Hey Kickstarter, let's make some noise
It's been an interesting year for the crowdfunding platform, with its share of multi-million dollar successes, controversies surrounding outright potential fraud and plagiarism, and continuing dramas centering around project fulfillment or lack there of. We have our first taste of Kickstarter as an actual pre-order store and our stalwart Big Name behemoths seeing push backs against some of their expected successes.
At the centre of it all, the old debates surface and swirl and disappear only to surface again. For those jumping on the platform for their first time, with their game clutched tightly to their chest, they'll often hear the echoes of previous creators ringing in their ears.
'Kickstarter isn't fair'
'Kickstarter has raised the bar for everyone'
'Kickstarter makes it impossible for those without a budget'
'Kickstarter isn't for those who aren't prepared to make an effort'
'Kickstarter won't help those who don't do the marketing, period'
'Kickstarter has been like this from the beginning and none of this is new'
One thing that we have a tendency to forget is that putting a game on Kickstarter costs a lot of resource that might not even be money, we often gloss over that someone running their first campaign might be running on financial fumes and on a short amount of time. They allocated an amount of budget(sometimes savings) on the first attempt in order to give things a kick, generate prototypes and send them out, go to expos and stay away from home. A potential failure means more holiday time, more time away from the family, and more of those awkward conversations justifying to loved ones the last two years of hard work, and why this time it will definitely succeed. .
Running at loss for your first campaign becomes more and more the accepted norm. Dropping the funding goal is expected in order to hit that magical and frankly nonsensical claim you were funded in 5 minutes. It's a snake eating its tail in it's worst form and no one wins.
But throughout all of this, the number of people searching for potential gold at the end of the games designer rainbow seems constant and shows no sign of stopping.
As someone who runs a podcast where 90% of our guests are on Kickstarter, I see more and more creators having to run their campaigns more than once to gain traction, and for some going through everything again is enough to cause them to pause and re-evaluate, and in several cases make them not bother to returning. Maybe not because their idea is weak and badly designed, or the game is broken, but simply because ideas are no longer enough on Kickstarter when it comes to tabletop.
Ideas are not the currency that pays your passage forward, that slice of gold you drew out on blank pieces of cardboard. The times you stayed up late and rewrote that rule for the sixth time. All those hours of playtesting and balancing don't matter, because you can't trade them in for backers when you press the launch button on Kickstarter itself.
For some creators it's a horrific rude awakening of the ultimate insult, that yes, you're on that stage and your naked and everyone is looking at the stage but no one is even interested in looking at you, let alone shout, scream or criticise. You're not the main event, you're the person that is simply filling the space. That waiting in the wings is another generic box stuffed with twenty thousand miniatures and a rulebook that isn't even fully formed and the crowd are standing and they're giving it a standing ovation before the box has even opened it's mouth to sing. Someone is already throwing roses..
In the worst extreme examples there are games that are being overfunded by ten times, over produced by twenty, but underdeveloped by the same amount. That aren't great, that still need work, that need updated rules and house ruled, that after the dust settled you wonder if maybe they could have taken some time spent on hype and put it towards maybe making a game worth of being crowdfunded. That's an extreme viewpoint, but I see it sneaking in more often than I would like.
Though on the flip slide, I've seen the hype machine grow within a campaign, where people grasp the idea and run with it, and we get gems like The City of Kings and Vindication and Dice Hospital and Microbrew appearing and while you desperately want this to be the case for all projects, you can't predict these slices of magic if you tried, they are the perfect storms and you aint a meteorologist by any means.
What is clear, is that tabletop on Kickstarter has its own important space within the platform, and that Kickstarter itself can't gate keep, or hold back on companies like CMON or Mantic or Steamforged that help fill its bottom line. While it claims a form of social responsibility, it still needs to make sure the bills are paid. Asking for such a change could be seen as selfish.
But there are arguments to say that maybe first time creators deserve their own space to allow their ideas to be given a chance to shine, a paddling pool to help them take those steps to getting their idea created. Where they can stand next to other similar new fish without feeling they're being hidden by the whales.
On the opposite side, outwith the crowdfunding platform, creating a product and expecting an idea to be able to survive without marketing noise would be considered business suicide.
So is the issue here that is that Kickstarter was the exception, and has now fallen into line with other rules of business?
What's becoming clear is that your campaign no longer starts when you press the launch button, but maybe potentially a year before, and for many creators it will be just another factor they'll need to learn themselves if budgets can't stretch.
For some, it's going to be another barrier to overcome, and maybe one too many to master in their creative journey. The potential for us to be missing out on some fabulous gaming ideas, because instead of shouts and noise, we never get more than a whisper makes me very sad indeed.