Kickstarter Lesson 241: Customers Are Not Cows

1 January 2018

Do your customers feel like you’re milking them dry?

A few years ago, I designed an expansion called Tuscany for my first published game, Viticulture. It wasn’t just one expansion; rather, it was a series of expansions that players could unlock or mix and match as they wished. In total, after all Kickstarter stretch goals were reached, there were 12 expansions in the box.

Now, we could have released these expansions one by one over several years as small boxes, bundles, and promos. But I didn’t want our loyal customers and Viticulture fans to feel like we were milking them, constantly asking them to buy one more thing.

***

This philosophy has stayed with me over the last few years, balanced with the idea that if enough people want something that we think we can make well, we’ll make it. That’s why we have a form on our website where people can literally tell us what they want.

I’ve realized over the last year in particular how difficult it is to strike that balance, particularly with a product like Scythe. For Scythe, there seems to be an endless stream of things that thousands of people want. There are expansions and accessories and promos and even a bigger box.

I love the passion surrounding Scythe, but I realized earlier in 2017 that I have a responsibility to our customers: I must draw the line. I don’t want to make our customers feel like we’re milking them dry.

That’s why I decided that the newly announced third expansion to Scythe, The Rise of Fenris, will be the final expansion. It likely won’t be the final product, as we have a few other things in the works. But we’ll be concluding the Scythe story in the third expansion, and we don’t plan on making anything after those few final products.

***

One thing I’ve learned throughout this process is that the perception of milking is just as important as reality. Despite my truest intentions, if customers feel like I’m trying to pull a few hard-earned dollars out of their wallets every month without an end in sight, that’s all that matters.

So I think it was a good wake-up call for me to take a step back and look through the eyes of a customer at our products. When I did this, I realized how they might view my company–it’s easy to look at all the Scythe products and misconceive, “Stonemaier Games is squeezing every dollar out of this brand that they can.”

In fact, this even extends to my recent thoughts about content campaigns (like if I started a Patreon for this blog and my game design YouTube channel). A big part of my hesitancy to start a Patreon (opposed to a one-time or annual funding event) is that I don’t want people to feel like I’m squeezing those dollars out of people month after month. Sure, it’s their choice, but there’s just something psychologically different about a one-time pledge versus an ongoing commitment.

***

How does this apply to Kickstarter creators? I’m not here to tell you what’s good or bad for your backers–that’s for you to decide. What I would suggest is that when you’re planning your reward structure and your add-ons that you try really hard to look at them through the eyes of a backer. How would you feel if you were an excited backer who stumbled across this project? Would you feel respected by the creator, or would you feel a little bit like a cow?

As I mentioned, this is such a tough balance, especially the idea of “respect.” I can respect my customers by not milking them, but I can also respect them to make the best decisions for themselves based on what I make. They’re no more lemmings than they are cows. They’re people!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. What’s a brand you love, and how does that brand make you feel respected as a customer? Have you ever felt milked by a company or creator?

Also read: There Is No Perfect Pickle

43 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson 241: Customers Are Not Cows

  1. I think that this is particularly merciful in the tabletop gaming world. I venture to suggest that our population has a higher proportion of compulsive completionists than the human race in general.

    If customers were cows (which they are not), these would be the cows who had to head to the milking shed whenever it was open, mooing about the soreness of their credit udders as they did so.

  2. I love that you focus on—indeed, put yourself in the shoes of—the “them” (as in “It’s about them”), and share your astute perceptions from their perspective. How far you have come, to the benefit of all—yourself, your associates, customers, and blog readers—since you first “pretended to care” a decade ago (Kickstarter Lesson #233: The Telepathy of Empathy)!

  3. When I first heard of the Living Card Game paradigm, my first thought was exactly what you describe – that the publisher is dribbling content out every two months to milk customers in a not-a-CCG-but-still-draining-your-wallet kind of a way.

    Then I got hooked on “Lord of the Rings: The Card Game,” which has been around for over six years and has a lot of expansion content. So I made myself one promise: I would never buy more than one expansion in advance of where I am in the game. (I’m not a completionist.) As long as I’m interested, I’ll keep buying expansions, and if I ever lose interest, the most I’m out is the $15 for the last expansion I bought. That doesn’t feel like milking; it feels like a symbiosis of ongoing creativity and regular consumption.

    Maybe the difference is knowing what to expect going in. If a publisher creates a brand and releases minor expansions one at a time on an irregular basis with no horizon, that would seem like a Columbo episode (“Just one more thing…”). But with an LCG with an understood annual expansion cycle, there are no surprises.

    Ultimately it comes down to communication of intent, which in turn comes down to your original point of respect for the customer.

    1. Paul: I like that method of buying one expansion at a time. And I think you’re totally right about how the product is conveyed to customers–you know what you’re getting into when you buy into an LCG, so it doesn’t feel like the publisher is manipulating you (at least, I think that’s what Fantasy Flight hopes).

    2. Paul, That is a great rule! I should probably follow that rule with Ashes. But its a game my girlfriend loves to buy (not so much play) but the art is so good she wants to own all of them. We have about 3-4 unplayed characters with each of us playing a different character each time and not one that has been played before.
      – Cody Thompson

      1. Oh man… I’m with you. Ashes is such a beautiful game. It is very tough not to buy the newest expansion. :)
        But I will keep Paul’s rule in mind if i have dive into an another LCG.

  4. Just a quick comment on Kickstarter and monthly charges: If it’s a project on Kickstarter, the eventual business model includes monthly charges, and the reward tiers don’t include a lifetime membership option at some pledge level it’s an automatic no-back for me. This type of thing mostly happens in the digital space rather than physical products but I thought it might be worth mentioning. If I’m going to help a creator raise the finances to put their thing into the world I don’t want a recurring financial commitment hanging over my head to continue to enjoy it.

    1. Jeremy: I see what you’re saying about a recurring commitment, though I’m not sure I agree. Like, if I buy a 1-year subscription to a magazine, I understand that I’m buying one year’s worth of content. It doesn’t matter if it’s a digital or printed product, as I’m paying for access to the content itself. I guess a magazine could feasibly offer a lifetime subscription with a single up-front payment, but I doubt many of them do that because of how much it would cost the customer (and how few customers would pay that cost).

      I also think it’s a little different when there’s open access to the content. Like, The Dice Tower produces a lot of amazing board game content, so when they run their annual campaign, that’s a time for me to express my appreciation as a consumer of that content by giving them some money. It’s not an eternal expression of gratitude; rather, it’s a payment in appreciation of the upcoming “season” of content. I can pay again the next year, or if I’ve stopped consuming their content, I can stop paying.

      You might find this article interesting too, as it delves deeper into this topic: https://stonemaiergames.com/drip-vs-patreon-vs-kickstarter-vs-indiegogo-vs-shopify-a-choice-for-ongoing-content-creators/

  5. Another thing I’ll add Jamey… I backed Scythe as a Collector. It’s excellent and I enjoy the game a lot. But I also purchased a boardgames not a “collectable Board Game”. Given I’m not a fan of the CCG, to have many expansions and add on over the years does induce a similar feeling to the “I couldn’t be bothered” feeling that a CCG induces in me. Being a completionist, I’m glad the end is in sight. I guess that’s a similar thing to milking customers however I agree there should be an end and some way for the customer to say that’s it I have everything.

  6. You are definitely adding something new with this recent Scythe expansion. The campaign mode sounds like it won’t just add a tiny bit to the game but rather will change a lot of the core of the game.

    I felt that the Netrunner “campaign” had a similar effect.

    With Kickstarter I think there’s a unique opportunity to add tons of expansions/content that would otherwise be too expensive to produce on their own. One of the things I ended up saying constantly with the Lucidity “deluxe” version (which I added mid campaign) is that it was designed to capture every additional “add on” and that the price of any one expansion individually would be about the same as all of them together.

    Many of those expansions, if I’d let backers pick and choose individually, would have had overheads that drove their prices up. By packaging them all together, I was able to guarantee volume and so give everybody way more for only a tiny bit more.

    But even then, I was very conscious of the perception that I was taking advantage of the opportunity in a negative fashion. I think you’re right that it’s the perception rather than the reality, so (as with a lot of customer management) it’s really more about reading your market and explaining your decisions, and then just… hoping you got it right.

    The more customers you have, the more conversations about your product are occurring outside of your control. Kickstarter really gives you the ability to effectively control and monitor those conversations, and step in if necessary. But I imagine that focusing on retail increases the chances of negative cultures and opinions spreading unchecked, and so maybe more care is needed when you move away from Kickstarter as a sales platform.

    That said, if you think something is best for the game, don’t let a tiny minority of customers dictate what a different minority will enjoy having added to their games, and what the vaster majority will be completely uncaring about either way. :)

    1. Shannon: That’s a great point about how bundling expansions (on or off Kickstarter) can help lower the overall cost, as you’re not repackaging everything in separate boxes.

      You might be surprised by how much a Facebook group can feel like a Kickstarter community…but without the downsides of the the negative vocal minority that can emerge on Kickstarter. You have a lot more control in a Facebook group, but you can get even more engagement.

      I totally agree about reading the market and explaining your decisions in a transparent way! :)

      1. Yeah, I keep thinking that maybe I got really lucky with that.

        I had only one negative comment made during the whole campaign, and it was about how “free shipping” was a mislead, because the cost was technically “included” in the pledge rather than truly “$0”. It was a bit of a weird one.

        I’m glad your Facebook group is going so well. I think in large part that is because you are so active in replying to people who post there – and in dealing with the various questions and parts issues so quickly. That’s one thing FB does well that KS and BGG do not: thread replies under comments.

  7. I’m really grateful that you’ve kept perception in mind – even just that you’re aware of how it might look to keep producing content for something means a lot to me as a fan of your work.

    On the other hand, I think the time to right place to stop should be one where you measure interest, personal inspiration and time to decide.

    To put this another way, I’m in the camp that you should stay receptive to the wants of your customers and play it year to year. If people ask for another expansion after Fenris, and you think you have the inspiration and/or mechanical ideas plus the time in your life to sate that desire, I think it would be foolish not to go ahead and make it. Where “people ask” falls is, obviously, up to you and how your business gauges interest, and I don’t claim to know where that line is for you or anyone else. I think flexibility is important at the end of the day, and I hope you’ve come to your decision based on data, such as that of your survey, and not anxiety of what people /might/ think.

    I love Scythe, I’d love more Scythe, and I’ll be disappointed to see you walk away from it when you may otherwise still have ideas for the game, but I respect /why/ you came to the conclusion you did to end things where you are and I’m sure you’ll go on to create other games I’ll also appreciate.

    1. whirble: Thanks for your comment. You noted that “you should stay receptive to the wants of your customers and play it year to year.” I totally agree that flexibility is important. Like, I considered Viticulture/Tuscany “complete,” but then Uwe Rosenberg designed a bunch of visitor cards, and Moor Visitors was born.

      Here’s another way to look at it, though: What’s your favorite TV show that’s no longer on TV? Did you like the way it ended? Or did it continue a few seasons after its prime, even though you were happy there was more of it to watch?

      1. Thanks for the reply, Jamey.

        I can’t think of a single show I’ve enjoyed, regardless of ending quality, that I wouldn’t want continued. Great shows get badly written endings and bad shows pull around by the end. I’ve been happy and sad to see some things continue but in each case it came down to the writing of that continuation. Its duration really doesn’t factor in for me, and I don’t think the duration of something has any meaningful change on the quality of writing – time isn’t the problem. Writers change, production companies change, rights holders change. Each of those three also change based on their health, their environment, their inspirations. Those are the things that made the quality of the continuation better or worse – not a clock. Too often shows are canceled when their creators have gas left in the tank.

        I’d hate for you to resume your “show” after you feel you’ve done all you can for it, and I hope I didn’t somehow give the impression I’d be okay with you doing that. My point was that if you do think you could go on with Scythe because you have the inspiration and means, and the data says enough people to satisfy you want more of it, you should go on. If you have Inspiration, but not player Interest, that’s a good place to stop. If you have Interest, but not Inspiration (be it yours or Jakub’s), that’s a good place to stop. But if you have both of those things and the only thing in your way is a fear not substantiated by the data your customers are giving you, why stop?

        Clearly the perception of milking comes from some measure of actual data and not just gut feelings. From the outside, I can’t know exactly where on that tug of war you fall, and my first comment was about showing you there is a gradient to be considered on interest vs milking. My only concern is that you’ve weighed the actual feedback you’ve gotten up to now and determined Fenris (and the few assorted products you talked about) is where you should stop right before the negative impact of your customers feeling milked would hit.

        I’m not going to lie: while I’m not in the “catan that sucker dry” camp, I do think the quality of Scythe, my perception of what people think of it, plus my own personal immense desire for more are enough to continue to produce Scythe games or expansions. I also know I’m not in your position with your experience, data or connections and can’t possibly know for sure.

        Looking forward to getting my grubby mitts on your game, sir.

        1. That’s a great answer! It’s certainly different than how I think about my favorite TV series, but I completely respect your viewpoint. :) Maybe movie trilogies would be a better comparison, especially since Scythe has a trilogy of expansions.

          I hope that we’ll see Scythe live on through fan expansions–I’ve started to collect links to them in the Scythe FAQ, and there’s a lot of creativity there!

          “My only concern is that you’ve weighed the actual feedback you’ve gotten up to now and determined Fenris (and the few assorted products you talked about) is where you should stop right before the negative impact of your customers feeling milked would hit.”

          I hear from a lot of potential and actual Scythe customers, and I’ve definitely gotten the sense that the completionists–of whom there are many–have reached a tipping point, particularly with promos. That’s actually why we stopped making promos.

  8. Jamey,
    This is my first comment on your blog. I’ve been seeing your posts for a while and thought I might chime in on this one.
    I like your philosophy on this. Thank you!
    Certain CCGs that shall remain nameless are a never ending money pit. A bit like soap operas if you ask me. Each year there’s a slightly new plot but essentially it’s on a repeat cycle with the same cast of characters… for literally decades in some cases. All for what? MONEY would be my guess.
    When I read books I like a good trilogy. Perhaps even a 4 book saga. Anything more than that and I become disinterested with very few exceptions.
    I got on the Dominion train some time ago. 5 expansions in and guess what? I lost interest. Not to mention several hundred dollars.
    Anyway, I am glad you are taking this approach. I cant wait for the next Scythe expansion and whatever else you come up with next.
    Big fan!

    1. “CCGs that shall remain nameless”

      I hope that this company (and others) examine Jamey’s business philosophy and implement it. SM Games produces great products at a price point that is reasonable.

      I’ve been so impressed with Jamey that I purchased Charterstone as loyalty to his brand. I want more great games and supporting him is the best way to make that happen.

    2. Brett: Thanks for making your first comment! I like the comparison to book series. I like the self-contained nature of a trilogy (though there are a few series I read that have gone beyond that).

      1. The Wheel of time comes to mind when talking about books. First three books excellent trilogy, second three books okay trilogy , haven’t been able to read beyond book 8. What new world would wee have had if the author had left it alone after 3 books?

        I see comments about nostalgia for the cartoons I grew up with, but if Transformers had continued on soap opera like since I was a kid 30 years ago my kids would have a place for things like Phineas and Ferb or even the excellent for kids Transformers rescue bots.

        Sometimes I think nostalgia can push things beyond where they were great and this can lead to an overall disappointment and perhaps even stifle creativity because only Star wars sells or some such thinking process

        1. For what it’s worth, books 6-8 are the worst in terms of things getting dragged out – book 9 is also pretty slow, but it untangles a lot of things, and then books 10 and 11 move at a pretty good pace. Book 8 is probably the worst place to give up…

  9. Hi Jamey,

    In your article, near the end, you said “How would you feel if you were an excited backer who stumbled across this project? ”

    Did you mean to put a link on “this project?” or were you referring to a project mentioned in on this page?

    What you said about looking at stretch goals through the eyes of the back is very important to keep in mind, rewards too, otherwise it can ruin a campaign.

    I was always on the fence with expansions for board games and video games. I did believe it was milking. But I have recently changed my view on that. I bought my first expansion for 7 Wonders Duel, the Pantheon expansion but Stonemaier games ruined my Pantheon expansion and 7 Wonders Duel :) I bought it the same day as Viticulture Essentials, and after playing your lovely feeling game, my wife and I can no longer enjoy 7 Wonders Duel. 7WD feels to aggressive now for my wife and I. It was ruined in the best way possible, by showing a better path. But before that I did realize that it is not milking if you get so much value and enjoyment out of a game, it’s worth extending that value. It’s kind of funny that the first time I understood the reason for buying an expansion ended up with me not using the expansion or the base game any more. I have only played 7WD once since I got Viticulture, and 7WD felt bad after playing such a great game like Viticulture.

    So my first expansion was a total waste of money but I keep my new realization, and I’m thankful to Viticulture Essentials for expanding our horizons to Competitive Non-aggressive games. We have a lot of games but It was our first game like that. To name 3: Pandemic is co-op, Ticket to Ride has a similar feeling to Viticulture but it too un-competitive, Onitama is all against each other (great for friends, but not good for husband and wife).

    1. Gerald: Thanks for checking about that sentence. I wasn’t referring to a specific project.

      I’m glad you’re enjoying Viticulture, though I’m sorry it’s soured you on 7 Wonders Duel! I love that game. :) However, I see what you’re saying about aggression in it.

      1. Don’t be sorry, it is not your fault that you are so good at making games, actually that is your fault, but souring 7 wonders duel is not, not really :) I could probably play it with one of my friend every 2 months or so (instead of every second night). With my friends aggressive games can be fun. Anyway, were very happy to find that Viticulture does not have anything like Smash your opponents cellar, squash their grapes, monopolies the vine resources so they can never make wine, or when they have their lovely vineyard in full swing get a sneaky military win by burning down their entire creation. Viticulture has probably thought a lot of couples that there are other ways to have fun rather than aggressively beating each every night. It’s more fun to aggressively beat your friends.

  10. “Future Printing Request Form” does not have a comment section. So I hope it is ok to mention the following on this page which mentions Future Printing.

    I was happy to see “family-oriented Scythe spinoff” listed. If you made this you would probably be doing families a service. Every Christmas and birthday there is a lot of money going to be spent or wasted on crappy toys. My children are 6 and 8 years old and I will spend €50/$60 on each for Christmas. That $120 that must be spent no matter what. Their grandmother has a budget of $50 each ($100 total). Their uncle has a total budget of $70, and my friend who is close to the family has a budget of $50 total. That is $340 that must be spend every Christmas on 2 children. Add in birthdays and it is hundreds of dollars more per year. That will likely increase as they get older. The gift buyers ask me for recommendations. If we can’t find something great to buy it doesn’t matter, that money must be spend. Most years it is spent on crappy toys that they play with for a week and then it ends up under the bed, even with toys they picked. With a good board game (they are able to play) it is a win/win for the money, their enjoyment, and their brain development. This Christmas they got My First Stone Age, Quadropolis, Animals upon Animals, Small World, and Carcassonne. I would love to recommend that money be spent on a family Stonemaier Game. It would be a 100% grantee that your family game would be purchased by myself or one of us. And I am sure all other board gaming family are in the exact same situation that gift money 100% must be spend anywhere (even in families that are normally frugal). If you care to listen I do have one observation from my children that could be a warning or pitfall you could end up in while making a game for children.

    They find My First Stone Age very simple and boring. We played it twice and they don’t want to play it again. It would be a waste of money to buy another game at that low weight (complexity). My 8 and 6 year old love Quadropolis, Small World, Carcassone, and Forbidden Desert. My 6 year wins more at Quadropolis than my 8 year old. Even though my 8 year old loses at Quadropolis he still rates it 9/10. They rate My First Stone Age at 3/10 (6 year old) and 0/10 (8 year old).

    If you are playtesting the game it would probably best to have the first 2 playtests with the parents playing or guiding. Then the following playtests by the children themselves, probably with 1 child older than the other (as most families have 1 child older than the other. A one child family will play with the parents). That might help avoid making another “My First Stone Age”.

    Also you probably want to test children who’s parents are proper board gamers. What is the point playtesting the game with regular children? By regular children I mean children unfortunate enough to born to vagabonds, millionaires, and any combination in between that are non-geeks :) If the children and parents happen to own a copy of monopoly junior but watch TV and tablets all day then they are not the type who will buy or even know about your premium family game. If it is more expensive than Hungry Hippos it’s expensive to them. If you playtest with them they will reduce the weight of the game, and the result will make it unenjoyable for the children who actually end up with it, the children of geeks, the salt of the earth :). Joke. If games don’t have text on private cards (just symbols) then a 6 year old can grasp what an 8 year old can, so the complexity can go up and a 6 year old can master it. If there is text on the private cards then a 6 year old can’t play, which means defiantly don’t dumb it down and make it even more complex (10 year old complexity with 8 year old reading level). Quadropolis, Carcassone, and Forbidden Desert are also enjoyed by adults, even though a 6 year old can master them.

  11. Hey Jamey,

    I understand where you are coming from, though at the end of the day, I think people need to be responsible for their own spending habits. When I read comments on BGG where people complain that game companies are milking a product line or are cash grabbing, I think to myself that nobody is forcing anyone to buy anything.

    While I could almost understand some complaints with regards to tournament type games that keep releasing things that people may think they need to stay competitive, I then realize that often it’s the fans of those systems that want more products in order to have more diversity in their tournament lists. For the casual player of those systems, there’s no need to have it all.

    I own all the Scythe collection and may or may not get the next release. It depends, because several of my friends also have the Scythe collection and may be getting the next release. I don’t know that I would need it if I’d be playing the campaign expansion that a friend has. People need to evaluate things realistically and adjust their spending choices. My daughters will be 15 in February and used enjoy playing games. They stopped wanting to play games about 6 months ago, so now I need to plan my purchases without my daughters in mind, since they won’t play anyway. I have been part of a large game group for almost 7 years and over the years, we’ve had many cases where several people kickstarted the same games or bought the same games. So ultimately, it means that someone’s copy of a game isn’t going to get played. So for the past year, I’ve been trying to be more careful of what I kickstart or buy, because I don’t want to be the one who’s copy doesn’t get played. So I’ve been concentrating on miniatures systems and less on board games that my friends will get anyway.

    I used to want more stuff and every expansion for some games, but then after seeing what has gotten played, I’ve decided that I don’t “need” it all. I’ve never gotten mad at a game company for making more products. I’ve been mad at myself for making poor choices.

  12. Greg: Well said! I agree, especially with this: “nobody is forcing anyone to buy anything.”

    I think many gamers are completitionists, so a part of this for me is just being aware of that. I know they’re responsible for their actions, but I just want to respect their wallets as much as possible.

  13. Your comment about perception being just as important as reality is a really valuable lesson that I think can be applied to many things from game design to marketing. The internet is a fickle beast and even the purest of intentions can be twisted if not properly framed.

  14. Awesome that you are trying to strike a balance between giving people what they think they want and actually giving people what they want :)

    That being said it would really have to depend on the game if the expansion model works or is just milking. I think LCG’s fixed a lot that is wrong about CCG’s but only if the creator is able to continue expanding upon the game and not just re-skinning some stuff and your just buying more (hopefully cool) art.

    A game like time stories comes to mind. Me and my girlfriend just bought and played it for the first time yesterday. That is a game that seems to offer plenty of playing and adventure in just the base game. Then you could essentially buy more stories to go along with them that I am sure are going to add more to the game as well (I haven’t bought expansions for it yet)

    Then there are just re-skins of games which I would basically consider an expansion such as the million different monopoly’s or munchkin games. That is a point when it seems kinda milky to me but at the same time I’m not a fan of monopoly (because all “gamers” are supposed to hate monopoly right?) but I think the gamers monopoly is pretty neat (although I will probably only play it again when I have kids) Its really a fine line between milking and giving people what they want.

    I admire your awareness to try and strike a balance and can only hope in my future publishing endeavors I can avoid the milking conundrum and balance putting out the best product I can and well I gotta pay my rent…

    Thanks for another great read!
    -Cody Thompson

    1. Cody: I like the example of TIME Stories, which is one of my favorite games. As much as I love it, because they chose to include a very slight ongoing storyline, it makes me want to know that there will someday be a distinct end to that narrative. I would be fine with them continuing to make modules after that, but at some point I might feel strung along if the ongoing narrative drags on and on.

      1. I would have to get back to you on that one. We have only just failed the base story for the first time. So we have much more to play. But I see what you are saying. The nature of the game from what I’ve seen so far about how you are TIME agents that go to places in time to solve problems could be infinitely added upon.

        If they wanted to end the story though, they could do something along the lines of making the last module completion where something goes wrong and destroys the whole TIME agency they have.

        Then they could always revisit the series years down the line with an new and improved TIME Agency with new gameplay mechanics and such.

  15. I think that at one point a game just runs it course and for me that would be when the game designer doesn’t think he could add something original to an already thrilling core game. I don’t perceive multiple expansions as cow milking if the core game is already really good. For example I didn’t buy any Pandemic expansions as I feel that the core game really ticks everything for me. That doesn’t mean I won’t buy any expansions in the future, but I am glad I have those options though.

    The biggest problem arrives when the core game doesn’t feel complete and needs expansions to get that “real” feeling. A friend of mine for example is a really big fan of a very well known video post-apocalyptic genre, but he was disappointed when he bought the board game version as he felt that the core game didn’t feel complete and would need to buy expansions again. One persons opinion isn’t enough to come to a conclusion and I have yet to try the game. So when does this actually become a problem? In my opinion it becomes a problem when a majority of people start feeling like that, but by then it’s already too late, as fans of certain genres will always buy add-ons. To me that feels more like milking the cow.

    IMO in the board game industry this isn’t such a problem (yet) as it is in the video game industry with the latest EA debacle. However I do think that certain companies are shifting to the “micro-transaction” mentality and having a popular IPs really helps them do that well. It will be interesting to see how the board game industry evolves around this mentality.

  16. Milan, it is the other way around IMO. The table top industry lead the way with micro-transactions and loot crates. Outrageous as that sounds I believe it is true.

    The video game industry got the idea for loot crates from collectible cards (CC). With CC you don’t know what cards you are buying, and some will be useless if you already have them. Buying an upgraded-component-set is a micro-transaction akin to an in-app purchase to upgrade your character’s costume (without any added powers). But, for me, it feels better with board games as they are real physical items.

    Board games invented this stuff, and video games caught on late. However because it is much easier and quicker for customers to buy extras with video games the video game industry are the masters of this now. Manufacturing of physical components makes it more difficult for board games to keep up. This, along with the high risk, forces board game companies to offer real value. The low risk, low barrier, model of video game micro-content allows for almost limitless milking.

    In the future if board games become more integrated with apps we could start to see video game scale milking. But not looking at a screen is one major factor that differentiates the two markets, and hopefully it will stay that way.

    Jamey, have you discussed micro-transactions with the video game Scythe team?
    The perception created by a board game company’s spin-off video game might spill over to the company’s reputation in board games.

  17. The most trusted brand in the world is the Lego company. They make hundreds of different sets in dozens of different themes including half a dozen triple-A licences every year.

    A number of years ago, around 2003 or 2004, Lego changed the colour of their greys from old grey to stone grey, basically giving all of their new grey colours a blueish hue. This was in the relatively early days of the internet but among the established online adult Lego enthusiast group this caused a massive backlash since the old and new colours could not be mixed to create appealing creations. Particularly in the space and castle communities, which relied heavily on grey pieces, the new colour drove many people away from the company.

    The issue for a lot of these people was that the new colours would be incompatible with their old colours, forcing them to repurchase massive numbers of bricks in the new colour if they wanted to be able to use newer brick types. It left a bad taste in the mouths of their biggest fans.

    You see, people feel as though they’re being ripped off if their older investment is invalidated. People are happy to throw money at their hobby if the value that they get from the new things enhances their experience of the older things or gives them a different experience altogether. Lego eventually regained credibility in the eyes of most of their adult community by promising not to make such changes again and following that up by releasing consistently high quality product that exceeded expectations.

    This is where I think the LCG/TCG model falls down and why people often feel exploited by it. I can’t build a competitive Yugioh deck with cards I bought ten years ago. I can’t build a *legal* Magic deck with cards I bought five years ago. I can’t take a base Netrunner deck and hope to have success with it against someone who is up to date with all of the add on packs. I have to buy the latest to stay up to date or I effectively can’t play in organised play (magic tries to work around this by milking their casuals differently to their hardcore/competitives). With Lego I know that the stuff I got in the 90s as a kid is going to connect with the stuff I buy for my kids this decade. I can’t miss six months or a year of an LCG/TCG without being a long way behind. Forget about picking it up again after a three year gap – the meta has changed and none of my valuable cards are usable any more.

    Board game expansions are a different beast altogether. It is my feeling that board game expansions make me feel *less* likely to want to buy a base game. That completionist/mastery instinct inside me says that if a game has an expansion I probably don’t have a complete game. And if I’m already shelling out big money on a board game, I don’t want to shell out a further 60-70% of that cost again, just to have a complete game.

    But if I already have a game – expand me up baby! If I love a game and have played it to death then I really would love to have something which breathes new life into the game I love. Board games have a long shelf life and a long lead time between a game being released and finally played by players. To really get into a game takes probably 3-4 months from purchase and most games I won’t purchase day 1. I still have Pandemic Legacy season 1 sitting unplayed having bought it in October last year (we’re starting it next week!). Ideally an expansion should therefore be released somewhere between a year and two years after the initial release of the game. Long enough for natural sales of the original game to have died down but not so long that people have forgotten it.

    Anyway, this entirely subjective rant has gone on long enough. Appreciate your thoughts and opening the discussion Jamey.

    1. Stephen: Thank you much for sharing these detailed thoughts! I really like the Lego example and how it draws a parallel to LCGs/CCGs. Also, that’s interesting about how expansions might deter you from buying a game, but that if you already have a game, expansions are great! :)

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