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Kickstarter Proves That Game Publishers Don’t Know What We Want

by Kyle Hanson

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Yooka-Laylee, a revival of classic 3D collectathons like Banjo-Kazooie, finished its Kickstarter campaign with almost $3,300,000 from 73,000 backers. Likewise, Bloodstained, a return to the roots of Metroidvania with some gothic styling, smashed through a million dollars in its first day, finishing its run with over $5,500,000. Finally Shenmue 3 is lighting up the Kickstarter charts, becoming so popular on its opening day that it brought the site down, before rushing to its current level of over $3,000,000, with time left to gain more. All three of these games, before they have even been released, are big successes.

However, all of these games had to turn to Kickstarter simply to get made. Publishers seemingly passed on them, some for years, feeling as though the gaming public wasn’t all that interested. Considering the response so far it seems that they were dead wrong and it shows that game publishers might not know what we want after all.

Don’t get me wrong here, publishers are important and have done great things on occasion. Sometimes even the gaming public itself doesn’t know what it wants, and it takes a visionary developer and publisher to bring it to us. However, when it comes to certain genres and particular elements within the gaming audience, publishers sometimes seem blind to the audience that is waiting for them.

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3D platformers were all the rage in the nineties and early 2000’s. Super Mario 64 kicked off a firestorm of copycats, homages, and eventually games that surpassed it in many respects. However, the genre faded, gamers got burned out, and releases slowed significantly. Similarly, Metroidvania titles were big releases on earlier consoles. Eventually they moved to handhelds with the Castlevania series taking the biggest spotlight. However, these days it seems like only independent publishers will take a crack at the genre that so many once loved.

Meanwhile there’s Shenmue 3, which has been in the works for over ten years. Fans have clamored for the sequel, yet publishers continued to deny creator Yu Suzuki the opportunity to continue his series. After the initial buzz of the Kickstarter launch it became clear that Sony was somewhat involved in funding the game, and was using the Kickstarter campaign to judge how much desire there was in the market. Given how quickly the game surpassed its initial goal, I would say that the desire was obviously there, and Sony simply couldn’t see it for some reason.

The belief, which seems to have been proven incorrect, is that gamers no longer want these games. They want more first person shooters, or other big budget AAA fare. Publishers use these ideas to skew the market, pushing for huge blockbusters over smaller, or even medium sized hits as Yooka-Laylee and Bloodstained are prepared to become. If this methodology worked it would be one thing, but more and more we see that it doesn’t.

Players certainly enjoy these AAA experiences, gobbling up the latest Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed titles by the millions. However, they also crave niche genres like survival horror and puzzle games. Certainly, games like Alien: Isolation and Cities: Skylines might not hit the same numbers as those other venerable franchises, but they do good business, and offer an experience that many players crave.

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These somewhat smaller titles, and the genres that they are a part of, seem to be overlooked more often lately as publishers decide that gamers don’t want these types of titles anymore. Survival horror has had a slow but inevitable slide toward action, puzzle games have been relegated to handhelds, and 3D platformers are all but extinct. Publishers have decided that we don’t want these games, so they aren’t going to give them to us.

Luckily, the developers thought different, so now we have three Kickstarters that show gamers are not only interested in these types of games, but are actually very interested. We want low to medium budget games that offer different experiences than what current AAA titles bring. We want to experience games that remind us of our youth, of the games that we loved back when we had little to worry about, other than defeating Grunty, or slaying Dracula. We want all of these things, and we have the money to pay for them, so hopefully publishers have learned that, but if not we can keep funding these projects on Kickstarter by the millions.

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