System Shock Kickstarter: Why it isn't Mighty No. 9 All Over Again

With the, to put mildly, underwhelming launch of the much delayed Mighty No. 9 just past us, gamers might be rolling their eyes at the idea of another kickstarter project backed by apparent Big Names asking for money.

Those people would be right to worry given the host of kickstarters both recent and past that have failed to live up to expectations, give clear communication to backers, outright stolen money and ran, or tried to be too ambitious with what little money and goodwill had been gathered.
However I am hopeful this will turn out better than other projects. I hate to name names and point out failure, but several kickstarters come to mind when I look at System Shock.

Mighty No. 9: My problem with this kickstarter is while it started strong and gained a large amount of money, it tried to do too much with what money was there. ‘But wait,’ you might be asking, ‘Didn’t that kickstarter raise a over three million dollars? How is that not a lot of money?’ To a person three million dollars is a lot of money, and can buy homes in areas of the United States such as California where prices tend to run away from average people and furnish it more or less however you wish so long as you aren’t building an estate. However, for companies a million dollars or even ten million is next to nothing when starting from justa character designer as a Name.

That money would have to pay for artists, sound, coders, and essentially pay for all aspects of the game to be designed from the ground up as, and I may well be wrong and will revise if I am corrected, they wanted to create their own engine rather than use off the shelf options such as unity.

This brings to mind the other major unignoreable problem Mighty 9 had. They offered too many platforms as stretch goals with little apparent understanding of how hard it is to do cross platform development. Even accounting for cross-platform engines having to code for devices as different as the Wii U, Playstation, PC, and so on means that you have to test, tweak, fix, and from the looks of the launch it appears little if any of that had been done.

While yes the System Shock kickstarter also lists Xbox One as a platform alongside Windows Mac and Linux; at this stage with window 10 out it appears they hope to leverage the universal app platform to try making development as painless as possible between the platforms. Otherwise they would have already announced Playstation four and Wii U compatibility to try casting a wider net. Personally I feel Xbox One support is a potential mistake, as there are enough differences even with windows 10’s backing, to add non-trivial complications to the process as well as require more play testing to make sure everything works smoothly. However, so long as NightDive Studios confines themselves to these platforms (as well as linux/OSX support for PC as both are supported by Unity) they should do reasonably well and can focus on the wider issues of the game itself.

Star Trek Anarax: Hooboy where to start here? A kickstarter funding an admittedly polished final product that the group didn’t have rights for, or permission from the rights holders, and had hoped to use that product and kickstarter funding to make a studio. Admittedly Paramount had problem more with the fact this was to be preview and seed to build a studio around more than the whole fan production thing (as they have allowed and encouraged several fan concepts in the past with the one real hard and fast rule being ‘no profit.’) However it is now bogged down in legal hell rather than all steam ahead. If it were me I’d be pissed anyhow on sheer concept of ‘wait I’m funding this project, not chipping in on the herculean ‘build a studio’ goal. That takes a ton of money you can’t get near enough from crowdfunding.’

Mighty No. 9 had a similar problem in seeming to use their kickstarter money to create a studio rather than simply the product they asked funding for. Frankly if you want a studio or other grand work going through traditional business loans, or even an indigogo campaign might be the better bet. I would have had no problems giving these people money to create studios.

Here? System Shock does not have that issue. The studio is there as well as staffers in place with funding likely to pay for more staff and or to hire talent for voice work, press, and other expenditures associated with creating a single new product rather than needing to create the entire infrastructure from whole cloth. If nothing else I expect this to be tested and debugged far better than Mighty No. 9 was.

Super Retro Squad: Then there’s this sad work. It’s a case of a developer that had shown to be able to make a product people liked asking for money from fans to make something that wasn’t copyright infringe-y. Then it turned into ‘We’re using the money to live off of,’ then ‘the money is gone, sorry.’ The kickstarter fell apart, and one could argue Super Crossover was a demo for this. However that was made in flash verses a proper engine the kickstarter project would have used, and the kickstarter itself bolting goals on goals on goals, and expanding the project’s scope to the point of absurdity. I had thought we were going to get a reskin of crossover brothers with some new levels, layouts, and work-alike original characters to replace the familiar faces. Super Crossover had since gotten a lot of features that are quite nice (reskinnabe levels and characters, an expanded roster, and so on.) Had they kept to just ‘make it not copyright infringing’ it might have succeeded.

I hold Exploding Rabbit no ill will, but I wish they had reigned in and kept their goals manageable.

OUYA vs GCW Zero: Here are the two kickstarters that came to mid when I first heard about Mighty No. 9’s launch difficulties and the one i fear will most closely showcase how events will play out.

OUYA came out onto Kickstarter with renders, mockups, and promises of what would be. They got loads of money on a product that was casually ignored at launch due to interface issues, poor selections, and a host of other problems.

GCW Zero barely got funding even though they showed off working units, had existing software support, and even major distribution through ThinkGeek. That backers suffered communication problems post-kickstarter as well as other difficulties in production should not be minimized, but that was after the kickstarter closed.

My personal take from the situation is the OUYA had more or less stolen the Zero’s thunder and so sapped much of the potential funding of the Zero as a development platform as opposed to simply an emulation-centric handheld.

My fear is this situation will be a showing of how Mighty No. 9’s recent failing will poison the well for anyone that might have otherwise backed System Shock. After all we just saw a prominent name in gaming fail, why should we trust these people no matter the names they list?

As I stated earlier; they have an existing engine, already pledged talent, a studio that exists, and most importantly they have a working demo they will show off at kickstarter launch. This is far more than Mighty No. 9 had even if it uses existing alpha assets that will be scrapped. While textures and audio won’t necessarily be the same, they likely will keep level architecture more or less intact and recycle as many assets as possible to reduce the amount of overhead and development time. However it seems to me people will be soured by recent high profile failures rather than look to Shadowrun Returns, Shovel knight, and other successes in kickstarter game development.

I speak as a fan of the System Shock franchise and as a member of the community that are more or less a bunch of old-timers that’ve been following events, collecting mods, and who’s collective work nightdive took a metaphorical dump on shortly after the system shock 2 digital re-release with their ‘the fans have done a great job, but we’ve done better with our expert tech-ninjas.’ comment. What nightdive had done was take the work of an existing fan Le Corbeau from a french forum and packaged that with half-wrong configurations that had to then be fixed.

With that said, NightDive has made apologies and asked for community help in what us long time fans want from a re-imagining. Those people that had personally felt wronged by the whole mess have let go and I only bring the incident up as example of why I might be expected to hold some ill will or go ‘You know what, they don’t deserve your money. They already screwed the fans over once and are just out for a naked cash grab.’

To that I say let go. Do not let lingering fear of ‘consolification’ or past mis-steps make you hesitate. NightDive not only untangled System Shock 2’s legal and rights ownership issues so that it could be reintroduced to the masses in an easy to grab legal to own form, which is no small feat in of itself, but also managed to grab the rights to the entire franchise from EA. I will say that again. NightDive managed to snatch the System Shock IP away from EA before a poorly done freemium cash grab game with little to no resemblance to what us oldsters remember cold be made (As much as I liked Dungeon Keeper Mobile and as close as it got to what I like, it did too many things wrong for me to recommend.)

That was just the first thing NightDive did. Now they want to both give the world a version of System Shock with controls you don’t have to bang your head against a brick wall to understand, and hopefully better unify the different games o the franchise in the face of a potential System Shock 3 down the road.

Don’t forget to salt the fries!

Wait what? Steam Summer Sale? Oh dear… that might be a problem.

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