Treading Water – Kickstarter Reflection 2018

Posted by Daniel Zayas December 1, 2018 in Advice

I did one of these articles last year, so it is fitting that I recap all the changes that happened this year as well. These are all mostly my opinions with a smattering of proof and personal experience, so take that for what it’s worth. Feel free to disagree with me because I enjoy that most of all. 🙂

Big Projects Outpaced Platform Adoption

The board game hobby is experiencing its biggest growth in history, not just in profits, but in general pop culture adoption. Publishing companies are being created every week and many thousands of titles were debuted this year alone. You see a growing display of games at big box stores, heavy investments of online sales of games, and more and more board game retail stores and cafes popping up to become their community’s third space. In 2018, my expected trajectory of increased board game buyers happened everywhere except on Kickstarter. While Kickstarter doesn’t release this type of information, those who use the platform both as creators and backers felt a unique squeeze this year over others. According to Board Game Data, 57.8% of the 3,220 tabletop projects on the site funded so far this year, whereas 61.9% of the 3021 tabletop projects in all of 2017 funded. The prospects are even worse for new creators. 45.2% of 1506 tabletop projects by new creators funded in 2017, but only 40.3% of 1486 tabletop projects by new creators have funded so far this year. December isn’t likely to boost those numbers. Nearly every trend below stems from this specific normalizing, or evening out, of new user adoption. Users overall grew on Kickstarter, but not at the rate you might have guessed looking at the boom in 2015 with Exploding Kittens.

My Takeaway: I have no idea what the future holds for Kickstarter, and neither does anyone else. I hope a lot more publishers “graduate” from the platform and move on as Stonemaier Games did a few years ago. If they don’t (or can’t) we are in for some tough times ahead.

Nostalgia, Storytelling, and IPs, Oh My!

If you look at the most successful campaigns of 2018, it is easy to see that The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls, Strongholds & Streaming, Trogdor!! The Board Game, Fireball Island – 80’s Board Game, Reignited and Restored, Batman™: Gotham City Chronicles, and Hellboy: The Board Game all spoke to this childhood nostalgia relived through Kickstarter campaigns. I also took notice of those non-IP but skirting that line trend that happened this year, such as when Pandasaurus came out swinging with their monumentally successful This-Isn’t-Jurassic-Park-MTV-Acid-Wash Dinosaur Island: Back from Extinction campaign, or the This-Isn’t-Aliens-But-Isn’t-It Nemesis campaign. Notable campaign Tidal Blades leaned heavily into narratives even as a brand new world and IP.

My Takeaway: Storytelling is in. Build worlds, not just art.

Creators Relied Too Heavily on Superbackers

Where creators really hit a brick wall this year was the sheer amount of quality campaigns on the platform at any one given time. Creators realized firsthand how shared their audience really was when the campaigns which would have made tons of money last year barely scraped by. Backer budgets have always been a limitation on the platform. It’s just that this year was the first year saturation was met and projects either didn’t fund or made meager gains. I think this is a result primarily of publishers getting comfortable with who is funding their projects. The games industry is growing. The customer base is growing. But publishers haven’t brought an explosion of new users since Exploding Kittens.

My Takeaway: It has always been the case that you need to cultivate your audience rather than assume all of the existing Kickstarter audience will fund your projects. I think we need to take that idea a step further and do more education in our marketing of what crowdfunding and Kickstarter actually is.

Cancelled Funded Campaigns

Since mainstream publishers entered the Kickstarter market in a large way last year, canceled funded campaigns have grown tremendously. I say tremendously, but we are talking about 30 or so campaigns when the norm was half that or less. Whether the result of retooling for bigger gains or unrealistic expectations, Kickstarter has become the R&D department for a lot of companies with resources to spare on the time and resources spent in a Kickstarter. That isn’t actually a bad thing, as experimentation has continuously been the hallmark of a breakout Kickstarter campaign. It’s most shocking to backers that a company would appear successful in the funds they asked for (which is never the actual cost of a game production), and decide to pull the experiment before funds are collected.

My Takeaway: This is a symptom of the squeeze. I don’t think anything will change and creators will continue to ask for lower goals with the knowledge they can cancel before the campaign ends. Just a symptom of the platform. I also don’t think it’s that big of a deal to not be charged for something that needs to be retooled and relaunched, so there is that.

Blasting Off the Tabletop

Looking closer at a campaign such as Fireball Island, it is easy to write off the success as pure nostalgia. However, Fireball Island tapped into another emerging trend of 2018, and that is 3D gameplay environments. While naysayers may say of course Fireball Island has a 3D board because the original did as well, we need only look at the excitement the giant play-on-able Cthulhu plastic figure in Cthulhu: Death May Die stirred, or the even-though-it-was-a-scam-take-some-trend-lessons Overturn campaign, with 3D scenery littered throughout. Although a bit of a stretch, an honorable mention should definitely be extended to the AR hit, Chronicles of Crime, which brings the player’s attention off the table into a phone scenery.

My Takeaway: Try to find ways to imagine how your game can come up from the table some, even using plastic formed boards or a reason for players to stand up.

Live Video and Kickstarter UI

This was actually a trend I added late because I enjoyed it and then took it for granted, but yes. Kickstarter did a great thing and implemented live video which could simulcast to Facebook and it was a magical thing to behold. Kickstarter also made a few much-needed updates to the back-end and simplified a lot of what creators need to deal with. Many Kickstarter employees actually found their way onto Facebook Groups where a majority of the complaints took place.

My Takeaway: I would like to think live video will continue to dominate the landscape in 2019, but I am much more inclined to imagine shorter video content drops within updates will become the more viewed and marketable content. But keep making live content because we all love it.

So, What’s Next?

I want to propose something and many existing creators will laugh and disagree with my sentiments, but I think in order for new creators to succeed on Kickstarter in 2019, the entire paradigm needs to shift. Best Practices need to be uprooted and new ones need to take their place. To stop the bar from rising to heights that only large budget operations can sustain, and to ensure Kickstarter remains for everyone as this experimental wonderland for daring products to be made, we need to get weird. This won’t be for everyone, and it is very unlikely that existing successful creators will see the benefit to this. But I do, and I hope you do too.

Here is something I want to put forth and if you think it is a good idea, I encourage you to use this banner in your campaigns.

#KeepKickstarterWeird is a new independent initiative I started in Kickstarter Board Games to separate new creators from the herd. When someone sees your new campaign and supports it, they will be supporting it because your initial vision is immediately present in the campaign, nothing more or less. In order to accurately use this banner in your campaign, you just need to do 3 things.

  • No Stretch Goals – Present your game the way it is and let that be the game you want to fund. Find new ways to engage with your audience that doesn’t require bloating your game to unrealistic expectations.
  • No Deluxe Versions – Established creators have started making two versions of their game so they can justify stretch goals for a smaller run of the deluxe game paired with early sales of what will end up in distribution. New creators almost never get into distribution after one successful campaign, so stop playing by those rules.
  • Share the Love – In at least one update, talk about another campaign that is part of the #KeepKickstarterWeird initiative. In order to find those campaigns, simply search for #KeepKickstarterWeird in the various Facebook groups and elsewhere online.

And that’s it! See you next year and best of luck in your endeavors in crowdfunding.

6 thoughts on “Treading Water – Kickstarter Reflection 2018”

  • Steve Peaslee

    Daniel, thanks for this insightful and comprehensive analysis. As a new creator, I still find myself on the outside looking in, with the sense that the successful Kickstarter veterans want to dictate rather than lend their expertise in a helpful manner. See you in 2019!

  • Dorothy Semenow

    I would like to see the KKS Weird initiative adopted by successful game designers because they are the most likely to be confident that their campaign funding will be sufficient to allow incorporation of the wouldbe stretch goal upgrades into the game right out of the gate.

  • Patrick Rauland

    It would be cool if Kickstarter helped promote new creators on their platform. Seems likes their algorithm is mostly revenue based which helps the big players.

  • John S.

    Thanks for the interesting read. I saw a very weird KS campaign recently done by Monolith (of Conan and Batman fame). They did a reboot of an older board game called Claustrophobia, totally overhauling it and making it their own, and their campaign was bizarre to witness, in my opinion. They were not ashamed to use their previous success from KS, utilizing their already loyal fan base and whatever money they made to front a 10,000 unit pre-fab. (Which if you think about it violates Kickstarter’s “not a pre-order platform” clause). But I for one find Monolith’s “brutal” KS tactics refreshing. They offered full refunds if you had a fuss, absolutely no specials, no stretch goals, nothing. Just $79+s/h for the game because it’s already being made and nothing can change that- “get it while you can!” FOMO antics galore, with only a 10-day campaign window. They baked in the “we only have so much, so get it while you can!”, but funnily enough I think they fell short by 2000 backers or so.
    Anyway, I thought it was a “weird” (and definitely a bit uncouth) campaign. Maybe not what you meant by KKSW but I found it refreshing.

    When you think about it, they’re still a very small team of dudes making KS games, and Conan was their only their first go at it. Alot of these highly successful campaigns are still some game companies’ debut. They’d be silly not to utilize whatever marketing trends available to draw in backers.

    But I applaud your idea. I’m into it. Let’s try new things and keep it fresh. Thanks again for the good read. Good luck with KKSW.

  • AceAboveKings

    Since everyone is giving a go at this, I’d like to go at it as well.

    I do not have any experience on Kickstarter as a content creator, only as a backer. With that said, since I’ve backed more games than I can share, I’ve seen 100’s of updates and sometimes at least 10-20 a day. So reading all these updates gives any backer insight on the logistics. Sure we don’t see the exact details but even things such as pictures, give us a grand enough idea of what it takes to produce something that lasts an hour on average of fun. For a box of card board pieces, the logistics of board games is intense. So many things to factor in, and it all hangs on the cliff of “it depends”. You mentioned indie creators trying to follow established publisher rules of deluxifying their games but that’s just it, there are no rules to Kickstarter. You either have the business mind to figure it all out or you don’t. Even then it’s a gamble, as most publishers already have a game covered if it fails via KS. The KS money to big publishers seems like investment money towards future games. Their gears have been turning so the hurdles KS presents aren’t as bad for them. Clearly many content creators don’t,l have the mind or really know what to do, take The game “Full Moon Jacket” as example 1. The games creator admitted several times via updates that he’s basically clueless in the logistics department and just loves everything else which is why he hired or found help. Then it seems as though he had some sort of meltdown in his life where I guess he went silent of sorts on his backers. Now the games nearing shipping if it hasn’t already shipped but admit that he was not in the right headspace and that he promises to complete his campaign the right way. Example 2, is Terminator by Spacegoat launches their take on said IP. It funded well and now there’s silence and then basically telling backers they’re stuck in a pickle. That last update wasn’t assuring. Example 3 is a currently running project “War For Chicken Island”, the game launched the first time and failed, then re-launched again incredibly soon after, like the following month after or so, and funded extremely fast as they’re 411% funded with 14 days left. Not really much of a reason, they changed some stuff around and made it happen but there really wasn’t that big of an adjustment for them to make to get funded the second time. Example 4 is a game called “Darkness Sabotage”. The game did funded very well. Just when the creator was about to hit the mass produce button, the creator went silent and hasn’t been heard from since May 16 of this year. Many in the comments section to this game, are intense as it gets. Backers have come to the conclusion that the creator ran with all the money or most of it. Backers have contacted Ludo and I believe the artist and possibly a few others involved in some way to track the creator down but nobody can find him. All his social media outlets have gone dark as he’s been a ghost on all reachable platforms he’s connected to. One backer made a joke of “he ran with the money and we get to look at his stupid Kickstarter profile picture of him smiling at us like ya I played all of you”, it’s not word for word but it’s something along these lines. When I read it, I died laughing because it’s true, his profile picture is photogenic and looks all professionall which adds salt to an open wound that’ll never heal. The creator even posted on Facebook about an upcoming game of his before he went silent. The game looked awesome but maybe that was the catch all along. Other creators simply admit they miscalculated and had to issue refunds using their own money. Some sad and dark stories in the Tabletop catagory of Kickstarter, yikes! Recently CMON has announced that they lost somewhere around 4 million this year so far. 2016 and 2017 of board gaming has stepped up to the minis plate and took a go at producing heavy miniatures games. CMON is not shy with minis as it’s in their name and that’s what their all about. I think this year people have finally looked past the fancy components and really asked themselves is this game good because of the “minis” or because the game is actually good aside from the fancy components?… CMON has always relied on producing the most, using the best materials for EACH game! Most of their games have hit the millions in their funding goal. Plus they released several games that were not Kickstarter and I believe that’s what hurt them. People are use to the top tier quality of what they produce via KS but people got to at least decide based on the information that’s in the campaign portion of their Kickstarters. All their straight to retail games had people taking a bigger risk versus backing one of their KS games. Most of their straight to retail games flopped. At least half of them did not have “cool minis”, or a whole lot of them. They are what I call Kickstarter Famous. Their growth is all due to their KS games but the heavy minis theme for games this year has started to die out. I think anyone who’s ever backed any of their games should’ve expected CMON to take an eventual loss. Plus the majority of their minis games are almost the same on several levels, practically using the same exact components with characters doing the same exact thing that just has a different skin slapped on and the box says designed by so and so or just Eric Lang lol. Hopefully they can recover and do better, perhaps remarket a part of themselves. I also think 2019 will be worse for board gaming. A somewhat of a record breaking amount of new games released this year and more are expected next year but the majority of the released games this year flopped as there’s only a small handful of games that succeeded in comparison since there’s nothing to be heard by at least 90% of this years released games. Every genre is flooded and too many new publishers nobody has heard of are coming out the woodworks, something has to give and if nothing doesn’t give to make room for fresh air, the whole thing will crash. I feel board gaming will really take a nose dive in 2020 versus its its huge success it had in 2017. Most games on store shelves are social games which always die out fast because they don’t have much replay ability for gamers as they’re marketed towards non-gamers and for people who just don’t know that games have evolved past Monopoly or IP trivia games lol. Sure some heavyish games are on shelves but they’re games nobody cares too much about like Catan. Catan just has a soft spot in most gamers hearts lol but very few still play it as it’s too simplistic now. As they say, it was great for its time. It has tons of expansions but if not for them, Catan would be dead. Board gaming and its succes will always fluctuate as it’s one of those “you either like it or you don’t” kind of things. Since most people really don’t know that games evolved past Monopoly it’s no wonder they don’t care about board games when someone mentions it to them. Great article!

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