Keiji Inafune’s Kickstarter-backed project illustrates the potential perils of crowdfunding video game development.
Certain genres of video games are getting a second chance at life thanks to Kickstarter. For those unaware, Kickstarter is a crowdfunding service in which people can donate money directly to a project that they find interesting and would like to see become a reality. In the past five years, all kinds of games are seeing the light of day and success without the aid of the AAA video game publishers. Games like Wasteland 2 – an isometric post-apocalyptic role playing game - and Yooka-Laylee – a platformer from the creative minds of Banjo Kazooie and Donkey Kong Country - are being financed through crowdfunding because of the passion that gamers have for those genres and creators.
There is, however, a great deal of risk involved with Kickstarter and other crowdfunded game development projects, both for the creators and consumers. Initially, there is the possibility that the funding goal is not met and all donated monies must be returned. But if the project is funded, there’s risk for the consumer that a promised delivery date will not be met. From personal experience, there was a delay from when I donated to Wasteland 2 in 2012 to when I finally received a finished copy of the game on September 19th, 2014, its Windows and Mac OSX versions’ eventual worldwide release date. But by then I had forgotten I even made the donation.
On January 25th, it was announced that Mighty No. 9 – a revival of classic 2D side-scrolling game in the same vein as Mega-Man – had been delayed yet again, the third delay since the project was launched on August 31st, 2013. Mighty No. 9 was born from fan passion for the Mega-Man franchise as well as “stick it to the man” sentiment directed at Capcom’s cancelation of Mega-Man Legends 3. Keiji Inafune – creator of Dead Rising, Mega-Man and Onimusha – has been involved with Mighty No. 9’s development since its inception. The game’s Kickstarter goal of $900,000 was ultimately surpassed to the tune of $3,845,171, with $201,409 obtained via PayPal - 67,226 backers made donations and a multitude of unplanned features were added as the Kickstarter campaign drew closer to its October 1st, 2013 date.
Mighty No. 9 was delayed previously in April of 2015. At that time, Inafune promised the game would not be further delayed. And herein lies the fatal problem with crowdfunded games: no one is held to a specific release date because there are no publishers to ensure the game is promptly released. The goal posts of actual delivery keep moving further and further back without a definitive date in place. Even with the delayed and critically panned Duke Nukem: Forever, 2K Games made sure they saw a return on their investment by outsourcing development of the game to Gearbox Studios. With Mighty No. 9, a 2D side-scrolling shooter, delays become that much more befuddling.
Inafune cited the number of Mighty No. 9 release platforms as the main cause of past delays. During the funding process, Mighty No. 9 was announced for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Mac, Linux, PC and Xbox One. Each one of these platforms has their own infrastructure and development build requirements. Inafune – in the most recent delay update – now says that the reason for the delay is because of the networking and matchmaking issues.
“The reason for the delay is rooted in bugs inside the network modes, and specifically problems with matchmaking. There are two large reasons for this problem, one of them being the large number of platforms supported (the solution for each platform is slightly different) and the other stems from the fact that the engine we are using is no longer being updated which means adjustments for matchmaking and online code are being made manually (actually reprogramming parts of the engine by the dev team themselves). Unfortunately, this is all a result of miscalculations on the part of us, the development staff. As a result, our fans who have been looking forward to Mighty No. 9 have been forced to wait for over half a year longer than expected, and for that we are sincerely sorry. I want to take this chance to apologize personally, and on the behalf of the development staff.”
Project troubles can also be traced to Inafune’s overly ambitious attitude towards the Mighty No. 9 universe. A Polygon interview back in February 2014 revealed that Inafune wants to franchise Mighty No. 9 before the game is even released to the public. He has spoken of a possible live-action film as well as “comic book, manga, anime, and TV drama series.” It was later revealed that Legendary Digital – creators of Dead Rising: Watchtower on Crackle – is collaborating with Contradiction and Inafune’s Comcept on the live-action project. Even with 67,226 backers, there’s something to be said for putting the cart before the horse and planning for a franchise before the initial game is released.
During this period, Inafune also launched another Kickstarter project called Red Ash: The Indelible Legend which failed to reach its goal of $800,000, only raising $519,999 from 6,550 backers. Many complained on Mighty No. 9 online forums about mismanagement and delay’s in the game’s release. Luckily a Chinese company – Hyde Inc. – footed the bill for the remaining costs. Last August, Mighty No. 9 Producer Nick Yu spoke about the fact that they were starting another project while the previous one had yet to be released. He explained that without another project in the hangar, people could lose their jobs or the company could go bankrupt.
The story of Mighty No. 9 highlights what can happen to a crowdfunded project not overseen by a larger publisher that can ensure the game is released on schedule and individual investors are satisfied. There are few big independent game studios, outside of Valve, for this exact reason. Even then, the last game Valve released was DOTA 2 back in 2013. Video game development is a risky venture under any circumstances, and unfortunately, when developers take their crowdfunding investors along for the ride and things don’t go as planned, a fanbase’s pool of goodwill can quickly turn to a pool of anger and contempt.
Spencer Fawcett is a screenwriter who also does production work for NBC/Universal. He has written for Parade Magazine and ASUs The State Press. Twitter: Whizbang813