A Kick for Kickstarters: Banner Saga 3

There are many reasons why developers who had the opportunity to develop games thanks to crowdfunding pursue the venue again for future projects, despite how they sell to a wide audience beyond the original backers. Banner Saga 3, which launched on Kickstarter earlier this week, is one of the most transparent examples showing why this happens.

The Banner Saga was one of the earliest success on Kickstarter, a grid-based 2D strategy/RPG from a development startup Stoic Studio, well known for its excellent animation. The campaign made a total of $723,886 when it finished, despite its initial goal of a mere $100,000. Its concept being appealing, and the developers showed potential backers how they were actually working on a functioning game, which proved they were trustworthy. Beyond the backers, it sold well when it released on multiple platforms, including the eventual PS4, Vita, and Xbox One ports.

Since that went well, Stoic developed The Banner Saga 2 without the use of a crowdfunding campaign, to deliver the game right to their consumer base. Unfortunately, this plan didn’t work so well, despite both games being well-received critically. Stoic co-founder and technical director John Watson mentioned how they regretted not pursuing Kickstarter in mid-development, as funding was starting to tighten. Their assumption that the audience would return for the sequel was sadly off the mark, as its sales in the first few months were only 1/3 of what the first game sold in the same period. In fairness, the lack of advertising didn’t help.

The Banner Saga was planned to be a trilogy, so development for a third game was already underway. At the time Watson was interviewed for the GamesIndustry.biz article, they weren’t sure of whether they wanted to pursue crowdfunding again. But it’s now clear they made that final decision quickly. With how the second game performed, they really had no choice but to pursue this route again, unless they struck a lucrative deal with a reliable publisher.

Banner Saga 3 will conclude the story established in the first two titles, and thus, still takes place in a world heavily inspired by tales of Norse mythology that’s draped by darkness. Stoic is aware plenty of people and potential backers who haven’t played the last two games could stumble in the page, and kept story details to a minimum. But in that case, there’s a special deal where backers can get the first two games from Steam or GoG if they add $20 to their pledge. That’s why there’s a gigantic variety of pledging options, though some of the most expensive offerings include limited edition bonus items. Unfortunately, there are no current deals for owners who prefer playing on other platforms, but it will be a missed opportunity if they don’t have some kind of sale before the campaign ends.

Those who’ve played or seen its predecessors can tell this title reuses a lot of assets from them and contains the same Dragon’s Lair-inspired animation techniques, and for good reason. Providing hand-drawn artwork is an arduous task, and as we’ve seen throughout the history of 2D titles (especially from Japan), development teams should get as much mileage out of those assets as they can. The artwork and animated GIFs on the page should help work as a selling point for those who haven’t seen previous installments, however. It’s a nice way to get people to pledge $20 more.

Stoic did well by asking for only $100,000 for the first game’s initial goal, and raising much more than that. Here, they’re asking for $200,000, which both represents the team playing it safe, and is enough to gauge how much interest there is for a sequel. While this hasn’t been a runaway success comparable to crowdfunding campaigns from the so-called golden days of 2012, it’s still doing well. The campaign started on January 24th, and as of this writing, it’s raised $182,093. It should hit its goal within one or two days. Stoic is planning to add stretch goals down the line, as the current section for it is blank, but this would be a good way to sustain funding throughout the rest of its campaign.

While it’s good that this will be a success, I hope the final amount goes far beyond the $200,000 they’re asking for. Indie developers too often have to develop games for the lowest amount they can, which leads to them subsisting on a diet of ramen or, worse, starving to continue working in the field they like. That’s another reason why it’s perfectly fine for them to reuse assets from previous titles.

If all goes according to plan, Banner Saga 3 will release for PC and OSX in December 2018. But expect it to arrive sometime in 2019, because I can’t remember the last time a crowdfunded game released at the originally planned timeframe. Following that, it should be ported to consoles and mobile platforms.

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