Kickstarter, Change, and the Great River

It’s true: Kickstarter is the new big thing in indie RPG publishing. You can barely bump around on the site without finding something cool and awesome to pledge for, and a surprisingly large number of these campaigns are funded, and at double, triple, or even ten times their requested funding level. Everyone is flocking to this, and not just in the publishing world; Obsidian raised four million goddamned dollars to make a video game. Reaper Miniatures clocked in at nearly $3.5 million, nicely debunking the notion that video games are somehow more revenue-intensive than tabletop games.

All of the really successful Kickstarters combine two essential elements: they take a niche product and connect it to customer enthusiasm  Before you dismiss that as marketing-speak, take a look at how that applies to us. The tabletop industry has been defined by those aspects for decades. We’ve discussed on this blog how traditional gaming is, almost by necessity, a niche industry. Crowdfunding, where slathering fans with pockets full of money get a chance to give as much as they want to see the projects they love come to life, is practically made for us.

I have been cautiously encouraged as I watch old guard companies (from the once-defunct White Wolf to the nearly-obsolescent Palladium) embrace crowdfunding and revitalize their efforts with an influx of cash. Not all have, of course; you can read here if you want to see a huge, fallacious justification for not accepting paying customers’ money.

What’s more exciting, though, is the fact that new blood is getting into the industry this way. This is the perfect venue for doing the things I’ve been talking about. No longer are you shackled to up-front effort and sunk costs. Now, small cottage companies are springing up left and right, just a few people and an idea, sink or swim. The fantastic part is that most of them are swimming, and doing it in style.

Crowdfunding presents the perfect situation for an infant gaming “company.” Yes, there is a great deal of effort that goes into pulling off a successful campaign. However, that effort is directly proportional to the rewards; if no one is interested in your product, your funding just languishes. You lose nothing (except, of course, a few dozen hours). It’s only when a Kickstarter hits that you start to see people spending a month with nothing on their table but answering customer queries and scampering to find new stretch goals.

The strangest things find a market. Want some dice rings? I would have never conceived of such a thing, and yet there it is, $300,000 worth of customer interest in little rings that let you roll numbers anywhere!

Who would want a card game version of Advanced Squad Leader? Apparently 1500 people, to the tune of almost $250,000. Chibi fantasy monsters? $105,000. A roleplaying game to learn Korean reached ten times its goal. The list is endless.

This is it. This is how how we stop making piles of shitty games no one wants and start crafting a new industry based on demand, not tradition.

5 thoughts on “Kickstarter, Change, and the Great River

  1. Sethariel says:

    True, true.

    Although there are still many traps to be found in crowdfunding: delays, cancelations and not getting the desired product. Backing a project you back a promise. There is no guarantee the final product will meet your expectations.

    • sitouh says:

      As someone who’s gotten burned on a few Kickstarters, I won’t disagree about the risks. But even with the flops, I’m still enthusiastic about the model. It lets people put something out there without having to risk their shirt if there’s no market.

      Would Happy Birthday, Robot! or Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple been published without the crowdfunding model? Would Monsterhearts or The Quiet Year? Yes, there have been people for whom it’s just been more rope for them to hang themselves with (Far West, anyone?) but overall it’s been fantastic for the hobby.

  2. 6d6fireball says:

    *This is it. This is how how we stop making piles of shitty games no one wants and start crafting a new industry based on demand, not tradition.*

    Except that many of these games Kickstarter games will be shitty because they are being made by people with little or no experience and their ‘success’ is comes from people’s expectations based on very little evidence of the product’s quality. Very few of these games will match their KS sales with post-KS sales through traditional channels because it is much harder to deliver a product that is actually good than promising to deliver a product that is good.

    KS is generating a whole new range of games and settings which is fantastic. We desperately need to break out of stereotypical ideas for settings. But don’t kid yourself about quality. KS games will on average be no better quality, and possibly worse, than traditionally published games.


    • DensityDuck says:

      Thing is, even shitty games are games. And shitty games released late with half the features…are games that got released.

      See, it used to be that publishing companies were huge, and had tons of people working there, and your shitty little starter project could be conceived and flounder about and die entirely within company walls while you worked as a copyeditor on “Module D5: The Giants Fuck Your Mom”. Now that’s no longer the case; even the most wildly successful company in existence is not going to pay a living wage for someone to learn the ropes.

      That’s where Kickstarter and other crowdfunding activities come in; because you can get that low level of funding you need without the overhead of having to invent a business case and prove that investing in the game development will turn a profit.

      And every great game released on time with all the features has a history behind it, a history of shitty games released late with half of what was advertised. Designers learn to make great games by making shitty ones, and Kickstarter lets them get through making shitty games in an industry that can’t afford to spend money on shit.

  3. DensityDuck says:

    “you can read here if you want to see a huge, fallacious justification for not accepting paying customers’ money.”

    See, part of the issue there is that the SFB guys are supported by the same couple thousand people buying everything the company prints, whether they play it or not. It’s some bizarre completist OCD thing. So they don’t *need* Kickstarter because they know exactly how many of a product they’ll be able to sell.

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