The Brief and Strange Tale of the Red Ash Kickstarter

Kickstarters are sort of weird on the face, right? You’re essentially pre-ordering an item, generally at full cost (or damn close), while hoping that enough people pre-order it to ensure the item actually gets made, and then if (that’s a big if) you give the project money, you just have to sit back and hope the product actually hits shelves. There are plenty of X factors involved in both the potential audience and the potential producer of the item in question, and sadly it looks like the Kickstarter for Comcept’s new game Red Ash: The Indelible Legend has become something of an example of these X factors on the parts of both the consumer and the company in question.

Let’s start at the beginning. Red Ash is intended to be the next game by Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune and his new indie upstart Comcept, creators of Mighty No. 9, a fun throwback action title that still stands as one of Kickstarter’s biggest video game success stories. In the same way Mighty No. 9 is meant to evoke memories of the classic 2D Mega Man adventures, Red Ash is intended as an homage to the PlayStation-era Mega Man Legends games, a series of 3D Zelda-esq adventures.

It all started out well enough. Comcept was still riding a wave of good feelings from Mighty No. 9‘s success and there was a lot of fond remembrance in the gaming world concerning the Mega Man Legends series thanks to the recent re-release of its impossible-to-find spin-off game The Misadventures of Tron Bonne on PlayStation Network. Inafune had presumably been planning this game for a little while, maybe even since the potential third Mega Man Legends title for 3DS had been canceled, and maybe it was time to strike while the iron was hot.

I'd totally watch this. I do not, however, have any idea why you're asking me about an anime when I came here to fund a video game.
I’d totally watch this. I do not, however, have any idea why you’re asking me about an anime when I came here to fund a video game.

Sadly, the confusion began right out of the gate. The Kickstarter campaign was announced alongside a similarly named campaign to create a special anime OVA setting up the Red Ash universe at large (which, oddly enough, succeeded), which created a bit of confusion over what exactly was being funded with each campaign. Adding to the confusion was the fact that the Kickstarter campaign was specifically for an eight-hour long prologue chapter to the game, titled Red Ash: The Kalkannon Incident. The game’s full content, referred to as Red Ash: The New Order Conspiracy was promised to be a separate game delivered after the release of The Kalkannon Incident, and reward tiers were later added to include a copy of the ‘full game’ and The Kalkannon Incident. Now after all of that, which was already confusing enough, imagine being asked to fund Episode 1 of an episodic game series while being told that Episode 2 would be nearly twice as long and doubly important, alongside the fact that it didn’t actually have a console port listed at first. The end result simply added to consumers’ confusion and hesitance to contribute.

So the campaign plodded along, confusingly. Full disclosure: I backed the hell out of this game, even going so far as to up my pledge amount when they later revised the backer tiers to include a full copy of The New Order Conspiracy. Why wouldn’t I? I loved Mega Man Legends, I backed and had a lot of fun with the Mighty No. 9 early access level when that came out, and it all sounded pretty good to me.

I was clearly alone in thinking this, as the game hit about half of its relatively modest $800,000 goal a few weeks into the campaign and seemed to peter out. Different stretch goals and reward tiers were added, some even promising a console port (relying on customers to vote for whichever platform they’d most like to see it on), but nothing seemed to help. Even a brief demo level, which I’ve included a video of above this post, seemed to draw in more detractors than supporters. It all looked kind of bleak, and that’s when the backers got…the good news?

Clearly, the idea of kicking soda cans at Spike Spiegel over there wasn't enough to entice more backers.
Clearly, the idea of kicking soda cans at Spike Spiegel over there wasn’t enough to entice more backers.

It seems, at some point, that a Chinese game publisher called FUZE had stepped in to offer sufficient financing to ensure The Kalkannon Incident would come to fruition, at least insofar as the lowest stretch goals (no console port, no second playable character, etc.), and the Kickstarter’s focus was then shifted to providing nothing but bonus features for the game itself. We were going to play The Kalkannon Incident no matter how well the Kickstarter did, which I had mixed feelings about. Okay, so The Kalkannon Incident is going to exist, but then why should anyone else give this game a dime? What happened to the console port? Who the hell is FUZE? And what’s going to happen to The New Order Conspiracy?

The answers weren’t quite forthcoming. In a letter sent to backers of the project, it was revealed that FUZE approached Comcept shortly before the Kickstarter launched with an offer to fund The Kalkannon Incident just in case. Comcept went with the Kickstarter plan, feeling optimistic, as it had gone well for them in the past, but quickly returned to FUZE to strike a deal once the Kickstarter didn’t look like it was going to pan out as well.

Okay, cool, it's good that we'll actually see this in action at some point, but...where the hell is my money going, then?
Okay, cool, it’s good that we’ll actually see this in action at some point, but…where the hell is my money going, then?

This had two effects on the Kickstarter: Now that people knew for sure they were going to play The Kalkannon Incident, especially now that FUZE was funding ports to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, the wind seemed to get sucked out of all the sails. The campaign ended on Monday, August 3rd, with roughly $560,000 pledged of the $800,000 asked. As soon as people knew they were getting The Kalkannon Incident, regardless of the Kickstarter campaign, nobody felt inclined to kick it any extra money.

It begs a few questions. Will people now be more likely to actually purchase The Kalkannon Incident (and, really, Red Ash as a whole) now that they’re guaranteed something of a real product, or will it suffer even worse sales now that customers feel like the Kickstarter was a waste of time? Will the currently spotty reputation of Mighty No. 9, brought on by its new connection with a publisher and frequent delays, affect how people view Red Ash? And what exactly is going to become of The New Order Conspiracy? Nothing has been said so far about FUZE’s involvement with the game proper, merely the prologue chapter.

I’m still going to buy it, and I’m still looking forward to how it all turns out. Sadly, though, it looks like Red Ash‘s biggest legacy might be a sad display of how even the most well-intentioned Kickstarter campaigns can lose steam and create confusion. If your funding campaign leaves potential backers befuddled as to what your product is and unsure why they should donate at all, it’s safe to say something went wrong.

Don't blame Beck. He never asked to be wildly successful.
Don’t blame Beck. He never asked to be wildly successful.

But cheer up, Inafune-san – so far your Kickstarter win/loss ratio is 50/50, and that ain’t bad.

Tim Allen

Tim has been a gamer since the very first Goomba in Super Mario 3 killed him one Christmas. He lives outside of Detroit and is very picky about music and beer.

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