Boardgames in the News: What is the Influence of KickStarter?

The rise of the internet has changed everything.  When UK designers like Alan R. Moon and Richard Breese first started publishing their small numbers of “designer games”, these were often mostly advertised through magazines and by word of mouth.  Now we have  boardgamegeek.com (or BGG for short), which provides an extensive database of boardgames as well as an active community of users who discuss, argue about, buy, sell, trade and play board games. Their database contains over 76,000 board games each with its own entry that includes general information about the game, user ratings, forums for discussion and user reviews amongst other things. There are also websites devoted to online versions of boardgames, where players can try new games to see if they like them (before spending money) and hone skills by playing against other people from all over the world.

BGG
– Image from boardgamegeek.com

The UK boardgamer also now has a wealth of possible vendors:  they might start with Amazon to get a baseline price, then perhaps try one of the excellent specialist online sellers like BoardGameGuru, Games Lore, or Infinity Games.  Importing games is also an option:  many international editions are cheaper in continental Europe than here, even when shipping is factored in.  Alternatively, there are a number of excellent UK shops which also have an online presence like Shire Games and Spirit Games.  People in the Oxford area also have a couple of local choices that they can visit too, including Thirsty Meeples and The Gameskeeper.  And this is before you include the fact that high street stores like Waterstones and WHSmith often stock a small selection and even The Works has has some Rio Grande Games available recently.

Indiegogo
– Image from indiegogo.com

In the last few years though, there has also been the internet phenomenon of crowd funding.  There are several crowd funding websites that enable designers of all sorts of things to propose projects, however, the two main sites used by boardgamers are Indiegogo and KickStarter.  These provide an entirely new model where a designer advertises their design and anyone can pledge to support them financially.  Typically this works through a system of pledges and associated rewards.  For example, if a supporter pledges $5 they may be rewarded with a novelty meeple, whereas if they pledge $50 they are rewarded with the whole game and for $500 they might get the signed first copy.  This is distinct from a pre-order as there is no contract between the designer and supporter.  Also, each project is usually advertised for a set period time with a given financial target, if this is not reached, then the project is cancelled.  If it exceeds its goal, then additional “stretch goals” may be set out which can lead to improvements in the game when it is produced.

KickStarter
– Image from iconfinder.com

So, the advantage of this approach is that the risk is spread out amongst all the supporters enabling many people to produce games in a way that would not otherwise be possible.  There are also a number of disadvantages of crowd funding, however.  There are very long delays involved, with some games taking eighteen months to two years or more longer than projected.  There are also a lot of gamers who admit that they have become addicted to supporting projects which has led to a lot of people paying over the odds for rubbish.  Primarily though, the biggest problem is that supporters feel a sense of entitlement:  they are used to buying a game and if their reward does not materialise, they feel aggrieved.  Most projects end with supporters getting a reward of some kind even if it is not as originally envisaged.

Zombicide Season 3: Rue Morgue
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor The Carmen

Some games have been hugely successful, raising eye-watering sums of money.  For example, Zombicide Season 3: Rue Morgue yielded nearly $3 million with over 12,000 backers.  However, there have been a number of high profile “problem projects”.  For example, when costs spiraled for the production of Glory to Rome, most backers got their game, but the project leader, Ed Carter lost his house. In the case of Up Front, the boot was on the other foot, though.  This was a remake of an old card-based WWII war game and 2,407 backers pledged a total of $339,848 to get it made, more than ten times its modest $30,000 funding goal.  Unfortunately, the companies involved in its production, Valley Games and Radiant Gaming, became mired in a legal dispute with their financier, so their assets were frozen and all other sources of funds were used to line the lawyers’ pockets.  Although the case is still making its weary way through the courts, it seems unlikely that there will be enough money or inclination to actually make the game once everything has been resolved.  There have also been cases that appear to be blatant theft, for example Seth Nemec allegedly took over $20,000 to produce a reprint of the Kosmos game, Odin’s Ravens, and then disappeared.  Fraudulent cases have become such a concern that in the case of Asylum, the Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson stepped in, filing a law suit against the producer.

Up Front
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor
Lord_Prussian

These are not the only crowd funded projects that have had problems by any stretch of the imagination, however, the vast majority end happily, with happy supporters happily playing their rewards (if a little late).  But is the boom in crowd funding here to stay or just a flash in the pan?  Well, to date, there have been over 16,000 projects listed in the “games” category on KickStarter alone, with a success rate of about 1/3, raising over $334 million.  “Games” is one of the largest categories on the site and is the most lucrative, however, it includes much more than just boardgames.  In 2014, there were 454 successful board and card games on KickStarter raising a total of $26.1million dollars.  This is a 40% increase in the number of games, but is accompanied by a 10% drop in the total spent from the previous year.  It is hard to draw any meaningful statistics from something that has been going for such a short amount of time and is highly cyclical, but it would seem that these statistics reflect a change that many backers have been feeling.

Tiny Epic Galaxies
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor mgcoe

With prices increasing, gamers are getting more cautious about spending over $100 on a game that they won’t see for months and may never see at all.  So the number of the really expensive (mostly miniatures) games is decreasing, and even the medium sized games are becoming less  abundant.  Postage is also undoubtedly a factor and the games that are most successful now tend to be the mini and micro games where costs are much lower.  For example, Tiny Epic Kingdoms and Tiny Epic Defenders raised $440,000 between them last year and Tiny Epic Galaxies (their sequel) raised over $400,000 alone when it funded last month.  Thus, although the total amount raised is falling, the number of backers and games produced is increasing.

Queen Games
– Image from
queen-games.de

There is much more to this however.  There are a number of companies that are using KickStarter as glorified pre-order system that allows the backers to shoulder the burden of risk.  These proven companies are not seen as risky by gamers and are still proving highly productive.  For example, Queen Games (who are also part of the ever growing Asmodée group) raised over $100,000 earlier this year on their Lancaster: Big Box project and most of their smaller projects fund successfully at around $30,000.  It is clear why the KickStarter model is appealing to such companies as it allows them to sell directly to their consumers enabling them to pass some of the savings on.  However, these are quite controversial as most of these projects have very little in the way of stretch goals and are often seen simply as a way to sideline distributors and game stores.

Lancaster: Big Box
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor dukelander

It is undeniable that KickStarter has had an impact on the way people purchase games, but hitherto it has only affected a small part of the market.  However, if the “Queen model” continues to grow and is taken up by other companies, then KickStarter will begin to have a much more significant impact on gamers as it could start to put games vendors out of business and that is bad news  for everyone.