Over the last few years, the board game industry has seen a complete shift in the way it operates thanks to Kickstarter. Today, unknown designers of no-budget projects can make widely successful products. While this is an exciting trend for aspiring indie designers and publishers, it has its fair share of limitations and problems. I have been developing these thoughts for many months now, and it is time to put them in writing. I have identified two reasons that Kickstarter campaigns may struggle or not reach their full potential. Firstly…
1) Prohibitive prices. I cannot even count the number of times that the following has happened: I see a new game appear on BoardGameGeek’s “Hotness” list. I think it looks awesome. I view the game’s Kickstarter profile. I close the page when I see that it is $80 or more for a single, basic copy of the game. And I don’t think I’m the only one here who has had that experience. KS projects have gotten increasingly more expensive over the last few years.
I would argue that Tasty Minstrel Games (right here in Tucson, AZ) has been at the forefront of the Kickstarter trend since the beginning. Eminent Domain was the first big KS of which I was aware, back in November 2010. It more than doubled its funding goal, weighing in at $48,378 from a goal of $20K. The pledge necessary for a basic copy of Eminent Domain was a measly $35. Admittedly, as a card game, it’s production cost was probably on the lower end, but TMG still managed to make waves in the gaming community from it.
Since then, we as a community have seen huge price inflation, and it’s really the fault of the industry itself. In a market so thoroughly saturated with indie projects, companies running KS campaigns need to strategize means of differentiating their campaigns from the rest. Assuming that gamers are working off of a limited budget (and/or trying not to get in trouble with their spouse), they must be choosy regarding which games will garner their support. Companies know this and work to incentivize you to choose their game. How do they do this? By adding chrome.
Now, I will be the first to admit that I love the so-called “toy factor” in a board game. Games that include top-notch components are more eye-catching, and thus draw more attention from potential buyers. However, better components equals higher production cost equals higher price, especially for games with small print runs. As more and more indie designers join the fray, there is a greater need for individual companies to make their games stand out. What’s more, this trend of high-priced games shows little sign of stopping. Yes, TMG has recently been successful with its “Pay-What-You-Want” model, and the current micro-game trend provides an affordable alternative to three-digit games, but gamers who seek products with custom dice, painted miniatures, Kickstarter goodies, and big linen-finish boxes are going to have to continue paying through the nose.
I would like to pause here and clarify something. I don’t mean to imply that high-dollar KS games are bad or that companies should not sponsor them. Lord knows plenty have succeeded with flying colors (Steve Jackson Games brought in just shy of a MILLION DOLLARS on the Ogre KS. That is certainly nothing to sneeze at.). All I mean to say, and maybe this is just my graduate student budget talking, is that 200-some dollars for Cthulhu Wars is a LOT of money, especially considering…
2) The risk factor. Kickstarter has produced some excellent games, but it has definitely had its share of problems as well. As KS becomes increasingly prevalent, I have sensed many gamers getting tired of it. KS is plagued by fraudulent campaigns, uncommunicative publishers, production issues, cancelled projects, lateness on delivery, and hyped-up games that just turn out to be bad. Certainly, some of this is to be expected, but even high-profile KS campaigns like Odin’s Ravens, Up Front, The Doom That Came to Atlantic City, Dark Darker Darkest, and HeroQuest have had major issues, rustling jimmies in the BoardGameGeek community, and serving as a reminder of the risks of pledging support to an often-unknown entity.
Back in the early days of Kickstarter board game projects, there was a sort of novelty to supporting a campaign. It felt good to say that you were partially responsible for the creation of the project, and it was cool to have your name in the rules. The sense of urgency caused by a limited window of time in which people could pledge created an exciting need for teamwork among backers. It was fun to anticipate the game’s arrival, to have the finished product before anyone else did, and, more than anything, to participate in the next big thing in board gaming.
Fast forward to 2014, and this “next big thing” is rapidly becoming a source of widespread frustration for gamers. Do I think Kickstarter should stop being used? Certainly not. I myself have supported multiple campaigns, and I’m glad I did. Do I think game companies should stop making high-quality games with high-quality components? Certainly not. As gamers, we love awesome figures and cool, custom dice. Do I think high price-points are bad? Certainly not. Just because I cannot personally afford them doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be high-dollar games on the market. Your money is your money to spend as you please.
Kickstarter is a great resource, most of the time. I just want to encourage the gaming community, both producers and consumers, to be aware of these factors as new projects continue to develop.
Thank you for taking the time to read this! I would love to hear any comments you have!