Opinion: Red Ash Shakes Trust in Kickstarter Process

Kickstarter should rightly be the ultimate free market democratization, but the strange story of Red Ash's campaign shows how campaigns have been drifting from that purpose, and now can undermine it entirely.

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Kickstarter's emergence on the gaming landscape came with a simple premise. It was the ultimate free market experiment. By democratizing funding, ideas were seemingly subjected to the purest distillation of gauging interest. If an idea had enough people behind it, it would rise to the top and even exceed its goals to grow more ambitious. If it didn't, it would sink. The idea worked well, for a while, but it has progressively lost its way, culminating in a campaign that undermines it entirely.

The campaign for Red Ash has been rife with problems, and its progress has been slow to say the least. It's the latest project from Comcept, the startup founded by Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune after leaving Capcom. The spiritual successor to Capcom's defunct Mega Man Legends series aimed low at $800,000, and even then, it only promised what would essentially be a demo in hopes of drumming up interest for the full game. It closed today at just over $500,000, well short of its goal.

This isn't entirely surprising. Mega Man Legends 3 attempted a similarly public-facing approach, before the advent of Kickstarter. It also planned to produce a demo to segue into a full game. Capcom ultimately pulled the project, citing lack of engagement and thus upsetting some of its most passionate fans. In many ways, Red Ash is just history repeated.

But Red Ash's failure hasn't doomed it to the dustbin of history like Legends 3. With mere days left to go before its end-point and its chances of reaching the goal looking grim, Comcept announced that it had secured a publishing deal with FUZE Entertainment. The deal is limited, only funding the "KalKanon Incident" prologue, as well as bringing it to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Comcept half-heartedly updated its existing backers, suggesting their funds would instead be used for stretch goals, but it didn't even specify what those stretch goals were. At this point, it was clear the company knew it wasn't reaching its goal, and it was cutting bait. 

In an apparent effort to retain some goodwill, Comcept told fans that the announcement "was made possible by everyone’s voices supporting Red Ash on Twitter, blogs, and other places," implying that fan enthusiasm helped secure a publishing deal. We should all take an extremely skeptical eye to this claim. 

It is certainly true that enthusiasm has become a traded commodity thanks to Kickstarter. That’s why many campaigns can come in so much lower than the actual cost of development. They’re using the Kickstarter to prove interest so they can use it in their pitch for real funding. But that rule only goes for successful Kickstarter campaigns, not ones that are looking to fold.

Either Comcept had this backup plan secured from the start, or it scrambled once the writing was on the wall. Either way, it’s clear Kickstarter wasn’t the last resort for an idea that didn’t fly with publishers. It was an idea that publishers like Capcom rejected, apparently rightly, because it didn’t have the interest in the first place. This wasn't a publisher stepping in to invest in an idea that already held strong public support and mindshare. It was a bailout.

And so, Red Ash has saved itself, but in doing so it's made a farce of Kickstarter campaigns. Double Fine's adventure game marked crowd-funding as the last bastion for struggling ideas. Games like Yooka-Laylee and Bloodstained sought publishing deals, which present another perception problem, but at least it's still relying on showing interest as the key component. Red Ash didn't do any of that. It failed, but still succeeded, and paid lip service to enthusiasm as it flailed to a finish. This isn't what Kickstarter should be.

To be clear, Red Ash is an outlier. I don't mean to suggest this will become a trend. However, the platonic ideal of Kickstarter is pure democracy. Success rises to the top, failure sinks to the bottom. Comcept found a way to circumvent that reality before the campaign even ended, and that should make all of us uneasy.

Editor-In-Chief
From The Chatty
  • reply
    August 3, 2015 11:30 AM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, Opinion: Red Ash Shakes Trust in Kickstarter Process

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      August 3, 2015 11:42 AM

      I don't think it's the kickstarter process so much as it's Comcept.

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        August 3, 2015 11:46 AM

        Given the company generally seems shady, it wouldn't surprise me if they had a publisher in the bag from the get-go and the Kickstarter was just a way to secure more money.

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        August 3, 2015 2:38 PM

        Regardless, the negative stuff like this is what sticks in peoples heads more and for longer than the positive stuff.

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          August 3, 2015 3:52 PM

          Agreed. Comcept screwed the pooch for more than just themselves with this KS.

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          August 3, 2015 4:45 PM

          Totally agree. There probably isn't anything KS can do, but it's going to put the gamer community into cynical mode going forward. The exception might be guys that have already done KS campaigns and delivered (thinking about Obsidian and maybe Double Fine).

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      August 3, 2015 3:29 PM

      Mighty #9 is still not released and it honestly doesn't look very good at all. I"m sure if this kickstarter was done AFTER the release of Mighty #9 and gets positive reviews the kickstarter for Ash may have went better..

      Anyone that was interested in Ash has already put some money on #9 and is just waiting to see a final product.

      Reminds me of the failed Kickstarter from Uber Games for Human Resources.. Release a shoddy product, start new project, except Inafune is jumping the gun and trying to start a new project before the first one is done.

      Shady stuff.

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        August 3, 2015 10:47 PM

        This is pretty much exactly how I feel about this whole thing.

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      August 3, 2015 6:21 PM

      Yeah I am never backing a game before its playable.