If location is the key to great real estate, then surely the secret to a successful video game venture has to do with timing. Case in point, the baffling struggle faced by one of the most promising video game crowdfunding projects ever presented: Lab Zero's Indivisible, currently pushing toward its goal on Indiegogo.
Drawing equally on classic games like Valkyrie Profile and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night as well as Lab Zero's own excellent hand-drawn fighting game Skull Girls, Indivisible should be all accounts be a runaway smash hit. If nothing else, the developer has put together one of the most polished campaigns I've ever seen. Indivisible features gorgeous art, and Lab Zero has offered extensive insight into how the game will work. This is no mere sketch-like proof-of-concept; in a remarkable world-first, it's actually playable, and not just one Steam Early Access. You can play it on PlayStation 4 right now (or later this week in Europe). Essentially, Lab Zero has done what Capcom promised by failed to do four years ago with the Mega Man Legends 3 playable prototype.
There is, I suspect, a certain amount of irony in that achievement, because Indivisible is struggling to reach its fundraising goal, and much of the blame likely falls on the more direct spiritual successors to Mega Man Legends 3. Comcept kicked off the recent craze for crowdfunding games that look an awful lot like older franchises that have lapsed into obscurity with Mighty No. 9, a Mega Man-like platformer whose success came about in large because jilted Mega Man fanatics saw it as such a glorious act of spite against Capcom.
While there's certainly still mileage to be found in this niche of classic revivals under a generic brand label—witness this summer's remarkable outcome for Koji Igarashi's Bloodstained—it takes more than just a good sales pitch and a good demo to find success these days. Gamers have grown wary of crowdfunded projects that fail to deliver the goods or even underperform to expectations, and perhaps the most visible example of this phenomenon is Mighty No. 9. Late, then further delayed, with a visually unspectacular demo that doesn't live up to the initial concept art many backers assumed would represent the final art, Mighty No. 9 has become emblematic of the challenges involved in crowdfunding. Despite publisher Comcept's promises of total transparency, the game has become something of a sore spot with supporters due to a combination of the above factors and the fact that most game players don't fully grasp the unhappy business realities of publishing a game—issues that have affected a number of other crowdfunded titles, including DoubleFine's Broken Age.
Just as mainstream have spun out to the extremes of costly AAA behemoths and modest mobile titles, games crowdfunding has grown increasingly polar in nature: Campaigns usually turn out to be either massive fundraising hits or massive fundraising flops, with very little space in between. Indivisible has been trending toward the latter, despite Lab Zero seemingly having done everything right. The developer has offered a frank appraisal of the costs involved in creating Indivisible—the $1.5 million goal is only a fraction of the total price tag, the remainder of which will be provided by a publisher should the crowdfunding pan out—which follows on the heels of their open communications about the costs of add-on material for Skull Girls over the past few years. They even went with the Indiegogo platform's "fixed funding" model, meaning that if they don't hit their goal, backers are out nothing.
Lab Zero has a great reputation, has made great games, and has bent over backward to keep Indivisible on the up-and-up. The game's struggles to meet its funding goals stand in uphappy contrast to the virtues of project and the excellent manner in which it's been presented. If ever you needed firm proof that crowdfunding is by no means a sure and simple guarantee of getting a dream project off the ground, Indivisible would be it.
Happily, despite the campaign's slow start—it's barely passed the halfway mark a full month into the fundraising drive—its failure no longer seems quite so certain. The game's prospective publisher, 505 Games, has offered to provide an extension for the fundraising campaign should it gain traction before its deadline arrives next weekend. This news appears to have given Indivisible a vital shot in the arm; its funding has accelerated considerably over the past week, and an extension just might buy the project enough time to hit its mark.
Even if Indivisible does hit its goal, though, its struggles bode ill for other prospective pro-tier crowdfunding projects. Lab Zero is a seasoned team running a professional campaign and asking for less than half of the total funding they actually need to make their excellent-looking project a reality. If it's been this difficult for them, it can only be more challenging for less-seasoned developers. A year ago, it probably would have been a slam-dunk, but timing is everything, and the era of sure things in video game crowdfunding appear to be drawing to a close.