OPINION: Stretch Goals Harm Most Video Game Kickstarters

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

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By


Mighty No. 9 Beck Surprise

This article is a reflection of the writer’s views and opinions. They may not represent those held by oprainfall as a whole.

There’s no use sugarcoating it: Mighty No. 9 is an absolute mess. Keiji Inafune’s spiritual Mega Man successor has been delayed not once, not twice, but three times, and is currently the poster child for “How Not to Run a Campaign.”

I’ve spent the past two weeks doing some serious soul-searching. I love the concept of Kickstarter, but this is hardly the first time I’ve had issues with backed video games. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero was supposed to come out in October 2014, but all we have for a release date is “2016.” Star Citizen was announced as far back as 2012, has been continuously backed to an outrageous sum of over $107,000,000, and is only slated for everyone’s favorite ambiguous date: 2016.

At least you weren't delayed three times.

At least you weren’t delayed three times.

While I won’t condone Inafune’s overambitious, trigger happy strategies (protagonist Beck is already signed for both a cartoon and movie, and who could forget the equally infamous Red Ash campaign?), Mighty No. 9 is hardly alone in crowdfunded development purgatory. In my eyes, the fiasco stems from a more systematic problem with backed video games: stretch goals.

At first blush, this is a strange argument to make. Stretch goals are good things! The more money the developer makes, the better the game will be. And who doesn’t want more content in their games? When held under close scrutiny, however, the supposed upsides of stretch goals simply don’t add up.

You can generally boil down stretch goals to three types:

  1. Things that seem reasonable but burden small development teams.

It’s natural to want a game on as many systems as possible: If I don’t own a Xbox, I’m unlikely to back an exclusive. But the sad truth is that most Kickstarter video game developers are small and can’t afford to be overambitious.  Mighty No. 9 was initially slated to be a PC game on Steam. Through over $4,000,000 worth of Kickstarter funding and stretch goals, however, it’s now slated for Windows, OS X, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, and even Vita and 3DS.

That’s a lot of consoles! Even with different companies porting the handheld versions, it’s significantly more work than just a PC game. If Comcept wanted the most universal appeal (and who doesn’t?), wouldn’t it have made more sense to port the finished game to other consoles after its initial release? Drum up additional hype with critical acclaim on Steam and drop a multiplatform announcement? Instead, precious development time has been squandered in favor of multiple embarrassing delays. I love you, Comcept, but you aren’t large enough to make that commitment!

Might as well include these too.

Might as well include these too.

        2. Things that are entirely unnecessary.

This second point is more relevant to the Mighty No. 9 fiasco. This is an excerpt from Comcept’s official statement during the game’s second delay, emphasis mine:

Of course, it is important to explain why exactly the game is being delayed. As we have communicated in the updates to our backers, all of the core content for the game is developed and in a complete state. However, there are still bugs and issues pertaining to the online features that are included in the game. These bugs and issues have a direct affect on enjoyment of the game, so a decision was made to work these issues out before release.

Once again, I must ask: wouldn’t it have made more sense to release the finished game and patch the promised multiplayer modes at a later date? The backers want their game. They could care less about online features or multiplayer modes! But because Comcept included placeholder stretch goals to raise more money, they are obligated to uphold an entirely superfluous feature. Aesthetic bonuses or multiplayer modes are fine in moderation but are constraining offenders when oversaturated.

Mighty No. 9 | Beck Artwork and Sketches Final Stretch

Hopefully.

  1. Things that should already be included in the game.

This is easily the most egregious stretch goal offender, not necessarily for Mighty No. 9 but simply in general. For the purposes of my argument, this is not as frustrating as the other two, but it is shady and important enough to be bolded: If a feature is important, it should NOT be held hostage! When the groundwork is already there, it’s transparent, and it’s disrespectful. Don’t do it.

As transparent as it gets.

All three of my points in one image, and this is only half of the final checklist!

It’s easy to overlook the flaws of stretch goals, especially when a project is a success. Small development teams are starving for funds, so it makes sense for them to encourage as much support as possible. When this earnest desire loses its grounding, however, catastrophes are inevitable. No amount of money is worth Comcept’s unfortunate Kickstarter reputation.

Our hindsight is 20-20, but the industry can learn from these mistakes. While it is certainly possible to implement stretch goals correctly, aspiring designers with their eyes on crowdfunding would do well to account for the potential consequences of them.

About Demitri Camperos

Demitri has been playing video games since his six year-old self raked enough leaves for a Gameboy Color and Pokemon Red. He loves long RPGs, Cowboy Bebop, and hunting for "the perfect game" (he's pretty convinced it's Final Fantasy X).




  • Paychi

    Here’s an opinion. Mighty No. 9 is a massive scam. Keiji Inafune is laughing all the way to the bank.

  • Mr0303

    Kickstarter in general is not a good system for games. It is just a donation box with no risks or responsibilities for the devs and no guarantees for the backers.

    • But thats how it should be! Your not pre-ordering a game, instead your taking the risk of investing in that product. Anything is possible!

    • Mr0303

      The thing is you are not an investor – you are a donor. You have no say in how the project will be managed and no control over how your money are spent.

  • I don’t think stretch goals are fundamentally bad, its just that some teams are just inexperienced with handling sums of money with small teams, granted that the Mighty No.9 is an exception to that rule.

  • 「Resonance」

    「I backed a game called “You Are Not the Hero” on Kickstarter, and as far as I can see, the development is doing well. According to what the creator said, this is how he is doing stretch goals. They will be added in as DLC (free for backers). Make the main game first, then make the stretch goals DLC. That way, the game can actually come out and the stretch goals will still be made, albeit it later.」