Kickstarter Lesson #234: Batman, The 7th Continent, and Skipping Retail

2 October 2017

Would Batman use Kickstarter…and only Kickstarter?

Stonemaier Games’ final Kickstarter campaign was nearly 2 years ago. We now only sell our games to distributors, and they sell to retailers, and retailers sell to consumers. This is the traditional model of game publishing.

However, the polar opposite of this method has been used with great success by a few companies who only sell directly to consumers via Kickstarter (or their websites/Amazon). A recent example of this is the reprint/expansion campaign for The 7th Continent, which has already raised $2.2 million in 1 week on Kickstarter.

On Friday, Tabletopgaming.co.uk reported that Monolith Edition, the studio that burst onto the scene with a $3.3 million Kickstarter campaign for their Conan game, has decided to limit sales of their upcoming Batman game to Kickstarter. After reading and participating in a few threads about the topic on Facebook, I reached out to Monolith to get some details, and I appreciate their quick response. Here’s what’s happening (this is directly from Monolith, not the Tabletopgaming article):

  • Batman: The Boardgame really will be exclusive to Kickstarter. That is, Monolith won’t be selling it to anyone off of Kickstarter, though their hope is to follow up the first campaign with a reprint/expansion campaign in the future.
  • The primary reason for their decision is related to the business model of traditional publishing and their desire to maintain a high level of quality. More on this in a minute.
  • The rumors that their Batman license limits them to crowdfunding are NOT true.
  • Monolith doesn’t plan to offer a retailer reward on their Batman Kickstarter campaign.

So let’s get to the heart of this. Why would a publisher choose to limit themselves to Kickstarter or direct orders? While it’s very different than what Stonemaier does, there are some valid reasons motivating this strategy:

  1. Quality/Price: These two are intrinsically tied together. Say I have a game that costs $40 to make. That’s a really high manufacturing cost, but I want it to have an abundance supremely beautiful components. To sell it via the traditional model, this game would require at least a $200 MSRP because distributors will buy it from me at a 60-65% discount ($80 or $70). That may seem like a nice profit margin, but if I want to reprint the game, at best I break even (until I eventually decide not to reprint the game). And this doesn’t even factor in sunk costs like art, graphic design, 3D modeling, licensing fees, etc. By selling directly to consumers, it allows Monolith to create a KS MSRP that is more appealing to consumers than a retail MSRP, and they don’t have to sacrifice quality.
  2. Risk Mitigation and Demand: The numbers I mentioned above for the traditional publishing model apply for any type of game, not just super expensive games. However, several levels of risk are amplified when you’re making a game with a $40 manufacturing cost versus a $5 game. If you make 5,000 extra games for distribution and they don’t sell, you’re losing $200,000 instead of $25,000. This is why Kickstarter is so helpful for determining the demand.
  3. Retailer Cash Flow and Liquidation: Eric H on Facebook translated a story shared by Monolith on Tric Trac about their experiences releasing Conan via traditional distribution. Here’s what he said: “They tried to sell some through distribution and retail at cost because distribution and retailers asked for it, and not only did they lose some money on these copies, some retailers thought it was selling too slow and cut prices to liquidate it. This hurt the whole market, and burned retailers, distributors and Monolith in the end.” Retailers must sell games to have the cash flow to buy more games and pay their bills. So if an expensive game is sitting on a shelf for months (or if they over-order a game), they need to figure out a way to turn that game into cash. If a retailer invests $100 to stock a $200 game, that’s a high-risk proposition–if it doesn’t sell quickly, the actions they may need to take could adversely affect everyone involved.

Even though Monolith is getting a lot of attention about their choice to only sell direct, they’re far from the first company to do this. There’s The 7th Continent, Kingdom Death: Monster, Mechs vs. Minions, and Fowers Games (which has a number of smaller games, though he does sell directly to retailers too if they contact him).

As I told Monolith, I respect their decision, even though it’s very different than my methods (I’d much rather sell 1,000 each to 10 distributors than coordinate everything that goes into selling, managing, and shipping 10,000 copies to 10,000 people…I’ve tried it, and it’s not for me).

However, the one reason I’d ever consider returning to Kickstarter would be if I had a game that cost $30-$40 to make. I would have a really hard time asking people to spend $150-$200 on a game via retail when I could sell it to them directly for $99 + shipping.

I would do some things a little differently than Monolith, though. Here’s how I’d do it:

  1. I would offer retailers the opportunity to pledge a little lower than the individual consumer price, as I wouldn’t want to alienate retailers for my other product lines.
  2. I would be very clear that the product is not exclusive to Kickstarter, for one simple reason: excess inventory. If I have 10,000 backers and I make exactly 10,000 games, I’m screwed, because at least some of those games are going to be lost, stolen, or damaged during the fulfillment process. I would probably make 11,000 games instead. But when fulfillment is complete, I’ll probably have some extra games, and I’d like the opportunity to sell them (if I told backers the game is KS exclusive, I would be breaking that pact by selling those excess games).
  3. I’d run a reprint campaign about a month after the game is delivered to backers. This is exactly what The 7th Continent did: After they fulfilled their first campaign, backers started playing the game and talking about it, and other people realized that they wanted a copy too. Since the game isn’t in retail, there’s no way to get it…but because of the reprint campaign, people have the chance to get a copy of their own.

***

As I’ve seen on Facebook, this is a divisive topic. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments, but please be respectful to anyone who chooses to engage in this conversation. For my fellow creators: Are there certain types of products that you would limit to Kickstarter despite having a traditional retail strategy for other products? For my fellow backers: How does this strategy make you feel?

Also read:

60 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #234: Batman, The 7th Continent, and Skipping Retail

  1. I think it makes perfect sense. Costs are the main reason we sell almost all of our products only through kickstarter and on our website after. Some distributors have requested we raise the retail price enough that we can cut them in and still have them offer our products to game stores at a discount they are accustomed to. We haven’t wanted to do that, as I think that would be too expensive for most folks for an already premium product. For a product that can be made very cheaply that makes sense but for expensive products it sometimes doesn’t I think.

    I appreciate them seeing the problem and being willing to find a solution that works… to sell at a lower price than they would have to normally, by selling direct through kickstarter to customers. I really don’t understand why people are upset about it. They are getting a good price and all the money is going directly to the creator. I don’t see why that is a bad thing.

    Every company needs to do what it has to do to remain financially viable so that it can continue to make quality products in the future. If you bully a company into making extra copies of a game to offer outside of kickstarter when there may not be a market for them at the price they would have to be sold for… that may just result in that company going under. :-(

    1. That’s really well said, Cynthia. I think this is a really important message: “Every company needs to do what it has to do to remain financially viable so that it can continue to make quality products in the future.” It’s not about greed–it’s about finding a way to create and reprint. If a company doesn’t survive, that’s a worst-case scenario for people who want their products.

    2. This is just speculation, but I think some people might be upset about it because if they don’t have the money for it right then, their only chance of getting it is from speculators at double the original price.
      While this model is good for the creators, if it becomes more popular, backers could potentially face an issue of multiple KS exclusive campaigns that are running simultaneously. So they may have to choose between several games that they really want, but won’t be able to get later.

        1. Another thing I’ve been noticing is a lot of people are getting tired of Kickstarter and campaigns with problems delivering on time or not at all. I’ve been seeing more and more people say they are finished backing Kickstarter projects to avoid the headaches. I suspect these people are also upset because they don’t want to take the risk anymore. Now I’m sure most people are just saying that out of frustration, but continue backing more. For those who are serious about not using Kickstarter any more, this model essentially makes it impossible for them to purchase the games if they aren’t sold through traditional retail, or at least on their own website.

  2. I like your new model. Your distribution model of just dealing with 10 places to ship is fascinating. Did you have to contact the distributors to convince them, or you didn’t have to convince them because of Scythe and your other games. Could a new game designer do that? Do you they pay you up front etc.. Who handles customer returns? This topic is probably too big for the comments section.

    Jamey, if you don’t mind proof-readers then there seems to be a word missing at the end of point number 2, “This is why Kickstarter is so helpful for determining the”. It’s probably “market” that is missing.

    1. wisepunch: I already had relationships with distributors through our broker, though I’ve established much more direct relationships (particularly with international distributors) ever since I moved away from Kickstarter. Distributors rarely pay up front unless they really feel confident in a project–I don’t think they would do that with a brand-new designer. There are no returns from retailers, though sometimes if a product is damaged, they’ll ask for a refund through the distributor.

      I’ve written a few articles about this if you want to dig deeper:

      https://stonemaiergames.com/lessons-learned-from-quitting-kickstarter-as-a-creator-part-2/
      https://stonemaiergames.com/lessons-learned-from-quitting-kickstarter-as-a-creator-part-3/

      1. Thanks Jamey. You are right. New designers must go to a publisher or use kickstarter. But it is interesting so I will read those articles now.

        Kickstarter is defiantly not dead, CMON raised a huge amount recently. But maybe Kickstarter has changed, and it’s intention is dying.

        P.S. My username is different. I must have still been logged into my website from when I was updating it the other day, or I’m like Tyler from Fight Club.

  3. I’m of two minds on this. I understand why this direct method is fiscally appealing to creators and consumers but I also see how easily it could be abused. A company like Riot showed us how this can be done successfully and with integrity. I suppose I don’t have the same confidence in Monolith. I understand that many creators are reeling away from the Asmodee Monsters that are out in the wild these days, but at the same time there are plenty of companies utilizing these alternatives in a manner that simply uses stock scarcity, resell speculation, and the fear of missing out as a main sales driver. I can’t really get behind that. And if anything, I believe even with the projected industry growth, now is a time for consumers to be particularly cautious with their crowdfunding support.

    1. Michael: I can understand your concerns. I never like “fear of missing out” as a marketing tactic.

      While I loved the $75 price for Mechs vs. Minions as a consumer, as a publisher I actually wish they had charged $99 instead and made it very clear that the reason they were able to charge so little was that they weren’t going through distribution. I think a lot of people saw that price and thought, “I’m getting all this for $75? All other publishers are ripping me off!” Which definitely isn’t the case at all. :)

  4. As a consumer, I’ve got mixed feelings.

    It’s great to get these high value, high cost games at a reasonable price via KS exclusive sales, but it sucks to miss out on them because I didn’t know about the KS at the time. (I’ve stopped watching KS like a hawk…at 300+ KS backed, I’m finally hitting burnout).

    That being said, the 7th dimension reprint/expansion out now is really, really tempting, because I know if I miss it, I might really miss it, and it looks like a great game with good reviews.

    If a game is in retail, I can just go get it, assuming it’s not out of print. But, I really don’t like paying that much for a game. It’s a lot harder to justify $120 for a “base” game than $60.

    And, I’m a major “i hate missing out” type…

    1. kemn: Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I totally agree about the risk of Kickstarter exclusives–it’s why I stopped doing them. :) It’s a tough balance, because it really puts you on the spot as a consumer now, and it helps the publisher immensely to know how many copies to make.

  5. I really like the idea of the “Deluxified” Kickstarter projects that we’ve seen from Tasty Minstrel. These projects provide a way to get something different, which may be too expensive to justify a retail distribution, but still often let the standard game go through the retail channels. Those consumers who like the bling can participate, while the budget minded or late customers can still get it at retail at a lower cost. I think this approach allows the most wins for the parties involved, allowing some extra direct sales to the publisher while not cutting the distribution companies and retail stores completely out. It also gives a purpose to the Kickstarter other than direct pre-orders.

    1. I like them to a point but I believe there’s a balance. A game like Orleans I found equally appealing whether it was the retail or deluxe version. I feel like TMG dropped the ball with Yokohama, though. Not being able to acquire the deluxe components with that one simply netted in me not buying the game at all. I wish they offered an upgrade kit, much like Stonemaier, so that future consumers could get those bits if they wanted to.

      1. Craig and Linhardtm: I think those types of campaigns are interesting and compelling, with the downside being that they don’t always sync well with future expansions (and the Invaders expansion for Orleans is excellent). I agree with linhardtm that an upgrade kit would be really helpful.

  6. Love the topic, and a very interesting read.

    To answer the question to Publishers: Yes.

    We’ve released all of our games (2), and all of our dice (but one) to retail (30 total sets), but we have NOT released Expansions for The King’s Armory to retail (to save costs on packaging, and to drive traffic to our site as it was our first product), and we have not released any of our miniatures to retail (thus far we only produce pewter, steel, and bronze minis) and to produce a la carte metal miniatures for retail is a very costly affair without security that they’d be picked up by everyone or sell well in the long run (see also Conan’s liquidation issue), so we’ve avoided it for now.

    I have indeed considered a KS only event for an upcoming release, but no decision has been made on it as of yet. The main reasons for that would be A) The cost issues mentioned above, and B) to drive up the severity of the initial production run. It makes the Kickstarter countdown clock truly a countdown and eliminates the “I’ll buy one in retail if I like it” hesitation and encourages more “yes”s on taking the risk on the product now. (Which all KS pledges truly are.)

    Thanks for reading. Thanks for the read.

    John

  7. I have backed a lot of Kickstarter projects. I don’t back them any longer. I have soured on companies that do not conform to what I consider the spirit of Kickstarter to be. to be clear here is what I think the spirit of Kickstarter to be; Projects that wouldn’t be possible without crowdfunding. Many creators skirt around this particular issue by utilizing the caveat that the game wouldn’t be as nice/deluxe if they went with regular retail. I call BS on that. Take Gloomhaven for example. The increased retail price will reflect the loss of revenue for doing business the traditional way. The game will otherwise be exactly the same. Kickstarter has turned into an elaborate preorder system that fleeces it’s most ardent fans. CMON is probably the biggest offender of this. I was recently sent a link for a Kickstarter that isn’t live yet. It has a positive video review included on the not live page. There is something very wrong with that. It also has footage of people playing what look to be a very close to production copy of the game. There is something wrong with that. Clearly they are certain that the game will be made. The production values of everything are way too high, too much capital has already been invested. The game is getting made if not now but eventually. They can always relaunch or re-theme and go to retail. I suppose it could fail spectacularly…. Which brings me to my final point. Kickstarter creators can and have in the past simply take your money and give you nothing. Retail requires that goods change hands for the cash.

    1. Joe: “Many creators skirt around this particular issue by utilizing the caveat that the game wouldn’t be as nice/deluxe if they went with regular retail. I call BS on that. Take Gloomhaven for example. The increased retail price will reflect the loss of revenue for doing business the traditional way.”

      I don’t think creators are saying they want to put less in the box or make it lower quality. It’s more about creating a sustainable product based on the manufacturing cost versus the MSRP. Gloomhaven has a $120 MSRP, and I’m estimating that it costs around $30 to make. That means Isaac is making about $18 per copy (a little less after freight shipping), meaning that each subsequent print run will need to be substantially smaller than the previous one.

      I understand that you have a very specific vision of what Kickstarter is or should be: “Projects that wouldn’t be possible without crowdfunding.” Even though I no longer use Kickstarter, I believe that Kickstarter is about more than that. It’s about gauging demand so you make enough for the people who want a first-run copy. It’s about making the product as good as it can possibly be–even Rising Sun, which looked like a finished product on the project page, continued the development process post Kickstarter, and backers played a role in that. It’s about creating awareness for a product and building community.

      “It also has footage of people playing what look to be a very close to production copy of the game. There is something wrong with that.”

      The quality of prototypes is pretty incredible these days, but I don’t think a company should be chastised for commissioning nice prototypes. :)

      “Kickstarter creators can and have in the past simply take your money and give you nothing.”

      That’s true for any pre-order, and creators are liable just like anyone else (they have to either refund you or provide the promised reward). It’s in Kickstarter’s guidelines, and there have been several successful lawsuits against creators who didn’t deliver.

      I appreciate you sharing your opinion, though have you considered not lumping all Kickstarter creators into the same quality? There are tons of different creators–different shapes, sizes, motivations, wealth, etc–it’s too bad that you might miss out on supporting an awesome creator with an innovative product.

      1. Thanks for your replies. I’m not nearly as eloquent as I’d like to be but I try. I think Kickstarter’s TOS clearly state that Kickstarter is not a preorder system. Until they shore up their own ship and officially embrace how their own site is being used I’m not likely to back projects. It’s not very much fun missing out on a project like the 7th Continent as it will not go to retail. That’s their choice not mine. If/when Kickstarter decides to offer me protections as a user of it’s service I will consider backing projects again.

        Your comment about prototypes being very high quality is well received. I didn’t really think of that. Who wouldn’t want to put forth the best version of their product to the public.
        Again, Kickstarter isn’t a preorder system. I think presenting a highly polished, essentially finished product with external reviews is violating TOS. Not that it matters as KS will do nothing to police this.

        As always, thanks for replying thoughtfully, you didn’t change my mind but I appreciate the discourse nonetheless. I also really love your games. They are fun and visually stunning. Bringing one to the table is a real joy. Cheers! -Joe

    2. There’s a few things to note with Gloomhaven. First is that Issac took it to publishers and distributors and was universally turned down. So then he went to Kickstarter.

      When the game was hugely successful on Kickstarter, those people who turned him down saw there was a market and came back to him, wanting to distribute for him. There’s a degree of loyalty there for him sticking with Kickstarter for the second printing.

      The other thing worth noting is that those distributors also offered to pay upfront (allegedly – I’ve heard this in a few places but direct from Issac) for the print run.

      1. Dean: Can you let me know your source for Isaac going to publishers and distributors? I followed his blog during the entire design process, and after the success of Forge War, I think he decide to run his own company and use Kickstarter to fund new projects, not send his designs to other publishers or try to get distributors to commit up front to an unknown project.

        I wrote about Isaac’s strategy here: https://stonemaiergames.com/kickstarter-lesson-223-should-you-crowdfund-a-reprint/. I spoke to distributors about what Isaac did, and they were extremely disappointed that Isaac went to Kickstarter instead of letting them fund a reprint. Time will tell if he did permanent damage to distributor relationships, though I’m sure if a company continues to run reprints on Kickstarter instead of going through distribution, distributors will buy less and less of their products. That’s why I think it’s more effective to either go fully with distributors for a reprint or go fully direct, not both.

        I’m not sure who Isaac was loyal to in sticking with Kickstarter, though. Perhaps he felt like he owed something to the original backers, but (a) the new project was for new backers, not original backers (other than a revised component), and (b) original backers had already been rewarded for their loyalty in the form of Gloomhaven (I was a Day 1 backer, so I was one of them).

  8. Ideally, everything we make would go through the traditional method and sold by retailers, but there a couple examples of products that don’t for us. One example is that we sell promos and upgrades for games only on our website, Kickstarter, and sometimes the BGG store. We would happily sell them through retailers, but they usually have such a low price/margin and such a small and targeted audience, that it doesn’t really make sense for retailers to carry them.

    I have a better example too. Our next Kickstarter campaign will be for an expansion to New Salem, of which there are 3000 copies in the world. We will also be doing a 2nd Edition of New Salem at the same time where the expansion is included, which means many of those 3000 people will want a way to get just the expansion rather than buying a whole new 2nd Edition of a game they already own. For that reason, we’re doing a very small print run of just the expansion that won’t go through retailers to serve those loyal customers. This is a product that retailers just wouldn’t want to carry because the demand will be so low, but we believe 1st Edition owners will make it over to our little corner of the internet to find the expansion on overworldgames.com. We’ll see how it works!

    1. Brian: Thanks for weighing in as a creator! The promos and upgrades are great examples of products that don’t work all that well via distribution, as well as upgrade packs like the one you mention for New Salem.

  9. As a new retail store owner I can say this is one of the more frustrating things for me. This is a very timely article as I reached out to Serious Poulp just a few days ago about a retailer level to their Kickstarter to find out they don’t offer one. There are a few other publishers as you mentioned that also don’t sell to distributors or direct to retailers which is a shame.

    I can’t tell you how many times I have had someone come in the store and ask for X game only for me to tell them no because the publisher only work on Kickstarter or their own e-store :(. I have many customers that just don’t trust Kickstater and refuse to use it which is unfortunate since they miss out on some good games.

    I really like your idea of doing some sort of discount for retailers. It doesn’t have to be 50% but something that allows me to offer the game to local customers while not completely breaking the bank. Treat me (a retailer) like any other backer with the exception of I would be pledging for many copies of the game. I contemplated purchasing the 7th Continent for full price and marking it up to sell in my store but they mentioned they were potentially setting up an online shop to sell after the Kickstarter. Hard to sell higher than MSRP if the publisher themselves are selling.

    Thanks for the great writeup!

    1. Boardlandia: Thanks for your thoughts. The solution you described is what I did for Scythe during the Kickstarter campaign. I was already offering a steep discount to backers, but I encouraged retailers to accept pre-orders for the game (even during the campaign), and I offered them a small discount with consolidated shipping. My margins were definitely tighter on those pledges, but it was still profitable, and I improved retailer relationships instead of damaging them.

  10. I see this as Monolith adapting their model to an evolving and growing market. Markets rapidly evolve and the table top market has seen some meteoric growth in recent years, competition is stiff and new techniques need to be applied, a “good game” is not enough anymore.

    All companies need to be willing to adapt, the traditional way of doing things can’t be held on to if it is a detriment to your company. Obviously Monolith views the traditional method as a detriment to theirs.

    To me this is the same argument as every argument about changing models, the rise of big box vs small business, the rise of online vs bricks and mortar, and now we are seeing the rise of crowdfunding vs traditional development and fulfillment cycles. We can argue all day about the virtues of either side or the unfairness of it all, but at the end of the day one pattern tends to emerge from all these changes in the market no matter the industry. Those businesses not willing to adapt to new realities go under.

  11. But isn’t it great that a product that has higher quality materials. That costs less than you could ever get from a store and you get more of it, depending on the number of other backers and stretch goals. This is due to cutting out the retail and distributing end. The one side effect of this is the consumer that has to pay additionally for the distribution.

    1. As a consumer, I do my research before clicking the pledge button. I need to know that the company IS going to deliver as well as are the mechanisms in the game going to hold my attention for many play throughs. All the “bling” of the game and million extras pay no part in my choice’s of KS’s to back.

      The fact that a game is KS only means that this is a business approach that the company is taken because it works for them. Do you remember when internet shopping first started? This is the evolution of the world and it will either work or break.

        1. These are just my feelings after reading your blog.

          I was totally against KS when it first came along. But then I heard about this game called Viticulture. I tried to find it but found that the only way to get it was on KS. Luckily, due to the success of the first printing, there was a second, with expansion. I had heard many good things, not just about the game but the service on receiving the first edition. I put my reservations aside and backed the project. No regrets.

          KS is a tool. Like fire. Fire was created to keep us warm. And then we found that it could protect us from predictors. The we used it to cook. Kickstarter is the same. Created to give small ideas and new company’s a financial boost they couldn’t get any other way. Now it can be used in a different way.

          Monolith have been talking about producing an online store, therefore they will produce more copies of the games to put into holding. This way, after the KS has finished, you can get a copy of Batman or Conan. This is a viable strategy (kind of like what apple do) where you can get our game, but only through us. That way it is win, win. For the company and customer.

          I believe Serious Poulp have also mentioned doing the same thing.

          1. Thanks for clarifying! Your first sentence (“But isn’t it great that a product that has higher quality materials.”) confused me because my article agrees with it, no buts. :)

            That said, the information in this post is directly from Monolith to me in an email yesterday, and they were very clear that they would not be selling the product anywhere but Kickstarter. Perhaps that will change, but as of yesterday, they do not plan to put more copies into holding to sell on an online store (I like that idea, though!)

  12. While I could understand the cost argument for Monolith games, I doubt that a card game such as 7th continent has such high costs it could not go through retailers. I cal BS on this, it is just a way for them to increase their profit.
    That said I also believe that Asmodee is hurting the business with their very steep distribution fees. In France they take 37 to 43% iirc. I understand why some publishers are trying to cut the middle-man loose when he is so expensive. The hard part being to come clean about it and be honest on this: “Asmodee is too expensive the alternative is not good enough, I go KS or e-shop”.
    Retailers need to make a living, but publishers too. It would be nice to have a solution where retailers could pledge at reasonable prices, having one box of Conan collecting dust is not going to kill a retailer, but could add a lot to his image and relationships.

    1. Greg: I’ve quoted card games with as many cards as 7th Continent–it really does add up. I think it would probably have a $100 MSRP. So sure, maybe they make a little more money on Kickstarter…is it a bad thing to choose strategies that strengthen your profit margins, especially if they don’t hurt consumers? While it’s not a strategy for me, I’m not calling BS. These publishers aren’t saying it’s *impossible* to go to retail with this level of cost/quality–they’re saying it’s not *sustainable* to go to retail.

      I agree that giving retailers the option to pledge at a slight discount would help.

      1. Also worth noting those cards mostly have unique backs *and* fronts and are a non-standard size. Don’t know if that increases production costs much but art costs for that game must be huge.

        1. You’re right about the art! Though I think one of the designers is the artist, so they may cover those costs as part of his salary (I’m not sure). It doesn’t cost extra to have unique card backs and fronts–it’s a little trickier when the printer lays out the card sheets, but it doesn’t cost extra.

  13. This has been a fascinating read. From my perspective there is yet another reason or angle for KickStarter, that is when you are new to the industry and nobody wants to take a chance on your games. We aren’t doing KS, and we are already seeing a problem. We are releasing 3.5 games in October. One board game and 2.5 card games, (the .5 is because one of them is a drinking edition of one of the others). We are publishing them using our own capital, and not using KS as I said. The issue comes in how we sell to customers.
    In our case we can’t get in to retail because the distributors don’t want to carry a game that hasn’t already proven demand or a publisher that doesn’t have an extensive track record of hits yet. So how are we going to sell, the only option left to us is direct through our web site or Amazon.
    Do we want to cut out the FLGS, not at all, but they have to buy through their distributors or risk alienating them and potentially getting in a lot of trouble. But the distributors don’t want to carry our games until we have demand from the game stores. What makes matters worse here in Australia is that the largest game store chain that has a vast majority of the FLGS market here is one company, that happens to have their own publishing company, and they have their own distribution company. So unless you have people going in to their stores daily asking for a particular game, or it has seen massive demand on KS, you can’t get into their ecosystem.
    I think in cases like this, KS is actually a demand proof. We aren’t trying to sell direct to customer just for profit margin. I’d much rather have our games in as many retailers as possible and reaching as many people as possible, but we can’t do that without proving that demand, but because we didn’t do KS, we don’t have that demand yet.
    Does that mean we’re a lost cause, no, not at all. It just means we have to work the more traditional methods and walk the traditional paths. We have to market our products, drive demand and sell direct until we reach that tipping point.
    Jamey, I like your approach where you would have allowed retailers to buy from your KS campaign. I think that’s a very pragmatic way to go about it. KS isn’t just about backers participating in projects anymore. It’s also not just about going direct and cutting out distributors. It’s also IMHO very much about proving a market. I also believe that publishers, individuals or companies, that do KS campaigns, should plan for retail post-KS. That approach may not be for everyone, but I know several people now that have said that they regret not printing extra copies to sell to the distributors and retailers that came asking for them because the KS demand was so high. Remember, KS isn’t the only audience out there. There are a lot of gamers that don’t do KS but would love to buy your games. I’m not saying you owe them, or that there is some moral imperative to supply retailers, but it’s a market segment that would increase your visibility your fans and your sales….if you can get in to it.

    1. Cravon: Thanks for being so open about the challenges facing a company that doesn’t use Kickstarter at all, even from the start. There are some parallels–even Kickstarter creators need to try to build brand awareness before they launch, and either way you’ll want to send out lots of review copies–but it’s hard to prove demand to retailers.

      I like what you said about how Kickstarter is instrumental in proving that there’s a market for a game–for many games it’s just the tip of the iceberg of future sales if it’s a great product.

  14. I will say, that having looked at a few areas on KS recently, boardgames seem to be one of the more vibrant and successful areas anymore. Why? I think in part because there’s a lot more integrity in the industry. The creators usually have a better idea of what the rest of the project will entail than first time creators in other areas, in part due to this blog.

    The only other area with a similarly healthy project level that i saw was music. It’s been pretty easy to research the process and steps in album production. Books and movies? Well, the information’s there, but few will really research it or have a good idea about the budget needs, leading to more vaporware, and less future projects.

    Given the lack of research a lot of stores do about new games(even just talking to customers), I find KS to be very valid for games. Sure, I like my local store, and I do support it, but they can’t keep track of everything, and they’re busy with Magic and minis. Seriously.

    1. Alfred: That’s an interesting perspective about how you trust Kickstarter as a way to validate games for you, as a consumer. How do you validate games that aren’t on Kickstarter? Reviews?

      1. It’s not about validating games. I have my own criteria for whom I’m willing to trust. If the stores aren’t even keeping up with the releases from non KS companies(let’s face it there’s a lot), they have no hope of having much opinion on KS releases. Aside from the kneejerk reaction many have to being skipped for direct to consumer relations.

        I prefer to examine the game for myself. Rulebooks boost confidence a lot. Gameplay videos and reviews are a big push, and that works for all games. But some stores simply listen to their distribution rep, who may not play the games you’re looking for. I’ve seen binge purchases from stores on games people that came to the store didn’t want. I have no problem with special ordering from my local store, but I don’t trust them to stay atop the boardgame scene.

  15. In Sweden there are a lot of stories with Kickstarter packages that are returned to sender due to shipping companies being unfriendly.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if FLGS actively worked with collecting backers and adding the service of a delivery hub? So that they can use a Retailer discount and lower distribution cost as their marginal. FLGS would benefit from an increased local customer base and when people come to pickup there packages they get increased traffic in the store.

    So instead of selecting shipping to in Kickstarter you go in and select which shop you want to pick up your game. Then both the Retailer and the Kickstarter would be interested in more backers.

    I backed Tribes and in that case they had a special option for Swedes to pickup in their local stores.

    1. Magnus and Anthony: It’s interesting that you mentioned this, as I recently followed a discussion about this among retailers and creators on Facebook. My impression was that retailers want to sell games, not serve Kickstarter creators. Some stores might feel differently, as they get customers into stores (and in this example, they were earning a bonus for each game they handed off to customers). But I can see how most wouldn’t like it.

      For my Scythe campaign, I actively encouraged stores to accept pre-orders from customers, and the stores would place their orders during the campaign. That way they didn’t feel like I was taking away their customers–rather, I wanted them to continue to sell to their customers, and I offered them enough of a discount so it was appealing for them (and they could buy extras and sell them at any price).

      1. By serving some Kickstarter creators I feel that they would serve themselves in the long run. There are of course a question of work/$. For me it feels like easy money if I can get people to preorder from me instead of backing the project directly. Consumer gets away with the shipping cost, retailer gets a cut and the creator get’s lesser shipping destinations.

        First I thought that it might be bad for the actual projects but you can always have the $1 pledge if you want to get involved in the project.

      2. One step would be if there was some sort of standard pledge for retailers on more kickstarters. And in my book the creators should do their work actively contacting stores with reasonable offers.

        As you have stated in other posts, if you put in some work for others you will often get others to help you with your work.

  16. Magnus, that is a great idea.
    Last week I had that idea problem but I couldn’t think of a solution. You just did. I was thinking: game stores do cheap delivery or even free delivery. Would there be any way to ship games to a handful of shops, instead of a fulfillment center? And then the shops post it to backers. I was thinking how would that work financially for them. How much would be a good cut for them. I like your idea of the backers picking up the game at the shop. The only problem is, would a game store have storage for a 1,000 copies of one game?

    1. Thanks Anthony,

      On the storage space issue:
      But if a store knows that they will receive 1,000 copies in month, wouldn’t they be extremely happy? They know for sure that 1,000 people will enter their store, they can prepare and have a good offer on sleeves.
      Instead of having 1,000 copies of other games where they don’t know if anyone is going to buy it.

  17. -“It’s interesting that you mentioned this, as I recently followed a discussion about this”
    Well you did have Telepathy in the title of your recent post. You must sending mental messages out :)

    You’re right “retailers want to sell games, not serve Kickstarter creators”.

    There must be a win/win situation. We just need to think harder.

  18. Amazing Possible Solution Idea #Beta0001:

    Rough figures are: Creator sells a game for $30 to a distributor. A retailer buys a game for $40 from a distributor. Retailer sells it for $80. $40 for the retailer, $10 for the creator – $20 for costs. Can those figures be matched in other ways?

    A backer buys the game for $70 on kickstarter. You tell retailer, “I will send you games for free and also I will send you $35 dollars per game, and you post it to the customer with your card in it”. Would a retailer like free stock, automatic sales and free advertising? He has to post it and deal with customer service is he wants that.
    The creator gets $15 – ($35 – $20 costs). Now when the retailer sees he loves this idea. Will he send a pre-order email out to it’s customers, and put a pre-order sign up in their store to advertise the Kickstarter campaign? Would doing that get him even more free stock and more automatic sales?

    But that has a problem. In a trustworthy world that would work. In the real world you are giving thousands of dollars of stock away and thousands of dollars away for free, on a promise they will mail it to backers. How do you solve that problem?

    1. But are you giving it for free?

      In my book the backer pays the retailer, that pays the creator. Everyone has a receipt of the transactions so if anything goes wrong there is a legal evidence. All the money is already in the right hands (as with regular kickstarter).

      Retailer can of course buy extra copies but thats on there own risk.

  19. In my example above you give the store $35 and give them a game to post. A fulfillment center would only cost say $7. Would giving up that extra $28 be worth it to get the retailer involved? I think Jamey will end up with about $15 per game for Charterstone going through the distributor.

    1. I’ve tried something related to this in a few pre-order campaigns run through retailers (I’ll post links below). It worked fine, and the profit margins were slightly better than when we sell through distributors, though in the end it’s just much easier to send 1,000 games each to 10 distributors than between 4 and 500 games each to 100 different retailers around the world. And it isn’t good for me in the long run to cut distributors out of the equation.

      My profit per copy of Charterstone (after manufacturing and freight shipping) sold to distributors is about $8.

      https://stonemaiergames.com/why-were-running-a-pre-order-through-retailers/

      https://stonemaiergames.com/lessons-learned-from-the-tuscany-essential-pre-order-campaign/

  20. I wish you could make more per game. I’ve bookmarked those. They are next on my online reading research. People want to cutout middle men but I can see how they can make life easier.

  21. I’ve skipped the 7th Continent reprint. I don’t have the room to play in my budget right now to pick it up.

    I normally don’t back a whole lot of kickstarters. Shipping to Australia is prohibitive in probably 50% of kickstarters. I tend to be cautious with my spending as I have a family. As such I only buy a new game probably three or four times a year (not counting Christmas). That’s still a lot of games, because I like to actually play them (I’m a bit more into mastery than novelty). But it does mean that a kickstarter has to be extremely appealing to get me to buy it over a game that I can try in an FLGS and physically hold in my hands.

    I feel that companies that are Kickstarter exclusive are really shooting themselves in the foot. They are missing out on so many potential customers. They’re missing:
    1) The impulse purchase crowd for 11 months of the year.
    2) The Christmas rush.
    3) The conservative consumers who like to try before they buy.
    4) The customers who are not aware of the kickstarter at the time it is being run.
    5) The customers who play the game and love it and then can’t buy it because it’s not available in retail.

    Kickstarter is great for the industry, but I feel that companies that use it exclusively are probably missing out on a huge chunk of customers. That’s probably less true with some types of games (mini-heavy games specifically) but games like 7th Continent are crying out to hit retail.

    7th Continent really is a thousand cards, five minis, some assorted extra tokens and some organisers. The production costs for that are on the high side, but really aren’t excessive. And I do note that the creators have been *very* careful to avoid completely ruling out a retail print for the game. They’ve been trying to use FOMO to drive sales while their game is hot. I expect to see it on retail shelves eventually and if I don’t, well there are plenty of other games out there that I can play.

    More mainstream acceptance of board gaming as a legitimate and fun adult passtime requires the industry to move in the other direction. We need more retail games and less direct-to-consumer type products.

  22. I have one problem alone with kickstarter-only projects: timing. Not everyone who has interest in a game is going to be able to purchase that product within the timeframe of the campaign, for several reasons:

    1) Not everyone follows boardgame news regularly. More and more people are also adhering to the hobby and looking back at previously released games. Someone in this position may only find out about a certain game weeks or months after the game was published on KS… and it find out they really like it! But alas, too late.
    2) Someone might be in a position where they are unable to predict how or where they will actually receive the released game (especially someone who travels a lot). It’s hard to know how to pledge if you don’t know what address you’ll be using to receive a package in several months’ time.
    3) And here’s probably the most important part: money. The customer might simply not have the available disposable income in the exact period when the campaign is going on (doubly so if they have to contend with international shipping and taxes).

    In any of these cases, the person who’s unable to participate in the campaign is now stuck either not having access to the game, waiting to buy used if it ever shows up, or paying hyperinflated prices to buy from someone who got excess copies intending to resell for a profit. Reprint campaigns help alleviate this problem somewhat, but they’re still only a second chance, and not a true solution.

    Bottom-line is: Kickstarter releases are good for those who happen to be perfectly situated and have enough money at the right time. Retail availability, even if at a higher final price, is more customer-friendly in the long run. A combined approach is probably the best of both worlds, in my opinion.

    – Some personal experience for added context:

    As it concerns me, I’ve participated in the three situations described above:

    1) I got into the BG hobby around September last year. Watched tons of videos, read reviews, and fell in love with Viticulture. Had it been a KS-only release, I’d have been unable to access it. As it turns out, I was able to get Viticulture EE sent to a friend in the USA who was coming to visit, and later ordered Tuscany EE directly from Amazon. And BAM, within two months I had the game I wanted, plus the expansion.
    2) Living in Brazil, I prefer shipping any international purchases to friends’ houses abroad and picking them up whenever I’m able to go visit (or when they come visit me, themselves). By doing so, I avoid astronomical shipping and tax costs that can double or triple a game’s cost to me. Just last month, Monolith announced a super-limited reprint KS campaign for Conan, a game I was very interested in. Because it was impossible for me to coordinate a delivery abroad in this exact period, I had to order directly to Brazil, which, again, means I’ll be paying twice or thrice as much for the game with shipping and taxes as I would if the timing was better. There’s also the added fact that the reprint prices are significantly more expensive than the original’s…
    3) … all the while, the reason I didn’t get Conan in the original KS campaign is that I simply lacked the funds to do so at the time. If it wasn’t for the second print, I might never have gotten it. And I was just barely able to get it this time, too.

    Stonemaier’s retail strategy has allowed me to enjoy a game (Viticulture) I might not have had access to otherwise. SM’s international distribution strategy also means I can now buy Scythe locally in Brazil (which means I can plan and budget myself to buy it not immediately, but within a few months of it being released, when the situation favors me). I’m greatly pleased by that possibility.

    Meanwhile, Monolith’s KS-only strategy means I’m paying more than I would have needed, at a time I’m not really comfortable with spending that much… but it was either this, or give up on the game. Maybe good for them, but definitely less than ideal for me.

    1. Also, to clarify one point: It’s perfectly natural that retail will be more expensive than KS. I can even accept that a reprint KS will be more expensive than the first run.

      The real problem, imo, is having the official supply end completely after the campaign, leading to an exclusive reliance on used copies or private resellers, which will be erratic at best. If I miss a campaign and have to pay extra, I’d much rather give that extra to a local store than to an ebay scalper, or have to wait months to maybe get a used game.

  23. It feels like a lot of the backlash against KS exclusivity is really just FOMO, exacerbated by the breathless marketing of a 30-day window which feels like your only opportunity to get a cool thing. But, like the abundance of quality TV these days, there are more good board games than almost anyone has time to play. And in both cases, we’re talking about luxury items, so anyone that complains too loudly from either side should maybe just settle down.

    I’ve felt it myself, and fallen prey. Now I’ve drawn a personal line and am not backing 7th Continent, as much as I want to, because I still have games I got last Christmas that I haven’t had time to play yet! And I know that at least some of those 30k copies of 7th will be for sale/trade on BGG in a year.

    Having been a part of a couple KS campaigns for small print-run games, I can say that it’s still a great option for a creator to get their game out, even if only a 1000 people want to buy it. These sorts of projects would never see the light of day without KS, and couldn’t make inroads into retail.

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