Kickstarter and the Gaming Industry: Weal or Woe?

(Note: For this post, I’ll be focusing on Kickstarter as it relates to the gaming industry and community.  Some things may apply to other creative avenues; your mileage may vary.)

If you belong to the nerd community, you’d have to be living under a rent-controlled rock to not know about Kickstarter.  For those paying a cheap lease for granite ceilings, Kickstarter “is a funding platform for creative projects”, as per their website.  Basically, if you have an idea for a creative endeavour you use the site to promote it and raise funds.  If enough people get excited and buy into your idea, you get the funding they pledge and can move ahead.  If you don’t meet your goal, you don’t get the funding, and no one has to shell out anything.

It almost sounds too good to be true, right?  Especially when you look at the massive success stories.  Reaper Miniatures ran a Kickstarter campaign last August to raise $30 000 for their new Bones line. When the dust settled, the company had raised a little over 3.4 million dollars. Yes, I said million. With all the zeroes, yes. More recently, Monte Cook hit a couple of crowd-funding home runs: his campaign to fund his new role-playing game Numenera raised $517, 255 ( a skitch over the $20 000 he set out to achieve), and the Kickstarter for Torment: Tides of Numenera, a computer game set in his new world, more than doubled its goal with $2 million in just two days, with 28 days left to go in the campaign.

You might wonder, then, what kind of idiot wouldn’t run a Kickstarter for their new gaming project.  And it’s true, even if your success is not as pronounced as the above examples, you may still find the crowd-funding lucre you seek.  But it isn’t as easy as just telling people about this neat game idea you’ve had, promising it will be the RPG second coming.  Kickstarter is equally filled with projects that didn’t reach their goal. In some cases it isn’t hard to see why; sloppy planning, vague promises and unrealistic goals abound.

But seemingly solid projects, well-laid out and presented, also fail to fund.  Key reasons?  Maybe the idea was not as widely popular as the creator thought; what works in your home game may not translate to the general gaming public (and thus, why I stopped work on Blubber & Bannock, my alternate trail rations sourcebook).  Most often though, it comes down to gaining attention for the project.  I consider myself pretty aware of what’s going on in the RPG industry, at least as much as an “industry enthusiast” can be.  But for every Kickstarter campaign of which I become aware, a quick search of the Kickstarter site turns up dozens more I have and had never heard of.  Obviously, then, while Kickstarter can do a lot to help a project the onus is still on the creator to get the word out.  The internet is too vast to simply pitch your tent and wait for visitors.

The onus is also on campaign investors to be smart.  While it is true it costs you nothing if a Kickstarter doesn’t reach its goal, there is very little besides internet disapproval to guarantee delivery on your funded investment.  A quick Google of “Kickstarter Fraud” turns up a pretty solid list, with the “Mythic” debacle showing up quite often.  To be fair, though, most of the stories are close to a year old, so it seems on the surface that out-right fraud on Kickstarter was a self-correcting issue.  But life can and does happen, and projects can find themselves unable to deliver on Kickstarter promises for any number of good reasons.  Good reasons don’t make you money any less gone, of course.

But taken all for all, Kickstarter seems to have brought a definite boost to the gaming industry, providing unprecedented contact between creators and those who might play (and therefore are likely to fund) their games.  While this contact is of obvious benefit to creators and massively convenient and exciting for gamers, there is some push-back at the retail level.  Many Friendly Local Game Stores feel that Kickstarter cuts them out of the loop, eroding their position as purveyors of the new and wonderful in the gaming industry.  And that has some merit, as far as it goes.  True, in days of old my FLGS was often my first contact with a new and interesting game; Kickstarter has stepped into that introductory role almost exclusively for many if not most.

But I also think that retailers may be engaging in a bit of a straw-man fight.  Many Kickstarter campaigns include pledge levels directed at the brick-and-mortar stores, allowing them access to a potential “new classic”.  As well, nothing about Kickstarter fundraising excludes FLGSs from the same role they have always played, as promoters and boosters of already published games.  After all, the goal for most campaigns is not just to provide enough of the new game to hand out to supporters, but to get published.  To varying degrees the funding allows the creator to publish in numbers beyond that needed to satisfy backers, and that is the point at which FLGSs step into their familiar and comfortable role.  Really, Kickstarter offers the same opportunity to retailers and distributors as it does to us, the gamers: a look at the new and exciting projects in the market.  If there is retailer exclusion in the Kickstarter process, the retailers seem to be doing it largely to themselves.

So Kickstarter has become an undeniable element of the current gaming landscape, ignored at one’s peril.  What about the future?  I don’t think the basic idea of Kickstarter is going away any time soon.  The low-risk, high-reward possibilities of crowd-funding make it too attractive to disappear, now that Kickstarter and its competitors have made the process so damn easy.  While variations on the theme might appear from time to time, there is no question that for the foreseeable future creators will continue to sing Kickstarter’s praises.

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If you are a burgeoning Kickstarter junkie, here are some other gaming-related campaigns that may be of interest:

Cheapass Games’ Deadwood Studios USA

Lester Smith’s Monster Con Card Game

9th Level Games Kobolds Ate My Baby! In Colour!

Green Ronin’s Freeport: The City of Adventure (Pathfinder ed.)

Alina Pete’s Weregeek Book 5: Random Encounters

 

What are your thoughts on Kickstarter and crowd-funding?  Have horror stories, or a potential KS gem you’d like to share?  The Comments await your coming!

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