There are three recent Kickstarter campaigns that I’ve looked at that should give the video game industry something to think about. At the same time there’s one long running developer that continues to be successful without seeing mass exoduses of its employees. All of these things are something that can be used to learn what I think makes for a good development environment. Neither scenario is completely perfect, but neither should they be ignored. There’s a nice balance between the old and the new that can be established and there are some companies that I think should take these lessons to heart.
The three Kickstarter campaigns we’re talking about have been hugely successful. Two of them are still currently active so we can’t get a gauge on just how successful they’re going to be in terms of funding. The other one, Mighty No. 9, according to its Kickstarter page finished its initial funding round with $3.85 million in funding from 67,226 backers. After the Yooka-Laylee Kickstarter launched they made their goal of $270,000 in 40 minutes. They are, at this moment, sitting at over $2.3 million. Igarashi’s Kickstarter for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night made its goal of $500,000 in just less than four hours. In the first 24 hours they raised over $1 million.
The one thing that all three of these Kickstarter campaigns have in common is that they’re being developed after the original publishers of the game essentially gave up on the franchise. Igarashi, for example, wanted to continue to make 2D Castlevania games. The DS titles were very successful. However, Konami wanted to take the franchise into the world of 3D. It’s a move that hasn’t proven to be well received at all. Fans have all but rioted over the quality of the Lords of Shadow games. They weren’t what Castlevania fans were looking for at all. The transition from 2D to 3D just didn’t work. The games felt like something completely different. Castlevania is not God of War. It didn’t work when you opened the environment up. Igarashi grew more and more frustrated with the direction Castlevania was going in. In 2014 he left Konami. He’s now making Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, a spiritual successor to Castlevania.
Capcom was developing a new Mega Man game. Mega Man Legends 3 was being lauded over by fans. They were brought in to actually help with the development voting on characters designs, creating weapons and giving the development team, led by Inafune, feedback that was used to create the game fans really wanted to play. They were literally days away from releasing a playable demo when the game was inexplicably cancelled. Fans were excited about the game. Since then, every other game starring Mega Man has been shelved. Capcom has gone silent on Mega Man’s future. The only glimmer of hope fans have had for the character has been his appearance in the Super Smash Bros. series. Inafune has been very vocal with his thoughts on the Japanese games industry. It ultimately led to him leaving Capcom and creating his own studio, Comcept. Since then he’s been working on Mighty No. 9, a spiritual successor the Mega Man.
Microsoft had more or less relegated Rare to creating content for avatars. Since Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts was released back in 2008 the team has developed the sports mini game collections and assisted development on a fighting game led by a third party and a company that has subsequently been purchased by Amazon. They haven’t created a proper platformer, a genre they’re famous for, in years. The development team wanted to. Fans wanted them to. Microsoft didn’t seem interested. So, the team left Microsoft in 2014 and created their own studio.
These Kickstarters, all unbelievable successful, are banking on two very important things. #1 is the pedigree of the developers. They have all created properties that people have a huge fondness for. Mega Man, Castlevania and Banjo-Kazooie are some of the most revered gaming properties of all time. All three franchises have had characters make appearances in other game franchises. They’ve all had multiple games released with great success. They’re all very well thought of both for the characters they star as well as the game play properties they showcase. Castlevania is the basis for its own sub-genre of platformer.
The other thing is nostalgia. You’re kidding yourself if you think nostalgia isn’t playing a huge part in all of these projects. They all have huge, rabid fan bases that are hungry for more games in those respective genres. Whether it’s Mega Man, Castlevania or Banjo-Kazooie people remember those games very fondly and want more games of those types. The reason these Kickstarter campaigns have been as successful as they have been is because they tap into those feelings the backers had of playing those games growing up. For many people those games define their childhoods. They grew up playing those games. They tap into the joy shared among players. They tap into the feelings of having those games through everything childhood and adolescence brought with it. They tap into the fond remembrance of the stories those games told, the stories shared amongst friends of finding that one thing hidden in a level no one else found. They tug at the very heart strings of the people that now have the disposal income to fund projects of this nature.
Here’s another thing to think about. All of these games, while they’re technically new properties are basically the same as the games they are succeeding. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a gothic exploration platformer, much like Castlevania was. Mighty No. 9 is a run and gun platformer, like Mega Man. Yooka-Laylee is a 3D collect-athon platformer, as was Banjo-Kazooie. As much as these developers say they want to get away from the corporate shackles they’re still making the same type of game they were making under those corporations. They’re not really branching out to try anything new. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact I think big name developers and publishers should take note of these Kickstarter campaigns and learn from them. They’ve been telling us that players don’t want these types of games anymore. They don’t sell. Well, it appears that people are voting with the most important thing they can vote for, their wallets. There’s power in the dollar. It can make or break a franchise. If nothing else comes from these campaigns I hope that all three of the formers employers of the people behind the games take note and realize that those franchises are still alive and well.
If Capcom announced another Mega Man game today people would rejoice. If Castlevania were to come back in its original form players would spread the word. If Microsoft announced Banjo-Kazooie were returning a new generation of players could experience what we did as children.
Now, let’s compare those three companies, Konami, Capcom and Microsoft/Rare, with another company that continues to thrive, Nintendo. We’ve established that those three companies are moving away from the games and franchises that made them who they are. That established who they are with game players. Nintendo, on the other hand, is successful. Today their game franchises are as well regarded as they were in the 1980’s. While the actual console business is profitable, it’s had struggles in the past. On the software side of things Nintendo is more successful now than they’ve ever been. Why is that?
I think it’s because they keep looking to the past while now starting to build towards the future. Nintendo continues to bank of reliable franchises. New editions of Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros., the Mario series and more continue to come out. Mario Kart 8 built on top of the already established juggernaut that the franchise was. There is no better kart racing franchise out there and for good reason. They found a formula that works and keeps bringing people back. They’re not just resting on those laurels though. They now look towards new ideas. DLC has made Mario Kart 8 better than it ever was. Nintendo has built a model where they can release new, paid DLC while at the same time giving people free updates to the game. New modes, like 200cc speeds, change the very basic dynamic of the game making it fresh for people who’d been playing the game for two decades.
Super Smash Bros. has also brought new content to the game post launch. Fans that bought both versions of the game that were released got new content for free. Fans who only bought one version of the game still got the new content, but had to pay.
They’re looking towards their younger developers for new ideas. Men who worked under their famed designers like Shigeru Miyamoto, Satoru Iwata and Eiji Aonuma are beginning to get their chance to bring new franchises to life. In recent years Nintendo has looked to places like the eShop to release new IP to bolster their already existing library. Games like Dillon’s Rolling Western, Sakura Samurai, Crashmo, BoxBoy and now Splatoon are sitting alongside classic franchises. Longtime developers, like the teams at Intelligent Systems, who’ve created established franchises, are creating new series to run alongside legacy games.
Capcom, Konami and Microsoft should bet on existing franchises to keep them going forward. At the same time, however, they need to bolster those libraries with new games. You can’t focus on creating new series while ignoring the established franchises. At the same time you can’t rest on legacy IP to sustain you while forgetting to look to the future. It takes a good balance of the two to keep a company running successfully. It’s going to take risks. Sometimes those risks will pay off. Other times they won’t.