If you grew up playing any installment of the storied Mega Man franchise, the name Keiji Inafune should carry some weight. Inafune's one of the masterminds behind the beloved metallic man in blue we first met in the NES era. And with his new game, Mighty No. 9, a spiritual successor to his Capcom legacy, he famously kicked off a new wave of Japanese developers who've struck out on their own with the help of crowdfunding.
But Inafune didn't get to this point solely because of a desire to try more modern things; he was essentially forced to turn to Kickstarter when Capcom refused to innovate the beloved Mega Man IP he helped create. "As a creator, as myself, the best thing that happened to this project [Mighty No. 9] is that I have the IP," he says of the experience with Kickstarter. "The IP is mine. The IP is the company's IP, so we can do whatever we want. And that will actually speed things up really nicely because once the backers ask for something, we don't have to go over to the publisher or the first-party [studio] ... or whoever we're working with. We can just make the decision."
Though the bulk of support for Mighty No. 9 comes from the nostalgia of the legions of backers seeking a fresh Mega Man, Inafune stresses that the game is more an evolution of the series than a direct sequel. "We didn't really think about [making] another copy of Mega Man," he says. "In a way, I wanna kind of evolve this genre and this action platformer kind of genre with this game. So, yes, we had Mega Man in mind at some point, but we didn't just want to copy that."
Mighty No. 9 isn't due out on consoles until September 15th, but even still Inafune's already thinking about a possible next installment. Just don't expect him to retread the crowdfunding route. Instead, he says that he's looking to Mighty No. 9 publisher Deep Silver for the next adventures of protagonist Beck, which should center on the bosses from the game. "I'm more thinking of making this game by myself and, since we have such a good relationship with Deep Silver right now, maybe working with them. Sort of starting a partnership with them and making this game from the start for them."
If Inafune has any gripes with crowdfunding, he's certainly keeping them close to his chest. In fact, he refers to the roughly 70,000 backers as "staff members," and confesses that the only negative aspect of the process, which raised over $4 million (including pledges through PayPal), was the stress his team felt in emailing out three development updates per month.
But perhaps the greatest boon of this whole community-supported endeavor -- what Inafune refers to as "the best-case scenario" -- is that he was able to fully realize his concept. "I pretty much achieved every kind of stretch goal that was out there. At this point I can't think of too many things I left off. In a sense, this game is kind of complete," he says.
Inafune's aware that the success of Mighty No. 9's campaign has inspired other Japanese developers, like Koji Igarashi with Bloodstained and Yu Suzuki with Shenmue III, to strike out on their own and embrace crowdfunding. It's a domino effect he blames on the blindness of Japanese game publishers. He also attributes those recent Kickstarter successes to an unaddressed appetite for Japanese-developed games in the North American market.
"We haven't seen too many Japanese games or too many new Japanese IPs coming out in the recent years," Inafune says. "For example, at this year's E3, there's not too many... almost nothing. So I think this is what the gamers want. And I think a lot of the Japanese creators, not necessarily the publishers, are realizing this and some of them realized they [can] just do the Kickstarter and they [can] become a really huge success. And of course this is a really good thing, but we shouldn't just stop here with just creators. We should get those Japanese publishers to get involved as well. Wake them up and let them see how demanding the market is for Japanese games. So hopefully the publishers will see this soon enough and I guess [start] challenging themselves a little bit more."