The following article was written by Matt from over at the Creaking Shelves blog. We met at SorCon this year and bonded immediately over our love of games – but it was clear our thoughts on Kickstarter differed somewhat…
So we hatched a plan to write each other guest posts extolling the virtues – or not – of Kickstarter, along with rebuttals and counter rebuttals. If you want to read my rant, head over to Creaking Shelves – but for now, read on.
“Wait, how many of those boxes are mine!?”
I’m stood in my local post office looking at a pile of beige cardboard boxes that is almost as tall as I am. I’m here to collect my Cthulhu Wars Kickstarter expansions (yes… just the expansions) whose recent delivery I had missed.
“All of them, sir”
It was about this point that I really wished I owned a car.
Kickstarter has brought about something of a revolution in the board game industry, for both publishers and consumers. No longer must a publisher foot the cash for manufacturing a new game, instead you or I can pledge our support, giving them our money up front for the promise of a future game. Is this madness? Perhaps. But I’m a big proponent of Kickstarter in general and this is why I back games.
Sometimes the reason is financial. Most games offer good discounts from MSRP to reward your faith, and for the big box (particularly the miniature heavy) games I’ve backed in the past, this can be a big selling point. The components from a Kickstarter too can be a massive draw. Have you ever played Viticulture? It’s a game I’m a big fan of, and it was one of Kickstarter’s big success stories. It features a whole load of ridiculously nice custom wooden pieces, from workers to trellises to wine bottle shaped score markers (this is a game about making wine after all). Through Kickstarter and its expandable stretch goal system, its creator was able to include far cooler components than they could have ever afforded to otherwise.
Sometimes the reason is nobler. To feel part of the creative process, to know you’ve contributed to bringing someone’s dream into the world. That’s a rewarding feeling and seeing your name on the side of a game box is incredibly cool. The best Kickstarter projects work hard to make their backers feel involved, voting on different poses for miniatures, keeping them updated on the development of the game after the Kickstarter. You will sometimes see the game go through its full journey from concept to completion, and that is an experience you can’t get at retail.
But honestly the reason boils down to emotion, as it does with any purchase. The excitement of watching a big project grow, going back to the page every day to see the pledge total ticking up and up, waiting with excitement to discover what the next stretch goal will be. Oh, man, there’s nothing quite like it!
I know it might be more logical to wait for a game to prove itself. But how do you choose games normally? If you’re in the board gaming hobby to any depth, it’s almost certainly hype that brings a game to your attention and reviews and opinions that aids your decision. Well Kickstarter has grown up in the last few years, there are reviews available most often (though do be sure to search for ones that actually review the game), and the demands on demonstrating gameplay are much higher than they used to be, sometimes higher than conventional releases!
Kickstarter may well seem ridiculous if you aren’t swept up by hype, but for those of us paid up subscribers to the “Cult of the New” the process, the decision to buy, isn’t really all that different. And you gain so much, both in terms of content and on an emotional level if you choose to. You need to select your project carefully, but I feel like everyone should at least give it a go. There’s a whole world of creativity and talent out there, and you deserve to let yourself try it out!
You hold up viticulture for praise because it has pretty components – while Cthulhu Wars has more plastic than you can shake a stick at but has an average game in a box that costs three times the price of an equivalent, non-mini experience.
Mate – that’s pure window dressing. You bought a ‘game’ remember, not a toy!
Viticulture’s visitor cards are horribly unbalanced and the whole game scales poorly (as do many of the cards). It was clearly poorly tested and developed, which is a shame as it is nearly a good game. A proper publisher would’ve done a much better job of it. Seriously, if you can’t see these flaws you must be blinded by Kickstarter remorse – and its ranking certainly doesn’t reflect its issues. The fact you (and many others) blindly backed these games probably adds a little extra emotion to your feelings for them, hence the overly high marks!
And sorry, but you’re not part of the creative process. That dream of wanting a game published? It’s fulfilled every day outside of Kickstarter – it always has been and it always will be, whether or not the crowd-funding bubble bursts. The good games will get published regardless – all we have now is loads more awful ones to try and dodge.
And please, dear reader, if you take one thing away from here, let it be this: You are NOT guaranteed even the slightest bit of good content or emotion – ask anyone who has backed one of the hundreds of failed/broken/cheated Kickstarters or the thousands of simply dreadful ones. Most of the really talented designers are still taking their games to proper publishers – and that’s not going to change any time soon.
Matt’s final word
Goodness, such hyperbole! Of course there are Kickstarters that are bad but, guess what? I’ve played some pretty poor games from traditional publishers too! I don’t think there is a single game on Board Game Geek that does not have some flaw, and whether that flaw bothers you or not will be the deciding factor for you.
I completely recognise the imbalances in Viticulture’s card draws (a game I actually picked up at retail), but they are not enough to ruin my enjoyment of a wonderfully thematic experience, that at the same time acts as a great introductory worker placement game. And that is also true for a huge of number of players. It has now had 4 and a half times more ratings on BGG than originally backed the game, yet still it remains in the top 100! This is a game that is loved despite its flaws like so many other games, published traditionally or through Kickstarter.
You can see a Kickstarter project in one of two ways, as an advanced pre-order system or as a creative investment. If all you want is a game, wait until retail! Except for the discounts or exclusives, you won’t miss anything. But if, like me, you see the Kickstarter as more than that, as a shared opportunity to turn an idea, a design, into a complete, often exceptional, product… then there is so much here for you! Watching the project grow, discussing it with a community of similarly excited backers, then following its journey from Kickstarter to completion… you can’t get that after the fact. Don’t let the haters scare you away! Do your research, and get involved!
“Viticulture’s visitor cards are horribly unbalanced and the whole game scales poorly (as do many of the cards). It was clearly poorly tested and developed, which is a shame as it is nearly a good game. A proper publisher would’ve done a much better job of it.”
It’s true that the first-edition of Viticulture (August 2012 Kickstarter) was sorely lacking in balance, blind playtesting, and development. When I talk to people about what I learned about my first Kickstarter, that’s the regret that comes to mind first.
But just because one first-time publisher made some mistakes on a game in 2012 doesn’t mean that all Kickstarter creators make those same mistakes. Similarly, just because a traditional publisher doesn’t use Kickstarter doesn’t mean they properly playtested and developed their game. In fact, I would say that Kickstarted games are actually held to a higher standard, as backers are actively looking for evidence of playtesting (and sometimes they become playtesters themselves).
Chris, I’m sorry you didn’t have a good experience with the first edition of Viticulture. It probably turned you off from the game to the point that you didn’t try the Viticulture Essential Edition, in which the visitor cards are quite balanced. Perhaps it is “criminally overrated,” but I’m happy that people have fun playing it, and I’m extremely grateful for the 942 backers who were there to make the game possible in the first place. Without them, Viticulture wouldn’t have grown into the game it is today, nor would our other games have existed (including Scythe, which, at over 1000 blind playtests, is likely more playtested than most traditionally published games).
It’s good to hear the newer version fixes the game’s problems – but those backers who were there for the original still suffered. And a very similar thing happened with Euphoria – I remember having to buy updated cards for that, which felt a little insulting.
You’re clearly highly skilled in running Kickstarter campaigns, but I worry that skill is more important than actually making a good game. I’m constantly approached by Kickstarter runners asking if I’ll help them ‘support’ their campaign, but who aren’t willing to give a copy of the game to check out – or if they do, it ends up being terrible.
I’m yet to play Scythe, but that’s certainly a good number of tests. One question: Are you moving to a position where your company cash flow would let you make games outside the Kickstarter model, or is it more hand to mouth? And if you are making enough to move away from Kickstarter, would you? Or is it just too good an advertising/financing vehicle for you now?
And you are of course welcome to send me a new version of Viticulture for review – it certainly had some really nice ideas and high component quality. 🙂
Chris: I’m sorry you felt insulted by the need to buy updated recruit cards in Euphoria. The 16 updated cards (out of 48) were included them for free in our treasure chests, and they were $5 on BGG. I wouldn’t necessarily say that backers of either campaign “suffered,” though, especially considering the aftermarket value of those KS games were often double or triple the original price you paid. I’ve also spoken to many original Viticulture backers who are proud to have that first edition and to have been there from the start.
I’ve made tens of thousands of copies of games outside of the Kickstarter model (new printings of Viticulture, Euphoria, Between Two Cities, and Scythe). I’ve also run several pre-order campaigns through my own website instead of Kickstarter.
Here’s the thing: I run Kickstarter campaigns for 5 reasons. (1) gauge demand, (2) build community, (3) raise awareness, (4) make the product better through feedback and stretch goals, and (5) raise funds. When a project necessitates all of those reasons, Kickstarter is my target. But for some projects, like Moor Visitors or my recent Token Trilogy, don’t have all of those reasons, so I don’t use Kickstarter for them.
The example I use in terms of cash flow is for Scythe. Scythe is an expensive game to make, but we had enough liquid cash on hand last fall that we could have afforded a minimum print run of 1500 copies. But demand for Scythe turned out to be much higher than that. If we would have released only 1500 copies of Scythe, we would have left out 16,000+ people who wanted the game. Kickstarter allows me to include those people from the beginning.
“Viticulture (and every other half-finished Stonemaier game) would’ve benefited enormously from having proper development from people that do it for a living.”
This is what I do for a living, Chris. I love sending out review copies of our games, but I think you’ll have better luck getting free review copies from other companies.
Heh, indeed. As I’m 0-3 with your games to date (if you include Between Two Cities), it’s probably for the best! But I wish you every success with Scythe and future projects – you’re clearly passionate about what you do.