Kickstarter – Or, is that really your business plan?

In a break from our regularly scheduled anticipation of DropZone Commander I thought I’d take a look at one of the latest trends that I see sweeping through the gaming fraternity (what do you mean there are girls in this hobby?). Now, it’s no surprise to anyone that most gamers have tried their hand at creating their own game. After all, gaming is what we love doing and we are generally quite critical of the flaws in any system we play. We therefore look to create our own rules influenced from our own experiences to try to make something that we think would be the holy grail of tabletop gaming. There are even a few people who are lucky enough to have the contacts that have allowed them to make this a reality and are therefore “living the dream” of running their own gaming company.

One of the recent trends I’ve been seeing is for an increasing number of gaming outfits putting development projects up on a website called Kickstarter. What this allows you to do is to set up various levels of “donation” and then also attach a reward associated with that level of donation. This is a way of allowing the people who are already interested in, or are already committed to your system to send you cash to spend on whatever it is you asked them to send it in for. The image at the beginning of this post pretty accurately sums up what I think about this practice. Let’s go into why I feel that way. Stand by to receive my opinion on this, I know it won’t be the same for everybody so you might not like what I write.

I’m really not sure why people do this. Sure I understand it’s about getting cash in, but isn’t that what your business plan is for? I hope that people didn’t create a game, go to market with it and only then work out if they can make it profitable and make a go of it? I would have thought you’d look at things like your overheads, how much stuff will cost off the shelf, your margin of profit and how much of that you can reinvest. With gaming being a pretty niche market this make even less sense to me. Let’s consider some of the things I have seen going on.

Generally you invest a certain amount of money for something and then you get that thing free as a thank you for donating. This donation may also be higher than what the RRP of that product would be when it hits the store shelves. So, all that happens in my eyes is that people who are already interested in the game (or whatever it might be) now stump up their cash early for something that they can’t actually get yet. When it’s made then they get their copy of it just as they would have done if they’d have bought it from a store later on and potentially they paid more for it.

Now, I’m not saying their isn’t merit in giving over your cash to help out struggling companies as some of these products might not have come to market without that initial investment. For one-off items I find this OK, however, for games that already have an established fan base bringing new items to market and needing the cash to develop them up front suggests to me that the people behind the scenes are not running an effective business model. Yes they’ll get the cash they need but if they’re offering their product as a part of that offering then what other sales are going to come later? Sure you might end up with a few units sold due to people buying on a whim but if the core people are the ones that are already supporting your game are the ones donating as well you’re not really going to be growing your business as much as might be possible had you gone a more traditional route.

Perhaps doing a Kickstarter means that you can get out stuff you wanted to do earlier than would otherwise be possible on a tight margin? However that doesn’t stifle the original issues that come with this kind of venture. If you are doing this because you’re not making enough money to stick to your normal development timetable then this isn’t going to be the magic bullet that fixes that. This is my major issue with this, it just seems to me like people are trying to jump the gun and do a cash grab to do stuff that they want to do without necessarily thinking that this might not be a long-term solution to a viable continuous business. Unless of course people just want to try to make a sudden burst of cash and not have their products have the longevity that might provide a better revenue stream. Personally I’d like a continuous flow of money rather than a sudden burst.

I don’t know, maybe I’m looking at this wrong? I’ve seen quite a few of these recently and it seems rather nonsensical. You get your money, you make your stuff, you might get a few extra sales depending on what happens. It just seems to me to be a rather risky way of trying to do business.

3 thoughts on “Kickstarter – Or, is that really your business plan?”

  1. One of our friends brought a new card game to one of our gaming sessions which she got off kickstarter. The quality of the cards, art, etc. were quite good, and the game itself was fun to play, but its not a game I would have paid more than $5-$10 for, and I’m not even sure I would have paid $10 for it but she seemed happy with her “purchase” and we did have fun playing it, which is really all that matters, I guess.

    Since then I’ve looked at a lot of other games on Kickstarter, board & card games (ignoring the PC variety) and while a few games have looked interesting the pledge level at which I’d get a copy of the game always seems extraordinarily high. In some cases you can get a basic copy of the game for around $40 but looking at the higher pledge levels & “rewards” reveals a bunch of extra content that leaves you wondering “if there’s all that extra stuff, just what’s in the ‘basic’ game?”

    Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to get a game on the cheap…or maybe I am 😉 but isn’t that the whole point of Kickstarter? I didn’t think it was a way of selling your game so much as a means of generating funding to kickstart your idea (hence the name).

    Which brings me to Steve Jackson and “Ogre”. Have you checked out his kickstarter page for Ogre? He’s Steve Jackson, for Pete’s sake! Does he really need to use Kickstarter? Apparently so, because the bastard raised almost a million bucks off of 5,500 pledges (approx. $165/pledge). If you look at his reward items you get a t-shirt for pledging $23 which says “I made Steve Jackson work on Car Wars”. Seriously? I guess that’s a reward, but how is that related to Ogre, his kickstarter project? Turns out he’s trying to determine the level of interest in Car Wars before working on it. As the pledge levels increase he throws in things like lapel pins, more t-shirts, PDF rules of the game (with directions on how to make cardboard pieces, etc) all the way up to $100 where you finally are promised an actual copy of the game. Which is why, ultimately, I agree with your main point, at least I think its your main point. People are not using kickstarter to kickstart their project; they’re using it to take pre-orders for their game, and that seems wrong.

  2. I do wonder what happened to just asking your bank for a loan if your business needs some cash injection.

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