If you’re reading this, you are probably familiar with Kickstarter in some way. As a small independent company, Kickstarter is the only way that Booyah Games is currently able to fund and produce our games. It is also an increasingly visible platform for the tabletop hobby, allowing many games to be produced which couldn’t have been made any other way; at least not with the same amount of content for the price.
However, Kickstarter as a platform has changed a lot over the last four years. It’s not just about a small group of people with big ideas and little resources “funding their dreams”; we also have big-name companies launching projects on Kickstarter that they could have easily funded themselves. While many independent games are lucky to get into the tens of thousands of dollars range, there is almost always at least one currently running tabletop campaign that’s broken the $100K funding mark or even into the millions of dollars. The market is rather saturated, with multiple new tabletop projects launching literally every single day.
So what can you do to properly traverse this ever-changing landscape of the crowdfunding world, both as a creator or a customer? I’ll be presenting three case studies relevant to Kickstarter as well as a few other general thoughts and observations.
Experimenting on a Small Scale (Somnium): As crowdfunding changes, there are some companies who are “experimenting” with the Kickstarter platform to try to keep ahead of the curve. One of the first times I’ve heard a company explicitly say they were experimenting on Kickstarter was with the campaign for Somnium: Rise of Laputa, a game that Davy did the art and graphic design for. They came out and said that they were purposely not posting any Updates during the run of the campaign as an “experiment”. Many people (including myself) were rather confused by the point of this experiment and what they actually hoped to learn from it.
Marketing on Kickstarter and interacting with backers can be tricky. While a level of transparency is always appreciated, if you come out and say that you are “experimenting” with how you are communicating with your backers that can cause breakdown of trust and make them feel like you don’t care about their contribution. Also, if you are changing how you run a campaign to try to find out what effect it will have there can always be other factors at work, so you always need to look at the whole picture.
This isn’t to suggest that there can’t be value in changing up your process and figuring out what works best for you, but you do need to be careful about all of the consequences, especially when it comes to how your choices look from the outside looking in.
Experimenting on a Large Scale (Monolith): While Somnium was a very small campaign, the board game company Monolith is anything but small. Monolith made a recent announcement talking about how they are changing their approach to running Kickstarter projects. Their previous Kickstarter campaign, the hugely successful Batman: Gotham City Chronicles, was a Kickstarter Exclusive game with no plans for a release via traditional distribution. Monolith is now taking things a step further as their next game will not only be KS exclusive, but they are also pre-producing the game and will start the fulfilment process immediately after the campaign ends.
While many companies like CMON and AEG have been accused of using KS as a pre-order system since they have the means to produce games with their own funding, Monolith aims to turn KS into a straight-up store front. And according to Monolith’s post, the people behind Kickstarter are perfectly fine with this.
In addition to laying out their future plans for pre-producing games prior to a KS campaign, they also described a number of points as ways to “justify” this large-scale experiment. Two of these points in particular seemed a little odd to me.
First, Monolith talked about how stretch goals are “only a marketing gimmick”, but then went on to say that stretch goals “serve only as an adjustment variable” to financially plan out a campaign at each level.... That’s not the same thing. A “gimmick” is a trick, ploy, or stunt that is mainly used as a means of promotion. When you are measuring out and making financial plans for different levels of content through stretch goals based on economies of scale, then that is a marketing tool. Monolith’s statement feels like they’re smack-talking stretch goals as an extra justification for the absence of them in their future campaigns. Since Monolith is manufacturing their games beforehand, they can’t do stretch goals anymore. They should just let that be their answer and not feel the need to bad-mouth the value and validity of others using stretch goals.
Monolith then cited a significant need for creators to attract new pledgers to the Kicktsarter platform, claiming that the “rate of new pledgers is dropping to the extent of being ridiculously low today (often under 10%).” I assume they’re talking about the number of backers to a project for whom that project is their first time using Kickstarter. If this is the meaning behind their statistic, I wouldn’t call “often under 10%” of a campaign’s backers being brand new to KS “ridiculously low”. Imagine you have a storefront on Amazon or eBay. Would you be concerned that less than 1% of your customers were first-time purchasers on that platform?
Nearly everything that Monolith said comes through with the filter of a huge (“monolithic”?) board game company on Kickstarter. Pre-producing the game for your campaign? Most of us small guys wouldn’t even be on Kickstarter if we could do that! Seeing Stretch Goals as a “gimmick”? No, for Booyah and other small publishers, the stretch goal system is usually the only way we’re going be able to provide higher quality components and extra content. Wanting more than 10% of our backers to be brand new to Kickstarter? Unless we’re really hitting the pavement in non-board-game forums and harassing friends and family like crazy, that’s just an insane pipe dream.
I’m not saying that Monolith is out of touch with Kickstarter as a whole; I just feel that their view of Kickstarter is very different from those who truly, absolutely need to use crowdfunding in order to create their content.
The Cautionary Tale of Overturn - Rising Sands: A little over a month ago a campaign for a game called “Overturn Rising Sands” launched on Kickstarter. The term “dumpster fire” tends to get thrown around a lot, but this project definitely warranted the term. Overturn was a pile of red flags upon red flags. The minimum funding goal was far below what a project of its scale should have. They provided a rule book which was mostly copy-pasted from the rules for Massive Darkness. The creators even claimed to be based out of Canada when they were actually from Pakistan. There were many more red flag, but to keep this from becoming an Overturn hit piece, check out this article if you’re interested in learning more.
The Overturn debacle is equally important for both creators and customers on Kickstarter. At best, Overturn was one of the most poorly managed Kickstarter campaigns that I have ever witnessed on the platform. At worst, this was an absolute scam and the creators were primed to run off with everyone’s money and maybe even a ton of personal information.
After the rule book scandal came out, I watched as the project’s funding took a nose dive. While many people in the campaign’s comments were warning others about its “high risk” nature, they also wondered why Kickstarter hadn’t taken down the campaign as it was still projecting to reach its minimum funding goal. Thankfully, KS did finally step in with about 25 hours remaining in the campaign, just short of the 24 hour mark during which it becomes harder to cancel a pledge if it would drop a projects funding below the minimum goal. The funding for the campaign was suspended so that no one loses money on this disaster.
Sadly, even though this project had a massive amount of issues, Kickstarter waited until the final hours of the campaign before finally shutting it down. If this were a scam, and if the people behind it were just a little more clever, they would have very likely gotten away with it. I would never want to scare anyone away from using Kickstarter since it is the primary vehicle through which our company functions, but you should always approach campaigns with a healthy amount of skepticism. Hopefully we can continue to do our best to fight against projects like this and keep people educated so the platform isn’t seen as being an easy target for scam artists.
Kickstarter is Just a Platform: One of the most important things to remember when you are exploring this world of crowdfunding is that Kickstarter is just a platform and a business in its own right. They push the image of “funding the dream”, but in reality Kickstarter isn’t very different from eBay or Amazon. Kickstarter is a company concerned first with profits. If a customer concern would potentially cut into making money, they will usually side with money. They won’t likely act unless something is turned into a no-joke legal issue or an absolute PR disaster. And can we really fault them for that? Despite what their priorities are, they have still created a great platform.
Personally, I have a firm stance that Kickstarter truly is just a tool that anyone is welcome to use however they want. It’s a free market; go for it! AEG wants to try out Kickstarter for a few of their games even though they can definitely release the game by traditional means? Sure! You want to have a ton of content that is only available through the KS campaign? Why not! The entire game is only available through Kickstarter? You do you, creators!
All of that said, although I’m not going to protest these tactics, I do think it’s important to discuss the impact that this can have on Kickstarter and the tabletop gaming hobby as a whole. As both customers and creators, we have a responsibility to ourselves and the community to share our views and stay educated on this ever-changing landscape if we choose to utilize it.
I believe that crowdfunding is a beautiful thing and worth all of the potential pitfalls. The capability for anyone with a great idea and the proper drive to create a wonderful game is something that should be valued and protected. While Kickstarter is just a platform, it is what has been created around it that is extraordinary and I am always looking forward to its future. What will you create next?
The Booyah Buddha has spoken!