Many, many years ago, game developers were faced with some rather stringent choices. Developing the game they wanted required bending to the will of publishers. Often times, some projects just weren’t worthy of being funded and never went beyond the creator’s imagination. However, in 2012, Kickstarter changed the industry’s means of acquiring funding significantly. It’s not as though it became just a platform for indie developers to garner some funding – big-time studios like Obsidian Entertainment and Double Fine Productions relied on Kickstarter to bring their visions to life. And while there may not be a significant rush akin to 2012, Kickstarter is a viable platform to make various dream games a possibility. Look no further than Castlevania series producer Koji Igarashi’s spiritual successor Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night which currently sits at $2,002,090 in funds with 28 days to go.
However, what about some of the bigger names of the Kickstarter craze? Where are they currently, where are they headed and what made them so unique? We take a look back at some of the biggest Kickstarter projects since 2012 along with the various successes and controversies that have followed them to release.
Divinity: Original Sin
Right from the get-go, Larian Studios’ Divinity: Original Sin faced an uphill battle. How do you justify funding for an RPG which has always been the underdog, straight from the first iteration that released in 2002? Larian developed and published Divinity: Dragon Commander in 2013 but it’s not often that a studio can handle both responsibilities. With the emergence of Kickstarter, it found a platform that could not only ensure funding but also serve as a medium to communicate directly with its paying customers, guiding them through the process of development.
When Divinity: Original Sin released, it was universally acclaimed for its solid RPG mechanics, choice system and amazingly realized world. Nowadays, Larian Studios is working on an “enhanced edition” for the game in preparation for the game’s release on Xbox One and PS4 (the makeover will be heading to PC as well as a free upgrade for existing owners).
Along with a revamped control scheme to support gamepads, online and split-screen co-op, 1080p visuals, changes to the storyline for a more satisfying ending and DirectX 11 support, there will be new endings, new locations, new quests and newer tactics required for besting enemies. Think about it – this is an enhanced edition for a game that released roughly a year ago.
Divinity: Original Sin has completely turned Larian’s fortunes around as well. Thanks to the project’s success, selling more than one million units, Larian is working on several other projects that it will reveal later this year.
It’s amazing how revered the Fallout name is today and yet, how many gamers actually know about the roots of the franchise. This isn’t due to any real lack of knowledge though. Fallout 3 released under Bethesda and adopted the studio’s Elder Scrolls-esque first person perspective in a fully 3D world with tons of replay value.
However, Fallout’s beginning wasn’t completely self-contained. It actually began with Wasteland, Interplay’s original sci-fi, post-apocalyptic RPG which dealt with a future ruined by past nuclear fallouts. The series had a spiritual sequel in the form of Fallout as director Brian Fargo worked on other projects for Interplay. In 2003, Fargo purchased the rights to Wasteland from Konami and inXile Entertainment set about to create a sequel to the original post-apocalyptic RPG.
Wasteland 2 was recognized at the time for being one of the most successfully crowd-funded gaming projects in Kickstarter history. It amassed $2,933,252 in funding. Later, it achieved the distinction of being one of the few Kickstarter projects to actually release into the commercial space following the wave of crowd-funding in 2012.
The future of Wasteland 2 looks incredibly bright as the studio is working to revamp the game’s visuals using Unity 5 and release on PS4 and Xbox One. Numerous patches have served to further refine the game and quash bugs but the visual upgrade will also bring new gameplay additions as well. As it stands, Wasteland 2 serves as a reminder that regardless of whether it’s “niche” or “old-fashioned”, a good RPG will be commercially successful.
Also known as “Wing Commander VI: Chris Roberts’ Strikes Back”, Star Citizen is a massive sci-fi space sim that has currently surpassed $80 million in funding as of April 2015. Though its Kickstarter campaign ended with $6.2 million in funding back in November 2012, funds towards the game continued well into its development cycle.
Though yet to release in its full commercial form, Star Citizen looks to evolve the Wing Commander and Freelancer formula far beyond what any other developer is attempting. Space trading and combat simulation are a given but Cloud Imperium Games is also placing an emphasis on the utter scope of the game, with numerous star systems to explore and planets to register your presence on. The game’s multiplayer focus is distinctly sandbox-like and feels more like a massively multiplayer online RPG. To that effect, players can trade with each other, engage in piracy, face each other in Arena combat and much more.
That’s not all though. Star Citizen will also feature a robust first person shooter component as players traverse on foot through areas, utilizing zero gravity settings for free form fighting. This module is currently being revamped for the game following a four player co-op demo at PAX Australia 2014. Did we mention that the game still has its own fully-fledged single-player campaign called Squadron 42 that players can progress through?
Regardless of the ultimate scale of the project and how much work will be required post-launch to support it, it’s safe to say that Chris Roberts’ journey from Origin Systems to Digital Anvil to Microsoft has found a happy conclusion with Star Citizen.
As the first game to really kick-start (all puns intended) the wave of crowd-funding in the gaming industry, Broken Age was little more than the “Double Fine Adventure” from the minds behind Psychonauts and Brutal Legend. Its director Tim Schafer was already a seasoned veteran, having worked on cult classic adventure titles like Full Throttle and Grim Fandango. Surely enough, as the campaign started for $400,000 in funding, backers flooded to the potential that the medium offered, eventually raising more than $3.45 million when all was said and done.
Shortly thereafter, many other developers dipped into the crowd-funding pool, finding similar success and beginning the trend of kick-starting games that we see today, helping developers avoid the usual stress of seeking out a publisher and crafting their game to fit the criteria of “the suits”.
However, Broken Age later exposed a central problem of the crowd-funding platform. As Schafer analyzed the overall direction of the game, based on what was promised and what it set out to deliver. It was revealed that at its current progress, Broken Age would only be released in full in 2015. The decision was then made to split the game into two acts with funds from the first act going towards financing development on the second act.
Needless to say, there was a hefty amount of backlash. Would Double Fine ask for more funds? Why wasn’t it just delivering a finished product like it had initially promised? Despite Schafer promising that sales from the first act and Double Fine’s own money were being used to finish the second act, the experience served as a valuable lesson to backers: Things can, and often do, change during development.
The complete Broken Age adventure is available now though for PS4, PS Vita, PC, Android, iOS and other platforms, netting a fair bit of critical acclaim. There was still some disappointment, with some reviews criticizing the game’s final state, but on the whole, Broken Age’s contribution to video game crowd-funding can’t be ignored.
Mighty No. 9
Remember how we mentioned that Broken Age was a lesson in plans changing during development, often affecting various aspects like content and finances? Comcept’s Mighty No. 9 is a prime example of the phenomenon, except without the developer using its own funds to ultimately complete the game.
Mighty No. 9 began innocently enough. It was to be a spiritual successor to the Mega Man franchise and if Capcom wasn’t going to give fans a new Mega Man, they would fund it themselves. That the original creator Keiji Inafune was at the helm only sweetened the deal and when Mighty No. 9’s Kickstarter campaign began, it achieved its goal of $900,000 in just two days. Combined with PayPal funds, the crowd-funding total came to $4,046,579.
The game subsequently grew in scope. Deep Silver hopped aboard as a publisher and the game was announced to be heading to nearly every single current and previous gen platform (including the handhelds). Over time, Comcept started more crowd-funding campaigns for additional content. English voice acting cost backers $200,000. A DLC stage featuring Ray, the rival of the protagonist Beck, garnered an additional $198,000. And it didn’t quite help that as more gameplay footage released, albeit in the early alpha stage, the game was looking less impressive than initially promised.
Mighty No. 9 is still set to release though and will be out in September 2015. We’ll have to wait and see whether it lives up to the massive hype and after Broken Age’s various issues, we’re a bit skeptical as to whether Mighty No. 9 will deliver.
Shadowrun is another great franchise in the history of gaming which suffered its fair share of missteps on the way to its crowd-funded rebirth. Its roots are in pen and paper RPGs, standing on even ground with the likes of Dungeons & Dragons and Cyberpunk. Created by Jordan Weisman, who also had a hand in MechWarrior, Shadowrun was eventually adapted into a series of games from FASA Corporation. When FASA Corporation shut down, the future of games like MechWarrior and Shadowrun was immediately in doubt.
Microsoft’s attempts to revive the series were – to put it kindly – disastrous. It’s 2007 Shadowrun title was a first person shooter which focused on multiplayer gaming and didn’t even offer that much content to begin with (think of it as an earlier version of Destiny). Needless to say, it bombed and the series was retired once more.
Weisman and his company Harebrained Schemes began development on Shadowrun Returns when it acquired the rights from Microsoft in 2007. Unlike the FPS, Weisman would be at the helm this time and Shadowrun Returns would go back to the cyberpunk espionage and RPG mechanics that the franchise was revered for. After raising $1,895,772 the game released in July 2013 for PC and Mac OS X, displaying a remarkable turnaround since its campaign began a little more than a year prior. Shadowrun Returns was a success and received an expansion in the form of Dragonfall. This was later expanded to Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director’s Cut and no, additional funding was not required.
Harebrained Schemes recently launched a campaign for Shadowrun: Hong Kong and despite it contributing partially to the game’s overall budget, it hit its goal of $100,000 in the span of hours. There’s still plenty we don’t know about the game but once again, it stands as a testament to the viability and demand of “niche” RPGs in today’s industry.
Pillars of Eternity
It’s often not highlighted enough how much these crowd-funding campaigns influence the future of developers. With studios shutting down all the time, it’s easy to ignore that even vaunted geniuses like Peter Molyneux struggle to find funding (though the man has had his fair share of controversies to discourage backers). In the same vein, to think that Obsidian Entertainment wouldn’t currently exist without Pillars of Eternity is mind-boggling.
This is because Obsidian has always been viewed as a relatively top-tier RPG developer. It worked on Neverwinter Nights 2 and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, two big-name sequels that arguably eclipsed their predecessors. Even if efforts like Alpha Protocol and Dungeon Siege III didn’t pan out, the studio could still create unforgettable experiences for RPG fans. Fallout: New Vegas is proof of that.
So when it was revealed that Obsidian Entertainment would have gone out of business had the Kickstarter for Pillars of Eternity not been fulfilled, it stings a little. Thankfully, not only did the project surpass its initial funding goals to raise $4,163,208 but it also delivered an experience that lived up to the games that inspired it.
Many critics praised Pillars of Eternity for its mechanics and how it honored the likes of Baldur’s Gate and Planescape Torment while attracting a new fan base. Achieving this feat in an industry that still views new fantasy RPG IPs in light of Dragon Age: Inquisition and Dragon Age: Inquisition is all the more impressive, especially when you consider that it only released on PC, Linux and Mac OS X.
Currently, Obsidian is working on an expansion pack for Pillars of Eternity which will be similar to Tales of the Sword Coast, a sizeable expansion for the first Baldur’s Gate.