Treading Water – Kickstarter Reflection 2018Posted by Advice December 1, 2018 in
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.