Physical cartridges are amazing, and there’s simply not enough of them coming out of Kickstarter lately… until now.
With less than 2 weeks left in its campaign, Haunted Halloween ’86: The Curse of Possum Hollow has been successfully funded. Scratch that, their $5,000 goal has been absolutely obliterated and the project is currently sitting at over $17,000!
For those who may not be aware, Haunted Halloween ’86 is a new, 8-bit action platformer that features an exclusive backer NES cartridge starting at the $50 level. Digital copies of the game will be available, but those who still have their NES can play this brand-new game on a console that’s over 30 years old.
The rabid success of this campaign and developer Retrotainment Games’ previous iteration, Haunted: Halloween ’85 are hardly outliers. Super Russian Roulette by Andrew Reitano was also successfully Kickstarted, raising $84,263 with a $20,000 goal.
And guess what? It also offered a physical NES cartridge. However, the star of this game, beyond the snarky cowboy with the funny quibs, is the all-powerful and awesome NES Zapper.
Physical cartridges that are compatible with old hardware and peripherals are enough to make any retrogamer reminisce back to a time when they were the norm. Unique labels, epic box art and pack-in manuals were what many remember most about that bygone era, but were largely fazed out by AAA due to production costs, paving the way for the more prevalent digital distribution.
In glaring contrast, these campaigns do seem to indicate that there’s certainly a market that’s willing to buy new NES games. So with the average price of a new physical cart near $50 for each project, and production costs certainly not going down over the last 30 years, what is it about these campaigns that makes them so appealing when 9% of campaigns that offer physical rewards fail?
Knowing Your Audience
Recently, I talked about the importance of connecting with your audience prior to, and throughout any fundraising campaign. However, unless you happen to know who those people are beforehand, generating hype around your game can seem near impossible.
When developers have to worry about fixing bugs and implementing on-the-fly changes after unforeseen events, there simply isn’t time to research who would actually buy the game.
If you’re creating a top-down vertical SHMUP, it could appeal to action, audio and visuals fans. If you’re building a first-person horror game, those who appreciate horror on any level may be interested.
Developer Andrew Reitano took Super Russian Roulette to his friends’ house and even Fantastic Arcade Expo 2015, where everyone who played it loved it. When Retrotainment Games decided to unleash Haunted: Halloween ’85, they did so at Portland Retro Gaming Expo 2015, garnering a huge response. Talk about connecting with your audience in a big way!
Simply put, nostalgia sells. For campaigns like Haunted Halloween ’86 and Super Russian Roulette, they developed their games around an 8-bit engine, so it would make sense to make that game playable on the original hardware.
Digital downloads are great, but nothing beats the feeling of cracking open the box, pulling out the manual, flipping through its crisp pages, and finally pulling out the game in all its plastic glory, gazing lovingly upon the unique label art.
When adults tend to be at their lowest, they long for something that takes them back to a time when late bills, nagging spouses and shitty bosses didn’t exist. For anyone who grew up playing games during the NES’s heyday, that would be the excellent feeling of opening a new game for the first time and then unabashedly playing it for hours on end.
Granted, the nostalgia that drives certain niche interests can be hard to nail down, but for original NES gamers, it’s pretty easy. A Kickstarter game that promises a fully functional NES cartridge and all the trappings that it comes with sounds like a pretty sweet deal, especially when the last official NES cartridge was released way back in 1994.
The Power of Exclusivity
People like knowing that what they’re getting is unique. Whatever the reward is, it has to be something that hasn’t been offered before, something that will retain its value for years to come. Sure, getting swag like T-Shirts and posters is cool, but a cartridge that’ll continue to be playable for years to come is something that simply cannot be imitated.
For Haunted Halloween ’86 and Super Russian Roulette, eligible backers are not only getting a physical item that they can hold in their hand, but also one that serves a purpose outside of display. Both campaigns feature cartridges with unique, nostalgia-inducing label art and gives the lucky recipient bragging rights over their fellow collectors.
It’s the very element that made Nintendo a money-printing business in the 80’s. Remember the black boxes? That was Nintendo’s response to the misleading box art that was featured on Atari 2600 games, and it had the duel effect of informing the buyer while also letting them know that they were getting something unique and fun.
Embracing the Old and the New
Of course, there’s a reason why things change. Cartridges and NES consoles can degrade over time without the proper care, and whenever a dud hit the market, warranty claims can eat into a company’s profits pretty quickly. However, as much as it pains me to say this as a retro gamer, digital downloads don’t suffer the same maladies that plagued consoles and cartridges of days past.
Recognizing this, Retrotainment Games has offered to provide eligible backers not only with the cartridge, but also a digital download so that they can save some miles on their brand new game. Plus, given that Haunted: Halloween ’85 featured full XBox 360 controller support for PC, it would be a safe to assume that Haunted Halloween ’86 should as well.
Unfortunately, Super Russian Roulette was not able to provide a digital download due to its use of old school light gun technology, but developer Andrew Reitano has made the soundtrack available for download, which would have been all but impossible in 1985.
Thanks, Funny Muffin!
Even for retro nerds like myself and others like me, games like Haunted Halloween ’86 and Super Russian Roulette are a bright spot in a time of broken Day One releases and over-reaching DRM. I’m thankful that digital downloads have made it possible for indie developers to distribute their games, but having an icon on my desktop is definitely not the same as holding a game in my hands.
Speculation states that the Nintendo NX may utilize cartridges. With a single scratch rendering an optical disc completely useless and the apparent widespread acceptance of cartridges that still abounds thanks to campaigns like these, perhaps the new generation of gamer will be able to experience the same awesome feels that I did.