Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Kickstart or Kickstop?

Following the brief discussion on Kickstarter and Crowdfunding (found here if you missed it) I have crystalised my thoughts into 10 points - five 'pro' Kickstarter and 5 'anti' Kickstarter.

Please remember that I am using Kickstarter as that is the platform I am most familiar with, but a lot of the points probably apply to crowdfunding as a whole


  • Access to Market

One of the main benefits of Kickstarter is that it allows games to come to market that would never have had the chance to do so. Much like self-published ebooks, a designer no longer needs to hawk their creations to an established publisher in order for it to see the light of day.

  • Community Projects

A positive for both the designer and the prospective customers, due to the nature of the Kickstarter platform, the design becomes a bit of a community project, with the designer getting input from customers, and customers being able to influence design decisions. Now this can sometimes be a negative, if the designer tries to listen to all feedback, but if handled correctly this can be an extremely valuable asset to the design of a game.

  • Cult of the New

Backing a Kickstarter project should mean that you get a copy before it hits the stores. Lots of gamers are card carrying members of the Cult of the New and love to have the latest games to show off.

  • Reserve Your Copy

This is a strange one, but in this hobby, games are frequently out of stock and not available to purchase. As this is quite a niche industry, print runs are usually relatively small, and therefore the more buzz there is about a game, the harder it can be to get a copy. A lot of Kickstarter projects can take a while to get into stores, and when they do hit retail, they can be hard to get hold of - so becoming a backer means you will definitely get your copy! For instance Among the Stars is impossible to find in stores, so when the ne Kickstarter project appeared and allowed me to back at a level that included the base game, I jumped at the chance!

  • Exclusives

One of the ways in which project creators entice backers to part with their hard earned money is by offering exclusives that are only available via Kickstarter. For example, Dungeon Roll came in a special monster chest if backed on Kickstarter. Some games go even further and add new cards or figures into the games that are exclusive. Euphoria came with some gorgeous components, including solid metal "gold pieces". Other campaigns might give the backer special promotional cards, or extra characters, or even extra mini expansions.

So this all sounds like great stuff - positives for the consumer, positives for the designer. But is it really a win-win situation?


  • Buy Before You Try

One of the biggest issues with Kickstarter from a consumer point of view, is that there is no way to try the game before you spend your money on it. Sure, there are often a few video reviews / game play videos, which although helpful is no substitute for actually playing the game yourself. This is especially true with games that rely heavily on miniatures, which often don't have the game play to back up the eye candy.
But there's a bigger risk than getting a poor game - there's a risk that you get no game at all. There are some (thankfully not many) examples of projects that have funded and nothing being delivered. One of these projects was saved by Cryptozoic but the fact remains that you are giving up your money months or years before you are going to receive a product.

  • Stretch Goals

Surely getting nice components, or extra 'stuff' is a good thing? Why have I included this in a list of negatives? Well, the main reason is that some of these bonuses often feel like they are after thoughts, purely designed to try and grab as much money as possible from backers. Things like mini-expansions, extra character cards should either be part of the game or not - have these been play tested properly, or just tacked on as an after thought?

  • Skipping the Stores
There's a saying in this hobby. 'The best way to make a small fortune when running a game store, is to start with a large fortune'. In other words, it's a really difficult business and Kickstarter is removing a lot of potential sales from the local stores. Not only are they removing potential sales of individual games, but if you consider that consumers have a certain budget for games, then every dollar spent on Kickstarter is a dollar that is not spent in the local gaming stores. 

  • Pre-Orders
This is more of a personal gripe than a negative, but I'm including it on this list. Kickstarter, and all crowd-funding platforms were designed to help projects get funded that would never be able to get produced. But we have more and more examples of big companies, that do not need to use Kickstarter to raise funds, treating Kickstarter as as sort of pre-order system. Do Queen Games really need to use Kickstarter to raise $20,000 to produce a game that has already been designed and produced? You could argue that as it has raised $115,000 then clearly there is demand, but the fact remains they could easily have released this without Kickstarter.
  • Incomplete Games

What do I mean by an incomplete game? Well, precisely the feeling I get as a non-backer and miss out on some exclusive Kickstarter content. I'll refer back to the Euphoria example earlier. Here's a game where I almost drooled over the components, only to discover that if I go to a shop and buy the game, that isn't the version I can get. I would just get the boring, plain components.
It's the same with any content that offers extra game play choices, for example, extra characters, or extra cards. If I miss out on the campaign, then does that mean I'm only getting some of the game?


I have a weird relationship with Kickstarter. I go through phases when I will not touch it with a barge pole, and other times when I back every project I see (if my wife is reading this, don't worry, I end up cancelling most of the pledges).
I'm still undecided if it's good or bad for the hobby - and whether the bubble will burst at any point still remains to be seen.
Like or or loathe it, Kickstarter is probably here to stay.

Which reminds me, I;d better go and check to see if any stretch goals have been unlocked for Maze Master....

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