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Saturday, 21 July 2012

X Factor for gamers

I'm a reality TV fan.

I'm not one of those ostensibly 'ironic' reality TV viewers who apologise for their foible in a loud, obvious and infuriatingly disingenuous manner for the purposes of making themselves appear more interesting by railing against public opinion. I just gain enjoyment from watching other people's lives unfold from a safe distance. I am, if you will, a voyeur. 

To that end, I have watched with some interest as control of RPG, Boardgame and Wargame design is passed slowly yet surely into the hands of the fickle consumer. I refer, of course, to Kickstarter.

This was probably unnecessary.

Like me, you may have initially laboured under the misapprehension that Kickstarter was a funding platform used exclusively for game development, (In my defence, I was first exposed to it via Tabletop Gaming News and only later explored the site to any great extent). However, Kickstarter offers the potential to advertise and fund a wide range of creative projects in a variety of media. The medium that I will be focussing on, however, is Boardgames and Wargames.

I'd like to take a balanced view of Kickstarter's benefit to our hobby, rather than offering an ill-informed, choleric opinion on the matter either way. 


Reduced risk and barriers to entry for new/small companies - 
Small companies looking to launch their game, or figure range often face an inordinate level of financial risk. Many can't afford to conduct widespread marketing; opting instead to gauge opinion in a more informal manner via forums and blogs. Considering the cost of even a small casting run - assuming that sculpting and mastering are conducted in house - there still exists the possibility of being landed with 2000 blisters of a miniature that nobody wants

Using Kickstarter eliminates risk for small businesses to the greater extent. If you have a concept with artwork and preferably a few sculpts, then the public will vote with their debit or credit card. If they don't like it, then they don't buy it and you don't waste time producing something that nobody wants 

Rewards -
Kickstarter actively encourages project leaders to create exclusive rewards for their backers. In the case of two projects which I followed with interest - those being 'Sedition Wars' and 'Zombicide' - there were a phenomenal amount of exclusive goodies on offer. 

Gamers get new stuff more quickly -
Small companies like Redbox games, Mantic, (believe it or not, they are apparently a tiny wee company despite the big shadow that they cast) and Avatars of War started up through a combination of hard work, skill and direct experience working in the industry. To date they have each produced an incredibly wide range of miniatures in relation to the scale of their operations  , but Kickstarter has given them the opportunity to fund new projects and ideas by providing capital without the vast sales figures - justifiably - enjoyed by Games Workshop.  

No risk for backers - 
Financial constraints aside, ignorance of this was the reason why I - in my uninformed, lazy, herd mentality - failed to back the Zombicide Kickstarter. Here's a quote direct from the horse's mouth:

All-or-nothing funding?

Every Kickstarter project must be fully funded before its time expires or no money changes hands.
1. It's less risk for everyone. If you need $5,000, it's tough having $2,000 and a bunch of people expecting you to complete a $5,000 project.
2. It allows people to test concepts (or conditionally sell stuff) without risk. If you don't receive the support you want, you're not compelled to follow through. This is huge!
3. It motivates. If people want to see a project come to life, they're going to spread the word.
This level of detachment from risk simply does not exist for investors in the commercial environment and means that many of the games we have seen and will see on Kickstarter in the future would have been unlikely via the more traditional development path.


I can only think of one and do so reluctantly:

Nice figures are one thing, but what if the games turn out to be shit?

Video footage of sedition wars is online for backers and prospective backers alike. Similarly, the Zombicide rules are currently available for download. Both of the systems look interesting. They're certainly very professional and polished games and industry veteran Mike McVey's name on the sedition wars ticket alone should hopefully be an indicator of a very robust and enjoyable game mechanic. 

To the best of my knowledge - and I actively invite you to correct me if I'm wrong - none of the wargames, or boardgames funded to date on Kickstarter are available on general release at the time of writing. To that end, I can only watch and hope that unlike the X Factor there will be no tantalising, albeit shameful relish in watching reality intrude. I have no desire to feel that oft-times jarring moment of guilty pleasure at the realisation that another's aspirations are incompatible with their abilities; often accompanied by the gentle tinkling of shattering dreams... 


Andrew Paul said...

"No risk for backers - "

Au contraire. You're correct that backers only need to pay up if a campaign reaches its funding target. However, once that has happened, there is still the whole development and manufacturing period to wait through. Even disregarding the possibility of outright fraud, there are still plenty of opportunities for the project to fail, and at that point, I expect Kickstarter and Amazon (who handle the electronic payments) to wash their hands of the whole thing.

I've also seen evidence that some campaigns were badly thought out - the offered rewards and promotion sucked up most of the money, meaning the actual development of the game was squeezed.

At the moment, I think it's that Kickstarter is new and shiny. companies such as GMT and Eureka have run a similar scheme for years - put up an idea (in Eureka's case, they let customers suggest ideas themeselves) and once a sufficient number of people had ordered, the thing got made.

Peter Halfpenny said...

Well said and an aspect that I completely failed to consider!

I fervently hope that those brave enough to back these projects don't fall victim to the emperor's new clothes. I will continue to watch from the sidelines until the time of judgement...

Mecha Ace said...

I have actually heard of someone running a completely bogus campaign on Kickstarter. I fail to remember what it was for, but it was bound to happen.

As for the risk of what if the game turns out to be shit, frankly I think that's the same with any game you buy today. No matter how many reviews you read of it, the majority of them are by completely fan boys, and your mileage may vary completely from theirs. I've bought several games only to be either pleasantly surprised by it, or be disappointed, and back to the second hand bin at Static it goes.

As has been pointed out, it is getting a bit like X Factor though. All it takes is for someone to do a half arsed bit of art, some rubbish miniatures (or concepts thereof) and all his mates and the few fans they've collected on the forums are shouting "You should do a kickstarter". At which point because it hasn't been thought out, it pans. Or worse yet, it succeeds, the guy delivers on his product and then has no idea were to go, so people are left with a few things for a game that will never reach fruition. If you want an example go compare the amount of money from Red Box games kickstarter which has been running pretty much the same length of time as War Echoes from Battle Bunker, and you'll see.