Just before the Kickstarter started, I checked on the Grisaia and Clannad campaigns for comparison. Clannad had brought in over $500,000, but it had run out of stretch goals long before – if it had had a $600,000 goal, it would have met it easily. Therefore, I was always confident that Muv-Luv would make $600,000. $720,000 was a bit of a stretch, but there’s no reason not to shoot for the moon on these things. But even I would never have imagined bringing in over a million dollars. That’s insane.
The vast majority of the credit has to go to Degica and the staff running the campaign. They showed an extraordinary sense of how to manage the campaign to bring in as much money as possible. It started with the planning of the tiers. Grisaia and Clannad had a huge gap between the $200 and $1000 tiers, leaving a number of people with a lot of disposable income pledging less than they might have. Muv-Luv had numerous tiers at the $300-$800 level, with a lot of backers pledging at that level. They also managed to obtain an enormous number of rewards and add-ons. Grisaia and Clannad had little outside of tapestries and expensive artist illustrations, so anybody not interested in either had little reason to pledge more than $100-$200. Muv-Luv had something for everybody, so there was always a reason to pledge at a higher level if you could afford it.
The real genius, though, came after the campaign began. Most Kickstarters bring in money at the very beginning and end of the campaign, with a plateau during the long middle section as nothing newsworthy really happens and interest fades. Degica expertly spaced out their updates so that something new and interesting was always happening. Almost immediately after the campaign started, Degica saw the immense demand for TSF models and worked closely with Kotobukiya to provide them within days. (This is definitely one area where their close Japanese ties proved invaluable – Sekai Project probably wouldn’t have been able to do such a thing, simply because they aren’t a Japanese company.) Over the course of the campaign, they continually added new high-level tiers and add-ons, in addition to the stretch goals being unlocked. While these likely brought in new backers, what was even more important was that these additions tempted existing backers to raise their pledges even further.
Perhaps the most important move they made was unveiling the new final stretch goal right at the point when most Kickstarters are at their lowest level of interest. This brought a huge spike of interest to the campaign, and again, got existing backers to put in even more money to help get to the new goal. To a certain extent, it wasn’t even that important whether or not they could reach the final goal. Just having it there was enough to bring in additional money. This may be a rude way of saying it, but the ultimate goal of a Kickstarter is not to unlock stretch goals, but to get as much money from backers as possible. Degica ran a very smooth campaign that was very good at getting people to put money into it, again and again. I am very impressed with it.
Degica has hinted that they may do something nice with the extra funds beyond the final stretch goal, and I desperately hope it’s a physical edition of Photonflowers and Photonmelodies. Looking at what’s already been made available, that’s clearly the one missing piece left. It’s the one reward that still has no physical component to it at all. There’s very little left in the way of new actual content to bring over – basically just some fanclub-exclusive games that Age may or may not be interested in making available to a wider audience. Rather than take on even more new content, I would prefer a nice physical copy of what they’re already making.
As for the actual games, I’m looking forward to playing them in English, although I have to say I’m still a little nervous about it. I’ve played these games many, many times over the last decade, and I admit I have a good idea of how I want them to sound in English. All these stretch goals, the Codex, the fandiscs, are nice, but I hope that a large chunk of the money is still spent making a really nice, polished translation. I think that, having put in over a million dollars, we’re entitled to a professional quality translation, and not the kind of stuff that usually gets cobbled together. I am heartened by several indicators, such as how the term “Eishi” has been slowly phased out of the Kickstarter campaign page entirely and replaced with “TSF Pilot”, that suggest that somebody on the team is actually taking the translation process seriously. I hope this is a sign that things are going to turn out well.
I’m intrigued by the $400,000 goal, the “improvements” to the game, which they still have not fully specified yet. They’ve mentioned redubbing the game’s English dialogue, which I don’t think is really necessary. The pronunciation could be better, but I dearly hope they don’t rewrite the actual lines, which are still some of the best, most natural-sounding English dialogue I’ve ever heard in a Japanese production. It’s the only dialogue I can think of that sounds like how Americans might actually talk, and not copied from a textbook or ripped straight from Google Translate. They also mention new BGMs, which I”m a little skeptical about since Muv-Luv already has such a great soundtrack that I don’t see what they could possibly add to it. Ports like the PS3 version usually add a couple of new CGs to make the product a little more attractive, and that’s about all I can imagine this money getting used for.
(One thing I think would be really awesome is if they commissioned new opening themes from Minami Kuribayashi and JAM Project, specifically just for the English version. I think it would legitimize the English version in a very tangible way, which I think we’ve earned after spending over a million dollars on it.)
I should mention, though, that anybody who is only familiar with the old versions of Muv-Luv and Alternative is in for a real treat, because the current versions of these games already sport amazing enhancements that go far beyond whatever the “improvements” stretch goal is going to add. Muv-Luv gets by far the bulk of the enhancements, completely revamping the game to look like Alternative. The game is now in widescreen, characters’ eyes and mouths move, and the textbox has been removed. All of the TSF scenes, both cockpit/HUD scenes and the actual TSF sprites and animation, are also completely redone in the Alternative fashion. Music from Alternative has been added (for instance, briefing scenes in Unlimited now play the iconic Alternative briefing music). Some lines have even been rewritten and rerecorded to match Alternative – for some reason, Age changed certain elements of the world setting in the three years between the original releases of Muv-Luv and Alternative, so newer versions of Muv-Luv have been fixed to match the rest of the franchise. If you’ve ever seen the old version of Muv-Luv, I guarantee your mind will be blown playing the new version. And that is, again, before even one cent of the new improvements stretch goal has been spent.
Now that the Kickstarter is over, I’m curious what this means for other Age franchises in the future. According to the video Age and Degica put together, they are definitely down with releasing other games if this Kickstarter did well, and I think it’s safe to say it did. So what’s next? There are realistically only three games that might be next: Total Eclipse, Schwarzesmarken, and Kimi ga Nozomu Eien. There are good reasons for any one of them to be next – Total Eclipse is the next Muv-Luv franchise in line, Schwarzesmarken is the current franchise in the spotlight, and KimiNozo is a highly popular franchise that continues to have broad support even among people who don’t normally play games. (I would personally like Total Eclipse to be next, so English-speaking fans can finally see the end of this amazing story.)
There’s also the question of whether Degica will continue to use Kickstarter for these games. They’ll never raise this kind of money again, of course – it has nothing to do with popularity, it’s simply that this Kickstarter was a chance for fans of Age to show their support, legally and directly, for the very first time. Now that they’ve had an outlet for that, they’ll never round up those numbers again. And that’s fine. Both Grisaia and Clannad asked for around $150,000 for the base game, and Muv-Luv originally asked for about the same amount for the single Muv-Luv game. I bet a future Kickstarter for one of the three above games would be set around that amount, and I’m sure they would reach it easily. But the immense showing for this Kickstarter may be enough to convince Degica that the support is there to release future games directly.
Finally, amidst the rush of enthusiasm we all feel for a successful campaign, I hope we’re ready to shift to the next inevitable phase of any Muv-Luv project: the delays. There’s just something about the franchise – the huge size of the games, the interdependent nature of the scripts, the complexity of the game engine, the number of companies involved – that always leads to delays for pretty much any release. Degica claims Muv-Luv will be out in March, with Alternative to follow in the summer. I don’t believe them for a second. Not because they’re especially untrustworthy, but simply because I don’t believe any announced release date for this franchise. Longtime Muv-Luv fans have been trained to accept this, and even to consider it an integral part of the Muv-Luv experience. Unfortunately, most backers of this Kickstarter campaign are not longtime Muv-Luv fans, and will probably not respond to a string of broken release dates with the same good humor. I hope Degica keeps this in mind as we move forward.