While crowd funding can indeed be a powerful tool to bring new and risky ideas to fruition, ultimately the audience has to accept the sales pitch. With some videogame campaigns, all the right notes get hit and they end up surging past their goal with plenty of money to spare (see our list of successful game Kickstarters from yesterday for a few examples). Other campaigns, however, can fall short of their goals and leave the developers with very few options for making their game. Some are so disastrous that they end up taking a company’s reputation down with them in the process. With some high profile misfires recently out in the open, it is time to look at five of the most notable failed videogame Kickstarters.
The original Night Trap was a game that was best known as the lynchpin of the U.S. government’s moral case against videogames. Relatively tame by any modern standard, the infamously bad Sega CD FMV game featured a scene where a woman in a nightgown had her blood drained by a vampire, causing a storm of controversy. As time progressed, Night Trap earned a reputation as more of a B-movie than the foundation of moral decay, inspiring the people behind the original to bring a high-definition remaster to Kickstarter. It didn’t work out.
Night Trap ReVamped’s campaign started off suspect. The pitch made promises of Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions, printed on discs in paper sleeves, all for just $300,000. They then amended this to claim the discs would also work on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, as well, a claim that could not be supported by technology or knowledge. At every turn, the campaign runners baffled potential backers, acting unsure on subjects ranging from download services to how powerful graphical hardware would have to be to run the game.
The Kickstarter concluded at just over 10% of its goal, marking the second time Night Trap had been rejected by an audience that had no interest in it.
There are Kickstarters that are noteworthy for being spiritual sequels to beloved old games and there are Kickstarters noteworthy for just being insane. Blood Sport was a gaming peripheral designed to be an unnatural evolution of controller rumble, letting the player put skin in the game by attaching a blood collection machine to their arm. Whenever the controller vibrates, Blood Sport intercepts the signal and withdraws from the player’s personal blood bank. The hope was to encourage blood donation by making the process fun and distracting and thus was presented in a playful and almost gleeful manner, which was a spectacularly bad idea.
Blood Sport was eventually suspended by Kickstarter for reasons they never reveal as a matter of policy, though one would assume it has a lot to do with possibly incentivizing exsanguination. While there were realistic limits on how much blood the machine could draw, people were still understandably disturbed by the entire idea. It didn’t help that the pitch failed to get the right message across.
When Bioshock Infinite was released in 2013, many critics (myself included) were adamant that the game’s atmosphere could stand alone without the need to be quite as combat-heavy as the title chose to be. After Irrational Games was dissolved in 2014, several ex-members decided to put that theory to the test and began a Kickstarter campaign for the surrealistic The Black Glove, a first-person adventure that seemed to come straight out of Rapture. The game focused on unraveling a noir mystery without the fear of being killed (or having to kill) that proved detrimental for some Bioshock players.
Regrettably, this did not work. One problem was that Ken Levine’s name had become so inseparable from the previous games that potential backers openly questioned whether a game without him could reach the same level of quality. Another possibility was simply that developer Day For Night Games unintentionally called everyone’s bluff and those that wished for Bioshock atmosphere without Bioshock combat were actually in the minority. Many people who looked at the campaign for The Black Glove were turned off when they found out gameplay would be abstracted in different ways and not presented as Bioshock’s had been.
The Black Glove reached almost 40% of its goal, but it wasn’t enough to fund the game, leading to Day For Night Games cancelling the title as key staff began departing for steady projects elsewhere.
In 2002, Silicon Knights and Nintendo released the Gamecube-exclusive Eternal Darkness, a sanity-themed horror game that dabbled in equal parts Lovecraftian mythos and Metal Gear Solid-style fourth wall destruction. Afterwards, Silicon Knights was unable to find common ground with Nintendo on future projects and they split, leaving the studio to essentially tumble from one project to another in the face of overwhelming critical disdain for titles like Too Human and X-Men: Destiny. After a disastrous lawsuit with Epic Games, in which Silicon Knights alleged malfeasance on Epic’s part by sabotaging engine license holders, the studio was left holding the bag on massive losses and court fees, forcing them to abandon the Silicon Knights name entirely.
The company re-emerged as Precursor Games with their title, Shadow of the Eternals, a new game following in the footsteps of Eternal Darkness from a decade prior. Pessimism immediately poured out from the gaming community, with people unwilling to trust Denis Dyack, former head of Silicon Knights, with their money after he ran the previous studio into the ground. An additional worry was that Precursor also solicited donations separate from Kickstarter, with no guarantee they would ever receive the money back if the project failed to meet its goal or materialize. The project ended up at less than 10% of its intended goal when Precursor cancelled it three days prior to completion.
Undeterred, they soon re-launched Shadow of the Eternals with a slightly lower goal and no alternate methods of support. Unfortunately for Precursor Games, news broke during the campaign that a developer within the studio had been arrested for possession of child pornography, leaving very little opportunity for the rest of the studio to actively talk up their second bite at the Kickstarter apple. Fans had more questions over how the studio could be this poorly managed than they did about the game being funded. While Precursor effectively doubled their number from the previous campaign, the project still fell well short, closing out at less than half of their lessened goal.
In our list of successful game Kickstarters, Mighty No. 9 was included as one of the most successful videogame Kickstarters to ever launch. When Keiji Inafune and Comcept launched their second Kickstarter, Red Ash, the climate had well and truly changed since their first. Red Ash was a spiritual successor to Capcom’s PlayStation cult classic, Mega Man Legends, whose third installment was announced for the 3DS and then cancelled a few months later, immediately after Inafune left the company. The Japanese title of the Mega Man Legends was Rockman Dash, a name Inafune hoped to invoke with Red Ash, along with a host of other winks and nods to fans. From all appearances, Red Ash would be a quick slam dunk for Comcept to follow up on after Mighty No. 9 released in the near future.
Comcept announced the Kickstarter on July 4th, limiting press coverage as no one was at work to write up stories on the campaign. Comcept’s original pitch for Red Ash included no consoles, merely a PC version, immediately turning off many Mega Man Legends fans who still stuck to consoles and preferred their games there. Halfway through the campaign, Comcept announced a console port, but claimed it would be taking feedback on while console to port it to from backers. This lead to people backing and voting for a console in the hope it would be chosen for the port. A week after, Comcept announced that the PlayStation 4 won the poll and would be receiving a port of Red Ash, causing backers who contributed for Wii U or Xbox One versions to refund en masse, resulting in negative results for the day.
A week before the campaign closed, Comcept announced that Red Ash had been picked up by a Chinese publisher named Fuze. As such, they were still continuing the campaign, but putting all the money toward stretch goals for the now publisher-backed title. Those stretch goals were not clarified until three days before the campaign ended in failure. Throughout all of this, the Kickstarter updates continued in what seemed to be oblivious glee, not understanding what concerns people were having with the manic and mismanaged campaign or why people were concerned about their money.
Red Ash felt like a cautionary tale of hubris in crowd funding, building on the assumption that people will simply pay for nostalgia no matter how it is presented to them. Future Kickstarters may want to take note that assuming your audience will be there no matter what may be the biggest mistake you can make when asking for their support.
Imran Khan is an Atlanta-based writer that tweets @imranzomg.