Friday, June 23, 2017

Boardgaming trends: Kickstarter, the good and bad

Over the last few years, there's been an explosion of boardgames that have happened through Kickstarter. This has been both good and bad for the industry, and I'll discuss some of the beneficial and sinister aspects of using Kickstarter for boardgames. Now, I haven't run any campaigns, I have no published designs, though I have backed a number of campaigns, and developed some general rules for what I will back in the way of games.

 If you want great insight into how to run a campaign, the go to place is the Stonemaier Kickstarter lessons page. While he gave up using Kickstarter for various reasons, there's still a LOT to learn from his blog.  Anyway, that's more for project creators, if that's your interest.

Please note that I'm talking about the boardgame side of things, though a lot of this will apply to minis games and rpgs.  The links included here are informative and not shopping links, I want you to be able to look at what's going on, as the industry moved fast before Kickstarter, and is much faster now.

The Good

There's a lot of games that wouldn't exist that are rather good. No theme is off limits.This is pare of the consequence of getting rid of the gatekeepers. Just like in tradpub sff, they mostly think in trends of theme, and will or won't sign a game based on other things announced or recently published in the industry. Some companies got started on Kickstarter, and some have left, others returned.

Some of these, like Gloomhaven and Scythe, are just really big, and have prohibitive up front costs. Others have really niche themes, like Compounded, Scoville, and Viticulture. There's also the instance of the nearly one man company, in Red Raven Games from Ryan Laukaut, with Above and Below, Eight Minute Empire, Artifacts Inc, and more. 

Another consequence is that the publishers involved can up the quality of the components, sometimes with better boards or cards, or even minis and metal coins. Do these affect gameplay? HELL NO. But they do add to the experience of playing, and for some people(yes, I've seen it, though it's not me) the increased immersion granted by metal coins or minis actually gets them to like the game. Yes, I know it's a bit odd. So are gamers in general.

From a production side, Kickstarter enable a company to get a more accurate picture of the demand for their game, and makes for a leaner first run. This means it's not sitting around on distributor or store shelves forever, which has a downside, but they aren't wasting space, either. Lean production changed the landscape of the automobile industry, and this is a way to make some similar gains in this hobby industry.

The Bad

There's a lot of games that wouldn't exist that are rather bad. No theme is off limits. Unfortunately, that also includes a lot of filthy Apples to Apples clones, anti-Christian/Conservative, and other unfortunate creations. There can be a great lack of self awareness, awareness of the hobby, or underdeveloped games. (This is not to say the tradpub game industry has a provably better record, it's just they have better ability to hide it. FFG for a long time had some of the worst rulebooks outside of direct from German translations.)

There's companies that have gone under because of Kickstarter. Cambridge Games Factory went under after running a campaign for a deluxe version of their first hit game. The size of the project and fulfillment was simply too great, and some tragic things happened. Fifth Street Games declared bankruptcy due to fiscal mismanagement.

I've also heard from some store owners that KS has hurt the industry. That's poppycock. Most campaigns and companies running campaigns will have store backer levels, so the fact is  they don't research enough, they want the distributor to do that job. Now, I don't expect anyone to have the whole picture of the industry, that's crazy. I've seen reports from Tokyo Game Market, nobody even has a whole picture of THAT. 

Some of the tradpub have also taken to using Kickstarter for a segment of their games, which has been largely annoying. While it's allowed a faster pipeline, it's also been suggestive of some mismanagement fiscally. Another BIG concern is exclusives; they turn a lot of people away during and after the campaign.

Of course, the biggest hazard is when a company doesn't deliver. It rarely happens now, and Kickstarter has even changed their terms of service to help deal with that in ANY field.

Backing Guidelines

Now, I mentioned earlier that I have developed my own guidelines for backing projects. Here's a few that I use.

1. Know the track record of the publisher. If they don't have one, be wary. It's not a disqualification, but a reputation is helpful. Look on BoardgameGeek in the forums about the company.

2. Look at the rulebook/review videos/playthrough. If none of these are present, that's a GIANT red flag. The more they have, the closer to a reality the project is, and you can find reviewers you trust, just like in sff.

3. Be ready for delays. Most projects don't ship on time, still. Some great companies actually ship early.  Their reputation on BGG should be helpful here.

4. Look at the number of exclusives and add-ons. There's some games that have been out for years that haven't shipped all of the exclusive/early add on rewards. And the more the game expands, the bigger the delays .

I hope this list is helpful to others in the hobby, whether it's this segment or not.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

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