15 November 2018 | 79 Comments
Have you noticed that a few creators have started using Kickstarter for true preorder campaigns?
But let’s be clear about what a true preorder is (in my opinion). It’s when a creator completes the manufacturing of a product, and then they start to accept orders for it. In that case, customers are simply ordering something that already exists, reserving their copy until it’s ready to ship.
This is distinctly different than a crowdfunding campaign where the funding contributes to the creation and production of a product. The funding is received before production begins (sometimes long before).
I think the two definitions are so often confused because of intent and necessity. When CMON launches a new Kickstarter, some people dismiss it as a preorder campaign because of the perception that CMON intends to make the game no matter what and they don’t need the funding. But (a) if they haven’t started producing the game, by definition it’s not a preorder, and (b) do you actually know CMON’s current cash flow? That doesn’t even include stretch goals (a key element of the creation process) and and gauging demand for the first print run (which you can do if you haven’t already started producing the game).
But we finally have an example of a campaign that really is running a true preorder campaign: Claustrophobia 1643. How’s it working out for them, and why did Kickstarter allow such a project on their platform? That’s what today’s article is about.
On November 6, Monolith launched their project for Claustrophobia 1643. It’s a game for which they’ve completed production of all 10,000 copies, which they emphasized would be not be available in retail. In fact, the 10,000 copies were already allocated (presumably on the boat) to fulfillment centers around the world, as the limited reward levels are region-specific.
It was an audacious approach to a project, and I was both impressed and curious that they would try such a thing. It’s not entirely dissimilar to the approach I’ve taken with Stonemaier Games: We make a new game, announce it when it arrives at our warehouse, and start accepting orders for it (but then we release it to distributors/retailers for release 2 months later).
Also, I like the idea of backers knowing exactly what they’re getting from Day 1, and there’s such a short turnaround time from the moment you pay to when you receive your reward.
However, I was a bit surprised that Kickstarter allowed Monolith to use their platform for a true preorder campaign. I’ll get to that in a minute. First let’s check in on how the project is doing, as they’re now in their final day of the campaign:
Well, that’s an usual curve, isn’t it? Honestly, it’s unlike anything I’ve seen on Kickstarter (aside from a scam project, which this is not): Over the last 5 days, the project has been losing money. It’s not uncommon for any project to have a bad day or two, but it’s particularly odd for the 48-hour reminder to have a negative impact on a project.
Compare this preorder campaign, for example, to another 2-player game ending soon on Kickstarter: true crowdfunding campaign Skulk Hollow.
While there are various reasons that Claustrophobia 1643 may be losing funds instead of ramping up at the end, I can’t help but think their preorder strategy had an impact on it. They’ve removed the act of creation from their campaign, and while FOMO (fear of missing out) may have inspired backers to jump in early, many of those same backers are now dropping their pledges now that they see that there are going to be over 2000 units to spare.
It’s certainly not a failure by any means–selling 7,700+ games is a great achievement, and backers are paying about $100 (KS price + shipping) for a game that would normally retail at around $150. But it does raise some red flags for other creators who might be thinking about a similar approach on Kickstarter.
That leaves the final question: Why did Kickstarter even allow this project on their platform?
I hadn’t planned to ask Kickstarter about this, but I was already talking to Luke Crane about how Kickstarter is now blocking some new projects from creators who have unfulfilled rewards (coincidentally, Monolith hasn’t fulfilled their Batman mega-project yet, though they weren’t estimating to do that until April 2019).
My confusion stemmed from two of Kickstarter’s main mantras:
- “Kickstarter is a community of people committed to bringing creative projects to life.”
- “Projects must create something to share with others.”
So…what if the thing has already been created?
Luke was very forthcoming and transparent with his response, though I still have difficulty wrapping my mind around the answer. Here are a few key points, along with my commentary:
- “[Monolith is] making something new that couldn’t otherwise be made in the same way.” Sure…but they already made it. If the argument is, “This product could not exist without Kickstarter,” that’s simply not the case, as the product existed post-production before the campaign launched.
- Luke explained a bit more that the intent matters, saying, “How and why the game is made counts.” I think the idea here is that Monolith made the game and priced it based on the knowledge that they would use Kickstarter to sell it. Luke is essentially saying that the timing of the creation isn’t what matters as much here–you can sell a product that already exists as long as you planned and designed to sell it on Kickstarter.
- So I asked Luke about Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig–if we had planned all along to sell it on Kickstarter after manufacturing it, would Kickstarter have allowed it? Luke responded that Claustrophobia is leveraging the direct-to-consumer aspect of Kickstarter as a way of offering a much lower price than what they could offer off of Kickstarter. Given that Castles is a $45 game and Claustrophobia would be a $150+ retail game, Luke said that Kickstarter would not have allowed Castles on their platform (assuming the other production schedule parallels to Claustrophobia).
- I was a little surprised that the price had such a big impact on Kickstarter eligibility, so I finally asked Luke about a hypothetical scenario in which Stonemaier Games designed and produced an expensive game. It’s ready to ship to backers. Can we launch it on Kickstarter? Luke’s response was “maybe.” He says, “If you’re telling your fans you’re doing a Kickstarter exclusive with a front-loaded production timeline, I’m inclined to accept it.” Obviously Stonemaier Games wouldn’t do an exclusive project, but Luke clarified that it’s more about whether or not we’re offering the game through other sales channels at the same time.
So can you, fellow creator, now use Kickstarter as a true preorder store? The answer is: Maybe, depending on how you express your intent to Kickstarter and your fans, and if it’s for such an expensive product that you can only afford to offer such low prices on Kickstarter.
Does any of this really matter? In my opinion, backers have the power to decide the types of projects that should or shouldn’t exist on Kickstarter. I love that backers have the power. But for the sake of creators, I also want to make sure there is some level of consistency and transparency from Kickstarter–if intent and price matter so much, shouldn’t they be noted in Kickstarter’s public guidelines?
I’d love to hear your opinions on this topic–please do so in a way that is respectful to Monolith, Kickstarter, myself, and other people who choose to comment. Thanks!
[UPDATE] A few people have mentioned that Arcadia Quest Riders followed this model too.
- Kickstarter Is Not a Store (article on Kickstarter.com)
- Kickstarter Lesson #235: Surviving an Attack on Your Character
- Kickstarter Lesson #234: Batman, The 7th Continent, and Skipping Retail
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