In 1993, EA Sports released a game that would hit cult status known as Mutant League Football for the Sega Genesis.
The game would spawn a spinoff in the form of Mutant League Hockey as well as a TV show, but it would die off shortly after. Despite there still being love for the game, the Mutant League franchise would lay dormant for two decades until its creator decided a comeback was needed.
In 2013, a game known as Mutant Football League popped up on Kickstarter. The campaign raised $141,821 from 1,105 backers, but didn’t come remotely close to the hefty $750,000 goal that had been set.
The campaign was a deemed “complete disaster” according to Creative Director and series creator Michael Mendheim, and left him, personally, feeling hurt and defeated.
“The community absolutely hated me,” he said. “I was the guy that was screwing up their favorite game that they grew up playing in their childhoods.”
As with everything negative in life, however, Mendheim picked himself up from the shot to the stomach, and decide to take to the streets — so to speak — and find out why so many people we’re disappointed with what was being offered.
“I sought out the angriest people during that failed Kickstarter, and I spent about 6 months doing nothing but talking to the community and finding out their issues,” he said.
He found that the fans were turned off mostly by the fact that the new game was set to be a mobile title. It wasn’t what they wanted to see.
Fans wanted a next-generation console game that took the feeling and charm of the original game into the future. They wanted a game that would make them laugh and keep them coming back to play with friends time and time again.
After taking the time to talk to the community and put a plan together, Mendheim reached out to Maxim Novikov — a developer who’s worked on titles like FIFA Street 2 and SSX on Tour — about building the game fans wanted. Novikov said that he was able to put together a team in Ukraine that would be able to build the game that fans want.
Mendheim met with Novikov and his team, saw prototypes that were put together, and the partnership was born to bring Mutant Football League to the next level. Novikov showed him what can be done for the amount of money that they had after the first campaign.
“I was trying to do a mobile game with mobile graphics because I thought that’s all we could afford and that’s all that was possible,” Mendhaim said. “I actually built this console game for about what I was getting on that original Kickstarter campaign.”
With its newfound vision for the future in place, Mutant Football League, like a phoenix rising from its ashes, found its way back onto Kickstarter in February looking to raise $60,000 to continue development.
It took just four days to hit the goal.
“The fact that we smashed our goal in four days – on Sunday…Super Bowl Sunday – it was the best feeling in the world,” Mendheim exclaimed while adding that he was petrified of the idea of going back to Kickstarter after the failed first attempt. “Am I surprised? Yeah, I’m surprised. I’m really grateful.”
What changed this time around? Other than going in the direction of a console release, Digital Dreams Entertainment took another big risk in order to entice backers. The company did something that not many others have willing to do.
They let fans try it before they buy it.
For a single dollar — which was required by Steam in order to provide copies — fans could receive a sneak peak pre-alpha version of the game to see if they enjoyed it. Though it would still net the developers some money, the plan was to show fans how confident they were in the product being built.
“We rolled the whole dice on our game being fun and that people would get past the bugs, and we gave that away for a buck,” Mendheim said. “That dice roll could’ve blown up in our face, but people – for a dollar – get to play the game and test drive it, and get to see if it’s fun.”
With the smallest possible pledge allowing fans to try the game, Mendheim said that the company has seen a 92% conversion rate on the dollar pledge leading to $25 which is the cost to guarantee a copy of the game along with beta access.
This type of involvement Mendheim credits to the dedication of the community that loved the game nearly 25 years ago, and wants to see the next generation of fans get a chance to experience what Mutant Football is all about.
“We’ve got Dads that played the original game 20 years ago and now want to play with their six-year old,” he said, adding that a gore and vulgarity slider will be included so children can enjoy the game.
The game is being driven by the fans and backers, and has become the biggest reason for the success of this latest run in development. Mendheim said that letting backers vote on aspects like teams and species along with other in-game features helps them feel more a part of the game than ever before.
Players can see that their opinions matter, and the goal is that it leads to a better community and a better game overall.
With the current gameplan aiming for an Alpha release in late April or early May, Mendheim has had to curtail some of the demands of fans in order to make sure the game can get completed in a way that everyone will love.
“The only thing I don’t allow fans to do is get too ambitious where we can’t deliver the product (they deserve),” he said. “Our last major component that we have to build is the online play which we’ve been working on that for a few months.”
Mutant Football League will feature over a dozen teams, multiple stadiums, a playoff mode, a half-time mini game, and more. Digital Dreams is planning for an October release for the full PC version on Steam with a console launch coming around Super Bowl 52.