It’s not hard to guess that this post was inspired by Mighty No. 9‘s uninspired release. I happen to be one of the people who backed this game on Kickstarter, and I am disappointed in it, to say the least. Even the developers seemed unhappy with it in their recent livestream. They talked about the negative feedback and about how they “wanted the game to be good” instead of what they actually think is good. Inafune infamously said that the game was “better than nothing,” although it’s debatable if that was a translation error. Either way, it’s obvious that the developers are as disappointed as the fans, probably more so considering that they put their heart into this game. Many people are pointing to this as an example of why never to trust Kickstarter projects. Others are pointing to Mighty No. 9‘s delay of over a year, which could have indicated a broken game. Personally, I think both Kickstarter and delays are often positive for video games, just not when combined together.
Kickstarter has allowed for gaming innovations that never would have been possible otherwise. The Ouya, despite its abandonment, began on Kickstarter and was massively successful. Dozens of indie games have come to life through Kickstarter, such as Superhot and Faster Than Light. Oculus Rift began on Kickstarter and has since helped popularize virtual reality gaming. While there are cases when it doesn’t work out, Kickstarter has done much more good than harm for gaming.
On the other hand, one of the inherent problems with Kickstarter is that it attracts newer companies. Smaller developer teams with less experience need the funding Kickstarter offers. Because the teams are smaller, they are worse at estimating time frames and budgets. Comcept, the team that made Mighty No. 9, ended up releasing the game on ten different platforms instead of just PC without moving the release date. They had an absurd number of stretch goals for their Kickstarter that ended up being unrealistic and making the final product that much worse.
Delays are also not inherently bad or an indication of a broken game. Most delays happen because the game isn’t quite finished and needs some extra time to be as good as possible. Shigeru Miyamoto once said,
“A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.”
If you ship a game with major problems, that is how the game will be forever. Patches can help fix those problems, but by then, reviewers and angry customers will have made up their minds. Delays make sure that happens less frequently, and make sure that the game is as good as it can be at launch.
The problem comes when delays and Kickstarter are combined. A game that is backed on Kickstarter is not receiving funding constantly from some larger studio — it is crowdfunded. The Kickstarter raises a certain amount of money, and that is about the limit of the game’s budget. Of course, the developers can put their own money into the project, but that’s never a good situation to be in. As a result, crowdfunded games have a limited amount of money that has to last through the entire development, and they’re unlikely to receive more money later. Delays cost money because the game is still being developed during that time, and they also stretch the development past its original financial schedule.
Mighty No. 9‘s developers initially planned their four million dollars to last until around April of 2015. However, the game was delayed until June of 2016, meaning that their budget was suddenly much tighter than they were anticipating. They had to stretch out their remaining money for another whole year, which they didn’t plan on doing. Developing a game is expensive, and money goes a lot faster than many people might realize. With a game as ambitious as Mighty No. 9 coming out on multiple platforms, after such a long development cycle and low budget, it’s sadly no surprise that this was the result.