By Demitri Camperos / February 11th, 2016
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.
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:
- 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!
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.
- 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.
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.
KickstarterMighty No. 9opinionRed AshStar Citizenstretch goals