Root Double- Before Crime * After Days- Xtend Edition is more than just a visual novel with an excessively complex name. It is also the 10th visual novel Kickstarter run by Sekai Project, and the 9th successful one for them. With this in mind, it seems to me that the company are incredibly well aware of how to run a crowdfunding campaign and what they need to do to best present a project for maximum funding. Perhaps that isn’t true though. Maybe the honest fact of the matter is that nobody can actually predict or post something on Kickstarter so perfectly that they can ensure success. I say this because, despite a good old attempt, Root Double was a campaign that floundered so much early on that people believed it wouldn’t be funded.
First, let’s go over what the team at Sekai Project did right off the bat. In my opinion, the campaign page looked quite slick at launch. It featured a fair amount of character artwork, a neat synopsis of the game, and a few screenshots to get a taste for Root Double. The choice of Root Double itself was also a good one considering this is a very well loved title in Japan (and, by extension, for some of the English-speaking visual novel realm). With a great game under their banner, they had a built in audience ready to help contribute to the Kickstarter. And they did. Within the first day they raised nearly $20,000. Unfortunately, the goal was $135,000 and even a huge $20k sum wasn’t the kind of start a big campaign like that needs.
Why didn’t more people jump on Root Double right away? There are a multitude of reasons which were both clear right from the get go and became more obvious as the project dragged on. For one, reward tiers felt slightly slapped together. From the incredibly unuseful descriptions of “digital game” to a missing $1 tier, things just didn’t seem quite right. Another issue, which Sekai Project have struggled with on multiple projects, was the utter lack of room between the $225 tier and $1,000 one. Then, when it came to the higher tiers, it really felt like there was no compelling reason to select them at all. At $5,000 you would receive all the rewards up to that point (honestly not that much) and an exclusive black and white shikishi. Shikishis (basically small art prints) are cool, but for $5,000?! Basically, there was little compelling reason for most visual novel fans to pledge anywhere over the $150 level.
With less reason to spend a lot of money, not to mention a lack of a simple $1 placeholder tier, a lot of people simply didn’t pledge. Without bakers you don’t have the money required to fund a game. Despite the dangerous beginning, Sekai Project showed no sign of fear. They simply went full steam ahead posting their planned series of updates detailing the Root Double storyline and such. As cool as this might have seemed, it was just translations of existing text on the Japanese site so it wasn’t something “new.” Also, visual novel fans more than most tend to go on informational blackouts to have the purest experiences with games. As such, this series of updates in the first week probably went unread by many gamers.
It was a week later that the team finally went forward with some tweaked tiers alongside a brand new one. Now those who backed at $99 and $150 on up would receive a stainless steel mug and t-shirt respectively. I have no idea what’s particularly alluring about a stainless steel mug with an anime character on it, but hey, more free stuff is always appreciated. There’s no doubt these moves did draw in a few more people, alongside the $275 tier which came with a tote bag and blanket. Fans had been asking for new tiers, after all. However, these weren’t quite all that exciting on their own. When listening to the community, many were asking for other specific items: a collector’s edition and a version of Root Double on PlayStation Vita.
Unlike a fair amount of previous Sekai Project Kickstarters, Root Double’s didn’t offer a Vita copy right out of the gate. It is my belief they opted for this initially because they are currently tremendously backlogged with getting even their first game onto Vita. As such, it is a smart move to stop promising these sorts of copies… but fans demanded it. In the end, Sekai Project worked out the deal with license holders to ensure that a digital copy could come to Vita. Unfortunately for fans, this was noted as a huge risk by Sekai Project and as such had to be added to the $225 and up tiers. Even though people got what they want (i.e., Vita) it was at a price far beyond what anyone had expected. After all, Vita games typically cost $40 at retail and oftentimes are even cheaper on Kickstarter.
Some of the most determined fans pledged anyway, and at this time money started to seriously begin flowing into the campaign again. Just two days after the announcement, Sekai Project walked back their statement about the necessity of Vita being stuck at such a high tier and crafted a new digital $99 tier. With this one, consumers would be promised a copy of Root Double on both Vita and Steam. It was a better move, though still imperfect for those who only game on Vita and were therefore pledging for more than they needed. In the last 48 hours, they made their final big move to add a $50 tier for digital Vita copies alone. A collector’s edition also was added in the final week to lure in limited edition collectors. Around this time, the Kickstarter was finally funded.
I do not know what Sekai Project’s intentions were with Vita, but upon reflection it is obvious that the rollout could have been handled much better. In my view, it seems they very much wanted to keep Vita gated at such a high cost exactly because it is normally something they would restrict to a stretch goal. Without even meeting a single stretch goal during this project, it makes sense it would prove hard to prepare the funds necessary to make a Vita port possible. Yet, in the end they bowed to consumer response and eventually went so far as to effectively give them exactly what they wanted (well, almost). This, despite claims initially that they absolutely did not want to offer a tier only with Vita because those people would have to wait a very long time before receiving a reward.
They had to know how people would react to the original $225, but in that case, why try to explain how it wouldn’t be possible to lower the cost only to do exactly that? In the future, these moves may make people believe Sekai Project will again change their mind on future campaigns which sets a troubling precedent for them. I believe these moves did have to be made to actually get Root Double funded in the end, but here’s hoping future projects can be choreographed such that they do not have to step over themselves in order to get the required funds to make a game happen.
Why did Root Double stall so early and completely? On one hand, it seemed that Sekai Project overestimated the existing fanbase of this game. They also were unable to get word out about this project all over the internet. I have no doubt that they tried (or at least sent out press emails, as I received one) but sites were still mainly mum on the Kickstarter. Perhaps it was due to the fact that other recent visual novel campaigns such as Libra and the Vampire Princess filled up their quota (so to speak) for VN Kickstarter coverage. What ended up happening is that backers took it upon themselves to message all sorts of people on Reddit, YouTube, and otherwise to provide coverage. Some people were successful, even getting famous visual novel developers to comment on the campaign publicly.
In total, though, it most certainly appears the biggest trouble outside of attention focused on the project was a simple failure to create compelling tiers for people to pledge to. For me personally, it was the lack of a collector’s edition which kept me at bay. For my friends, it was an initial abandonment of Vita which disappointed them. After all, while the Vita may be “dead’ to many out there, those who love the handheld have found it wondrously packed full of visual novels and other Japanese gaming goodness. Unfortunately for them, they’ll need to wait an estimated year after PC gamers get Root Double before they can play on their preferred platform.
Speaking of which, Root Double has apparently been progressing through translation effectively since Sekai Project announced it as coming out in English. As such, this was an incredibly high stakes campaign for them. Had it failed, all that time and effort would have been wasted (well, unless they ran a second campaign later down the line). Despite the intense stakes riding on Root Double, I do not feel they gave their very best effort on the project and that is worrisome. If there is not enough time or people to devote to making something as good as you can before launching a Kickstarter — then you simply need to wait a bit longer. Of course, other people involved in these decisions may make it so you simply can’t wait. Still, I have to hope that future Kickstarters by the company prove more cohesive at the start. Listening to backers is a great thing, but they should not be the ones who need to guide you with ideas which should have been considered and implemented to begin with.
At the end of the day, Root Double was funded to the tune of $152,414. If you would like to help potentially get them to their first stretch goal ($180,000) then consider backing via the PayPal page here. Root Double is planned to launch on Steam in March — next month.