Comcept, the independent studio founded by Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune, announced last night that the company has secured full funding for RED ASH: The Indelible Legend from FUZE Entertainment, a "Chinese digital entertainment company engaged in production of console hardware as well as sales of console games." With this deal in place, comcept will be able to bring RED ASH to both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and the studio will also be retaining both ownership rights to RED ASH and creative control of the ongoing project. The game's Kickstarter campaign will continue, and if it hits its goal, the funding will be used to create additional content for the game.
This news came with just four days left in RED ASH's Kickstarter campaign. Currently, the campaign has received $488k in pledges, falling quite a bit short of the set $800k goal. Backers of the game were justifiably worried that the game wouldn't meet its goal and thus wouldn't make it to market. Some backers also worried that even if it hit its funding goal, RED ASH would leave them wanting more, since the campaign's initial goal of $800k would only fund the production of half of RED ASH's prologue chapter, "The KalKanon Incident." If the campaign managed to raise a total of $1.5m, the other half of that prologue would be produced, totally 8 hours of play time. Comcept also mentioned that the studio had plans to produce the "main story" of RED ASH, titled "The New Order Conspiracy," but it offered no clue as to when that would be coming or how that would be funded.
As happy as I am that fans of Mega Man Legends will finally get a follow up, there are elements of this announcement that sit unwell with me. Comcept launched this campaign with a set of promises and goals, and backers paid their money to support those goals. Now that money is being shifted to support "more content." What's that content look like? Well, comcept has this to say:
Exactly what are those stretch goals? We're sorry to say that will have to wait a little while longer! Like we said, we're very busy with many behind-the-scenes things over here, and we apologize if you feel left in the dark. As you can see, the things we have brewing that are keeping us occupied are BIG, and all for the purpose of getting you RED ASH in its biggest, bestest form. That's the reason we're less communicative than we'd like to be!
We know we’re in the final days of our campaign, but we’d like to ask fans to continue their support of RED ASH! Your money is going towards 100% content now, so please look forward to the revised "stretch goals"!
I have no doubt that things at comcept are busy, but this is a bad look. Right now, if you asked a backer of RED ASH what their money was going towards, they couldn't tell you. One of the core tenets of Kickstarter is that projects must be clear and creators must be candid about what they intended to use backer money for.
There's also the lack of communication about RED ASH's "main story" content. The deal with FUZE will pay for the production of the game's prologue chapter, but there's been no mention of the "The New Order Conspiracy."
Finally, I'm a little cautious about FUZE Entertainment itself. While the company does claim to have experienced staff with backgrounds at major companies like Huawei, NVIDIA, and Tencent, FUZE itself has doesn't seem to have any history in game publishing. The company did recently received $9m in loans from Linekong Interactive, a Chinese game company which focuses on mobile and online products, so there is at least a little marketplace faith in the company's future, but that future seems focused on platform production in the Chinese market, not publishing games for worldwide audiences: FUZE's major project is "a console product based on Android system, using the NVIDIA chip with full OpenGL 4.4 support, with better GPU performance than Xbox360/PS3." (Between this and Razer's recent announcement, it looks like there's going to be a serious, Android-based brawl for the Chinese console market.)
If the update comments on RED ASH are any indication, plenty of backers are happy that the game found funding and aren't too worried about where their money is going--and unless the campaign really explodes over the next few days, RED ASH won't meet it's goals and all of this will be a moot point. But I still worry that this sets a bad precedent for future campaigns.
There's been a lot of discussion lately about the lack of transparency in Kickstarter campaigns, and there are still a lot of unanswered questions about what "good" crowdfunding looks like. Do campaigns that set lower goals than they actually need make it harder for developers who give an accurate picture of their needs? Should developers disclose information about funding received from publishers?
Kickstarter has been a great avenue for small teams and independent creators to find audiences, but it also works as a way for big publishers to gauge consumer interest at a low cost only to offload financial risk onto those same fans. It's easy to get excited about new Kickstarter announcements--believe me, I do it too--but it's worth our time to really figure out what we want from crowdfunding now, so that we can have clear expectations of the companies that use it and processes to follow when they fail to meet those expectations.
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