Kickstarter Lesson #126: Becoming a Publisher vs. Running Kickstarter Projects for Other People

4 November 2014 | 14 Comments

If you are a successful Kickstarter creator, at some point you’re probably going to have someone contact you about running a project for them. They have a product of some sort, but for whatever reason they would prefer for you to represent them on Kickstarter.

When this happens, you have three choices:

  1. You can say no.
  2. You can create and run a Kickstarter project under their name, earning a flat rate or a percentage of the revenue.
  3. You can publish the product under your company name by buying the rights to the product (usually via some sort of royalty).

If you’re debating between 2 and 3, I can’t answer for you. But I encourage you to ask yourself this question: Can you put the same passion, time, and energy into running a Kickstarter project for someone else as you put into your own campaigns?

Back in the early days of Stonemaier’s existence (way back in the ancient times of 2012), I was faced with this dilemma a number of times. At one point I came very close to creating and running someone else’s project before I really asked myself the above question. I realized that it would be a very rare product that would excite me as much as a game of my own design.

I also realized that if I discovered such a product, I would believe in it to the extent that I would want to publish it under the Stonemaier name. Because of the amount time, money, heart, and soul we put into our games, we decided to only publish games from other designers if we love them as much as if we designed them ourselves.

unrendered box art by Beth Sobel
unrendered box art by Beth Sobel

After years of searching and submissions, we finally found a game that filled that requirement. It’s called Between Two Cities, designed by Ben Rosset and Matthew O’Malley. It is a partnership-driven, tile-drafting city-building game for 3-7 players that plays in about 20 minutes. The game also includes a 2-player variant, and Morten Monrad Pedersen is working on a solo “Automa” variant as well.

In Between Two Cities, you are a world-renowned city planner who has been asked to redesign two different cities. Projects of such significance require the expertise of more than one person, so for each assignment you are paired with a partner with whom to discuss and execute your grandiose plans. Each turn features a simultaneous discussion with your two partners to decide which of your tiles to place into the cities you’re building with each of them and where in those cities to place the tiles. At the end of the game, there is only one winner, as each player compares the lowest scoring of their two cites.

We’ve had a blast playtesting and developing Between Two Cities, and we look forward to launching it on Kickstarter in 2015. I’ll announce the project to all subscribers–it could be anytime between January and June, and the KS price will be around $30. In the meantime, if you’re interested in the game, please become a fan on the BoardGameGeek page and/or subscribe to updates there. You can also sign up as a Stonemaier Ambassador if you’d like to be a playtester.

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If you’re a Kickstarter creator, have you faced this choice? What did you decide to do?

14 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #126: Becoming a Publisher vs. Running Kickstarter Projects for Other People

  1. Well, I hate my own designs so just decided to be a publisher right up front. We have only brought other people’s designs to Kickstarter. I still will only bring projects I feel passionately about though.

    In fact I (personal opinion) think it a little strange that people only bring their own designs to Kickstarter. That seems that you are closing yourself off to lots of great designs out there. :)

    1. Jeff: I guess it is a little strange, but perhaps it’s in line with the idea that we’re our own gatekeepers. But putting something of your own on Kickstarter, you can see if other people are as enamored with it as you are. I doubt most creators are closing themselves off to a lot of great designs out there–it’s just not the first step for most of them.

  2. Option #2 never even occurred to me. I think of myself as a board game publisher first and foremost, not as a Kickstarter creator. (I would have no interest in running a Kickstarter campaign for someone else’s project; it’s definitely not my favorite part of the process! :-) I launched Foxtrot Games with my own design (*Relic Expedition*), but the plan was to publish designs from other designers.

    I would share two things from my experience:

    * I realized the same thing you did, that I would only publish a design if I loved it as much as I would love my own design. That turned out to be a MUCH stricter criteria than I realized! Designers have been submitting games to me for a year and half, and I’ve seen plenty of good games and a few that I even really liked — but I just didn’t love most of them enough. (There was one I loved that sadly didn’t make sense as my second game.) I have signed two games that I love: *Lanterns* (the campaign I just wrapped up) and a second game I’m developing (it’s not ready to announce yet). I also am evaluating a game right now that I am falling in love with.

    * I have heard from many designers who self-publish but really only love designing games — not so much the development and the publishing work. I was a little worried about that for myself, but I have found that I love developing other people’s designs even more than designing my own. I’ll be curious to hear how the experiences compare for you.

    Congratulations on the announcement, and best wishes getting everything ready for thee campaign!

    1. Randy: It’s neat that you share the same idea of publishing games you really love. That comes across in your Lantern campaign. While I respect bigger companies, I honestly don’t know how they pump out so many games a year–do they really love all of those games? Would they be more successful if they just picked the ones they really loved?

      As you know, designing, playtesting, and prototyping your own game is a labor of love–it takes a lot of work. While I’ve enjoyed being a part of the development process for Between Two Cities, I’m there mostly as an adviser. I’d prefer to spend my creative energy on my own designs.

      1. I certainly understand preferring to spend creative energy on your own designs: that’s what I expected to feel! But it turns out I have really enjoyed development work. (I’d put my development work so far somewhere between “advising” and “co-designing.”) Of all the creative work I’ve done in my life, I’d say that developing the mechanics and changing the theme for *Lanterns* is probably what I’m the proudest of.

  3. Do you think it’s partly because its your own design that you’re so in love with it? I know that I have a very high tolerance for my own designs (I can play them over and over) even when they’re in a broken phase. Is this an example of good bias, or should we really be just as critical of our own designs as of others?

    1. Gilbert: I think it’s because it’s my own design (Viticulture, Euphoria, and Tuscany) that I love them, but Between Two Cities is not my design. I would actually say I’m more critical of my designs than any other, though. Not just those three, but also the dozens and dozens that haven’t gotten past 1 playtest because I realized they’re crap and didn’t have the potential to get any better. :)

  4. Right. I see. So you discard these ideas and move on because they don’t have enough immediate potential. Probably a good move if you have lots of ideas! Then again, I think a challenge for some designers (probably me) is that they have so few ideas that sticking it out with one can seem like a good option. Good point though. Getting better at generating ideas seems like a better skill than polishing a pile of mud – even if there are a few gleaming bits in it :)

    1. Gilbert: Well, I’ve found that when you have an idea you’re really passionate about and is connecting with playtesters in some way, it’s usually worth pushing and pulling at it for a while to see if it could be good. Sometimes it’s tough to know when to give up on an idea and when to keep pursuing it, though!

  5. This concept does really intrigue me, particularly the two cities, two different partners for each city, each city scores, your worst city is your score – I’m guessing to get that going properly and easy for players to visualize which cities are theirs, players are literally going to be sitting ‘between two cities’?

    But despite being excited and intrigued by the prospects of this as a multiplayer game, my main query being how much attention in development will the 2 player variant get, and would you be wanting people who’d primarily be play testing the 2 player variant due to their current gaming situation?

    1. Gizensha: Yep, players will literally be between two cites.

      Both the 1- and 2-player variants are very important for us to get right, so if you’re interested in playtesting the 2-player version, we’d love to have you!

  6. As you recently ran a Kickstarter for another company, does Kickstarter require you to put up your bank account information? So basically, after the kickstarter do you have to transfer the funds to the creators of Between two Cities??

    1. Jordan: Thanks for your question. Just to clarify, I’ve never run a Kickstarter for someone else (I have no interest in doing that). My most recent Kickstarter, Between Two Cities, was for a game that I published and developed even though I didn’t design it. It was run under my standard Kickstarter account, as it was really no different than any other Kickstarter I’ve run–all the funds go to the same place, as I’m the publisher (I pay royalties to the designers).

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