Let’s not beat around the bush – Kickstarter seems to become more and more the de facto way to sell tabletop games. It used to be the domain for small designers to make their game become a reality, but now established publishers use the crowdfunding platform to bring their latest release to market. I don’t want to discuss whether this trend is good or bad – there are plenty of discussions on this topic already. Instead, I want to focus on how people use it to buy games and what their expectations are.
At the time of writing, there were nearly 300 live projects on Kickstarter in the tabletop games category, and these cover a wide range of types of games for a wide range of budgets. So chances are, if you’re looking to buy a game, you’ll find something to fit your expectations. As a buyer, you’re definitely spoilt for choice, especially if you’re in no rush and happy to wait a few months to see what else is coming out.
Time is the first rub though. If I buy something, I usually expect to have the product in my hands either immediately, within a few days, or at the very least within a couple of months. Kickstarter works differently of course. You make your pledge, wait for the campaign to fund, wait a bit longer for it to finish – and then you wait months to actually get your copy of the game you backed. By the time the game arrives, you have already forgotten what it was that made you want to buy it in the first place, because you ended up backing a couple more project in the meantime, both of which seemed even more exciting than the last.
Despite having to wait for your purchase to arrive, and despite the excitement for the new game mechanisms, or the amazing minis, or the latest design by your favourite designer, or whatever it was that made you press the pledge button wearing off and becoming a distant memory, more and more people seem to flock to Kickstarter to buy their games.
There is, of course, the opportunity to back a new, small designer and help them publish their own game.
Being part of their journey and knowing that you played a part are things that people like. It is a mix of wanting to make a difference, as well as showing your friends your name printed on the thank you page of the rulebook. Nowadays, being a backer also means that you can nudge the game ever so slightly in a favoured direction, by being able to vote on your favourite artwork, or character name, or scenario. Again, it gives you the satisfaction that you are part of this project and are sort of immortalized if your vote makes it through. It gives you a sense of community and belonging – and designers seem to like getting people behind their designs and allowing them to influence some of the decision making.
There is, of course, also the draw of the Kickstarter special edition. A lot of campaigns offer a pledge level where you get something unique, that nobody else will be able to get, and that is only available by backing the project. Yes, having an edition of the game that isn’t available in retail gives you bragging rights, but it also makes the game experience more special. The same is true for deluxe editions, where custom wooden meeples, beautiful plastic gems, metal coins or highly detailed minis don’t change the way the game plays, but takes the enjoyment of playing it and the way it looks on the table to another level.
Often times Kickstarter campaigns are also good value for money. If a game is going to be available in retail after the project finishes, then the Kickstarter pledge levels are usually at a reduced price compared to the MSRP. Often you also get the option to buy other games by the same designer or publisher, or expansions or add-ons, with the main game, but at a really good price, which is otherwise not offered through the traditional sales channels. So if you find a project you like, you’ll probably be able to get it at a great price.
Recently there have been many campaigns where reprints of older games were offered. Often times these were also updated and improved versions of the original, where rules were tweaked or player counts increased to make the game even better. In some cases, you also got a product with better overall quality than when it was originally released. For people like myself, who have been around the block a few times, being able to buy games you know from your childhood is not only about nostalgia, but also about being able to enjoy something you loved back then, but with new people and with improved gameplay or components.
Of course sometimes, like with buying anything online, the product you receive doesn’t match the pictures on the website, or you were just expecting something else, something more. Kickstarter projects are even more prone to this issue, because we’re often talking about a product that hasn’t been made yet. There will be 3D renders, initial illustrations, some rough artwork and a nearly final ruleset, but very little will actually be finished yet. As we all know, and as we keep being reminded in many YouTube videos, prototypes are not the final product. They can be very close to the final product, but they’re still just prototypes.
Hopefully, the final result will be better than what you see on the Kickstarter page, but we all know how our imagination will sometimes make us see something different, something better, than what we finally receive in the post. That doesn’t mean that the author of Kickstarter campaign mislead us, even though that does happen from time to time. It simply means we were hoping for something different. People who run Kickstarters do all they can to manage our expectations, but it is still down to us, as the buyers, to ensure we ask questions to make sure we know what we’ll get.
So far my article might sound a bit doom and gloom, when the great majority of Kickstarter campaigns are a great success and the backers are very pleased with the outcome and the products they receive. The platform allows small designers to take their games out into the world and to people like you and me who will love to play them. It is a great opportunity for established publishers to try out new designers or new ideas that they would otherwise not be able to bring to market through traditional methods. As a buyer you just have to understand that backing a campaign is different to buying a product from a retailer.
Have you backed anything on Kickstarter yet? If so, what was your experience? Do scare stories frighten you away from backing a crowdfunding campaign? Do you prefer to wait for a game to come into retail? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.