Cancellation: The Common Trend with Wii U Kickstarters

Kickstarter has been quite a big name in the past few years. While the platform didn’t really take off for video games until Shovel Knight in 2013, Kickstarter was still a good place for developers to raise funds for their projects. Unfortunately, despite the many success stories on the site, there have also been a few duds, either because the final product became something that wasn’t worth the money or because it was cancelled entirely.

However, one cancellation trend that has gotten disturbingly popular in the past few months is none other than the concept of partial cancellation. Basically what this means is that a game gets backed by optimistic fans due the promise of it coming to a wide variety of systems (either through stretch goals or the main target) only for the game to get cancelled on promised platforms.

Sometimes the reasons are legitimate, while sometimes they are not, and unfortunately the Wii U has suffered a lot from this trend in the past few months, with kickstarted games slated for the console being cancelled altogether. Why you may ask? Well, the reasons can vary. Here are just a few kickstarted games that were slated for the Wii U, only to get cancelled.

Slain!

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How it got funded: This first game is a tough one to put on the list, mainly due to the fact that it didn’t actually hit the $22,000 stretch goal for the Wii U version. At least, that appears to be the case at first glance until you read this Kickstarter update (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1348640000/slain/posts/1181428) from the development team. Here Wolf Brew Games said that they found extra funding to get the Wii U version, which pretty much confirmed it as a platform for the game.

Launch on other platforms: Unfortunately, the original version of the game launched earlier this year on Steam and it wasn’t received too well, mainly due to the publisher wanting to release the unpolished build the developers made as-is and update it later via patching instead of delaying the release.  Luckily despite this questionable move by the publishers, the development team took every bit of feedback given to them by players of the original version and worked to improve the game tremendously, releasing a “Back to Hell” edition on the PS4, PS Vita and Xbox One not too long ago.

Wii U Cancellation: Despite status updates being available for the other console versions via Kickstarter, Wii U fans didn’t get any sort of update until September 2016, where a staff member posted on NeoGAF about how they weren’t sure whether or not a Wii U version would be viable due to the sales of the platform. On November 16 2016 the official Twitter account confirmed the Wii U version was cancelled, presumably for the reason given earlier. Why the update wasn’t posted on the kickstarter page as well is a complete mystery.

Did Backers Get Screwed?: No. As mentioned earlier the stretch goal wasn’t truly hit by the backers, it was reached by “extra funding” and appeared to be something that was being worked on as an act of love of sorts. Any Wii U only backers who were serious about the project likely cancelled their pledges when it appeared the port wasn’t happening and I’m certain the few who remained that want a refund from this will get it. Overall, despite how silly it was for the Wii U cancellation to be announced via a tweet instead of a Kickstarter update, I don’t think the developers can be blamed too much in this case considering how the Switch looks like a better option at this point and the Wii U version seemed to be a passion project to begin with.

The Song of Seven

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How it got funded: Planned to be an episodic adventure game with the initial goal covering Wii U, PS4 and Steam releases, The Song of Seven was funded at the base goal of $8000, with the final amount being $8,543. The campaign indicates nothing about stretch goals of any kind, only really mentioning that excess money would go towards the development of future chapters.

Launch on other platforms: Currently The Song of Seven is out now on Steam, with a console release for PS4 planned for the future. The XBOX One is also slated to get this game next year, despite it not being apart of the Kickstarter goal. Maybe sales of the computer version were well enough to allow for a XBOX One version?

Wii U Cancellation: Coming completely out of the blue on November 15 2016 Enlightened Games confirmed that the Wii U version was officially cancelled, despite little warning beforehand. According to this Kickstarter update, the dev team was unable to get the game working on the Wii U and spent the good part of a year trying to get it to happen.

Did Backers Get Screwed?: Yes. While it sounds like an honest technical issue that couldn’t be resolved from the update, there are a few problems with how this was handled for the backers. The first red flag comes from the fact that these technical issues were happening for a good year according to the update, yet the backers who funded the game never knew about them. To wake up one morning, only to discover that a project you funded was cancelled for the system you backed it for in the first place without any prior warning would no doubt feel like a huge stab in the back.

However, technical issues are no laughing matter, as they are usually the biggest issue any game developer faces, so this is likely a very legitimate reason for the game getting cancelled. The problem comes from the lack of transparency, which a backer called the dev out on in the comment section by asking “Why weren’t we told about the Wii U issues sooner?”, a very good question considering the length of time the problem was taking place.

The developer did not give that good of an answer. Directly quoting from the kickstarter update page (Backer name removed for courtesy) “Hi Backer, that is a tough question to answer. When does a developer make that determination? We exhausted every avenue we had, and decided not to come to any conclusion in haste by trying to work through all of our Wii U development hangups, but had to decide as a collective dev team it was not going to work. Each breakthrough we had was met by another hand of obstacles, which at a certain point we could not overcome in a realistic fashion.”

Why is this a bad answer, you may ask? Well, how about the fact that they pretty much dodged the question entirely only to vaguely give an answer that equates to “We didn’t want to scare our backers with the possibility of a cancellation, so we kept trying to fix the problems over and over again in hopes that we could get it to work.”?

Last minute notice aside, even that isn’t much of a tragic deal as long as the developers give refunds to backers not interested in steam/PSN/XBL keys, right? With how willing project creators are to refund their backers if a problem like this pops up, it should be a no brainer. Unfortunately for backers, the biggest problem comes from this baffling statement issued on the same comment page: “To anyone who is looking for a refund.
We are truly sorry – but Kickstarter does not have any system to offer a refund. If there is something else we can do, PLEASE let us know. We understand how frustrating that must feel, we are too.”

…What? Now THIS is a horrible excuse in almost every possible way, solely because while Kickstarter itself doesn’t have a refund system like Paypal or your local store, many other creators have been able to issue refunds on failed promises via paypal or email. To flat out deny backers any means of refunding money because it’s not available on the kickstarter website (despite the fact that any dev who cancelled a KS project would tell you to refund to a backer’s paypal if requested) is borderline scamming, and part of me really hopes it comes from the team simply not being aware of that option instead of wanting to steal the money of Wii U owners and run, but I have a bad feeling the latter is what applies in this case. Please prove me wrong, Enlightened Games. Please.

Hyper Light Drifter

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How it got funded: A gorgeous looking 2D action game that appeared to be just as awesome as Shovel Knight? (Funded a few months before) Sign us up! The project was a success, going way, WAY over the $27,000 funding goal for PC and hitting stretch goals for PS4, Vita, Wii U and OUYA, ending at a total amount of $645,158 on Kickstarter.

Launch on other platforms: Hyper Light Drifter launched earlier this year on steam to positive reviews from critics, backers and fans alike. A few months later it launched on PS4 and Xbox One (a platform not mentioned in the original Kickstarter) and is currently slated to come out on OUYA in the future. Whether that’ll end up happening or not remains to be seen.

Wii U Cancellation: This is where things get tricky. Unlike the prior two games which had last-minute cancellation warnings, Heart Machine was actually courteous enough to warn backers ahead of time about the status of the Wii U back in February of this year, pointing out how the engine used to build the game (Game Maker) is not quite compatible with the Wii U and would therefore lead to some porting issues that could lead to the game getting cancelled. Sure enough, it did when in September the developer posted a long winded video explaining why his team can’t work on the Wii U/PS Vita version due to a variety of reasons, mainly due to the porting issues mentioned earlier along with the developer’s own health problems. Yet somehow despite all of this, the Ouya version still seems to be happening.

Did Backers Get Screwed?: This is the hardest one to determine. Health issues are no laughing matter, overworking yourself on a video game is never, ever a good idea and if an engine won’t work with a system at all then it flat out won’t work without rebuilding the game from the ground up, which takes time.

In some ways, it’s a clear no since the developer was able to give an early update discussing the risk the Wii U version of the game had of being cancelled, but in some ways it’s a big fat yes due to the fact that two months before the cancellation the dev team mentioned that the Vita port would be completed due to external support, only for them to change their mind with no warning. And speaking of external support, why couldn’t that work for the Wii U version? We already know that Blitworks does a fantastic job porting games from the ground up to work on Wii U, as proven with Super Meat Boy and Axiom Verge, so why couldn’t they have worked with Heart Machine to fulfill their obligation to the backers for that system?

For the past few months I’ve been incredibly upset at this decision mainly due to the fact that while the early warning was very nice for Wii U owners, it appears that the Vita/Wii U versions were ultimately cancelled because the developers simply didn’t want to bother hiring another team to do the work for them, even though there are teams that would have been happy to do so.

Sure, you can go on about how the Wii U/Vita didn’t do well and therefore they don’t want to port to systems that were doing poor, but how do you explain the OUYA version that’s still on track for release? Not to mention how that would have been a bad excuse no matter what since in this case a lot of Wii U/Vita only backers funded the game with the hopes of getting it on their systems and helping out with stretch goals, sales of the console be damned. While I appreciate the transparency for Wii U owners and do not want the developer to put himself in further danger over working on a video game, I also think that shouldn’t be used as an excuse to get a free pass on not hiring an external port team to satisfy all backers, especially in the case of the Vita version which appeared to be in a better shape than the Wii U. That fact along with backers on the kickstarter comment section claiming they haven’t been refunded/issued keys for the other systems lead me to make the difficult decision to label this as a borderline Yes. That brings us to our final game, arguably the biggest one of them all…

Yooka-Laylee

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How it got funded: This is the biggest success story of the entire article, with a starting goal of £175,000 for Steam, Xbox One, PS4 and Wii U, only to end at a whopping £2,090,104, hitting a crazy amount of stretch goals. Being a 3D game led by former (good) Rare developers, it was a no brainer that this game would be funded!

Launch on other platforms: It actually isn’t out yet, but is scheduled to come out in April of 2017 for the PS4, Xbox One and PC. Looks quite promising on the other systems, but the Wii U…

Wii U Cancellation: This happened very recently on December 13 2016. Despite backers getting updates on everything super frequently and the staff being the most open of any team on this list by far, the cancellation came out of nowhere in the form of a PR confirming the launch date for the other consoles. The reasoning? Apparently those dreaded technical issues yet again! While the devs still haven’t explained the exact details of these issues, I have a good feeling the issues are because the Unity engine on Wii U isn’t as good as it is on other platforms, which can lead to crashes galore. Yet the part that makes this very strange is the fact that the Wii U version was touted at a main, in-home version developed by Playtonic. (next to the PC version) The PS4/Xbox One versions are being ported by Team17, so to see an in-house version treated this way and cancelled so abruptly is baffling. Even more strange is that all of a sudden the team is open to the idea of moving it to the Nintendo Switch platform, despite saying only three months ago that it was not coming to the platform. 

Did Backers Get Screwed?: This is another tricky one. With Playtonic themselves being big fans of Nintendo there’s little reason to believe they would sabotage their own game just to avoid launching it on the Wii U. That and the fact that Unity on the platform is a hit or miss compared to other systems equals a perfectly legitimate reason for why the game might have not worked well on the Wii U. Unfortunately, I have to conclude Yes in this case, even though it’s clear the developers didn’t want this to happen on purpose.

My problem with the cancellation comes from how the communication with the backers was handled. Once again it seems this is another game where the cancellation came without ZERO warning to speak of, which is downright insulting to any backers who didn’t see this coming at all and thought everything was fine with the Wii U version. To suddenly be told that “no, you will not be getting the game on the Wii U and you’ll have to buy an entirely new system to play it” is a giant slap in the face to all Wii U backers who might not be able to upgrade to the Switch next year, either due to lack of funds, lack of interest or both.

While Playtonic is more than happy to accept refunds or platform switches, this shouldn’t have happened the way it did, with zero warning. Directly quoting their FAQ page on when these techincial issues popped up, “The Playtonic team wanted to explore every possible avenue before making the very difficult decision to transfer development from the Wii U. Our developers worked tirelessly over many months in attempt to solve our technical issues, but unfortunately it’s not been possible to bring Yooka-Laylee to Wii U as originally planned.” the quote makes it seem that these technical problems were going on for several months. If that was really the case, then why weren’t the backers notified as soon as the issues arose? Why were they given false hope, and more importantly, why was the news held back until the release date announcement? Nothing’s worse than to hear that a game you are super excited for got a release date, but oh wait, not on the Wii U.

That’s a combo you do not want to give to backers, and while I’m sure cancelling the Wii U version was a hard choice for Playtonic to make, some transparency would have really been helpful, especially considering how the timing of a Switch announcement on the same day totally won’t make people suspect they just pulled the excuse out of thin air just to port to a system where it’ll sell better. The worst part about the Switch version is that we have no clue if it’ll be ready for the launch day of other platforms. (Info is to come next month) For all we know it could be a classic western developer tale of selling your Nintendo port later than the rest so fewer people will buy it, the developers will see the low sales and never ever release a system on Nintendo platforms again due to their own mistakes. Remember Watch Dogs on Wii U? Please don’t let the Switch version be a modern version of that, Playtonic.

Conclusion

So, what’s my conclusion? Overall, this is a very disturbing trend that seems to range from a wide variety of reasons. In one case we saw that simply the Wii U version had little demand/reason to be made, so it was cancelled in a way that little would miss out on it. In two cases we saw it be because of porting problems, (though the lack of hiring a porting team and issuing refunds leads to new issues altogether) while in the last case it seems to be to make the most bank at the expense of backer loyalty, but that last case didn’t start out with that mindset. With other Kickstarted Wii U games like Soul Saga, Little BUB’S Hello Earth and Bloodstained still set for release in the next year or two, I dread that those games will follow this horrible trend, despite the fact that both of those games got as much money as they did because of the promise of a Wii U version. Clearly nobody thought the Wii U would be replaced this early, but is that a legitimate reason for developers to not fulfill a courteous obligation to their backers? That’s up to you to decide.

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Still, I do feel the above screencapped quote from Gonintendo Administrator T27Duck explains the situation best. In all of these cases, the developers got some money from Nintendo owners hoping for a game to play on their Wii U, which likely either funded the Wii U stretch goal, the game itself or other stretch goals in general. Regardless on whether these cancellations were intentional screw-overs of backers or not, (I personally disagree with Duck on this being a swindle) this trend is a depressing thing to see and makes nobody happy, which makes me hope other developers having difficulties with the Wii U versions in the future consider being more transparent with their backers, or at least try to find a way to avoid these issues altogether by satisfying everyone who funded your game in some way.

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