In just a few short days, AI War II by Arcen Games has collected roughly $45,000 on Kickstarter. A sequel to 2009’s AI War: Fleet Command, AI War II is a grand strategy tower defense game set in SPACE!
One of the big draws of the original was, as you’d expect, its AI. It featured an advanced AI system that not only followed the same rules as the player, it’s also really smart-like. It could understand your plan, and adapt to what you were doing not only immediately, but also long term. And since it had infinite resources and manpower, AI War earned a reputation for its brutal difficulty.
All of that is back in AI War II, but this time it’s been improved. According to the Kickstarter page, its more aggressive this time around. It’ll take back ground it’s lost (did it not do that in the original?) and launch all out attacks when it senses you’re losing. The sequel will also be more user-friendly, as one of the big flaws of the original (according to the developers) was how difficult it was to just pick up and play, even for long time fans of the game.
Improvements and Exclamations
Along with that, there are the typical improvements you’d expect from a sequel, or at least the typical promises being made of a sequel. More playable factions! Bigger levels! A better story! From the outside looking in, it feels like another developer just throwing new features and ideas on top of the original game in the hope of attracting attention. But that’s not necessarily the case here.
Developer Arcen Games is an experienced team. Since they were founded in 2009, they’ve released eight games, about one every year. What’s more impressive is that each of those games have been critically acclaimed and mostly sold well. Right up until their most recent game that is.
Starward Rouge is a bullet-hell rouge-like released earlier this year. It too was critically acclaimed, however it sold poorly. It sold so poorly that the developers had to fire most of their staff, going from 17 total employees to only three less than a month after the game’s release. On Arcen’s blog post about the game, company founder Chris park noted that 9,000 people placed the game on their Steam wish list, but only 2,100 copies were actually sold.
It’s a fascinating read because it goes into great detail about the company’s previous games. Park also states that two of their previous games sold even worse, but they were in a better financial situation to take those blows then. With Starward Rouge, that wasn’t the case. The good news is that if Park was this open and honest without a Kickstarter, chances are he and his company will be even better going forward.
All this happened in January 2016, less than 10 months ago. The Kickstarter page doesn’t make mention of the company’s woes, not that you can blame them, but what does that mean about Arcen going forward? That question is less to do with “are they capable of making this game,” no doubt they’ll be able to hire on more staff if they hit their $300,000 goal. It’s more along the lines of “what happens if this campaign fails, or it succeeds but the game sells poorly?”
You can make the case that potential backers should be made aware of the company’s financial issues. You can also congratulate Arcen on not playing up a sob story about how they’re on the verge of financial ruin to illicit donations. It’s a romantic idea to outsiders; a developer making a last stand by appealing to their fans on Kickstarter. Most developers would prominently display their woes on Kickstarter, proclaiming the campaign to be all or nothing.
Pressure Level : 11
You have to wonder what kind of stress they’re under. The gaming industry isn’t kind, and every developer on every level is constantly worrying about their job security. Publicly stating your last game is a major flop and that you had to let go most of your staff only turns the pressure up to 11. Should that be the reason you’re donating to a campaign though?
For their part, Arcen seems to only be thinking about the present. The Kickstarter page states they want to make a great game, their biggest game ever. They’re “taking this to the investors that matter,” the page reads, “our fans.” It’s always risky calling potential backers “investors,” but it’s a cute idea. In a way, it alludes to the company’s past financial misfortune without spelling it out.
Perhaps you’ll donate because you like the look of AI War II. Maybe you’ll donate on the basis of not wanting to see a developer lose their job. You might not donate at all, totally unaware or uncaring of their financial situation. Arcen’s situation isn’t a unique one, but the way they’re handling it is certainly outside the box.