added it’s own unique twist. Shovel Knight is described as a love letter to classic 16-bit area platformers but there’s no mistaking it for Super Mario Brothers. e2dd49a185706db2a3fd267125783223_original.pngThese games took the mechanics and style of these retro titles and brought them to a modern audience. The fun indie games show that you can make a great game on a shoestring budget and you can make something forgettable with a budget of millions. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if a game like Hollow Knight, an indie game that raised $50,000 from kIckstarter, ends up being a better tribute to Castlevania than the Bloodstained, the supposed spiritual successor to the franchise that raised $5.5 million .

The initial Kickstarter funded games to make millions on the site were for games that had niche audiences. These were series and genres that had a strong, but small fan following that couldn’t bring in the numbers for a publishing house to justify financing their development. Double Fine Adventure Broken Age along with Inexile’s Wasteland 2 and Torment: Tides of Numenera, were projects that had a market to justify their creation, but not large enough to be huge money makers. These games successes on Kickstarter opened the floodgates for other nostalgic driven projects to be launched on Kickstarter. Mighty No. Nine, Yooka-Laylee, Bloodstained: Symphony of the Night and Shenmue 3, were all based off of popular franchises and raised millions in dollars from Kickstarter. All of these games were funded without having a demo or clear indication of the games quality, things that would be present if picked up for funding by a publisher. People blindly gave these developers money for ideas alone, which just goes to show why publishers exist in the first place. Publishers can end up ruinning game like with EA’s BattleFront 2 with their loot system, but they can also with the projects oversight, keeping developers on track and ensuring overall quality.

Crowdfunded games that draw from nostalgia are dead, according to Eurogamer, and I agree. There’s simply only so many games that developers can remake for a modern gamers. And with the current track record, hopefully fans won’t blindly fund games based off of nostalgia alone.  According to an article from Polygon, while the number of game projects has increased in recent years, 2016 saw a decline in the total amount of money they raised. I believe this is due in part to the rise of Fig, a crowdfunding platform specifically tailored for video games that launched in 2015. Fig allows people to crowdfund and invest in games. So if the game makes money, you make money. This micro-investing in games has shown to be just as successful as Kickstarter, with games such as Psychonauts 2 raising millions of dollars. So while the age of the million dollar nostalgia trip on Kickstarter may be gone, the era of fan funded games has only just begun. 

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