Kickstarting a disaster in developing games

Published 7:01 am Sunday, August 23, 2015

The inherent cracks in Kickstarter campaigns for video games done by big-name developers are becoming more apparent.

Over the past few weeks, fans of “Mega Man” creator Keiji Inafune have been baffled as to why his company, Comcept, failed so much in its latest Kickstarter campaign for a future RPG-style game called “Red Ash: The KalKanon Incident.”

The campaign has been particularly obtuse, in the way large-scale corporate campaigns run, ever since it was announced earlier this summer. Comcept wanted $800,000 to go toward development costs on the game, which is considered a spiritual successor to Inafune’s popular “Mega Man Legends” series.

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Yet the company wouldn’t reveal its stretch goals or additional content made possible through the campaign, which is normally a big selling point to contribute money toward Kickstarters. What’s more, the campaign stretched toward its end date without clearly stating under which console “Red Ash” would be released. “Red Ash” was eventually revealed for the PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One.

Comcept caught further scrutiny when their first Kickstarter game, “Mighty No. 9,” was pushed back despite assurances from developers it would be released on time in September.

Perhaps the most clear example of this branding exercise gone awry is Comcept’s July 29 announcement that “Red Ash” would be developed regardless of the Kickstarter after it partnered with publisher FUZE Entertainment, an upstart Chinese company with little to no track record to its name and a website full of promises to develop future consoles.

In other words, this latest campaign has been a disaster.

What this means is Kickstarter campaigns for games are slowly turning away from its original purpose: to help fund games for projects.

Instead, Kickstarters appear to be more of a research tool for big-market companies looking to gauge public interest.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it undercuts the reason why people donate money to artistic endeavors in the first place. Gamers donate their money to get a sense of ownership in the game, to feel as if they helped create a game full of promises. If companies don’t provide a clear reason for consumers to donate, why should they expect people to participate?

Kickstarter is built upon a transparent bond between the creators and the people they’re asking for money. While it’s cool to watch famous developers like Inafune or Koji Igarashi propose games like “Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night” or “Red Ash,” it’s a little disingenuous to pretend like developers really NEED those hundreds of thousands of dollars when they’ve already got publishing contracts set up.

It’s fine to gauge market interest, even if some of the gaming industry’s practices are less than savory — think the ridiculous hoops people jump through to preorder games which often ship incomplete.

Yet if large-scale developers only see Kickstarter as a way to gather research, they need to realize any dishonesty or vague promises will reflect negatively on not only them, but the small-time developers who actually need money to finish completing their creative works. Companies with veterans like Inafune should know better than to halfheart a Kickstarter and frustrate their consumers.