Have you heard of the Square Enix Collective? If you’ve got an interest in crowdfunded videogames there’s a good chance you’re at least aware of it, but if you’re reading this article it’s likely you’re a bit fuzzy on the details – and you wouldn’t be alone. The curated platform set up by Square Enix to help showcase and support crowdfunded titles has recently celebrated its second anniversary since launching in January 2014 but doesn’t currently have the highest profile, which is odd considering the strong reputation of Square Enix. Part of this may be due to the slightly ambiguous aims of the Collective, an issue since its inception as Phil Elliot (Project Lead, Square Enix Collective) stated in a 2014 blog post on Gamasutra:
“When we first announced the project back in October last year, I had to contact a few sites to give them clarifications on what the concept actually involved. And I jumped into the comments sections on here, on Kotaku, on Neogaf and so on to try and answer queries, explain anything that wasn’t clear, etc. As a platform, Collective is somewhat of an intangible, because the benefits to the end user are entirely dependent on the pitches that the dev teams bring… so at least that part of it was easier when launching the pilot phase, because there was actually stuff to see.”
Even if you don’t know about the Square Enix Collective you’re probably familiar with at least one of the various crowdfunded games they’ve supported, which are detailed below. The first of these was through Indiegogo with all that followed instead opting for Kickstarter as the crowdfunding platform of choice.
- World War Machine – in June 2014 the action RPG raised $12,300 of a $50,000 target following an unsuccessful Indiegogo campaign. There’s been a distinct lack of activity since, although developer Turque Games recently announced the upcoming Livelock which appears to be the new incarnation for World War Machine.
- Moon Hunters – September 2014 saw this adventure RPG receive $179,000 CAD ($129,000) in pledges, soaring past its $45,000 CAD ($32,400) goal. Due to be released on PC via Steam on 25th February 2016 with Mac, Linux and PS4 versions to follow.
- Black The Fall – October 2014 saw £28,485 ($41,300) pledged of a £25,000 ($36,000) target for this side-scrolling adventure title from Sand Sailor Studio. An Early Access version is currently available on Steam while development seems to be continuing steadily.
- Goetia – in February 2015 Ynnis Interactive launched a Kickstarter campaign for Sushee’s stylish point and click mystery game and reached $34,189 in pledges, achieving success against a $30,000 objective. Goetia will be the first game published by the Steam Enix Collective and a April 2016 release date has been forecast.
- Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander – in April 2015 this ambitious mix of base building and tactical combat from Massive Damage, Inc. received $187,706 CAD ($134,900) in pledges and easily exceeded a $40,000 CAD ($28,700) target.
- Tokyo Dark – June 2015 saw Cherrymochi Game Studio raise $225,386 CAD ($162,000) for their anime adventure game, eclipsing the $40,000 CAD ($28,700) goal.
- XO – in August 2015 the space-based strategy game from Jumpdrive Studios raised $55,314 to beat its $40,000 goal.
- Pankapu: the Dreamkeeper – December 2015 saw this 2D action platformer from Too Kind Studio receive €53,120 ($59,300) in pledges and comfortably pass its €40,000 ($44,600) goal.
- Children of Zodiarcs – the tactical JRPG from developer Cardboard Utopia has a live Kickstarter campaign that has so far raised over $147,000 CAD ($101,000) of a $50,000 CAD ($34,000) target.
So what exactly does involvement in the Square Enix Collective entail? Essentially it’s a three phase process, starting with the feedback phase which serves as an opportunity for selected project pitches to be showcased to the Collective community for their votes and comments, while also receiving the added benefit of being promoted by Square Enix. This part of the process is an open gesture from Square Enix with the developers retaining complete control of their project and no commitment to remain involved beyond the first phase. Once the feedback phase is over developers can choose to simply walk away with no further commitment, but any titles that proved popular with the Collective community may be offered the chance to join the (purely optional) second phase.
The funding phase sees those select games given the opportunity to start a crowdfunding campaign with official support from the Square Enix Collective, subject to a Team Assessment, in return for which Square Enix would keep 5% of the net funds raised (initially Indiegogo was the only crowdfunding platform supported but Kickstarter was added after a few months). The final phase could then potentially see certain developers given the option to be have their game distributed by Square Enix who would keep 10% of any net revenue from sales. It’s notable that the cuts the Square Enix Collective would take are relatively modest, essentially just enough to cover their own costs and keep the feedback phase free for all projects – emphasising the altruistic nature of the Collective.
That’s the theory anyway, but how has it actually worked in practice? The three games which were originally included in the pilot feedback phase all had very different experiences following their involvement; World War Machine started promisingly with plenty of positive feedback resulting in official support from the Square Enix Collective before their failed Indiegogo campagin; Moon Hunters had similarly positive feedback and support from Square Enix but by contrast had an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign while Game of Glens suffered from negative feedback in part due to the fact the tower building game from developer Ruffian wasn’t the Crackdown sequel many gamers were waiting for.
In the two years since over 70 games have been through the feedback phase with generally one new campaign added each week and expiring four weeks later. Seven of the more popular projects have passed a Team Assessment with the Square Enix Collective and ran successful Kickstarter campaigns with several of those due for release later this year – one of which (Goetia) will also be distributed by Square Enix. However just because a developer doesn’t get official approval from the Square Enix Collective doesn’t mean they can’t run their own crowdfunding campaign, although it’s telling that that of the 14 that have tried so far most have failed – with Ultimate Chicken Horse and Wanderer as the two successful exceptions.
Support from the Square Enix Collective certainly seems to be a major factor in helping these titles reach their crowdfunding goals, although it could also be argued that those offered the opportunity were already promising enough to potentially succeed anyway. From my own personal experience it was certainly the deciding factor in convincing me to pledge to Tokyo Dark as the Square Enix backing added legitimacy to a title I was slightly hesitant about. However in the cases of Black The Fall and Halycon 6: Starbase Commander the campaigns themselves were sufficient for me to back them regardless. That’s not to say the involvement of the Square Enix Collective wasn’t important in attracting other backers though, and they also benefited in other ways. While Square Enix don’t get directly involved with the crowdfunding project they can pass on valuable advice and provide wide-reaching publicity, as Ken Seto (CEO/Co-founder of Massive Damage) confirmed when commenting on the assistance provided by the Square Enix Collective in supporting Halcyon 6:
“Square Enix Collective has been pretty great about tweeting about our project and overall they’ve been very supportive. Most of their direct involvement was during the Kickstarter.”
Meanwhile the comments and attention developers receive during the feedback phase can also prove invaluable, regardless of whether they progress to the funding stage. I asked Andreea Vaduva, PR Manager at Sand Sailor Studio, developers of Black The Fall, about their experience with the Square Enix Collective and they reiterated how useful the process was:
“The user feedback and overall publicity, were definitely useful. It was the first time our game was out there and the positive feedback empowered us to move forward to Kickstarter, while the constructive feedback helped us.”
In among all the positive news however there is one aspect that has seemingly failed to get off the ground – the potential for developers to create new games based on old Eidos IPs. This was mooted when the Square Enix Collective first started up but it wasn’t until a year later in February 2015 that any further details were announced with Gex the Gecko, Fear Effect and Anachronox all open for developers to submit their game ideas. The deadline for submissions was May 2015 but since then there’s been no further updates, although it’s not clear if this was due to a lack of interest by developers or that the Square Enix weren’t impressed by any of the submissions. I did query this with the Square Enix Collective and although Phil Elliot didn’t have any news he could share, he did confirm there was a possibility something could still happen. Dissapointing then, but my hopes for a new Fear Effect game remain alive.
So what of the future for the Square Enix Collective? 2016 should be a pivotal year as we start to see some of the titles that were supported in the funding stage actually get released, allowing us to observe their levels of success – both critically and commercially. The imminent releases of Moon Hunters, Halcyon 6 and Goetia should also further raise the profile of the Collective which is good news for upcoming projects in the feedback stage who will further benefit from the spotlight. It appears that the current practice of adding one new project each week for the Collective’s feedback will continue, while Phil Elliot confirmed the Square Enix Collective would also be looking to support a number of additional titles during crowdfunding this year:
“We expect to support in the region of 7-8 more campaigns on crowdfunding platforms in 2016 – although we can’t confirm any one specific project until we complete the Team Assessment (which is like a due diligence process to confirm the team has the capability of delivering on their promise).
That’s not normally finished until a few weeks before the campaign is due to launch, so at this point we’re not able to confirm anything further. But we do have two further projects pencilled in right now to take us through February and March, and into April. We may also have a surprise project a little later in the year… but I can’t give any further hints about that right now…”
If you are a developer and would like more information about the Square Enix Collective, visit their page for developers, which provides a summary of their business model as well as submission criteria. For terms and conditions, go here.