Crowdfunding is the practice of project funding using a large number of investors, usually with many small financial contributions. Although it is often thought of as a modern practice, it actually has a long history, with its roots dating back centuries to a time when printing was very expensive and people were encouraged to subscribe or otherwise commit to buying a publication in advance. In 1697, Dryden’s “Works of Virgil” was published like this, and with staggering parallels to modern crowdfunding, there were two editions, including an “exclusive limited edition”. Over the last twenty years, however, the practice has become more and more popular with entrepreneurs increasingly put in touch with investors through online platforms like Kickstarter.
|– Image from artistshare.com|
The first commercial crowdfunding platform was artistShare in 2001, this was soon followed by IndiGoGo (2008) and in particular Kickstarter (2009), which have had a massive impact on board game production. In 2016, Gamefound was launched, initially as a “pledge manager” to support crowdfunded board game projects at the fulfillment stage when it is necessary to manage details of large numbers of backers and ensure they are sent the correct “rewards”. In 2021, however, Gamefound itself moved into crowdfunding, becoming a one-stop crowdfunding shop targeted at board games and board gamers.
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This takes money of course, which is presumably the reason for the recent announcement of an investment by the German toy and games manufacturer, Ravensburger. Ravensburger are well known in the board game world, in particular for their production of the Alea range of games. However, they are much more than that, and are one of the biggest jigsaw produces, and indeed were literally the producers of the world’s largest jigsaw in 2016 (though this record has since been broken). They also acquired the Swedish toy company BRIO in 2015, and as such are one of the world’s largest suppliers of trains too.
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The slightly curious aspect of this is that, unlike Queen Games for example, Ravensburger have not hitherto engaged in crowdfunding board games, so it is unclear what is driving Ravensburger’s interest. It is unquestionably a great move for Gamefound, however, especially at a time when arguably their most significant competitors, Kickstarter, has recently encountered a very negative response to their intention to use Blockchain technology. According to Kickstarter’s blog:
As a first step, we’re supporting the development of an open source protocol that will essentially create a decentralized version of Kickstarter’s core functionality. This will live on a public blockchain, and be available for collaborators, independent contributors, and even Kickstarter competitors, from all over the world to build upon, connect to, or use. … We’re establishing an independent organization that will kick off the development of the protocol. Kickstarter PBC will provide this new independent organization with some funding, appoint an initial board, and commit to being one of the protocol’s earliest clients, meaning Kickstarter.com will be built on top of the protocol. As a user, the Kickstarter experience you’re familiar with will stay the same. You won’t “see” the protocol, but you will benefit from its improvements.
Blockchain is a data-sharing security technology where blocks of data are encrypted in a way that depends on other blocks in the chain. Thus, if one of these blocks is illicitly changed, it will (to quote Fleetwood Mac) “Break the Chain”. With many participants in each chain and the same data being stored multiple times via multiple chains, data integrity is maintained. The whole procedure is carried out in “The Cloud”, which minimises the infrastructure needed at each step, but the redundancy and nature of repeated complex operations means there is a significant environmental impact.
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Although Blockchain is typically associated with crypto-currencies, Kickstarter have been clear that normal credit/debit cards can still be used for pledges and creators would receive funds in the normal way. Kickstarter have been clear that they intend to make it “carbon-negative”, but that has not stopped a lot of project creators and backers expressing their concern. Even the designer of Wingspan and Mariposas, Elizabeth Hargrave, who has not hitherto used Kickstarter to produce one of her games, has commented.
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The nature of this concern is not always entirely clear, though the root seems to be the environmental aspect, with many creators additionally concerned that their projects will be tarnished by association. In November, Discord reportedly abandoned plans to integrate a cryptocurrency wallet on the platform after reports of supporters cancelling their subscriptions. The development of Gamefound as a crowdfunding platform, however, means that even if Kickstarter continue down this route, game producers will at least have a choice.
|– Image from gamefound.com|