5 January 2014 | 41 Comments
Note: You can listen to me talk about this subject with Kickstarter expert Richard Bliss for 20 minutes here.
It’s a new year, so it means we’re going to try out a new series of posts inspired by The Dice Tower Showdown podcast, which I really enjoy. You’ve read my thoughts on Kickstarter for over a year now, so every week or so I’m going to turn the spotlight on a few Kickstarter backers who have strong opinions about certain ongoing crowdfunding debates. Kickstarter is all about the backers, so let’s hear what they have to say.
These two debaters were randomly selected from a group of people who signed up to be a part of this series. If you’re interested in joining the conversation, you can fill out this form.
Pro: Sam Klein
My name is Sam Klein and I’m a rabid–I mean, avid–Kickstarter backer. I was fortunate enough to stumble upon Kickstarter over two and a half years ago. Since then, I’ve been a proud supporter of projects spanning a range of categories. Admittedly, I have a soft spot for the Games category–both boardgames and videogames. My most recent backing–Board Game Storage Chests, Tokens, Inserts & More–is evidence of that. Along the way, one of the lessons I’ve learned is that Kickstarter exclusives add tremendous appeal to any campaign.
1. They increase backer interest and interaction.
Fairytale Games: The Battle Royale is an excellent example of a campaign that simply oozed exclusives. The more exclusives that were provided, the more backers joined the campaign. As additional backers showed their support, yet more exclusives became available. It was a frenzied and passionate cycle that helped achieve all of the stretch goals and bring the campaign close to 140K in funding.
Some of the exclusives required backer participation of sorts. The project creator, Alexander Lim, was quite creative in fostering interesting methods of acquiring these exclusives. He also provided multiple opportunities throughout the campaign to score them. One such example was to provide a caption for one of the cards–simple, yet engaging. Other manners of participation included Facebook sharing and liking, as well as backer voting and commenting. By actively involving the backers, Alexander Lim created a sense of community around Fairytale Games.
2. They generate additional replay incentive.
Exclusives come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from tiles to cards to miniatures. These items can greatly enhance gameplay options as Run, Fight or Die did. Exclusives included a co-op scenario, unique miniatures and additional component cards. Jason Maxwell, the project creator, wrote “We make sure our KS rewards are not just ‘extra’ components thrown in at the last moment, but game components that we spend months developing. We still believe it important to give extra attention to those who purchase through Kickstarter.”
3. They add real world value.
The law of supply and demand determines the worth of physical goods. Exclusives, by nature, tend to be rare and, oftentimes, highly desired. Look no further than the behemoth known as Zombicide for proof. Raising almost 800K, Guillotine Games crafted a campaign full of exclusives–some of which were free, and others that were not. Recent sales on Ebay for each free promo mini have clocked in at over $100. One of the minis that cost $10 during Kickstarter recently fetched over $300. Simply put, the inherent value added to these exclusives make them quite collectible.
For project creators, exclusives are an excellent way to propel a campaign’s momentum, while rewarding those who help it become a success in the first place. Euphoria by Stonemaier games is a testament to this fact. From realistic tokens to an alternate art box sleeve to a double-sided board with exclusive dystopian artwork, Jamey Stegmaier has done a terrific job of designing exclusives that feel unique and special. As a result, backers feel genuinely appreciated and have an item that truly shines. That should be the goal for every campaign, and exclusives are just one of the tools to achieve it.
Con: Itai Rosenbaum
Itai Rosenbaum, 28, is graphic and UX designer by day and a game designer by night. He enjoys mostly medium-weight games for the “serious nights” and story telling for when you’re looking for a lighter evening. He’s always the traitor; even when a game doesn’t have one. Recently he’s backed Brew Crafters (because beer + board games makes perfect sense) and Coin Age (because who doesn’t want a game that can fit in their pocket?).
Itai’s random thoughts and musings can be found in his not-updated-nearly-as-often-as-it-should-be blog.
1. Wasted Funds and Time
Exclusives cost money to produce. By their nature, there will be a smaller quantity of them and they will (most likely) never be produced again. This means that some of the funds gained from the Kickstarter will go towards funding these exclusives (whether it’s moulding and casting a miniature, printing extra art prints, etc.). These funds could be used to enrich the gaming experience in a more long-lasting fashion. Perhaps increase the component level, or improve the art quality. Board games are not cheap to produce as it is, and such a large chunk of capital can be used to greatly increase the quality of the game overall, rather than spend it on a couple extra trinkets for a select few. Additionally, they greatly increase the production time of the project.
2. Game Dilution
Exclusives are superfluous additions to the game. If they were absolutely necessary – they would be a part of the game experience. At some point, the exclusives become unnecessary to the point of hurting the game experience. Take Zombicide, for instance – there were so many exclusive characters offered in the game’s Season 2 campaigns, each of the individual characters loses their uniqueness. What’s a fast, evasive character worth when there are 7 other characters who act the exact same way. Furthermore, it seemed that by that point, every stretch goal turned out to be another exclusive character. At the end of the day – I don’t want nor need 40 characters to choose from, as they don’t really add anything of value to the game itself.
3. False Entitlement
This point is not so much about the campaign itself, but rather about the people backing it. Giving people a truckload of exclusives is bestowing upon them a false sense of entitlement. It has gotten to a point where people will not back a project unless it provides them with something shiny that no one else has. We must remember that at its core, Kickstarter is a funding platform, not a storefront. You are investing in a product as a show of good faith, you should not be rewarded for it. That goes against the concept of “faith”. Your return would be the successful funding of the project you believed in. Saying “I’m not going to help you unless you give me something in return” is petty and not in line with the general “spirit” of Kickstarter.
Counterpoints: Each of the debaters got to read the points made the other and respond. Here are their counterpoints:
Pro: Sam Klein
If a Kickstarter project is properly planned and managed, there should be minimal to no waste of funds and time–regardless of whether exclusives are offered. Fairytale Games: The Battle Royale provided backers with a plethora of exclusives ranging from additional cards to miniatures. As Alexander Lim puts it, “Since we are running these games as one large print run, our vendors are giving us a great discount on overall inventory.” Furthermore, he followed up The Battle Royale campaign with The Miniatures campaign “so the production run would be a lot more beneficial and efficient.” That is the essence of proper planning.
Moreover, exclusives often push a campaign’s final tally higher than the lack of said exclusives, because they motivate more people to back the project as well as to spread the word. So, these “wasted funds” might not actually exist otherwise.
Run, Fight or Die was just one case in point of avoiding game dilution. Fallen by Watchtower Games is another. The creator, Tom Green, explains “We pared the game down for some of our tests to the retail version of the game. We wanted to make sure everything still flowed well and remember what the retail content felt like. The good news: everything still worked well and there was plenty of content in the retail game. The great news: when we added the Kickstarter content, the game was loaded with options. Thick decks of treasures and creatures and a huge stack of Story cards are in store for you all.” Again, planning and preparation are key.
Kickstarter is indeed a funding platform; however, there is no one path to success. As such, creators have adapted their campaigns to maximize the potential to succeed. Some have merely adjusted their expectations to fall in line with these adaptations. Ultimately, it is up to each individual to determine his or her reasons to support a project. One would be remiss to judge another for his or her unique motivations. After all, to me, that is the beauty of Kickstarter–it brings together people from all walks of life who believe in something enough to help it become reality.
Con: Itai Rosenbaum
While it is true that exclusives can (and probably will) draw backers towards the project, those very same exclusives may very well drive others away. Many of us in the board game hobby (and assorted geekery in general) have a collector mentality. This slight obsession with having everything associated with our respective hobbies. However, due to the nature of exclusives, and the fact they often incur an added cost – some gamers who simply cannot afford them will decide not to back a Kickstarter.
Whether or not this “all or nothing” attitude is a healthy one is a discussion for another day, but the fact that it exists still stands. Many backers had to opt out of giant campaigns such as Kingdom Death or Zombicide (particularly the second season) which offered so much in various exclusive add-ons – that one ended up paying more for them than the actual pledge. Furthermore, once the campaign is over and the exclusives are no longer available, new gamers discovering the project will refuse to purchase it, knowing they can’t possibly have everything associated with their game.
It is quite possible to back a Kickstarter purely in order to resell the exclusives at a much higher price point. To be quite blunt though, if that is your intent – then I’d rather you not have the exclusives. This kind of move capitalizes on the excitement and opportunity Kickstarter allows purely for personal gain. This too goes against what I like to refer to as the spirit of Kickstarter. The whole point of the platform is to provide an avenue for like-minded people to help bring forth projects that would otherwise not be able to see the light of day. To take advantage of this to make a few bucks is pretty low.
All of this is not to say that I don’t like getting free extra stuff. Far from it. I enjoy the thrill of unlocking a stretch goal just like any other, and when Myth reached that extra Dragon boss monster, I was fist pumping along with all the other backers. I just don’t see why these things have to be exclusives. Why, in a hobby that is already pretty niche, do we need to create this extra and artificial level of separation. I get plenty rewarded for being a backer by getting a lot of stuff sooner than the general market will, plus the various stretch goals usually mean I get more than my money’s worth. I really don’t need to have something no one else will have to feel special and fulfilled.
This is Jamey–you didn’t think I’d stay out of the debate, did you? I’ve written about Kickstarter exclusives here before, and my opinion continues to evolve. It’s something I deal with on a daily basis–people who play the Kickstarter version of Euphoria want that version of the game, but I won’t give it to them because of the promise I made to my backers (not to mention that I don’t have any to sell). I’ve had people who play Euphoria and love it tell me flat-out that they won’t buy it because they can’t get the upgraded Kickstarter components, despite the fact that the retail version of Euphoria contains all custom components as well (the photo on the right is the retail version of Euphoria).
I actually talked about exclusives extensively with Richard Bliss on his Funding the Dream podcast the other day (the episode isn’t available yet, but I’ll link to it when it’s live). The conclusion I’m moving towards more and more is that while exclusives might help a single campaign and create a fun experience for the backers, if you’re trying to build a company and a lasting brand from that campaign, they end up doing more harm than good. They alienate anyone who discovers the game after that very slim window the game was on Kickstarter.
I discuss two potential solutions on the Funding the Dream podcast with Richard Bliss. I’m sure I’ll revisit them on the blog in the future. For now, thanks so much to Sam and Itai for sharing their backer perspectives in such an eloquent and insightful way. We’d love to hear what you think in the comments below!