Square Enix is finally ready to let developers play in its pond. Early last year, the publisher said that it was willing to use its crowd-funding Collective program to let independent developers work on defunct Eidos IP: Gex, Fear Effect, and Anachronox. Today, ten months after the Collective began, Square Enix is making good on its original promise to allow devs to pitch projects in those brands.
In the Collective's own words: "Now the platform is established and we've more experience in supporting projects (both in Feedback and through crowdfunding) so it feels like the right time to live up to that early promise – which means that from now on, we're going to allow developers to pitch game ideas based on [the three IPs.] We have more IPs that we may open up in future, but we'll start with those and see what the response is like."
This does seem to be a bit early for Square Enix to be leaning farther into program as they have yet to close on any real successes. Moon Hunters from Kitfox Games is the closest to the finish line with a PC, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation Vita release planned for late 2015. Action RPG World War Machine passed through the Collective voting process, but failed to hit its goal on IndieGoGo; the developer has launched a prototype of the title, but has no real release on the horizon. Side-scroller Black the Fall is the was funded late last year and is currently in development. Point-and-click adventure Goetia is currently finishing a Kickstarter drive just above its goal of $30,000.
It's a solid list of interesting titles, but again, no clear launched winners from the Collective just yet. The process remains the same as the other Collective titles: Square Enix will allow developers to use its Feedback platform to decide which pitches are worth pursuing. Once the pitches have survived the voting process, they move onto crowdfunding. Assuming that's successful the games then move into active development. Square Enix still takes its cut for helping the pitches find an audience.
"On the business side, we'll still take 5% of net crowdfunds raised (assuming the initial target is reached); and we will also distribute the game when it's done – for that we take the standard distribution fee of 10% net sales revenue, but we'll also charge a 10% license fee for the use of the IP," says the Collective. "And, obviously, we'll have more involvement in the direction of development – because let's face it, we want to make sure the game that's released is the game that's promised. Still, that means the developer will keep 80% of the net revenue from sales of the game – and who knows, maybe we'll be interested in licensing a sequel as well? It's a pretty good deal."
Gex, Fear Effect, and Anachronox aren't the most exciting properties Square Enix could offer up, but the potential is there for something special. At the very least, the Collective represents a possible way forward for large publishers who aren't utilizing all of their IPs. Square Enix is currently sitting on the Chrono series, Front Mission, Actraiser, Bushido Blade, and Soul Reaver. Crowd-funding is already linking talented developers with genres that have died off as development became more expensive. The publisher doesn't seem to be willing to let developers touch the Japanese side of things, but this is a chance to let some of those games fly free again. Especially with the growth of the Japanese indie scene, Square Enix can make some money and gain some goodwill.
I'd like more publishers to open up their doors to allow projects like this. There's a whole market for inexpensive, creative, digitally-released games that major publishers simply ignore. Ubisoft is going its own way by letting its veteran developers work on passion projects like Child of Eden and Valiant Hearts. That doesn't account for other major publishers who are letting prime game worlds just waste away.
Imagine if Capcom or Konami were open to such an idea? Who would you want to pitch the next Castlevania, Breath of Fire, or Mega Man? Perhaps Wayforward could drum up support for Contra 5. Maybe some developer out there has a wicked idea for a new Sunset Riders, Final Fight, Assault Suits Valken, Magic Sword, or Vandal Hearts?
There's a lot that can go wrong with new business models like free-to-play, crowdfunding, and early access, but publishers do themselves a disservice by not aiming small sometimes. Classic enthusiast players are growing older and they're the perfect consumers for shorter, more creative digital releases with a bit of nostalgia thrown in. Arguably, that's what a number of existing Kickstarter projects are built on. Why not get in on that action?
The truth is most publishers aren't built to think that small; they want to go big or go home. For our industry to survive though, they need to be willing to be small and quick. To throw out ideas that may or may not work and iterate on them. That's how Riot Games built League of Legends: love for an older game, a small, lean title, and rapid iteration. It's hard to find the next big thing if you're only going big. "Big" means you play it safe.
I'm looking forward to playing the first few games from the Collective. I'm looking forward to seeing what indies do with Gex, Fear Effect, and Anachronox. Most importantly, I'm looking forward to Square Enix expanding the program to its other brands. I want those worlds to come alive again and if Square Enix won't do it, at least some enterprising indie might.