What do you get when you mix the hopes and dreams of millions of old school gamers with a legendary video game artist, a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, and more bad choices than Election Day? You get Mighty No. 9, Keiji Inafune’s spiritual successor to his classic beloved Mega Man series.
It was a high profile game with everything going for it. Fantastic-looking characters, recognizable gameplay with a fresh coat of paint just how we like it, a legit pedigree, and an army of backers ready to shell out their money for what was essentially a rebirth of one of gamings’ most famed franchises that has lost its momentum over the years. How exactly does this not spell success? Weeeellllll……
It started small enough with the game’s online community manager baiting “gaters” on Twitter with ill-advised rants and calling for them to boycott of the game in addition to the occasional call for male genocide (gendercide?) and banning people from the forums. You know, the usual internet stuff. But still, as a general rule a company shouldn’t hire a community manager to represent them that publicly threatens to murder half of their game’s potential user base, calls for people to boycott the game, and generally attracts, agitates, and embodies the exact elements that it’s a community manager’s job to keep under control.
But then again, they only gave her the job because of her personal relationships within the development team. It’s not like that’s a dealbreaker. As fans awaited the game after paying for the entire development process out of pocket, they were treated to multiple delays that saw the game postponed by over an entire year from its original release date. But hey, that’s more quality time to spend with the charming community manager (who was eventually removed) while you wait!
The game had to come out at some point, and come out it did. All of the years of hype and drama and four million dollars in donations and finally gamers were able to purchase this mythical unicorn of a beautiful 2D shooter last week. Surely the pre-launch trailer was going to be epic. Surely. Let’s check it out.
Oh. My. Fucking. God. Did that really happen in 2016? I honestly don’t know where to begin with that train wreck so I’m going to go with my line-by-line thoughts on the single worst advertisement in video game history; one that makes us long for the days of “she kicks high”.
“Hey, you! Looking at the screen!”
How did he know?!
“Let me ask you a question: do you like awesome things that are awesome?”
“Then you gotta play this game, dude.”
“It’s freakin’ COOL. And CRAZY addictive! Like popping BUBBLE WRAP addictive!”
Bubble wrap doesn’t cost four million dollars to make, though…
“See, that’s your dash move. There’s a short dash and a long dash, jump dash, spiral, slide. There’s probably a dash that makes you breakfast, I don’t know!”
Is this the first trailer to list every control in the game and then make one up just to be stupid? SETTLE DOWN, MAN!
“Point is, you’re dashing around like a friggin’ moon man and I love it.”
Do moon men have a reputation for dashing around?
“Oh, and look at this! There’s all these combo moves you can do.”
“And you can do combos on combos to rack up your score.”
If you say so.
“And I know you like that combo on combo action.”
Please stop now.
“But I saved the best for last: absorption boosts.”
Breath status: baited.
“You kill an enemy, and you can absorb their power ups!”
What a wild idea for a video game.
“Stuff that’ll make you faster, and stronger, and make the bad guys cry like an anime fan on prom night.”
I’m not sure you’re understanding who your target audience is here, friend.
“So what’d’you think? Are you ready to play?”
I was up until the exact second you started talking…
Just…. How? Why? Condescending and insulting while giving off that desperate vibe of a middle-aged grandparent trying to sound hip and cool hanging out with teenagers without any knowledge whatsoever of current popular culture. Far out, brah! Totally tubular! Raise the roof! I can see some imbecile writing or even recording something like this in an awkward “that sounded better in my head” situation, but I can literally not imagine anybody in any corner of the gaming community trying to sell people a game giving that a pass. I wonder how many people were instantly unsold with that one fell swoop of stupidity.
But really, if the game is amazing, who cares? A little half-assed marketing here, a possible homicidal maniac on the internet managing the forums there, it’s not like these things will make an awesome thing that is awesome not awesome, right?
But what if the game is just kind of meh and filled with technical issues? You may have a problem on your hands. And when the creator’s apparent response to gamers’ lukewarm reception is that it’s “better than nothing”, it may be time to worry. Or perhaps when the most popular meme generated by your game is based on how the explosions look like cheap pizza, it may be a bad sign. But when Sonic the goddamn Hedgehog (who hasn’t had a decent game in how long?) starts looking down on you, you are officially in trouble.
It’s one thing when a company hypes a game to the gills and it comes out less than great. Gamers still swarm upon them like a plague of entitled mosquitoes to publicly shame them and attempt to drive them from the industry, but when the game is a Kickstarter project promising a return to the good old days if only you, the gamers, will pay for it to be made it tends to make things more personal and nasty.
So fair warning to game developers both aspiring and legendary: here is a list of things to keep in mind if you don’t want everybody to hate you. A) if you take fans’ money, make damn sure you can deliver on quality. B) Don’t hire a community manager who expresses a desire to massacre your player base or suggest boycotts of your product. C) Don’t speak to gamers like you are the people who bullied them in junior high in your advertisements. And D) maybe consider that fans of old school Japanese video games with anime-style art may also be anime fans.
Instead of a glorious statement about the power of crowdfunding to put the Capcoms of the world on notice, Mighty No. 9 has become a cautionary tale about mismanaging assets, overreaching, and general cluelessness about your target audience. It’s kind of sad that I still want to play it. And maybe I will some day, but the thing about the current gaming industry is that we are being served up an absolute glut of quality titles at all price ranges at all times. We just don’t have time for games that don’t deliver or developers that don’t respect their audience anymore .
When you put the wrong foot forward as epically as this game has, there may be no way to recapture the attention or regain the trust of your audience. Crowdfunding is a great way for artists to cut out the corporate middleman and let gamers choose what they want to play. But the double edge of that is that the artist assumes all responsibility for the product and the funders are gambling on the dev’s ability to deliver.
A high profile flop like this one casts shade on the potentially bright future of crowdfunded indie games. While I personally don’t care for the idea of major game developers putting development costs entirely on their customers, I am all for choice and an alternative to corporate gaming so it hurts to see something like this happen. I can only imagine how the backers must be feeling. Inafune appears to not only have burned bridges in the industry, but he’s now lost the trust and respect of his audience as well. Let’s hope that this can somehow be salvaged.