After the success of Mighty No. 9 it seemed that Keiji Inafune and Comcept would have the experience with crowdfunding necessary to launch a second campaign successfully, and then Red Ash happened. There’s so much that’s gone wrong with what should have been a campaign to match the success of Yooka-Laylee, Shenmue III and Bloodstained that it’s hard to know where to start, but let’s take it point by point and see where it ends up.
The biggest problem with Red Ash is the first thing you see when you go to the campaign page, and that’s the video. There’s not a bit of gameplay in there anywhere, and even the animation is simply black and white storyboard sketches. The rest of the video is comprised of people talking about what they’d like to make without showing a single thing that’s been produced aside from concept art. Lots of Kickstarter campaigns don’t have demos, but most at least show a bit of prototype gameplay. All the information potential backers got were a lot of reference to Mega Man Legends mixed with a pitch focusing on story, setting, and characters. That’s plenty of reason to get excited about Red Ash’s world but there’s a difference between excited interest and actually putting money down on a project that’s little more than wishful thinking. Red Ash in the “dreaming up neat things” stage right now, and that’s not going to cut it.
The next major problem is the reward structure, which has somehow gotten worse over time. The initial $800,000 goal is for half of the prologue to the main game of Red Ash. The entire story (and this was only cleared up in later posts) is designed to be told over two games. The first one is Red Ash: The KalKanon Incident, and it sets up the main game of Red Ash: The New Order Conspiracy. This campaign is for The KalKanon Incident, and initially it was explained that the minimum goal got the first three chapters while stretch goals expanded the prologue to its full six chapter length. All six chapters, as outlined in the campaign’s first update, would get a game eight hours long, but if only three chapters were funded Comcept promised a story that would still end in a satisfying manner, even if it was only half as long as desired. A recent update indicates the full prologue is four chapters instead of six, but the overall game length for the entire experience is the same so I’m going to let that slide while also acknowledging it’s really not helping clear up any confusion.
None of this is helped by the fact that Comcept and Inafune’s last Kickstarter, Mighty No. 9, still hasn’t released yet. There’s a giant fan-base still waiting for the pay-off of the last game they backed, and while the major programming is done and the studio is ready to move on to the next project, that’s not the fans’ problem. A publisher will understand and work with this, but fans shouldn’t be expected to. When dealing with the public it’s best to deliver on one promise before making another, and positive E3 coverage only goes so far. The people expected to fund Red Ash haven’t gotten anything from the last request they made come to life, so shouldn’t be asked for anything else by the same developer until that obligation has been met.
Except, as it turns out, the Kickstarter funding is only part of the budget and Red Ash will need external funding to be a “great open world game”. What that refers to specifically is the post-prologue Red Ash game, which adds a new layer of uncertainty to the process. A major part of the value of the prologue is the rest of the story, and if that’s on unstable footing then the new reward of both games is kind of not a great idea. It doesn’t help that the game is only being considered for one console right now, and which one is still undecided. There’s just too much uncertainty here for Red Ash to get the kind of funding needed to become the game Comcept wants to create and fans want to play.
Red Ash needs a do-over. Probably the best plan right now would be to cancel the campaign, apologize, and try again later. This would give time for Mighty No. 9 to be released and a proper gameplay video to be made, and also help settle the question of what consoles the game is coming to. The new campaign should be for the whole prologue rather than a half-measure, which was an amazing episode of Breaking Bad, but a terrible plan for a Kickstarter. Bloodstained’s campaign was upfront about external funding and Red Ash’s should be as well, clearly defining what it is that’s getting made and what relies on external sources. There’s no reason Red Ash shouldn’t meet a comparable level of success to the other big-ticket items that have reinvigorated Kickstarter this year, but the current campaign in its existing state simply won’t be the thing that does it.