'Mighty No. 9' producer: 'We feel bad. Really, really bad.'

Mighty No. 9 is one of the most successful video game Kickstarters of all time. It's also been delayed. First until September, and then, earlier this week, it was pushed all the way to 2016. In the months between the two delays, the studio announced it's working with Armature and Microsoft on the Xbox-exclusive ReCore, and its developer Comcept launched two more crowdfunding campaigns for other projects. Backers are upset. So upset that the campaign for the new game failed to reach its goal. We sat down with Mighty No. 9 producer Nick Yu to ask why the game has been delayed, what Kickstarter is for and whether he feels bad. (He does.)

How has Mighty No. 9 been progressing over the past few months?

It's good, however, we just announced that we're delaying the release of the game until Q1 2016. The game is pretty much done. We were doing bug fixes and we found some bugs in the network system that will affect the multiplayer. It's not like a "showstopper" bug, but it'll make players really frustrated. We don't want that to be the experience for our players, so that's why we decided to delay and polish the game a little bit more.

What's the experience of funding a game through Kickstarter been like for the studio?

The simplest way to put it is a crazy, crazy ride. We started to prepare for the Kickstarter with about three, four months to go, and the campaign was about one month. I was working from 10 in the morning until 10 at night, going home, having a shower, eating some dinner, having an hour-long nap, and then waking up, checking updates for the US time zone, and going back to bed around 4:30-5, sleep for two more hours, then go back to work. A lot of people did that for a full month. That was crazy, but it was totally worth it. That's how the game was born, and now we're here at Gamescom, showing the game; it's almost finished, and we're receiving a lot of good comments about the gameplay and the experience, so it was totally worth it.

Is there anything the team would've done differently with Kickstarter, and how things have been handled after the campaign ended?

There are always things that you regret, things that you wish that you could do again. For example, we have been communicating with the backers pretty regularly. We did three updates per month. Maybe it's a bit too much for the development team. Because on top of their normal development work, they have to think about updates; they have to prepare the content. It's a lot of work. Maybe we could've done less updates, but focusing on more communication with the backers. Focus on the game a little bit more, so there could be no delay, or we could find the bug earlier.

So you're saying that because you've been trying to "do right" with the Kickstarter backers, and trying to communicate, it's divided the development team's attention and made things slower there?

You could say that. But that's one side. Because we keep constantly updating backers, the kind of feedback we get is very instant. Whenever an update goes out, we get feedback within one or two days. So we know if there's something that we should change, or at least look into changing. There's definitely that reward there, for the three updates per month. Like I said, though, there is more work involved in building more updates. So we can't really say which is better. We chose the updates, but it could be the other way around was better.

Okay. So Kickstarter: Is it a pre-order platform? Is it promotional? Is it just about investment? Is it about fan feedback? What is Kickstarter to you?

Kickstarter to me, and to most indie creators, not just video game makers, is a chance to make your dream come true. It lets you start your project. Nowadays, you can't just bring an idea to someone and say, "Give me your money; let me make it." It's really hard. Maybe not impossible, but super, super hard. Kickstarter can make that happen rather easier. It's not easy, but easier than normal. It's a great way to "kickstart" your project, and to bring a project to life. What you do from there, is up to the creators, up to the project managers. They can just do what they promised in the campaign, and be done with it, or take the opportunity to make it even better. There's no way to say what's better, but it's a great, great system to start something from scratch.

In the case of game creating, normally speaking, when you're making a video game, you cannot announce the game until a certain stage in the process. Let's say after the alpha, or after the beta, or whatever. From the start of the project until that stage, no one can say a thing. And it's really scary. You don't even know if people will like the idea of the game you're making, that you're putting so much work into making. So there's that constant fear in the mind of creators: "What if people don't like it? What if people hate my game?" In that sense, when you do a Kickstarter project, you don't have that; you throw the very core of your idea out there first, and people judge based on that. And it's only one month. Fail or success, it's one month. If the project's successfully funded, you will know for sure that people love your idea enough to give you money one, two, three years before it's going to be ready. You feel more confident, and it's very healthy for the mental state of the creators; they don't have the constant fear or worry about whether people will like the game.

As a creator going to Kickstarter, what do you feel like you owe the backers that give you money? You gave out estimated delivery dates when you did the campaign. What's the feeling like when you miss that estimate?

I'm sure a lot of people -- almost everyone is upset about delays, and things that can't be done. But, and this is my personal view, the creators announcing the bad news feel worse than the backers. You know that you have to tell the people, and it'll make them sad; it'll make them upset. And you're the reason for that happening. You're the one making it. Even if it was accidental, or you had no control over it, you're the reason the delay happened. We feel bad. Really, really bad.

People are saying that we didn't announce the delay fast enough. But although we saw the possibility of the delay, we weren't sure. You'll never be sure until the moment when you say, "This is not going to make it anymore." Even if there are rumors or possibilities for delay, we can't say anything until we are sure. In the end, that might cause some bad PR, people calling you liars, but there's nothi-- there's maybe some things we could've done better, but, at that point, we couldn't say anything for sure, so. ... We are upset as well, just as much as the backers.

The studio has a few different projects going on at the same time. [Keiji] Inafune-san is working on ReCore with Armature, and you had two further crowdfunding campaigns recently. If the team working on Mighty No. 9 is still working on that project, do you think the studio could've had given out a clearer message? Because the public perception, and the reaction to these campaigns, has not been good.

The reality is, we said all that stuff in the updates, in the interviews, we did say [that Mighty No. 9 is not affected]. But it wasn't communicated nicely enough. I'm not in that team, but I see that from the side, that communication wasn't done right, at all. Timing-wise, it was bad, but for a small company like us, we need to have projects constantly to be working on, or we have people just sitting there doing nothing. For a small company, even a month of sitting there doing nothing will hurt us a lot.

People say, "Why are you overlapping these two projects together?" The answer to that is, "We have to." Or people lose their jobs, or -- this is a little bit exaggerated -- the company can go bankrupt. For us, we can explain the reason behind it, but I know it's hard for everyone to understand. There's just no way the level of understanding will become the same.

So you're saying that some people are working on Mighty No. 9, but others are finished with their work?

There are people still working on Mighty No. 9, but other teams are just doing nothing, so we need to move those teams onto new projects. Something that can generate payments, generate their salaries. We had this idea for a while, about Red Ash, and we just thought, "Why not do another Kickstarter?"

I understand what you're saying but--

Once you explain to people, they typically understand, but the initial message wasn't clear enough; the timing was bad. It's just -- everything went in a bad, bad direction.

So you said at the start of the interview that your single-player campaign is in a very good place, it's basically completed?

Yes. It's 100 percent complete.

Is there no way that you could've given that to the people that backed you? And maybe released the multiplayer aspect at a later date?

In order for us to just give out the single-player... It's difficult to explain this in short terms. When you're submitting a game to the platforms, there's a testing, an approval process for PlayStation, Xbox, all that stuff. The way it is, you have to submit the product. If we were to give out the game to backers, they have to choose their platform. Either way, we have to go through that approval process for us to give that to the backers.

If we were to just give out the single-player, that means we have to make the whole package as a single-player game. Once that's out, we can no longer say this game is single-player and multiplayer; we can only say this is single-player. When that goes to the retailer, you can no longer sell the product as a single-player/multiplayer game. Because it's not, even if you add a patch later on. And the price will just break. Because it's only single-player. It's not that we don't want to give that to the backers -- we can't.

For us to make that change -- only single-player, then patch multiplayer later -- simply put, the approval process would be doubled, and we would have to spend even more time to break those two aspects of the game apart into separate packages. Submit the single-player first, get approval, fix the multiplayer campaign, get approval again. And there'll be even more quality assurance because we're taking stuff out. All that together, I think the game will be out with them together before we could've pulled them apart, even with the delay. That's the reality, however, I know we should think about something to show that we are really sorry to the backers. We're looking to see if there's something we can do for the backers. But, we're looking into that, and we're looking to get a proper release date, seeing how bad the bug is. How fast we can fix it. Once we know that, we'll announce the release date properly. For now it's just Q1 2016.

For what it's worth, I really enjoyed the game, and I just hope you can get it finished so everyone that backed it can enjoy it too.

It's good to hear that. Everyone that's played it has been saying it's really fun, and they can see it's not just a traditional 2D platformer; it's something new. There are new elements in the game. It's a relief to hear that people like it, and it's just that they don't like the delay. No one likes the delay. We don't like the delay. So hopefully we can resolve that as soon as possible.

[Image credit: Comcept]

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