The crowdfunding website Kickstarter has played centre stage in some real stinkers. Broken Age,Yogventures, Clang, and the laughing stock that was the Ouya. But none have the long and arduous development that the recently released Mighty No. 9 can ‘boast’. How does a game starting with such promise fall so flat on its face that its nose can be used as a tea saucer? Very easily, as it turns out.
Mighty No. 9 was first announced in 2013 at the Penny Arcade Expo, along with its Kickstarter campaign. Within only two days, the game had reached its $900,000 goal. Within five days, one and a half million. A month after release, three and a half million. When the campaign ended just over a month after being launched, Mighty No. 9 had raised a total of $3,845,171. With these numbers, it’s clear that people wanted this game. To be honest, I did too. Not enough to personally contribute (I’d been burned on Kickstarter before), but wanted nonetheless. I mean, how could you not have liked the game? The concept art looked like a true Mega Man tribute, the development team was full of capable people, and they had the funds to make it work. It was like a dream!
But, like any dream, it has to end when you wake up.
Like all good arthouse films, our story shouldn’t start at the beginning. About a year after the original Kickstarter campaign, lead designer Keiji Inafune announced an additional crowdfunding campaign (with the goal being $100,000) through Paypal to get the game some good ol’ English voice acting. People were skeptical. After all, the original campaign had no stretch goal for voice acting. Then, footage of the Beta was released. Oh boy. People grew considerably upset when they considered that the game was seemingly designed from the start with voice acting in mind. The goal was eventually reached, and the team added a further $100,000 as a stretch goal for Japanese voice acting. After considerable outrage, the goal was lowered back to its original amount and backers could choose what dub they wanted to produce. There’s an old saying: Don’t count your eggs before they’ve chickened out. Apparently Inafune didn’t really get that much nursery rhymes growing up, because he started counting eggs as they were packing their bags. Not even a year after the kickstarter began, Inafune announced that Mighty No. 9 was going franchise. A cartoon, an anime, a live-action movie, the works! I mean, it’s not like there’s a game to make or anything! That’d be silly. The lack of transparency also applies here, because nobody knew if the game’s budget was going to these projects or not. Even today, it remains a mystery.
But wait, you ask, this just sounds like drama! This isn’t development at all! A valid question, and one that got its answer in January of 2015 when Inafune announced that development had wrapped up. Finished. The game was done and dusted, apparently. In April of that year, the game got a release date that was months after the originally promised release date. The reason? Mighty No. 9 now had a publisher for its physical versions, in the form of Deep Silver. Because four million dollars totally isn’t enough for boxes and discs. In August, the game was delayed again, with the new release date being February 2016. Wait a second, that’s the current year! And they should have had enough time to fix the bugs that caused the last delay! Is that hope I see in your eye? Blink and you’ll miss it. Don’t worry, we all did. The game got delayed for the third time mere weeks before release, because of troubles with matchmaking in the Unreal engine. When a development team stumbles this badly this close to release, you can kinda expect people to give up. And give up they did, in droves. Finally, the game got a “set in stone” release date of June 24th. To their “credit” the game did launch on that day, but not before the final nail in the pre-release coffin. On the 25th of May, days before release, Deep Silver released a trailer that was somewhat…reviled. The game didn’t look finished, man. The explosions looked like pizza. And it didn’t help that they managed to piss off the entire Mega Man audience by making a joke about anime fans being loners. While at the same time developing an anime for the game. Classy. But at least the game was released, right?
The game was bugged up the arse on launch: Many game codes weren’t even working, the Xbox 360 port was delayed due to a “certification bug” (read: Microsoft didn’t want to publish it), the Wii U port is virtually unplayable and apparently bricked several consoles. Combine that with users not getting promised DLC, and you have a shoddy release day to top them all. The recent release has been so universally criticised that Inafune himself took the blame. Oh, and the game itself wasn’t great. But was he really to blame? Probably not. Amongst all the shit that the game spewed, there are many things that could be called the catalyst. Developing for too many platforms at once, little to no transparency about where the money was going while funding other projects, a refusal to keep their staff under control, and the hype machine’s fickleness. And, with that, the not-so-mighty saga of a simple dream comes to an end. But hey, as Inafune himself [didn’t] say…”It’s better than nothing.”
This guy kept asking, the whole stream. I hope he got his wish.
So, what does this all say about Kickstarter games? What lessons can we learn from Mighty No. Nein? A game’s budget is not a guarantee of quality. Shovel Knight, for example, made just over $300,000 in their campaign and that game turned out great. A quality team does not guarantee a quality game. Undertale was developed by a small group of Earthbound enthusiasts and became a stone-cold classic. With only $50,000 too! And finally, never pay more than twenty bucks for a computer game.