[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]n April 2014 a visual novel known as The Guardian’s Spell was funded successfully and made me completely happy. You see, I don’t just love visual novels in general, but most of their various sub-genres – in particular otome. Otome, or games wherein female protagonists typically romance male characters, are a bit of a rare breed in the West so I champion almost any new release. Unfortunately, it appeared that Winged Cloud wasn’t particularly skilled at the whole public relations thing. Throughout the campaign and after it, no posts appeared for backers to look over until November 2014. And then that remained the only post until an unceremonious, and incredibly brief announcement this week of The Guardian Spell’s cancellation.
That’s all! After raising a little over $5,000 from 179 backers they’ve decided to refund every one of them and absolve themselves of the project. Backers want to know why. Even though I didn’t back the game personally even I admit to have been obsessively following The Guardian’s Spell. I feel an explanation is owed, but chances are we’ll never receive one. In absence of reasoning I’ve been left to my own devices wondering what the heck brought about this end. To be honest, it seemed obvious that something was wrong. After all, in July of the same year they released a little game by the name of Sakura Spirit.
Had this been any other release I don’t expect that it would have affected development of Winged Cloud’s “main” project The Guardian’s Spell. However, Sakura Spirit was not just any old game. Sure, it’s a pretty short visual novel that clocks in under three hours long with a middling storyline. But, do you know what it has in spades? Relatively high quality anime artwork with a tremendous focus on sexualized women. As they say, sex sells – even though there is certainly no sex in this game (if there were it wouldn’t be allowed on Steam)! Playing to the “prurient interest” of some gamers, it achieved tremendous success at a $9.99 price point.
I don’t have the numbers of how many copies were sold in total, but there are close to 5000 user reviews on Steam. By any barometer that’s a huge success. Steam has become so cluttered that most games fail to even achieve 100 reviews. In any case, with that many reviews on file you know that at minimum double the amount of folks own a copy of Sakura Spirit. Seriously, using Ars Technica’s Steam Gauge report for 2014 they estimated Sakura Spirit as being the 204th top seller on Steam. It might not seem huge, but when thousands of games launch each year it’s a big deal.
And how much did this little visual novel make? If we can trust Ars Technica’s data then they suggest 113,264 folks own the game. Let’s just round that down to 100,000 for simplicity. Heck, let’s pretend everyone paid $5 as well (allowing for sales prices). That results in a tidy $500,000! Remove Steam’s 30% take and we still have $350,000. Remove $50k for Sekai Project (no, I don’t know how much the publisher actually receives) and that’s $300,000 in profit for a game which very likely didn’t cost that much to make. And that’s only sales in 2014. Who knows what the legacy game has continued to make. This is so much more than many indie developers can hope for in half a year of sales. Honestly, if I knew I could make money off an easily exploitable formula it might be hard for me to refuse.
Although Sakura Spirit alone didn’t signal the death of The Guardian’s Spell, the reveal of Sakura Angels on January 1 did. Winged Cloud were working hard, but only appeared to have Sakura games to show for it. To be fair, outside of the art and music, it doesn’t seem they’re particularly challenging to produce. They seem simple enough to pump out one after the other, which is why ever since Sakura Angels’ launch that’s exactly what they’ve done. After Sakura Angels launched in mid-January, the announcement of Sakura Fantasy cropped up in March. Then, in April (and before Sakura Fantasy was out), Sakura Beach was announced! Things were moving faster in the development scene for Sakura games while The Guardian’s Spell Kickstarter remained silent outside of backers worrying among themselves.
Winged Cloud updated their Twitter, website, and even launched a Patreon and only the website made any mention of The Guardian’s Spell. Even when folks mentioned The Guardian’s Spell on Twitter they would basically refrain from responding. At this point it was basically cemented in my mind that they had decided fanservice visual novels were worth pursuing at the cost of anything else. Yes, they ran a Kickstarter to make The Guardian’s Spell, but at the end of the day pleasing those 179 backers was nothing compared to the thousands of bucks being netted by Sakura games. Of course, this is just my hypothesis, but it’s hard to see any other reason that the campaign was silent for so long and canceled without any explicitly stated reason.
If there’s another reason at the core, I’d have expected an explanation of some sort. After all, in December Winged Cloud did make a rare public statement about the state of their Kickstated title to Technology Tell. They laid the blame of delays on certain people working on the project. These claims were later refuted by the accused parties, but it’s up to the reader to determine what the real story is there. “Funnily” enough, if you follow press back a little more, a VNs Now post questioning the future of The Guardian’s Spell on November 24 predicated the lone Kicktarter backer post by a few days. What do you want to bet that the Kickstarter “update” was made as a direct response to the article’s claims?
These are my thoughts on why The Guardian’s Spell was canceled but I have no actual inside knowledge with which to back up these comments. As such, these are not statements of fact but editorialized opinion. What are your thoughts on the matter? Do you agree with my assessment or feel that something else was at play? For those that backed it, or who were simply interested in the game, do you wish The Guardian’s Spell hadn’t been canceled? Let us know!