Showing posts with label Kickstarter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kickstarter. Show all posts

Monday, November 19, 2012

Kickstarter a no-go for stores?

Via Tom Vasel at GameSalute, Gary Ray at Black Diamond Games has put up a pair of posts (here and here), where he says he's not going to support Kickstarter projects for his retail game store any more.  He says they just don't sell, at all, so that seems like a reasonable business proposition.

It's also a different criticism than Kickstarter game projects usually face.  Normally, the knock on them is that they are incompletely tested and of lower average quality than traditionally published "mainstream" games.  In this case, Ray suggests the problem is that Kickstarter just works too well.  Everybody who would buy a small indie game has done so already on Kickstarter, and often has received special funder awards and bonuses.  Nobody goes looking to a game store for such a project.

I think there's a distinction between true indie projects, that is, one-off titles where the creator funds just one game through Kickstarter, compared to companies that use Kickstarter to generate interest and funds for new projects (e.g. Tasty Minstrel and GameSalute).  My guess is that companies still have pretty significant testing and development filters in place, and their games are likely to be (on average) of higher quality than the one-offs.  However, Ray's point is that it just doesn't matter - because neither of them sell - and his stated policy is now that he won't stock any game that says "KickStarter" on the box.
That's an interesting policy, for a couple of reasons:

  1. It seems like a broad stereotype; some Kickstarter games can and do have broad appeal, and probably do sell to markets beyond the Kickstarter/game enthusiast audience.  But I've done enough work in my shareware business and with large organizations to know that sometimes you need a general rule because the simplicity far outweighs the marginal benefit of making exceptions.  That might be the case here, and Ray is in a better position to know it than I am.
  2. It sounds like it would be pretty dumb to put "Kickstarter" anywhere on a box.  That really rings true for me.  Anybody who funded your game on Kickstarter already knows it was funded there, and for anybody who doesn't, it's either neutral or negative.  In Ray's case, it's negative because he won't buy it. In other peoples' cases, it's negative because there's a perception, right or wrong, that Kickstarter games are inferior to traditionally-published games.  So, there's no upside to indicating that on the packaging.  Unless maybe the fact that your game made it through a successful campaign some how says it's quality?  I doubt that influences many people.
So, is leaving it off dishonest?  Not really.  People who read reviews and do their legwork (and this probably includes most store owners like Ray) will know that it's a Kickstarter game, but they'll also likely know whether it's a good game or a good fit to their tastes.  Casual browsers will buy it or not for the same reasons they do all other games - does the art look good?  Is the box copy convincing? Does it look cool?  So, I think leaving off the Kickstarter is probably just good business sense.  

Also, other companies don't tell you the source of their funding, which could be more cockamamie than Kickstarter.  I've seen published games that totally suck that seem to be entirely self-funded, and they don't have that on the label.

Interesting stuff to ponder, anyway - the game market does seem to be splitting between the traditional route (which is growing and expanding on its own) and the Kickstarter route (which is growing and expanding tremendously).  I'm not sure where game stores fit in, but I know I love going to them, and I'll often buy something.  I'd hate to lose that in a sea of Kickstarter projects, even though I've bought and enjoyed several Kickstarter games already.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Kickstarter for retailers

An interesting post on Kickstarter from Tao, the guy (?) running the game store Starlit Citadel, a Canadian hobby game store in Vancouver.  He describes some of the difficulties game stores have in supporting Kickstarter campaigns.  Even though he'd like to carry some of the more popular or interesting Kickstarter projects, he can't make it work financially without a fairly generous retailer package.

The only way I think it might work is if he gets a pretty good bulk discount for retailers, and then is able to keep the game in stock for longer than the game is available via Kickstarter.  But that's tricky, and maybe not realistic; I bet most Kickstarter publishers produce more than they distribute via Kickstarter, and then he's competing with direct sales (and the much better margins) with the publisher, who's got more room to discount.

I don't think his doomsday scenario will happen (all games funded via preorders through Kickstarter, which would mean that game stores essentially die).  Kickstarter folks are generally not expert in distribution (although some are) and aren't in it to sustain a long-term business (Tasty Minstrel would be a counterexample, but they're not typical).

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Kickstarter dangers

Great post over at BGG by a Nathan McNair, an aspiring Kickstarter self-publisher at Pandasaurus Games, who points out that even with Kickstarter, the economics of publishing don't work until you're at a huge number of units.  He says he's $2000 in the hole from his publishing effort before even starting Kickstarter.  I'm probably around $1,200.

A big chunk of that is the filing fee plus two years of LLC fees ($450); not sure I'd recommend that for everybody starting out, but I think it was the right move for me to protect my other assets.

Another big chunk is web hosting (probably around $200); I saved by pre-paying for this site for several years, but I had to put up the cash at the start.

The rest is mostly printing up demo/test copies of my games; I've spent probably $300-$400 on that for many different items plus shipping.  Beyond that, some incidentals like toner and paper; I've also bought a bunch of glass stones, dice, and pawns and such for testing copies.

As income, I have very little.  I have a relatively low number of low-margin sales from for my games published there, and I have one larger multi-unit sale of Diggity to a friend who bought a number of copies as holiday gifts.  I probably netted $40 on that.

So, even if I did a Kickstarter campaign, unless I hit it out of the park, I'd never get back those sunk expenses. Kickstarter does two things well:

  1. allows you to raise capital if you don't have enough to self-fund a print run 
  2. allows you to eliminate the middle-man costs of distributors and stores
The first is extremely important if you don't have money to burn; your game doesn't happen without it.

The second is a big deal; you go from getting about 25% of the sales price through distribution to 90% of the sales price (after Kickstarter fees).  However, as I've commented on before, unless you're making more than 3000 copies, the math doesn't work anyway - your cost of production is going to be $5-10 even for a small game without moving parts; add shipping and art into that, and you're easily up to $15-20 per game just to get them made.  You're not going to run a Kickstarter campaign selling a simple game for more than $20 or $25 - you're just not competitive with commercial games then - and Kickstarter buyers usually expect shipping to be included in their price.  That's another $5 per game at least.

So, roughly speaking, you don't make money on Kickstarter until you hit a really high sales figure.  Even saying it's 2000 copies, at $25 a pop that means you've got to interest 2000 people and raise $50,000, in a game they've never seen.  A very tall order.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Even more Kickstarter analysis

A good, thoughtful article on Kickstarter funding (actually, the second half of a longer good thoughtful article - read Part I too) from Chris Norwood over at GamerChris.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Chicken Caesar

Image from the Game Salute site. SBBQR? 
Here's a game-production Kickstarter campaign for a game about recreating the Roman empire in a chicken community. I am really curious how the game got going - was it just a title first, or did they build the game and then theme it based on the title, or did it just arise organically?  The name is a terrifically funny fit to the theme of the game, and the fact that the theme is so improbable and unusual just makes it funnier.  The art and graphic design looks really good, too - simple, clear, and totally evoking a chicken-themed Roman milieu (whatever that is).

So, they've got a great name and theme, but what about the details?  They've used the Springboard service from Game Salute, a service about which I'm curious.  There is precious little detail amidst the pretty pictures and hype on the Game Salute site, but what it appears to be is a program where independent game designers can get assistance with publication, including playtesting, advice on game design, publication, and launching a Kickstarter campaign, in addition to a "Seal of Quality" thing.  Of course, these seals are only as useful as their reputation; I'm familiar with some of the games they list on their site, and the ones I know are good games with strong production values.

I'm going to investigate further; if the Game Salute service is relatively inexpensive, it could be great; if they want a huge chunk of the game's budget, then it would be hard to see how it can work with  the already tenuous profit margins on games unless they also can give a big marketing boost.

The only data I've got on that is indirect - the minimum level to buy a game of Chicken Caesar is $40, which seems to include postage.  That's pretty expensive for a game you can't look at a real copy of before buying, but it's consistent with what I know of printing costs for small print runs (at their $20,000 funding goal, $40 means 500 games).

Monday, February 6, 2012

Kickstarter and publishing

The folks at the Opinionated Gamer visit several past themes on the value of Kickstarter to designers, publishers, and players.  It was interesting to me that most of these folks, who are designers, enthusiasts, and players themselves, were lukewarm on the idea of Kickstarter, and several said the equivalent of 'I'd never fund something there, of course.'  It makes me wonder who does.

One of the authors who did buy, Ted Alspach, said he'd been unimpressed with most of the games he'd gotten and specifically called out a couple of them, Carnival and Creatures, as disappointing. I explored on  Creatures looked kind of like a card-only version of one of my designs, Galapagos, but with fewer body parts, and it only got a 5.8 on BGG's scale, which is a pretty low score for BGG.  Carnival, at a slightly-higher 6.3, looked interesting, but some reviewers (like Ted) said the gameplay was rough and sometimes boring.

Most of these guys agreed with the gist of what I and others have said here before, which is that Kickstarter is:

  1. all good for publishers - their risk and investment is reduced
  2. mostly all good for designers - there are more possible routes to publication, risk is reduced, and self-publishing is far easier, but there may be a temptation to rush to publish an inadequately-tested project.  N.B. I see this in myself, totally, in spades.
  3. a mixed bag for customers/players - they get access to more variety of games, and may see designs that wouldn't get made any other way, but they have to invest before seeing the game and seeing it reviewed, so their money is at risk
The opinionated gamers wanted to add another perspective to this, which is "good for the industry" - I'm not sure anybody can really figure that one out, because you'd have to define what "good" meant.  Lots of little incompletely designed or tested games clamoring for attention and money sounds bad, but lots more people engaged in design, publishing, and investing in the industry sounds really good.

What are some takeaways?  Here are mine, from a various parts of the post:

  • Graphic design sells Kickstarter projects
  • Post your rules with your Kickstarter project so that people can see how the game plays
  • There's significant fear on the part of Kickstarter funders that the game projects won't get made and their money will be lost, although that is rare to unheard-of so far.  Sounds like this might be worth addressing in the video or promotional materials for a Kickstarter project.
  • These guys (admittedly a small sample of game enthusiasts) often buy based on a designer's reputation or past products, and are suspicious of unknown or unpublished designers.  This kind of attitude (while probably helpful to them) is a barrier I'll have to overcome, although it's the same old Catch-22 that exists in all kinds of endeavors - we only publish published authors, or we only hire people with experience. 
  • Kickstarter has reduced the number of design submissions to traditional publishers
  • As I suspected, self-publishers with basements full of unsold games are a real (and sad) thing, and there's apparently a lonely Hall of Failure somewhere at Essen populated by them.

Friday, December 2, 2011

How not to handle Kickstarter

Chris Norwood over at GamerChris has a detailed takedown of a project he recently supported via Kickstarter.  The details are in his post, but it sounds like the company in question made two bad decisions - first, they sold copies of the game to random convention attendees before sending them to their Kickstarter supporters, and second, they included materials that were supposedly "exclusive" to Kickstarter supporters in every game of their initial 5,000 game print run.

The game got funded, and a 5,000 print run is terrific, especially if it sells out, but I'm betting their next Kickstarter project (running now) might not draw too much support from those who, like Chris, feel justifiably betrayed.  Part of the fun of supporting something on Kickstarter is being in at the beginning and feeling like you're doing something special; Chris' post is a great warning that the perks, though usually minor, are still really important to those who've done you the great favor of supporting you.  He's got some good advice for others who go this route, too.  Something to keep in mind if I try a Kickstarter-funded project in the future.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

More navel-gazing about Kickstarter

In response to this post, reader Wordman says the following:

Grant's critique rings hollow to me. Not because his analysis is wrong, but because... well... consider this...

You live in a world that has games, but Kickstarter doesn't exist. A magic man appears and says "if you open this magic box, the world will transformed into a place that has many, many more games for you to choose from. Many of them might be worse than games you have now. A few of them, though, will probably be awesome." Do you open the box?

I would. I don't see the downside. I guess Grant's concern is that some people somewhere might be duped into buying a bad game. Or, perhaps that I, with my powers to choose for myself, might spend my money un-optimally on a game that wouldn't have had the opportunity to take my money if I hadn't opened the box. Why is that Grant's problem? I'd rather have the choice.
A good hypothetical.  I didn't mean to indicate that I thought Kickstarter shouldn't exist, or that it was bad for boardgame designers - on the contrary, I think it's terrific that it exists, and it's great that people are having success using it to produce games.  One of the biggest barriers to entry to the board game market is the huge up-front investment required for game production, as I've discussed frequently (e.g. here).  Kickstarter and similar crowd-funding places smooth out that barrier.

My problem with it, and I don't really have much of one, is that it nearly completely shifts the burden of the process from the designer to the consumer.  The model for traditional publishing normally like either of these:

Design a game --> Invest a bunch of money --> Produce and sell game --> Recoup money

Design a game --> Invest a bunch of money --> Produce game, sell hardly any --> Become poor and bitter

Obviously, the second part of that chain is the barrier, and the potential costs are borne by the designer or publisher.  With Kickstarter, the designer benefits by not having to risk lots of money, shifting that burden directly to the customer.  However, if the game isn't good, the bitterness is still present, but shifted to his/her funders.  So, it's win-win for the designer/publisher, but a mixed bag for the funder.  But for both parties, there is a dilution of both risk and of bitterness there, which is good - I'm less bummed having dropped $20 on a bad Kickstarter game than I am having blown $10,000 to get a game printed that nobody buys.

I think Grant's major complaint is not that Kickstarter is bad, but that because it's win-win for the designer, there's a much weaker filter for the projects in question.  That means the average quality of published games will have to go down (perhaps precipitously so on Kickstarter) while the number of published games will go way up.  A little of this is a great thing - Wordman rightly points out that with a bigger pool of games to choose from, more awesome games will be produced rather than sitting in desk drawers and hard drives, and we may see great games that would never have come out.  There's a downside here too, especially if the barrier gets too low - it's like the Internet in general.  Many more people have a chance to speak, but they don't necessarily have something to say.

So, I like Kickstarter, and I think on balance it's great for independent (a fancy word for unpublished) game designers.  There's a downside, too, though, and there's a chance that if a bunch of crappy games all go to the well at the same time or over and over again, it'll dry up.  But so far, it's been better and grown faster than I thought possible, so what do I know?

I do worry that, as sometimes happens at, if most of the projects aren't of very high quality, it will become difficult to find the good ones among the sea of crap.  TGC actually created a very small barrier in a recent update - they require at least one copy of a game to be purchased before it can be published to the shop - and I think it has helped raise the bar a little bit.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Kickstarter for games - a critique

Really interesting critique/rant by Grant Rodiek about using Kickstarter for game projects over here at Exiled Here.  I've been aware of Grant's game, Farmageddon, on for a while, and it sounds like he's done some parallel things (and had parallel thoughts) as he's moved through the independent design/publishing realm.  His ideas on Kickstarter mirror mine - a great opportunity, but one that's becoming very crowded and inconsistently good.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Wrong takeaway

From Kickstarter Funding by Days of the Week,
Richard Bliss, Purple Pawn, 10/28/2011
Richard Bliss over at the Purple Pawn posted some graphs of Kickstarter game project funding campaign success.  He implies, I think, that starting your campaign on Sunday might make it more likely to be successful. I think that's a misreading of the data. I think the graph actually reflects merely the frequency of campaign starts per day, not the probability of success per day.  If I'm right, that means most people begin campaigns on Sunday, which makes sense; you work all week and then use the weekend to put your finishing touches on the project, then post it on Sunday. To make the point the article suggests, what you'd actually need is a percent of campaigns that were successful plotted by the day they started.  My guess is that this would be nearly flat.

I think the day-of-week thing is probably nearly irrelevant to project success, since most of the campaigns run several weeks to two months.  If anything, you might actually want to AVOID a Sunday start so as not to be hidden by the deluge of new projects coming out on the weekend.  Wednesday is your friend. Unless of course people only browse projects over the weekend too...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Kickstarter > $1 million

Really interesting article over at the Purple Pawn about success people have had using to fund boardgame startups.  I've covered this here before and interviewed a few successful designers (see other posts with the Kickstarter label), but the total amount of money raised is pretty staggering.  This is becoming a really good way for some people to fund the production of some games.  The question is, are my games (and whoever I'd recruit to Kickstarter) good enough to get some funding there?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Inevitable no longer evitable

The Kickstarter-funded project to produce the Inevitable board game has come to fruition - they've taken delivery of several pallets of brand-new games.  Cool pictures here.  Congrats to Jeremy and Jonathan for realizing their dream.

I have to say, those stacks look bigger than I'd have guessed.  For somebody considering printing a few thousand copies, 500 looks darned large.  Of course, they've got a board and a big box, so their boxes are probably twice or three times the size mine will be, but still...

Inevitable icon above shamelessly stolen from the Inevitable site.  Did they really file trademark on that?  That's a complicated and lengthy process.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Another project funding site

Reader Dave Conklin of Oak Tree Games writes to suggest as an alternative to for project funding.  He's got his own game, Virtue Cards, listed there for funding with a goal of $5000.  The Virtue Cards product is also available through The Game Crafter.

IndieGoGo looks like a nearly exact clone of Kickstarter, which is fine.  It seems to be well-established (about 11,000 projects active now; I can't find a similar statistic for Kickstarter).  A major difference is that on Kickstarter, if you fail to meet your goal, you don't get any of the money, while on IndieGoGo, you get to keep it even if you don't meet your goal, although with a bigger cut paid to IndieGoGo.  It's like this:

Unmet Goal: 
You Get
Met Goal:
You Get
KickstarterNothing, Zilch, Nada, Squat95% of total pledged
IndieGoGo91% of total pledged96% of total pledged

That's a pretty big structural difference to how it works, and obviously IndieGoGo is going to get you some money no matter what.

My gut feeling is that Kickstarter is a little better established, and that posting there will connect you to more potential funders, but that either site would work.  We'll see how the Virtue Cards project goes.

Dave's project includes $3,000 to fund production of 200 copies of his game, which seems a little high to me.  For a 52-card deck, even with a nice box, I think you could do a lot better than $15 a copy.  Dave, if you're listening, let me know and I can send you some sites that might be cheaper, or get you more copies for your money., for one.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Still another Kickstarter project

Here's another one, this one the game Scoops from TableStar Games.  TableStar seems to have a pretty extensive lineup of other games, which gives me more data on a question I'd been wondering about - if Kickstarter would be feasible for a company that's already established.  I'd think Kickstarter appeals would be more appealing to funders if you have that indie do-it-yourself community-raising-a-barn thing, and less likely to work if you've already got a company with products.  But TableStar doesn't think so, in this case, and apparently Tasty Minstrel is thinking along the same lines.

In these cases, you're kind of using Kickstarter as a pre-selling site rather than a dream-launching site, although I suppose if you're careful, you might be able to make it look like you're doing more dream-launching than pre-selling and collect some sympathetic investors that way.  And, if you couldn't afford to publish a game without the Kickstarter funding, then I guess it's pretty legitimate.

Tough to figure out - you'd want to maximize your chance of it working while still maintaining some integrity.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Another Kickstarter project

Lines of Fire. Neat - this one got funded rapidly, for a small but effective amount of money, for a short-run (100 copies) of a card-based game, printed on business cards.  I looked into this before - it's tricky; in order to get them cheaply, you have to print a whole bunch of one kind at once, and if you have lots of different cards, then you're ordering 1,000 of each one, and your expenses are similar to just getting the game printed commercially.  But it sounds like this particular game got around that through design and careful, miserly use of limited components.

Having a cute-as-a-button little girl to put in your appeal video probably didn't hurt, either.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


I've talked about several games that have used Kickstarter to raise funds (see here, here, and here), and (to my surprise) they've been successful.

Others are getting into the act, reports the Purple Pawn, and it's not apparently all roses and sunshine.  Some of the game projects they list are way below their targets, even as they approach their target dates.  I think for Kickstarter to work, you have to have a network of folks who are willing to get you started, and who know a bunch of other people who might be willing to contribute to the friend of a friend. Being willing to set a lower goal for funding is important, too, since Kickstarter only pays out if you surpass your goal.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Inevitable Kickstarter project complete

The Inevitable guys have finished their fund-raising drive at, raising a total of $9,435.  About $2,650 of that was from people who pledged more than you needed to pledge to get a copy of the game (including four at the $500 level).  I posted previously on their efforts here.

They'd promised a print run of 100 for $3000 raised, so I imagine they're well past the costs they'll incur for 100 games.  Something like 87 of their 100 games are spoken for at the site, going to pledgers, but they'll likely be able to produce an additional couple hundred games with the funds they've raised (if that's what they decide to do with the extra money).

An unabashed success, leading to a game with a big following and positive cash flow before it is even printed.  Sounds like a great outcome - my congratulations to them.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Alien Frontiers - another Kickstarter success

Back at the end of April, I posted on another Kickstarter donation campaign, this one for a game called Alien Frontiers.  Well, they're over $11,000 with just under a couple weeks to go, marking yet another successful use of Kickstarter for pre-sales.  About $7500 of their pledges are at their basic, $50 level, which gets you a copy of the game.  They report here at BGG  that their print costs are going to be probably in the neighborhood of $15,000 (my guess is that after shipping and other costs this bleeds up toward $20,000) for 1,000 copies, so a $50 sale price per game with $15-20 production costs is probably a good target for them, although a bit steep for the retail market.  I haven't seen much on the game yet, but it does seem to have a ton of bits.

I'd be interested if they manage to sell out the 800+ copies that aren't yet spoken for.  I'd also be interested what ratio of their funding comes from anonymous donors.  I asked a couple folks about this for earlier Kickstarter projects (see here and here), and it seems to be actually about a third to a half of the buyers in these things are unknown to the organizers - a far higher ratio than I'd have guessed.

It looks like Kickstarter is a great way to leverage game production.  My earlier misgivings seem nearly entirely unwarranted in the light of these three projects.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

More manufacturer options

David MacKenzie of Clever Mojo Games (the ones doing Alien Frontiers on recommends Panda Games Manufacturing (an American company which works with Chinese manufacturers) and Xinghui (a Chinese company) in this BGDF post.  There, is that enough links? :-)

I've gotten a quote from Xinghui which was very reasonable for my project - probably the best overall pricing, although it didn't include shipping, prep, and other expenses which (thanks to Dan Tibbles' excellent talk) I now know to expect from China.  However, Tasty Minstrel Games had some production issues which Michael Mindes describes at his blog (and which are confirmed by seo/Seth at BGDF).  Not to say Xinghui should be judged by this one experience, but it's a data point, at least.

Nine links - I think that's a record, especially for a two paragraph post.  Har.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Kickstarter as pre-ordering framework

I've been toying with the idea of using to fund part of my first print run - not so much to ask for donations for a commercial enterprise, but merely to give friends and family a way to pre-purchase the game.  I think I may do it, although it feels a little hitting up your friends for something they don't really want, like when your kids go around selling candy bars or coupon books.

A couple of the earlier versions I commented on (Gentlemen of the South Sandwiche Islands and Inevitable) approached their pitch less as mere pre-ordering and more as artistic patronage, where you were getting a chance to support the hopes and dreams part beyond just buying a game.  I was wondering if a simple pre-order thing would work.  Via Trask at, It looks like we've got a test case - GamingPaper (site here) is looking for funds to print up an 8.5x11 version of their product in what is essentially a plain pre-order scheme.  They do have other rewards for various donation levels, but those rewards are already available as products they sell - the 8.5x11 version is the only new product.

In this case, there's no artistic vision to support (although the Kickstarter video playfully suggests there could be), since you're basically buying 250 sheets of graph paper.  I'll be interested to see how they do.