Not every video game franchise has the luxury of being backed by big studios or media conglomerates. While companies like Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft can fund all the video game projects they’d like, independent developers have to seek funding from elsewhere. That’s where crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter, Patreon, and GoFundMe come in.
While many campaigns unfortunately don’t reach their goal, lots of others have gone above and beyond their initial plans. Even though these ten indie video games started as passion projects seeking donations from interested fans, they’ve since become iconic franchises in their own right, even spawning future installments and merchandising.
10 Shovel Knight
One of the most successful video game Kickstarter campaigns was Shovel Knight, developed by Yacht Club Games. The title originally debuted on Kickstarter in 2013, quadrupling its minimum goal of $75,000. However, that’d pale in comparison to how much farther the franchise would go following its release on PC, Wii U, and Nintendo 3DS.
Not only did Shovel Knight receive numerous DLC expansions and console generation ports over the next few years, but the franchise is set to continue on. Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon released in 2021 as a puzzle game spin-off, while Shovel Knight Dig serves as a prequel to the first game with roguelike platforming as the titular hero.
By this point, many video game fans probably don’t even remember the infancy of Undertale, which was almost entirely made by indie developer Toby Fox. The game, which takes heavy inspiration from the Mother franchise, follows a child navigating a subterranean Earth, encountering charismatic allies and enemies they must fight with a unique battle system.
What really drew fans to Undertale beyond its initial Kickstarter pitch was its world-building. Video game fans fell in love with characters like Sans and Papyrus, the former of whom appears as a Mii costume in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. The game even popularized the music track “Megalovania,” widely considered one of the best video game songs ever made.
8 Hollow Knight
While Shovel Knight appealed to fans of the “Metroidvania” genre and Mega Man franchise, Hollow Knight was a crowdfunded 2D platformer that reminded players of the ruthless difficulty of the Dark Souls franchise. That’s certainly represented through the aesthetics of Hollow Knight, which follows a warrior exploring a plagued kingdom.
Acclaimed for its art design and gameplay, Hollow Knight has become a beloved bastion of indie gaming. The love for the iconic game will definitely carry over to the game’s sequel currently in development, titled Hollow Knight: Silksong, though there’s still lots of enjoyment to be had from the original game that released in 2017.
7 Pillars Of Eternity
For a game like Pillars of Eternity to get made, Kickstarter was essential to fund their top-down tactical RPG. However, the game’s developer, Obsidian Entertainment, had some pretty big releases in their past, including South Park: The Stick of Truth and Fallout: New Vegas, but struggled to recoup losses from numerous cancelled projects over the years.
Nevertheless, they didn’t let that stop Pillars of Eternity from being made, which turned out to be an incredibly worthwhile effort. After its release in 2015, Pillars of Eternity received two DLC expansions and a sequel in 2018, titled Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire, which was partially funded by the crowdfunding website Fig.
6 Mighty No. 9
The 2016 Mega Man-inspired platformer is quite historical in the world of Kickstarter after raising a total of over $3.8 million. Led by former Capcom writer Keiji Inafune, a big part of the game’s development process involved input from dedicated fans, who were polled on character designs and the creation of new funding goals.
Sadly, Mighty No. 9 was also subject to a prolonged development process, which even resulted in an end credits sequence being three hours in length. Reviews of the game upon release were also mixed, even though some die-hard Mega Man fans loved the spiritual successor. Furthermore, some Kickstarter backers sadly never received their bonuses.
The video game community is more than aware of the rise and fall of Rareware, who developed iconic games like Banjo-Kazooie, Goldeneye 007, and Donkey Kong Country. Though the company and its IP were bought by Microsoft, most of the core team of those games reconvened in 2014 to develop a new game under the new company Playtonic.
That game was Yooka-Laylee, a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie replacing its iconic bear and bird for a chameleon and bat. Many aspects of the game are directly inspired by Banjo-Kazooie titles, from wide open levels to explore, its main characters’ abilities, and even mine cart sequences that harken back to the Donkey Kong Country games.
4 Night In The Woods
Night in the Woods doesn’t have much gameplay to write home about, but it’s a game that survives off the sincere and heart-wrenching core story in it. The game follows Mae, an anthropomorphic college dropout who returns to her hometown and discovers a vast conspiracy underlying it that puts into question the morality of everyone in town.
Initially announced on Kickstarter in 2013, the game wasn’t released until February 2017. However, the additional funding led to playable mini-games in the core game. The game’s story also received acclaim from media publications, eventually resulting in it winning several awards, including Best Narrative at the British Academy Games Awards.
3 Shantae: Half-Genie Hero
The Shantae franchise dates back way further than Kickstarter. The first title was released in 2002 for the Game Boy Color by indie developer WayForward. Though the company remained active for years, they eventually needed to turn to Kickstarter to keep their beloved Shantae series afloat for 2016’s Shantae: Half-Genie Hero.
As a result of Half-Genie Hero, WayForward raised nearly $1 million for the game, which has been ported to many future HD platforms. Its sequel, Shantae and the Seven Sirens, was developed without the aid of Kickstarter and released in 2019, also receiving ports on future consoles, hopefully keeping the franchise alive for many years to come.
2 Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night
Like many other Kickstarted indie games, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a Metroidvania game developed by former Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi. Following his departure from Konami, Igarashi launched Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night as a Kickstarter in 2015, raising a whopping $5.5 million and outdoing almost any other video game campaign on the site.
As a result of its funding goals, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night ended up preceded by an NES-style Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon. Ritual of the Night released a year after it in 2019, while both titles have continued to receive sequels following the initial game’s success, despite unfavorable reviews towards its Nintendo Switch port.
1 Hyper Light Drifter
Released in 2016, Hyper Light Drifter was described to Kickstarter backers as a cross between The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Diablo. Developer Alx Preston launched the Kickstarter in 2013, raising $640,000 out of a $27,000 goal. Following the game’s success, Preston continued expanding on the Hyper Light Drifter universe.
In Preston’s next game with his company Heart Machine, Solar Ash, Hyper Light Drifter is referenced in a way that implies Solar Ash exists in the same universe. Additionally, Preston announced in 2019 he’d be collaborating with producer Adi Shankar to develop a limited series based on Hyper Light Drifter that carries over its pixel animation style.
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