Friday feelings: Why Kickstarter game publishing works

Traditional publishers (and many others in gaming) have a fundamental misunderstanding of Kickstarter. They see an upstart publishing platform. Operating as a cheap advertising website, it takes cash upfront while bypassing the distribution/retail chain. And all this without showing a proven product. But while these things are true there’s a larger truth behind it success.

Big companies across major industries struggle to come to terms with modern consumers. They’re no longer passive. They expect to communicate with a brand, rather than be dictated to by it: brands decide trends less and less. Consumers want transparency, collaboration and continuous dialogue. And this is what Kickstarter is nailing, both directly and indirectly.

The state of technology in retail

MakerSights recently released its 2019 State of Technology in Retail Report. It’s well worth a full read, but I’ve included its highlights infographic below. What really struck me while reading was how much of what modern consumers want is provided by Kickstarter. And how much of it traditional publishers are taking for granted.

Some headline stats from consumers:

  • 75% value being asked for feedback
  • 66% want more ways to interact with brands they love
  • 75% say being part of the creation process would increase likelihood of a purchase and of brand loyalty
  • 75% use tech to interact with brands they love where possible
  • 94% think tech has a positive impact on brand relationships
  • 17% said the “ability to have say in how/what product is made was the most interesting/exciting current innovation in retail

Reading this, it’s no surprise Kickstarter is capturing the gaming public’s imagination.

What can be copied from Kickstarter

What makes the report fascinating, though, is it also surveyed what it describes as ‘product professionals’; in a gaming sense, those working in publishing, distribution, retail etc. For me, the two key results from those producing the products were:

  • 43% thought their ‘toughest challenge’ was understanding what consumers want
  • 41% thought retaining customers was their ‘most critical’ challenge

This rings so true from my experience with traditional publishers, variously as a designer, journalist and consumer: largely, they’re living in the dark ages. It’s as it was with the music and film industries failing to adapt to MP3s, or the newspaper industry coming too late to the internet. They moan about upstart ideas rather than learning from them, sticking to their guns until it’s too late.

The land of the luddite

I can’t tell you how often I’ve tried to link a publisher to a review on Twitter, only to find they don’t have an account – or a Facebook page, or an English language web page. Or how often emails have gone unanswered – whether press enquiries, rule enquiries or even missing part requests.

These aren’t options for those running a Kickstarter – unless they want to crash and burn. A good Kickstarter publisher lives and dies on its social presence and its ability to quickly respond to enquiries. These publishers are being forced to answer all the questions discussed above, purely because the platform dictates it. Kickstarter is proving the perfect bridge between old-style publishing and the modern consumer.

Copy the best bits of Kickstarter

While Kickstarter is forcing its publishers to bridge the consumer relations gap, the big plus for traditional publishers is their industry experience. Generally they’re better at finding, developing and publishing games. And they’re better at those important checks and balances that make great experiences.

Too many Kickstarters lack accountability and fail to meet expectations. Because there is such a low barrier to entry, it breeds amateurs and is rife with poor end results. It isn’t trusted, yet. Which gives traditional publishers a chance. Don’t get me wrong: great publishers develop from Kickstarter. But they have those important traits a great publisher needs continue to make great games – eventually driving enough capital to move away from the bosom of Kickstarter into the wider world.

Along with their designers, traditional publishers need to get tech savvy. You don’t need to use Kickstarter to get a social media presence; or to engage with your consumers. You don’t need it to drive conversations with the people you should care most about – those promoting and buying your games. You just need to put some money into what is now the most important part of the business: genuine public relations.

Check out more Friday Feelings.

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