Failing Kickstarter: Learning from Starfighter Inc

 Starfighter Inc. by Impeller Studios. Click for their website
Starfighter Inc. by Impeller Studios. Click for their website

So at the end of May I did a post on Starfighter Inc. It had a Kickstarter campaign in progress and was selling itself as the spiritual successor to the X-Wing games. I disputed this claim, saying that a multiplayer focussed space deathmatch with Newtonian physics can’t feel much like X-Wing’s successor. I won’t repeat myself other than that but you can read the original article here if you wish.

Since then, the game failed in its Kickstarter campaign on June 6th 2015 (it was 90% funded, which on Kickstarter means you get 0% of the pledged money) and I just want to look at some things we can learn from the failure. This isn’t a general how-to on Kickstarter. This post is more or a follow-up article on Starfighter Inc itself. I’ve never run a KS campaign myself (yet) and I’m not an expert, but I do want to learn from some mistakes that we can observe.

It’s difficult to say why something fails on Kickstarter other than to say “because they didn’t raise enough money”. Perhaps others agreed with my own assertion that this game isn’t truly a spiritual successor to X-Wing and so weren’t interested enough to support. My previous article got right into this so I won’t do so again here, but this is surely at least part of the reason. If you’ll allow me to assume that this is at least partly true here, we reveal the first lesson.


Impeller’s early press for the game focussed on telling us that David Wessman was creating a new X-Wing game in all but name. Then they went on to say that the game was like “World of Tanks meets Counterstrike in space”. These are two very different things and different people play those different games. I would surmise that the people who heard about the game were largely the targeted X-Wing fans who then decided that the game wasn’t really for them, whereas if they’d taken a difference marketing approach and targeted the actual World of Tanks and Counterstrike players more, they might have found their true target audience. Instead they sort of split their attention and shot at the wrong target, at least in part.


Again, in my previous article I said that I didn’t care if David Wessman or Jack Mamais were on the team so much, because they weren’t making X-Wing or Crysis. A good team is important, sure. We can know that the names behind this project have delivered good stuff in the past, but it can’t make someone more interested in a game if they weren’t at least curious already.

Worth noting is Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night, the spiritual successor to Castlevania being made by Koji Igarashi. It recently raised $5.5m on Kickstarter, ten times more than it asked for, because people wanted to see another Castlevania game and one of its original chief architects was back to promise people that he’d deliver. So a name can matter, but I think more important is that people believe that that name will deliver the game that they’re after. Igarashi’s ‘interesting’ video did apparently hit all the right buttons and convince people that in trading on his name, he was also promising to deliver what people wanted, not something a little similar.


This is by far the most important lesson to be learned here, and even the Impeller team admitted they neglected this to their detriment. I said before that the game looked to be very early in development and as such it was hard to visualise or get excited by. At the time when I said that they were already half way through their Kickstarter campaign and the most gameplay to be seen was the video below, with the rest of the funding video dedicated to showing us interviews, concept art, the office, and physical Star Wars spaceship models.

Does that video excite you? No, me neither. That’s not enough to get money out of me, sorry.

So very late in the campaign they released a little more gameplay. It’s still very little to go on, but it’s at least approaching the bare minimum of what we’d like to see to know that the game is making progress and to give us an idea of what to expect. Presumably the rock music pumping away was to get their on-the-fence backers pumped up and to reach for their credit cards. View the later gameplay video here.

Now that’s a bit better. But the huge problem is that most people never saw that. IF they heard about the game and checked it out early on, and if they weren’t sold on what they saw, they likely wouldn’t have come back to check it out again and therefore they’d never have seen this video. This should have been there from the start. 

Gameplay! Gameplay! Gameplay!

 Typical Kickstarter funding graph.
Typical Kickstarter funding graph.

What you see here is a typical Kickstarter funding pattern. You can see that most projects get a lot of their funding on the first and last days of the campaign as people are excited when it’s new, or realise they have to get around to getting out their wallet by the end. This tends to hold true whether the project winds up successful or not.

 Starfighter Inc's pledge graph
Starfighter Inc’s pledge graph

Starfighter’s graph isn’t so radically different from the norm, but you can see that the first and last days aren’t quite as high as they might have been. You can put all sorts of reasons on this. I would say that this graph supports my assertion that seeing gameplay is very important for the prospective backer. It wasn’t there at the start of the campaign and so the day 1  spike wasn’t as high as it could have been. The little gameplay later shown in the second video (shown above) wasn’t all that impressive either and so when people got their email reminders on the last day of the project (assuming they clicked ‘remind me’ on their first visit)  not enough of them were sufficiently impressed to push the campaign over the $250,000 they were seeking.


Getting a successful Kickstarter under your belt is almost seen as a prerequisite to making an independent game these days, but it’s not. All of the traditional means of funding a product still exist; namely bank loans, publishers, angel investors and even personal savings. Also, products (like Dimension Drive) can come back to Kickstarter and pass on their second attempt. Frank n’ John by Ireland’s bitSmith Games didn’t pass their Kickstarter in 2014 but continued development and are set to release their game sometime in the second half of 2015. They had a recent blog post about their journey which you can check out here.

Indeed, there are actually benefits to not passing Kickstarter. You’ve gotten some loyal followers from the campaign, you’ve gotten public exposure, but you’re now not beholden to a public community who examine your every move and need constant updates to know that you’re working. The amount of emails I receive from projects I’ve backed telling me that they’ve made a new model or hired a new cleaner are things that take the developer’s time just to assure me that they’re still working on the game I paid them to support. Passing Kickstarter can be a real time sink and it’s often not even in exchange for enough cash to make the game. Just for enough to prove interest to other investors who pay the lion’s share.

To finish, getting back to Starfighter Inc specifically, I’d like to point out that they’re still in development and will be finishing the game. On June 6th, the same day that their Kickstarter ended, they went on Steam Greenlight which asks Steam users if they would buy the game if it were made available. There’s no monetary commitment on Greenlight. Starfighter Inc passed it a few days later.

Creative Director Jack Mamais has said “I’ve been working on it for two years and I don’t like to work on something and not finish it. So we’re going to finish it. As long as it takes”. I think this is encouraging. They had said that the meagre $250,000 they were asking for was to hire artists to finish the models and they expected the game to take 6-9 months longer to finish if they passed Kickstarter.

Given all of that. I fully expect to see the game out in mid 2016 and I look forward to playing it.

X-Wing’s spiritual successor is on Kickstarter?

STARFIGHTER INC. by Impeller Studios, is currently in the middle of its Kickstarter campaign, with over $150,000 raised of its $250,000 target with 13 days to go. It’s billed as the spiritual successor to Lucasarts’ X-Wing PC games from the 1990s. David Wessman, a designer on each of the 4 X-Wing games is lead designer of a quite meritorious team who want to bring back the flare of the series.

The nineties were a great time for Lucasarts and for Star Wars. See my previous blog on the May 4th Star Wars game sales. You’ll see that most of my top recommended games were from the last millennium. Rebellion, Dark Forces series, Rogue Squadron and the X-Wing series made me proud to be a sci-fi fan and a gamer. The Star Wars novels were expanding the universe in (sometimes) interesting new directions. Lucasarts were even doing well with their non-Star Wars games like Monkey Island, Grim Fandango and Full Throttle. Everyone was eagerly looking forward to the new prequels (Episode 1 didn’t come out until 1999 and until then it was generally a very positive time). So it’s safe to say that the nostalgia-factor is strong with this one, and Impeller Studios are banking on that nostalgia to make their Kickstarter campaign a success.

My first ever game with my first ever PC was X-Wing, which came on 5 floppy discs. I believe it was 1994, I was 7, and I played the shit out of it! One of my favourite ever games is still X-Wing Alliance, which was sadly the last entry in the series, all the way back in 1999. The fact that the series stopped there has always been a huge regret for me and other gamers. Admittedly it was a good high-note to end on, but still. I’ve always wanted another one, and nothing has satisfied. 

Things are definitely changing for Star Wars since Disney’s acquisition of the franchise in 2012, but I’m still not fully convinced that this will be good for Star Wars, or that it’ll produce the games we’ve all been craving. The entire Expanded Universe (books fiction) was the baby thrown out with the bathwater, the promising 1313 was cancelled, and so far we’ve seen 3 trailers for the new EA Battlefront game without 1 second of gameplay footage. I’m not passing judgement yet, just withholding it. I’ve been hurt before! At least the deal can’t turn out worse for Star Wars. Disney will either breathe new life into the horse, or just take over the flogging, but they can’t kill it again (1313 excluded).

What would sell me, personally, is if the movies are good and we get a new X-Wing (or Empire at War or Republic Commando) game. The free-to-play multiplayer-only Attack Squadrons was (thankfully) cancelled in Beta stage with the developers saying it was “so we can focus on other game experiences” (article here). There was hope that the other experiences mentioned might be an X-wing game, but one year later, and with Wessman working on Starfighter Inc. the chances of that are looking slimmer.

With Star Citizen’s success spurring on a rebirth for the space-sim genre, maybe we will still see an official Star Wars space game again, but for now it looks like X-Wing fans shouldn’t hold their breath. So, should they pin their hopes on Starfighter Inc?

 The Impeller Studios team.
The Impeller Studios team.

My problem is that while the later X-Wing games DID have multiplayer, the games were single player story experiences, with dramatic and varied missions through which you lived out your space hero fantasies. You didn’t get killed by better players every 30 seconds and respawn. That shatters the hero fantasy. X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter was the exception in the story-driven franchise but even its expansion pack had story content. Starfighter Inc. is just planned as a multiplayer game. I hate that! To me, that’ll be fun for a couple of hours, but be nowhere near the X-Wing experience that I’ve been craving, and I imagine many fans will agree with me. Impeller are banking on the good will and nostalgia of X-Wing fans to give this project its legs, but for me, one of the world’s largest X-Wing fans, they’re not successfully speaking to that nostalgia. They’re making just another space deathmatch game. I care little that Wessman is working on it if he’s not delivering the kind of game I know him for. I love Far Cry (kinda) and Crysis (1, only) but the fact that Jack Mamais is on the team doesn’t matter much to me either because this game isn’t a First Person Shooter!

I want the game that X-Wing should be 16 years on from X-Wing Alliance. That game had over 50 single player missions, ships with gun positions (like the Millennium Falcon), hyperspace trips in-mission, re-arming on capital ships in-mission, and boarding enemy ships. Kinda. You docked and then sat in the turret for x amount of time while you heard your commandos board the station and do the interesting stuff over the radio.

Starfighter Inc. has… well, all that, but except the missions. Its main selling points are the things X-Wing Alliance had 16 years ago, but without an interesting narrative context to put them in. Multiplayer matches and levelling up your ship can be great, but they’re a very different type of game. Wessman describes the game as “World of Tanks meets Counter-Strike in space”. Both of those games are multiplayer team games where you level up your stats, but they’re clearly trying to appeal to the nostalgia of X-Wing fans to carry them through, with Wessman also saying “this game is the next X-Wing”.

 X-Wing Alliance was the first game to let you fly the Millennium Falcon and fight the entire Battle of Endor, including the run inside the second Death Star!
X-Wing Alliance was the first game to let you fly the Millennium Falcon and fight the entire Battle of Endor, including the run inside the second Death Star!

Now, there is a single-player campaign stretch-goal to mention, but it’s the $10,500,000 goal. Right now it’s looking questionable whether they’ll reach their first goal of $250,000 so I doubt very much that this game will be “the next X-Wing”. It’s also using Newtonian physics. Popular nowadays, for sure, and more realistic, but X-Wing didn’t have this. In those games you flew like you were in an atmosphere and would get into turning battles with other craft. That was how the game felt to play. Newtonian physics completely changes the tactics of a dogfighting game in space because you can always turn to face your enemy, even if it means you’re suddenly flying relatively backwards. So it’s questionable if even the dogfighting part in the multiplayer will feel reminiscent of X-Wing at all.

To my eyes, this game is promising to deliver basically what the Arena Commander part of Star Citizen is already delivering, only much later. From their video, Starfighter Inc. looks to be extremely early in development. What I want from a spiritual X-Wing successor is a solid, dramatic, narrative-driven single player (or co-op) campaign game with big ships, little ships, and incredible set pieces. The first episode of Squadron 42 (Star Citizen’s single-player side) is supposedly going to be out late this year and will supposedly have about 20 hours of gameplay. I expect delays, but still, it’s much more likely to deliver the spiritual successor to X-Wing (well, Wing Commander if we’re going to get technical there) that I’ve wanted for 16 years than Starfighter Inc. is.

So, sorry Impeller Studios. I want to want this game. I really want it to be X-Wing’s spiritual successor. I also fully understand the decision to model your game on the hyper-successful World of Tanks and Counter-Strike, but I don’t think I want this. I’ll support for a small amount. I’d love to see you eventually put out single-player content, but I don’t feel that this game is X-Wing’s spiritual successor. I wish you luck with it. I’ll be sure to play it if it does succeed, and I hope it does. I think it’ll be fun and more quality space shooters are a good thing in a world that’s been starved of them, but without a single player campaign as the primary focus, I think you’re missing the mark with what X-Wing fans wanted. For me, at least, you are.