Mega Man Creator On How Kickstarter Could Rejuvenate The Japanese Gaming Scene
Keiji Inafune discusses crowd-funding campaign for Mega Man-inspired Mighty No. 9, hopes for a future where indie games rise to prominence.
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One of the biggest headlines from PAX Prime this weekend was news of Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune launching a Kickstarter campaign for a Mega Man-inspired side-scrolling game called Mighty No. 9.
Speaking with GameSpot following the announcement, Inafune explained that this project not only has implications for his own career, but for the Japanese game development scene altogether.
Inafune, an outspoken critic of the Japanese game scene, said the industry in the island nation has "gotten worse," but could turn around if developers latch on to new ideas, including Kickstarter.
Check out GameSpot's full conversation with Inafune, facilitated by a translator, below.
So many projects today have a way of leaking ahead of schedule, but Mighty No. 9 was kept a total secret until yesterday. How did you do this?
I told everyone there would be some big trouble if they let any of this information out, number one. But probably more than anything else is the fact that it's a Kickstarter. If this was us working with a publisher, then people would be checking trademark, patents [and] stuff like that. But they don't naturally assume that I would be doing a Kickstarter. Which is great. And then on top of it, it's a smaller development team, so there's less people that you have to keep in line. If it's a publisher that's got 900 people, the idea that leaking out becomes a lot easier to fathom.
Speaking of publishers, then, do you think Mighty No. 9 would be possible through a traditional publisher relationship? Did you actually pitch the game to a traditional publisher?
"I think if I was going to pitch it around to publishers, the odds of it being approved are not very high."
No, this project was right from the ground up meant to be a Kickstarter project so it was not something that we put together and pitched around to publishers. I think if I was going to pitch it around to publishers, the odds of it being approved are not very high. And the reason why is up until now, every time a publisher has talked with me about making a game, they've always given me the feedback that they want it to be an Inafune-like game. A game that really feels like something that Inafune-san has his heart and soul in. And unfortunately, that largely depends on who it is talking about what franchise I've worked on.
So for some people, Mega Man is a very Inafune-type of game. For some people, Dead Rising sounds like an Inafune type of game. For some people, it's now some social games that I've made. That's what they feel is the best correlation between me and the game. So because there's so many different opinions, because opinions vary, ultimately every time I'm told that, I was like 'Which Inafune are you looking for?' And therefore, I think probably more publishers would want me to do something in a different direction, not a 2D, side-scrolling game. They would probably look at a younger, a smaller independent studio to try and do a game like this. And me pitching it would probably be an overall minus, not a plus for them.
The game is now more than 70 percent funded, less than 24 hours after you guys announced it. How does that feel? Did you expect it to be so successful right away? [Ed. Note: The Mighty No. 9 Kickstarter has since surpassed its $900,000 goal]
At first when I saw it, I was like 'Yeah, this is a really good speed that we're getting some pledges.' So I was really happy about it. But with Kickstarter, you never know. You can spike out really early and then all of a sudden, there's just a lull and you don't get anything for a long time. So I don't want to say ultimately I'm satisfied with where we're at. I want to clear that first goal and then go on to some of the stretch goals and make this an even more robust experience and just get it out to more platforms, I want to have more content in the game itself, and I want to be able to show people things like the documentary that are going to ultimately show the different side of the Japanese development.
This project is one of the first [Kickstarter] projects from a Japanese developer. Why do you think the Japanese development scene has been reluctant to use Kickstarter or crowd-funding in general so far?
It's not that they don't want to use it, it's that they don't know what it is. They probably know the word Kickstarter, but they don't know exactly what it means, what it is, how it works. There's just too many unknowns. One of the things I want to do with this project is hopefully achieve a level of success that gets enough PR, gets enough eyeballs, gets enough information out there, that Japanese independent developers will see this as a potential option.
Has Capcom reached out you about [Mighty No. 9] considering there are quite a few similarities to the Mega Man series? Have they acknowledged that this project exists in the 24 hours since it's been announced?
It is very in the vein of Mega Man, but what do you think will attract non-Mega Man fans to this new project?
"Even if you aren't a fan of Mega Man, you'll be a fan of this because of the game balance and the different innovative features that it will have."
So ultimately, the conceptual stuff that we've shown initially at the launch has been something that is more akin to basic 2D side-scrolling game, Mega Man-esque atmosphere to it. But that's because that's something we know people are familiar with. They'll look at it and they'll understand, they'll get it right away. Rather than trying to explain something that people have no idea what it is and there's lots of confusion that comes with that, giving them a shell, a package, guidelines, a framework to understand what it is and then describing the new pieces [and] the innovative areas, as the campaign goes on, is something that we feel will pull in new, non Mega Man fans through some of the things that we're doing, for sure. Even if you aren't a fan of Mega Man, you'll be a fan of this because of the game balance and the different innovative features that it will have.
Would you go so far as calling it a Mega Man spiritual successor?
There are lots of ways to refer to something like this. The phrase spiritual successor is always one that's been interesting to me because it involves the word spirit. By that rationale, I probably have more Mega Man spirit than anybody else considering I have been attached to more projects, done more tasks when it comes to creating different Mega Man characters, games, et cetera. So by that rationale, if this was going to be referred to as a spiritual successor, yes, it has the spirit of the father of Mega Man in this game, without a doubt. However, it is its own game. And I am creating it not to be another Mega Man, but to be its own original title that just relies on the learnings of what I have built on from previous games like Mega Man.
On the Kickstarter campaign [page] there are stretch goals of platforms like the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and the Wii U. But there's no mention of the 3DS, the PlayStation Vita, or other portable platforms. Do you have any plans for portable platforms for Mighty No. 9?
When it comes to what we have not shown on the stretch goals, and there are always question marks, there's always what's further ahead. We really can't say. That's got to be something that's a bridge we cross when we get there. I will say this: we are listening to the fans, we know the history of what these sort of games has been as far as being on portables and whatnot. But largely, again, it's going to have to come down to at what rate it looks like the game is being funded and that will then, of course, increase our options, along with listening to what the fans are really looking for.
This game was announced here at PAX. What's compelling about this show in particular?
If you think about what PAX is, it's really a user-facing event. It's not about the business side. There's no sales teams. It's basically, the business side is pulled away and it's just creators getting to talk with their fans. And when you think about what Kickstarter is really trying to do, to allow creators to directly interface with their fans, PAX is like an event that allows that to happen. And so being able to announce a title like this, and seeing the fans' reactions right there makes this the perfect venue for announcing a Kickstarter.
Switching gears a little bit, I know you've been very vocal about the state of the Japanese game industry. What do you make of it today?
Ultimately, it's probably gotten worse than when I was talking about it before. And that's a shame. But there are options out there. And there are many options that Japanese independent developers can pursue to gain more control, to own their own IP, et cetera. And Kickstarter is one of those fantastic options. And so, one of the reasons why I was interested in doing this Kickstarter wasn't just because of potentially being able to connect with the fans, but also potentially being able to show other Japanese independent developers that there is a way, that there are options. That OK, maybe the Japanese market wasn't what it used to be, but there are still lots of great solutions that if you've got really good content, you can get people to stand up and listen and support it and give yourself a lot of options to help improve the Japanese industry, for sure.
"Ultimately, it's probably gotten worse than when I was talking about it before. And that's a shame" -- Inafune on state of Japanese game industry.
Another thing we're heading into now is the next generation of consoles. This space is very much heating up right now. What do you make of these new consoles, considering we didn't hear anything about them in your plans yesterday.
Everybody in the gaming industry is interested in the next generation of consoles. So, of course, I have a lot of interest in what's going to happen, how it will shake out, what it means. But since I have nothing to announce as far as working on next-gen consoles, there's really nothing more I can say other than they look cool.
Budgets for these new games coming up on these new consoles…teams are in the hundreds, the budgets are in the millions. Millions of copies need to be sold to break even. Do you think this is a healthy model for the industry going forward?
About around the PlayStation 2 era, this was already becoming a hot topic, because budgets were exponentially increasing. Teams were getting larger, development periods were getting longer. And honestly, most developers don't like that because it means, if you're one man out of six people, you can do a lot on the production, you get to have a lot more say and control. You really feel like you're part of it. But if you're one person out of a team of 200, some animator doing the leg of a main character, then it doesn't seem like you're as much a part of a tight nuclear family. It's a much bigger thing. And then the production itself is going to take several years to finish one. So you're going to have one creator who can potentially do ten games in one year and have another creator who can't even finish one game in one year. And your time on earth, and certainly your time as a creator/developer, is limited.
"The scary part is you have games like Call of Duty and they make enough money and they certainly get enough press and media coverage that people start to see that as the standard, the gold standard for what games should be."
And so, if you're forced to do five-year games, maybe you do eight games in your entire life and that's it versus somebody with a smaller budget can do a lot more. The scary part is you have games like Call of Duty and they make enough money and they certainly get enough press and media coverage that people start to see that as the standard, the gold standard for what games should be. And they expect those sorts of games, but what that does is that sets expectations unrealistically high for the amount of budget and sales that can actually occur to fund these sort of titles. So I hope, at some point, that we'll have a bigger shift towards indie games, towards smaller games being something that are more profitable, that are more widely accepted that people can tell the difference between these AAA, super-expensive [games] and some of the indie titles and still really get behind an indie title and support it.
You've talked before about creators needing heart and emotion over simple knowledge or technique to excel in the industry. Why do you think this is?
"At the end of the day, we're human beings; flesh and bone and blood. And it's going to be our hearts and our souls that connect us to the other creators that are on the frontlines with us building these games out."
When you think about technique, technology, what a person's skills get them, there are a lot advantages that come with that. But at the end of the day, we're human beings; flesh and bone and blood. And it's going to be our hearts and our souls that connect us to the other creators that are on the frontlines with us building these games out. And if it comes to a situation where the build isn't looking right or you need to finish something in time, it's going to be your hearts working together, the support, feeling like a family.
These sort of base feelings are going to get you through the tough spots of a development cycle. It's not going to be someone being an especially great programmer. And I've experienced lots of teams where it has had incredibly talented people on them but they've been unable to make a good game because they were missing that soul. So being able to connect to your fellow creators and even moreso to your fans on a heart-to-heart level will forever be stronger than just having a certain programming skill or an artistic skill.'