Kung-fu Superstar, the Kung-fu simulation game that fuses motion controls and traditional gamepad controls, launched a Kickstarter late last month with a fancy video and an endorsement from none other than Peter Molyneux himself. Now, with six days to go, only £31,000 has been raised - nearly £170,000 shy of the target.
It is failing, its creator Kostas Zarifis, who worked at Lionhead for five years on Fable 2, Fable 3 and Fable: The Journey before leaving in May 2011 to found his own Guildford independent developer Kinesthetic Games, admits. But why?
Zarifis has a number of theories. Some are to do with his game and some are to do with Kickstarter itself. But chief among them is what he describes a “hatred” among hardcore gamers for motion control - something he blames himself for not reacting quicker to.
“We all know what the majority of hardcore gamers think about motion control,” he told Eurogamer. “We're not talking indifference, we're talking hatred. And for good reason. Since the advent of motion control they've been constantly treated with disappointments (Rise of Nightmares, Star Wars, Steel Battalion... the list goes on).
“Unfortunately this is the climate we've been trying to pitch Kung-Fu Superstar in. And it doesn't matter that's exactly the landscape we are trying to change. People just don't care about that landscape any more.”
We all know what the majority of hardcore gamers think about motion control. We're not talking indifference, we're talking hatredKung-fu Superstar creator Kostas Zarifis
After launching his Kickstarter Zarifis addressed the concern about Kung-fu Superstar's controls with a video that showed the game being played with a controller. You're able to switch between Kinect and an Xbox 360 game pad seamlessly, it proclaimed.
This, Zarifis admits, was too little too late.
“We were also too slow to go into detail about how Kung-fu Superstar is not exclusively motion controlled. Far from it. Anyone who has seen our demos and sees how we blend controller and motion control gameplay tells us, 'I can't believe how innovative this is. Why has no-one done this yet?'
“Unfortunately the people who do get that far into our pitch are very few. Most people's attention falls way before that point.”
Other mistakes, according to Zarifis, include targeting just the PC. “People pleaded with us to extend to XBLA/PSN but we can't do that without guarantees from platform holders or without increasing our funding ask and we can't promise what we can't deliver, we won't. So just PC it is," he explained.
“So we inevitably carved ourselves a super niche market of people who were willing to hook a Kinect to their PC (many didn't even know that was possible).”
So, much of the blame can be labelled at the pitch. But what about Kickstarter itself? For Zarifis, the immensely popular crowd-funding website has its own set of problems that contributed to Kung-fu Superstar's failure to launch.
Nostalgia is obviously the number one reason people pledge as proven by reincarnations of old games that, with a few pieces of concept art, collect sums of money as high as our whole funding goal in a matter of days
“Kickstarter UK hasn't been the extravaganza we were thinking it might be,” he said. “We were biding our time until the platform launched here firstly for practical reasons but also because we hoped the launch would be this big thing that would lift some of the 'Kickstarter fatigue' we have been experiencing.
“What actually happened was we had a whole load of Americans telling us they were trying to pledge but couldn't, people getting confused by conversion rates, people just couldn't be bothered re-entering their credit card details (something we hadn't realised you have to do on Kickstarter UK) and so on. If I could turn back time I'd definitely launch in the US despite the hassle that is.”
Zarifis reckons there's a “certain vibe” that comes from launching a Kickstarter if you are not a famous developer, “which makes your story less sexy”. “Back in May we were just announcing a quirky/interesting new game. We could be signed with a publisher we could be funding it ourselves, who knows... we're definitely not asking people for money.
“Now suddenly we are this team of unknowns looking for charity, and charity never makes for a cool story (unless the people involved are big celebrities).”
Zarifis believes nostalgia fuels pledges more than any other factor. “We overestimated how much innovation acts as a motivator on Kickstarter for game projects,” he said. “Nostalgia is obviously the number one reason people pledge as proven by reincarnations of old games that, with a few pieces of concept art, collect sums of money as high as our whole funding goal in a matter of days. Our in depth gameplay demos are not a match for nostalgic concept art it seems.”
Now, with Kung-fu Superstar falling by the wayside, Zarifis' team is slowly disbanding, with staff looking for sources of income elsewhere. As for Zarifis, with his dream fading it sounds like he's lost faith in motion control altogether.
“When motion control technologies were announced I think everyone's imagination was piqued. Even the most cynical among us. The realistic sword game, the immersive fighting game and that sense of longing, for something special, for something different took a big hit in the years to come.
“I can't help but fear that our potentially failed Kickstarter will be what completely kills that notion. The flicker of desire for truly immersive, hardcore games with motion control elements burning out, worries me even more than our Kickstarter failing. I hope that if we fail, people will help us fail decently enough so that at least we can keep that flicker alive.”