One night while I was expertly wasting time on Facebook, a private message from one of my good friends back home caught my eye. “Did you hear about the new Mega Man game?” I felt a rush of excitement, but felt the need to ground myself in reality and clarify before I got carried away. “What do you mean?” The iconic “…” filled my message screen for some time before the answer appeared before me in all its glory: “A new Mega Man game. Okay so it’s not ‘Mega Man’, but it pretty much is because Inafune’s behind it.” Included was a link to the Kickstarter, which was barely 24 hours old and yet had reached its goal with ease. With every passing hour as it spread through social media like wildfire, thousands and thousands of dollars poured in. By the time the Kickstarter ended roughly 30 days later, Mighty No. 9, Keiji Inafune’s spiritual successor to Mega Man had grossed over $3.8 million, making it one of the most successful Kickstarter projects ever launched, and at that time the single most successful video game project ever funded by Kickstarter. As hugely successful as that project was, it’s easy to understand how it’s the exception, not the rule when it comes to video game projects.
When it comes to particular video game projects, however, Kickstarter success is all but guaranteed. The projects that have enjoyed the most success are games that are “Spiritual Successors” or continuations of series that gamers had thought were long-dead. Consider for example the two titles that have de-throned Mighty No. 9’s success on Kickstarter: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night and Shenmue III. Bloodstained is Koji Igarashi’s return to Castlevania, and has raised a staggering $5.5 million. Shenmue III, which enjoyed its Kickstarter project’s debut at E3 this year, shattered all previous records and placed in the top 10 funded Kickstarter projects of all time with an amazing $6.3 million. These projects enjoyed such immense success because they were extensions of familiar franchises; franchises that were no longer being funded by major game developers due to a “lack of interest”.
If you produce video games for a living, it makes sense why you would be hesitant to take on an expensive project in order to appeal to a limited base that may or may not be interested in purchasing your game anymore. A gamer who would have been 7 years old when the first Mega Man came out would be celebrating his 30th birthday when Mega Man 10 finally came to the U.S. Not to mention the dramatic change in hardware and how people enjoyed video games in the 20+ years that transpired between Mega Man and Mega Man 10. How could you possibly know that your fan-base would still be waiting for you on the other side of that multi-million-dollar investment? So you don’t make the investment, and you get scattered grumblings from longtime fans, but no real sense that there’s much of a market for the games that you’ve now written off as archival. Except now there’s a new tool at the hands of fans that allows them to fund their own pet projects: Kickstarter.
Kickstarter’s business model is essentially what gamers have wanted for a very long time: the ability to fund projects based on their emotional desire to see it made, rather than a bottom line justification in terms of dollars and cents. Inafune, Igarashi and others are able to pitch their plans to an adoring public, appealing to their strong sense of nostalgia and capturing the imagination of those who played their games long ago, and wished to return yet again in a new adventure. It is because of Kickstarter that we are seeing the “Spiritual Successors” to such franchises as Mega Man, Castlevania and Banjo-kazooie in the coming months and years. The question is, with such tremendous success on Kickstarter, will this translate to game production companies being more willing to take risks on games that don’t necessarily “make sense”?
Unfortunately, I don’t see the tremendous success of these Kickstarter campaigns as impacting how and why certain games are developed and certain games are forgotten. As I mentioned earlier, Kickstarter provides fans with the ability to fund their own pet projects, thus removing the development company from the risk, at least initially. In some cases it may even be a win-win, as larger titles may partner with them as they approach their release date for assistance with marketing and production, as was the case with another popular Kickstarter funded game, Cryamore, which recently announced its partnership with Atlus to assist with their release. In the end, fans have acquired a new means to get the games they want developed, and major game producers have dodged the development cost bullet while reserving the opportunity to enjoy some of the spoils.
Even if these Kickstarter projects fail to motivate gaming production companies into making more of the games that people are asking for, it is a small consolation that these games will see the light of day, when in another time they may have disappeared forever, never to be enjoyed.