As if the stars aligned recently, Kickstarter has been the avenue for a sort of high profile Japanese Video Game revolution. There is Project Phoenix, a supposed rebel child of Square Enix of Final Fantasy descent, and there’s Might No. 9: The voice of the voiceless Mega Man fans.
For the longest time, gamers have been clamoring either for a new game for the Mega Man franchise or a much needed change in recent direction for Final Fantasy. All roads are tangential to one specific point: Definitive Change. Teaser after spoiler after poster, Mega Man fans were promised something new, something better to offer, only to find out that Capcom disappointed them by cancelling all planned Megaman games, Inafune subsequently leaving the company and revealed its true nature in Asura’s Wrath’s TRUE ending DLC.
On the other hand, Square Enix has been on the soft-side of the capitalistic “glad-handed, Yes-man” mode. They have been apologizing for a mediocre game in the first incarnation of Final Fantasy 14, and issues with its second version, A Realm Reborn. Tomatoes have been thrown at them for stretching Final Fantasy 13.
It is no surprise that Inafune, Uematsu, and other video game developers have tried to at least go semi-indie. Comparable to a Da Vinci’s Demons scene, this is Leonardo going to the market place, looking for free ideas, unconstrained, uncontrolled by someone on a pedestal. The Kickstarter audience has been receptive of their entry with both Project Phoenix and Kickstarter reaching their minimum requirements while hoping to reach their maximum stretch goals. At the same time, though, the bridge isn’t completely burnt. Inafune has not publicly raised his middle finger with his frustrations on Capcom. Neither did Uematsu and Hirai wrote a direct verbal assault to Square-Enix, or what was left of Square Soft’s Soul.
So, all is fair in love and in war, correct? Blame Capcom, SE and all the other Capitalist notions found in video games. Power to the people, so to speak.
The thing is with Capitalism, is that it is not about some Nepotistic or Bureaucratic control over money. Capitalism, in its truest nature, is not necessarily the bad guy. For the lack of a better term, Capitalism is good. But the uninitiated would always associate it with the Evil Gordon Gekko or a Fat Guy who gets paid by just sitting around while the rest of the nation toils. You can actually compare it to a tax collector: It is supposed to be just another form, another intermediary to allocate a producer’s goods and services to a consumer’s preferences. It’s just a middle-man.
And so, just like any other system, it will be prone to certain externalities and certain inevitable business cycles. At the end of the day, the capitalists take risks they deem necessary, borne out of expertise and of experience to the market. Just like the theory of evolution, it can either promote innovation or degeneration. If it works, the name becomes immortal (Read: Hideo Kojima). If it doesn’t, it gets eaten-up, and at best, is just a footnote of history. The only problem is that not only does it work, it’s also a system that people need to earn their place for. And “a system” isn’t really something that free-spirited artists are perfectly compatible with.
Truth be told, the bothersome part isn’t really capitalism, it is poor management, poor governance and poor market research. No amount of money can hide that. It will show in the results. Square Enix, as covered before have had problems selling their “import” games in North America while over spending in their marketing costs. Capcom has also shown wear and tear, with layoffs left and right due to declining revenues due to declining game sales.
It’s quite comical that the parent companies, these iconic institutions fall flat as they cite “lack of clear direction” or “lack of synergy” as the reason why most of its games actually failed in sales targets. On the other hand, the game developers that once worked for these big companies are now technocrats: masters of their own creative fate, unchained and unbound, as the crowd funds their projects with a bright future ahead of them. Poetic justice at its best.
Seriously? All those years in graduate school, those years of leadership and industry experience led to deaf ears, closed minds, and poor results? No shit, Sherlock. That’s why the board of directors, the President/COO, the Chairman/CEO gets paid the big bucks, gets to sit down on the chair in the middle: To determine whether the music is slowing down, or if it has already stopped. (A tribute to the movie “Margin Call”) Right now, the ones at Square Enix and Capcom are doing a terrible job.
On the other hand, kickstarter, like the Philippine People Power has its own flaws: it doesn’t necessarily translate to change. It is still a risk that investors should analyze, if worth taking. Everyone might be looking at the trees, but not the entire forest. The main difference between kickstarter and these large capitalized corporations is the dispersal of risk. Kickstarter has the “fan” as the direct investor/risk taker, instead of angel investors and venture capitalism that the big boys can actually operate in succinct measures.
If the kickstarter project gets delayed or gets burned down, the investor will not get his money back. If a company’s current performance isn’t really that good for the year, they can always do some leverage on the future. This is the main takeaway: it just shifts the decision-making button and the underlying risks to the people, the fans. But that doesn’t mean that things will definitely go and become better.
So, welcome to the other side of the same coin. While this is not necessarily hypocrisy, you are now what you love and hate: Capitalists.