Kickstarter is an amazing platform for crowdfunding projects. Someone can post a project (or even an idea of a project) with the hopes that people will be intrigued enough by the project to support it. If enough people pledge enough money to the project, it will be funded. Where Kickstarter differs from other crowdfunding sites is that each project has a funding goal associated with it. If the project does not reach that goal, the creator of the project does not receive any of the funds.
Kickstarter is not intended to be a platform for pre-ordering (although some companies treat it as such). Kickstarter is supposed to be a way for you to fund a project you are interested in and passionate about and due to your commitment to fund, you are responsible for helping it come to fruition.
Kickstarter is a home to a lot of different projects, ranging from films (like Veronica Mars) to reimagined lunchboxes. If you look at the most funded projects in Kickstarter’s history (at the time of this writing), board games crack two of the top ten (Kingdom Death: Monster 1.5 and Exploding Kittens). This showcases the hobbies diverse audience as one game is clearly marketed to the hardcore followers and the other has a more casual and universal appeal.
If we open that criteria up to the top fifty funded projects on Kickstarter, sixteen board games make the list, not including a miniature tabletop game. According to an article from Polygon, “the tabletop games category — which includes board games, hobby miniatures games, card games, and tabletop role-playing games — was up $27.23 million (in 2018), a 19.8 percent increase compared to 2017. The total raised by successful tabletop campaigns was $165 million, also an all-time high for the Kickstarter platform.”
Board gaming has clearly found its niche and a way to appeal to its target audiences through the platform. Many decry that Kickstarter campaigns pray on the instance of FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out, and while that may be true, the capital invested in these projects cannot be ignored.
To expand on the FOMO bit for those not familiar with Kickstarter, I am going to explain some terms that will help make aspects of Kickstarter easier to understand.
A campaign is the launch and duration of time that the project is available to be funded on Kickstarter.
Backing the project means to support and pledge money to it. Once the project is funded and the campaign ends, a backer is locked into their pledge.
A pledge manager is the service that lets the backer purchase the pledged-for project and any additional add-on features. Add-on’s can be additional copies of the product you’re purchasing, other items the developer has previously created, or items created specifically for the current campaign that are not included in your pledge.
Stretch Goals are funding targets that are unique to a project. If a campaign hopes to reach $10,000.00 to be published, they might add additional goals for raising $12,000.00 and $14,000.00 to entice more individuals to pledge their money. Not all projects have stretch goals; they are optional.
Stretch goals are important for board games (and leads to FOMO) as many campaigns have Kickstarter Exclusives, which are options that are only available if you pledged the Kickstarter. Stretch goals can range from upgraded art and/or components, to custom meeples, to additional expansions, to new miniatures, to multiple language rulebooks, and more. I’ll touch more on this aspect further down in the post.
The retail version will typically differ from the version you can purchase from the Kickstarter. In addition, the Kickstarter version of the game will typically only be available via the Kickstarter. Sometimes copies will be available at a few conventions directly from the publisher and/or any retail store that decides to chip in for that edition. There is a finite amount of copies of the Kickstarter editions and once they’re gone, they’re gone…typically.
Speaking of retail, many games that are funded on Kickstarter are available for purchase at the retail level, if either at a friendly local gaming store (FLGS) or website (either Amazon or the publisher directly). I don’t have any concrete data to support that claim but for the most part, games I wished I backed have been available at later dates. Not all though (The 7th Continent being a notable exception). Some games will see second campaigns due to their initial success (like The 7th Continent). Games Kickstarted tend to be available to the backers before the games hit retail as well…but not always.
Another split between Kickstarter and retail is the pricing. Sometimes the Kickstarter, with all the bells and whistles (but not always), will be cheaper than the initial release of the retail edition (in my experience, the difference in pricing is around $10 to $30, not including shipping costs though. Miniature-heavy games might see a much larger difference). However, this does not include sales or if games do not do well once they hit the market (like, Founders of Gloomhaven, which had a pledge level of $49 + shipping and an MSRP of $79.99 but can now be found on Amazon for $24.99 [and cheaper]).
Personally, I’ve backed twelve board games, a comic book, a tool to help paint miniatures, and a sleep mask. I plan to back more projects in the future and am routinely talking myself out of backing games at the last minute. I like the feel of helping creators reach their goal. The items I back are typically things I am passionate about and since I have the means, I like to support when I can.
I spend a lot of time researching the projects that I’m interested in which leads me to feel confident in what I back. I also want the stretch goals as I am always looking for more content for the games I enjoy.
For as much as I sing the praises of the platform, it’s not all fun and games in the Kickstarter world. Using the crowdfunding site comes with risks. There are many developers and production companies that are not prepared for the rigors of demand fulfillment or even the logistics of having a successfully funded project. Delays can become common and instances of the funders money being absconded with are all too common.
Stretch goals have also become a point of contention. Some projects come out of the gates with a full range of goals available to backers. While this might seem great at first glance, it does make some backers hesitant as they wonder why that content wasn’t just included in the original campaign of the game.
A larger point of contention are games that feature stretch goals that greatly alter the playing of the game. Blood Rage and Rising Sun have featured verbal critics that pan the game for the additional items that impact the game via imbalance. It also creates a scenario where if you get into a game after it has come to retail, hunting down the additional content could cost three to four times the original amount due to second-hand prices.
Universally praised are stretch goals that are used to bolster the components of the game. A recently funded game that I helped review, Faza, had goals that were focused around improving the quality of the game box, cardboard bits, cards, and art.
Doubling back to campaigns, each has a set time frame of when a game will be delivered to its backers. Each game is unique and has a different time frame but it’s not uncommon for projects to completely miss that delivered by date. In my experience, I have had a project ship early, a few ship on time, several ship 2-3 months late, and one ship almost three years late.
The last area that I want to dive into that can be a cause of concern are previews/reviews of Kickstarter board games. I have written several p/reviews for Kickstarters (most recently for Faza) and every time I have been provided a copy of a game, I have noted that I was provided a copy in exchange for the review. For me, receiving a copy doesn’t automatically mean a positive review either but the clarity that I was provided a copy is important. Even more so if the p/review is being created due to a payment. For example, there was a Reddit post a few years ago that tackled the poor way several creators were promoting the paid nature of their previews. All of this is to say that when reviewing the testimony provided on a Kickstarter, ensure that it’s not a fluff piece.
All told, Kickstarter has been a great way for projects such as Gloomhaven and Scythe to get their backing. But there are still many projects that had such hype and failed to live up to the buildup. I’m planning on taking a look at several instances of campaigns that derailed over the coming weeks.