What’s Up with Reward Prices on Kickstarter?

21 May 2020 | 97 Comments

This isn’t a criticism of any specific project on Kickstarter, recent or current. Rather, I have some general observations about a trend of I’ve noticed that may really be hurting Kickstarter creators.

In short, over the last few months I’ve received notifications about a number Kickstarter projects that I was eager to back…until I saw the core reward price. Many of these prices look more like final MSRPs, not discounted prices intended to lure backers to support a game that won’t exist for another 8-15 months.

Granted, creators can charge anything they want, and I’m not here to tell them otherwise. That’s part of the beauty of Kickstarter and pricing economics: You have the freedom to choose the price, and customers have the freedom to buy or not. As our 2019 demographic survey showed, there are many types of customers:

But here’s the problem that I think many of these creators are facing: They’re losing a significant number of backers due to their reward prices.

Now, I’d guess that these creators thought long and hard about their reward prices. However, my theory is that they weighted the retail MSRP (of the game and of similar games) much too heavily in their calculations instead of considering the incredible margins when selling directly to a consumer.

Here’s what I mean: Viticulture, for example, is a game that costs around $12 to manufacturer. I sell most copies of Viticulture to distributors, who get a 60% discount on MSRP. That’s why Viticulture’s MSRP is $60–when I sell it to a distributor, the revenue per unit is $24. Half of that covers the manufacturing cost, and the other half is profit (and is often reinvested in making more Viticulture). This is the “5x multiplier” you may have heard about.

So say that you also have a medium-weight Euro game that plays from 1-6 players, has a bunch of cards, player mats, and custom wooden tokens, and costs around $12 to make. We’ll call it Beericulture. If you put that game on Kickstarter, will you have the greatest chance of successfully funding if you price it at $60?

I don’t think so. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the hypothetical retail MSRP is almost entirely irrelevant to your optimum Kickstarter price.

To illustrate this, look at the game from a different lens: Beericulture costs around $12 to manufacturer. You also have freight shipping and sunk costs like art and graphic design, so let’s say they bring the cost up to around $20 per unit. As many projects do these days (largely due to VAT and KS fees), you’re charging for shipping after the project, so that’s not a part of the equation.

If you’re cost per unit is $20, every penny after that is profit. So if you’re charging $60, your profit per unit is $40. That’s awesome…unless you’re losing thousands of potential backers because the price is too high.

I would propose that a much more successful core reward price for this game would be $39 (with shipping added later). Put yourself in the shoes of a backer: Are you more likely to back Beericulture for $60 or $39? And the creator is still profiting $19 per game.

It gets even crazier when you look at premium rewards. Say that Beericulture has a $60 core reward price, or you can get the deluxe version with metal coins and glass mini mugs for $80. The deluxe version isn’t ever going to enter distribution, so why is it still based on the 5x multiplier calculation for MSRP? That deluxe version probably costs $18 to manufacture (around $25 with freight shipping and sunk costs factored in).

Again, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with these prices. If 10,000 backers are willing to pay $100 for your game that costs $30 to make–and in the long run, those backers feel like they made the right choice–by all means, go for it.

But if you’re looking at a $70 profit margin, isn’t it at least worth considering the possibility that if you priced the core reward at, say, $69 or $79, that you might be able to reach a significantly larger group of backers? Each individual backer might be happier, and your total profit could also end up much higher. Plus, the more early enthusiasts who are eager to get the game to the table upon the release, the better the chances the game will have a long-term retail success.

On the other end of the spectrum are projects that struggle to achieve anywhere close to their potential because it appears that the creator used MSRP as a major factor for calculating the reward prices instead of simply looking at core costs, backer appeal, and a more moderate profit per unit.

Of course, this is just my opinion. I could be completely wrong (and there are certainly projects that completely debunk this theory). I just thought it might be helpful for some Kickstarter creators to consider looking at their reward prices through a different lens.

What do you think? Have you found yourself “saving” projects instead of backing them immediately because of high prices? Do you think projects could use lower pricing strategies to attract significantly higher backers?

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97 Comments on “What’s Up with Reward Prices on Kickstarter?

  1. Thanks for the blog post. As a small publisher I rely on the support of retailers selling my products. Weighing in the MSRP and adjusting the KS price not too far from it, seems like something I have to do to avoid making these retailers angry about the difference in pricing. On the other hand I have noticed that successful Kickstarters generate more demand and are more likely to end up in retail than those with just a few backers. It’s a thin line I’d say. I will definitely consider your thoughts.

    1. I forgot to add: from a buyers perspective I don’t mind higher prices. It helps me to filter better what I purchase and what I skip. Previously I had purchased too many games simply because they were cheap and attractive. That’s of course something that a creator would want ;-)

  2. I hear you! And I’ve adjusted my own behaviour on Kickstarter for some of the same reasons. A publisher I shall keep unnamed, kickstarted a couple of titles that I backed. Eventually I received the kickstarted games _later_ than the online stores, and I ended up paying _more_ than what I would have to pay at the online store.
    I have vowed never to back anything from them again. Ever.

  3. The Kemet campaign is a joke. I planned for 3 months to back the game, then they released the campaign with zero rewards for backers. Just a bunch of lawyerly gobbledygook treating potential backers like morons. Companies that run a KS for funding and don’t offer an incentive to the backer, either by an actual discount from the eventual purchase price (not MSRP), better components or more product are essentially asking their customers to pay them, the company, anywhere from $30-$50 more for the product for the privilege of giving them an interest free loan for about a year. 🤔 Looking at you Matagot 🙄

    1. Sean: Kemet hasn’t launched on Kickstarter yet. I’ve read a little about it, though, and I’m very excited for the campaign and curious to see how they price the core reward.

  4. Many, many times I have been put off by the high price of KS games these days. Myself and friends have discussed this on many an occasion. And to be honest, it’s actually put me off buying KS games at all now. You might as well wait for the game to be released as the price will be mostly likely be cheaper, especially if you buy from certain online retailers.
    I’m so pleased you’ve written this article as it mirrors mine and perhaps a lot of people’s thoughts on it. So thanks :)

  5. Jamey,

    Wishing you thank you for all your posts. This post hit me in the head and the heart. Lockdown has stirred my Kickstarter gene.

    I backed a few board game projects these last two months. After backing I had an itch to actually play a new board game with my family and easily found stores in my province that shipped games at a reasonable price or even free at a certain dollar level. While browsing their site I checked preorder games. My heart wept when I found a game I backed with a price that was effectively 80% of what I paid after delivery.

    Further investigation of current Kickstarter games backing costs and preorder costs at stores in my area revealed this was not a fluke.

    In future I will not back board games directly on Kickstarter but use the store preorder.

    Maybe import duties are an issue here to Canada but whatever the reason Kickstarter has lost a backer.

    1. this is pretty much always the case. The only reason to back a KS is if you want to support the designer OR it’s offering something you can’t get at retail that you feel you *need* to have. Usually this is a “free” expansion, or bling for the game like screen printed meeples or what not that won’t be available at retail. Also, some games go to KS and do no hit retail. Recent example is Monumental, but there are several others as well. Or they only sell in their webshops for a higher price than they did on KS.

      And yes, it’s not so much about import as a Cdn, It strongly is due to the fact that our dollar is poop now. .68c-.72c for 1USD. With the high price of shipping on games now (20-30) and add in exchange, you are sometimes paying double the cost. A few years ago when our dollar was higher, you were getting a savings. That is no longer the case.

      At least it was just two games you backed before you discovered the savings at retail. :)

  6. Personally I’d like to hear more about this “Beericulture”. Which timeline is that Jamie??

  7. I mean, you can synthesize a solution between these competing ideas: 1) your proposal that KS creators offer a discount from the “MSRP” as an incentive to attract backers; and 2) preserve the MSRP price (assuming the goal is to have the game go into retail distribution). – And that is to set the pledge price at the intended MSRP, but offer additional content that is not included in the retail edition of the game.

    There is a psychology at work among consumers who may have missed a KS. For many, they see the KS price as “the” price of the game. After all – the publisher (presumably) isn’t pricing the game at a loss during the KS, so why should it be any higher at retail? (“Why are you charging $60 for this game? It was $49 on KS!”). Obviously not all consumers think this way (or are even aware that a game was on KS in the first place). But enough do that every retailer is familiar with it. And if you don’t believe me, just go talk to some FLGS owners who end up carrying a game launched on Kickstarter.

    My experience (running The Game Steward for 7 years now, and specializing in Kickstarter games) is that most backers are often concerned less with “price” than with “value”. In other words, offering the game at “MSRP” is not a problem IF the publisher’s offer has a lot of value as compared to waiting for the game at retail. And the most common way to add value is to offer a KS edition of the game at MSRP that includes additional content that won’t be in the retail edition (e.g. upgraded components, promos, or “free” expansions that will be available separately at retail).

    So – to give an example.

    A) The KS pledge is set at “MSRP” for $50 and includes a “free” expansion that will be $20 separately at retail.

    B). The KS pledge is set at $35, and the expansion is offered as an “add-on” for $15.

    Substantively, they are identical in terms of revenue for the publisher. But option “A” has added benefits: 1) Backers see “free” in the offer for the expansion, adding to the perceived value, and 2) the KS Price does not undercut the anticipated MSRP; and 3) higher priced games are often viewed as “better” games – for all the reasons stated above about consumer behavior with luxury goods.

    The same can be done with promo content (I try to avoid using “KS Exclusive” because that term is too polarizing) or upgraded components.

    I would also add the same about Deluxe Editions that won’t be going into distribution. These are exactly the kinds of games that should not be discounted because of the built in perception of value – a hard to get “prestige” item that is only available for a limited time. There are a LOT of KS backers looking for that exact kind of item, and are far less sensitive to price in their pursuit of unique items.

    1. “And if you don’t believe me, just go talk to some FLGS owners who end up carrying a game launched on Kickstarter.’

      I believe you! Though in my experience, FLGS owners are focused on things like the Kickstarter pricing for a few months after the Kickstarter (largely related to the games they backed)…and then the Kickstarter campaign becomes entirely irrelevant to them. Pretty much every Stonemaier game or expansion campaign featured significant discounts on pricing–which benefited both backers and retailers (who got great discounts during the campaign). This mattered for a short time, and then those games simply became retail products with their own life separate from their KS birth. It’s been years since a retailer expressed any frustration to me about Scythe being on Kickstarter for $59 (including a shipping subsidy).

      Also, for the record, I like the method you describe…but again, with shipping calculated based on manufacturing, freight, and sunk costs, not MSRP. So I would do something like:

      The KS pledge is $39 and includes a “free” expansion that will be $20 separately at retail.

      1. For games that have a long tail, you are correct (and thankfully, almost all Stonemaier titles have had a VERY long tail!). But many KS titles have a very short shelf life. And for better or worse, many publishers calculate retailer pricing based on the “MSRP” of the game.

        So let’s take that example – a game with an MSRP of $50 is offered on KS for $39, but is offered to retailers at $25 (50% of the MSRP). Which means that the retailer can sell the game at $50 (keystone pricing), and risk the feedback of customers complaining about “gouging.” Or they can sell it for $39, and only make a margin of 36%.

        Most retailers will pass on products with that low a margin. And we can debate whether publishers “should” set wholesale prices for retailers at 50% of MSRP when they are offering a KS price well below MSRP. But this is the dilemma that many retailers face. And without added value such as promos or upgraded components to justify the MSRP, it is very difficult to attract retailers to a KS that offers such poor returns (especially a game that doesn’t make it into distribution in any event).

        I will add that shipping is a bit of a wildcard here. Shipping definitely adds to the final cost of the game – so a $39 KS price plus $11 shipping is effectively a $50 game to KS backers. But results are mixed when retailers try to use shipping charges as a factor to explain that a $39 game isn’t really only $39 on KS. YMMV.

  8. I’ve walked away from a few KS’es due to price. I’m not looking for “deals”, but I’m not interested in backing an idea at too high a price.

    I’ll pay more for premium components (Scythe), but I’ve really gotten to the point where once this whole quarantine is over, I’m going to be selling about half the games on my shelves…I’ve become a lot more picky about my games over the years.

    Price is now part of my equation a lot more than it had been, and I’m looking for games that deliver content and entertainment for reasonable prices.

  9. Not sure if I’ll have time to write a longer response with more math, which I think is what’s necessary, but I may try to put something up on my own blog over the weekend if I can get up the energy.

    Your post is built around the assumption of a company being profitable at a 5x Landed Cost of Goods multiple. That’s just simply not a price multiple that will keep many companies afloat, and I think chasing that 5x number can cause creators to run themselves out of business if they don’t have a big hit.

    Some of that is also that the economics of game manufacturing at minimum order quantities and low sales volumes are just not great, and it’s going to be very difficult for anyone to make a living wage if you’re selling 3000 units of a game twice a year. Unfortunately, the reality is that going full-time essentially requires a hit that has that volume of sales.

    Discounting off of 5x even further is even more likely to push low-volume KSes and small creators into a position where they are barely breaking even and unable to pay themselves.

    As I said – there’s some math I think I need to show to back this up, but I think most creators need to be aiming for 7-8x multiples for smaller games (larger games can have lower multiples, down to about 4x). that extra multiple lets you have a far greater advertising spend to acquire each customer, as well as freeing up that budget for other marketing efforts like conventions, making more prototypes to send out, etc.

    1. two quick clarifications since I can’t edit comments:
      When I say larger games can afford lower multiples I’m talking Gloomhaven or large miniatures games with ~$25+ manufacturing prices, not standard $60 big box games

      and “going full-time essentially requires a hit that has that volume of sales.” I’m talking about having at least one game that’s moving 10,000 units + per year. A small pub selling 2x 3000 units a year likely doesn’t have enough profit to be full-time.

    2. John: I totally see what you’re saying, but the post is actually about the opposite of that. This isn’t a post about how to price games for distribution and retail–it’s a post about how to price Kickstarter rewards by focusing on manufacturing and sunk costs *instead* of MSRP.

      That said, I think you make perfectly fine points about how the multipliers depend on the product. Stonemaier Games does have some smaller expansions that have a multiplier higher than 5x, and we have a few expensive games that cross into the 4.5x multiplier category.

  10. MSRP core prices absolutely put me off. If the core game on KS is priced at MSRP it has to have some great KS exclusive content for me to back; else I’m more likely to wait for the game to come to one of the discounted sites (CSI, MM, etc.).

  11. I definitely feel this. I’ve followed many friends’ games, including ones I’ve helped out with via playtesting, rule book edits, etc. that I had to back at a $1 or $10 “no reward” level to show my support because I can only back so many $60 games on my budget, regardless of how much I’d love to own a copy. Good insights Jamie!

  12. Thanks for the great article Jamey! I agree that I often choose not to back a kickstarter if the price feels ‘too high’. What turns me off of even more kickstarter campaigns however, is the ever increasing amount of addons (especially gameplay related). I think most gamers are at least somewhat of a completionist, and nearly always you see the most backers at the higher pledge tiers, so it is a strategy that seems to work for the publishers. However, I often skip the project altogether or tend to pick the lower pledge tiers with a mixed feeling. I want the game to be amazing, as I pledged for it, but if it is amazing I would have liked the addons.. Thus I want the game not to be too amazing… which if you think about it is ridiculous.

    I am currently developing a similtaneous worker placement game, and therefore thinking a lot about the pricing of kickstarter board games (for if I end up going to kickstarter). I try to look at previous kickstarters for which I feel the most sorry for I missed them, and see what they did to entice backers. Examples for me include Scythe (good pricing, premium components, extra content), Spirit Island (good pricing, free expansion, promo spirits) and Root (free expansion).

  13. Another great article! I’m not a game publisher or a Kickstarter creator – but I am a consumer of games. I also love craft beer. I just want to say that I would play the heck out of Beericulture.

  14. There’s an option missing in this poll:
    – Starling games prices

    Each time this publisher makes a kickstarter campaign, their prices are an instant turndown for me, not matter how good the game is.

  15. Yes. It has put me off a lot of games, especially when you add shipping to it. I think projects that have the price at MSRP requires a lot exclusives to appeal to backers at that price, but KS exclusives are not great for the long term of the game or the company.

    Where does shipping factor in? I think you like to bake in a bit of the shipping in to the Kickstarter reward. Would it be free shipping to the US and $10 to EU, or would you nowadays charge shipping to the US too, as you’ve already included a MSRP discount?

    Inflation has move prices on in the last few years, and it will keep going up in the next few years. If Viticulture was just released today would you set the MSRP a bit higher at $70?

    1. Gerald: If I were to run a project today, I think what I would do is what many campaigns do and charge for shipping in the pledge manager (but provide precise shipping costs during the campaign). I think this is better for VAT. I might build a little bit of the shipping fee into the reward price.

      Viticulture’s manufacturing cost has remained constant, so the MSRP would be the same even if we printed our first copy today. :)

      1. I never thought about VAT’s impact on shipping. Thanks :) The manufacturing remaining the same for Viticulture is very interesting.

  16. Rail road ink challenge I was considering, but it’s about retail price and shipping is really expensive for a small game, so it’s cheaper if I wait for retail as I would probably be paying 2/3 PD the kickstarter price

  17. As a first time project creator, using a highly discounted price seems almost impossible. I’m not saying there should be no discount, but what I am saying is that without being known at all in the industry, slashing my theoretical MSRP by 40% looks like it would make me need an unsettlingly high number of pledges to amount to a reasonable goal amount, keeping in mind that I need to not only fund with the Kickstarter the maybe 700 or so shipments to Kickstarter backers (on a modest success), but also, to a reasonable degree, the production and freight shipment of the other 800 copies of the manufacturer’s minimum order size. Isn’t the whole point of Kickstarter to raise enough money to, well, kickstart my enterprise?

    My project has a theoretical MSRP of $45, though I’d like it to be only $40. It’s component makeup is reasonably comparable to that of:
    (which is kind of the latest greatest poster child for an MSRP Kickstarter, from the looks of it, and appears to have suffered because of it; they were asking $49 plus full shipping costs)

    After using a really nifty board game budget spreadsheet I found online, plus looking at other current Kickstarters, I was determining that I probably can’t go any lower than, and also don’t want to go higher than, $35 plus shipping & taxes. So total cost would be around $47 in the US and $56 in the EU. If I were instead to follow the 60%+shipping guideline I’d be trying to make it work charging only $39 total in the US and $48 in the EU. In the first case I’d need about 600 backers to reach $30,000, in the second I’d need around 715. Thoughts?

    1. Jason: You make a great point that with a lower price, you need more backers to meet your funding goal. In the article above, I include the sunk costs (which are used to calculate the funding goal) in my per-unit equation.

      So let’s figure this out for you: How much does 1 unit of your game cost to make (for, say, 2000 units), and what are your total sunk costs (art, graphic design, etc)?

      1. Hi, Jamey, thanks for offering to help.
        The manufacturer’s per unit quotes are for 1500, 2500, and 5000.
        The budget spreadsheet I’m using is from:

        At 1500 units, I am looking at these per-unit values:

        Kickstarter expenses (fees + failed transactions) $3.50
        manufacturing $8.50
        freight $5 (maybe slightly lower; quoted 10 games per carton but no cost estimate)
        shipping $16 (estimated average between all regions; includes VAT)
        misc expenses $5 (includes sunk costs)
        total: $38 per game

        My sunk costs for art and graphic design are $0 other than time; I’m handling the graphic design of the project and that’s part of the enjoyment for me (can be stressful though!), advertising is currently $0 as well (conventions aside) but will likely end up around $1500 so $1 per game. Nevertheless I put the misc expenses higher at $5 per unit simply because I expect there will be things that cost money that I don’t know about yet (lacking experience), along the way.

        I’ve linked my name on this post to my website; there are links there to the TTS and Tabletopia builds of my game if you want to see what components it has. The TTS build is a much more accurate representation of the final product; Tabletopia has component limitations for free publishing, as you’re probably aware.

        1. Thanks! $5 freight per unit is really high–it typically averages out to around $2 (probably even a little less for 10 units/carton). Let’s separate out shipping fees and hold off on Kickstarter fees until the back end. With those adjustments in mind, you’re looking at a cost per unit of around $16. That puts your KS/Stripe fees at $1.60–we’ll round up to $2. So, total cost of $18, then shipping added later via pledge manager (I really think this is the way to go in 2020).

          That’s actually close to the examples I use in the blog post, so I would aim for a KS price of $35 to $39. Your MOQ is 1500 units, so you need to raise a minimum of $12,750. If your core reward price is $35, you only need to sell 365 units on Kickstarter to hit that MOQ.

          1. Ok, thanks.

            I was wondering about not using a pledge manager, particularly since I’m taking a KISS approach and not intending to have any addons, and possibly not stretch goals either. But charging shipping afterward would require a pledge manager (I’d still list what shipping will be on the Kickstarter page, though, right?), and it looks like PMs also help in other ways too, so your input has made me reconsider.

            It would help me to have a better idea of what the post-Kickstarter bookwork actually looks like, though I probably just need to do more reading in that area.

            One other thing, I’m wondering why you excluded the freight cost from the “minimum funds to raise” calculation. I can’t pay the factory make my games but then have no money to get them to my fulfillment partners. Or do you consider the freight cost part of the shipping cost? I guess I’ve been considering it part of the production cost since I have to pay it for all the copies, not just the Kickstarted ones.

          2. Jason:

            “I’d still list what shipping will be on the Kickstarter page, though, right?”

            Right, you’d mention it in the reward description and/or a shipping chart.

            Sure, you could include the freight shipping cost per unit in that calculation.

  18. It has felt like KS is more of a retail outlet with long delivery cycles these days, I’ve deliberately avoided backing a lot, especially when I can get it for the same price from my local game store at almost the same time as backers in many cases. Often you can get it earlier thanks to the complexity of shipping logistics.

    I feel a lot of the KS focus is about hitting the funding goal as fast as possible then achieving the immense funding goal and recently there more of this social stretch goal nonsense to help build the hype of the game.

    If your game is good, we’ll priced, has good components then people will advertise it on their own and you’ll get more backers which is surely more important for a designer and the publisher. More people enjoying and playing my game would be fantastic, makes no sense at all to put the game into fewer hands and clearly creators know this hence the relentless stretch goal strategy.

  19. With Kickstarter’s new guidelines now explicitly frowning on any reference to MSRP, it feels like even Kickstarter itself is encouraging smaller creators (i.e., not big companies using KS as a pre-order service) to price whatever they think is fair for the reward.

    There are lots of good possible reasons a KS reward price might be higher than MSRP – first of all, “expected MSRP” is calculated based on large scale, so the reason a Ravensburger game costs $30 is because they printed 30,000 of them. For smaller creators like myself, the numbers just aren’t going to be that high, so “MSRP” goes up. Even in your examples Jamey where you use the 5x costing to determine the MSRP, you would need to assume a certain quantity that will go to distribution before you even have a number to start that 5x calculation from. In other words, your MSRP for the exact same game would be completely different when printing 2k vs 20k.

    Which leads me to another reason: scarcity. As you mentioned yourself in a previous article Jamey, Kickstarter-only models are starting to become more of a thing. Small publishers are just ignoring traditional retail distribution altogether and letting their games ONLY be available on Kickstarter. If you know a game is going to distribution, you know you’re just part of a larger ramp-up to that longer pipeline and you want to get a “deal” on the price in exchange for helping the company determine the demand to price out distribution quantities. But if you see that this game will ONLY run on Kickstarter, only print the number of games that get backed, then you feel better paying for something that will be much more limited out in the real world than if it were in your FLGS.

    The final reason I can think of is support for the creator, for lack of a better term. My hunch is that smaller “boutique” publishers can charge more because their followers are willing to pay that to help support their work. Because they’re fans. This takes careful messaging and extremely genuine, authentic communication, but a small publisher can leverage the fact that they’re small and niche to price up their rewards. Backers will know they’re paying more than if CMON had produced this game, but then, CMON wouldn’t have produced this game, so that’s the whole point…!

    My two cents anyway :)

    1. CMON was not the beat example as their KS model based on dozens of addons makes their games some of the most expensive ones on KS

  20. I don’t usually spend more than £40 (including shipping) on a Kickstarter game. I have to as high as £60 if it’s something I really want and I get extras like promo cards or expansions added in. I do think there is a trend of Kickstarter games getting more expensive but I just thought it was due to everything getting more expensive production costs, shipping etc.

    1. I’m the same. £40 is my absolute limit, with very few exceptions for things like coins. I’ve noticed a stark increase in the price of KS games these days to the point that I will often leave them entirely or wait for retail. I’ve backed very little over the last 6 months.

  21. Interesting topic. Do you feel there is a difference between Kickstarter games and regular retail versions when it comes to pricing? According to this survey, Tapestry is a game that more than half of the people out of this survey are not buying because they think it’s too expensive….

    1. Jan: Yes, absolutely. I’ll quote from the article above where I discuss this:

      “Viticulture, for example, is a game that costs around $12 to manufacturer. I sell most copies of Viticulture to distributors, who get a 60% discount on MSRP. That’s why Viticulture’s MSRP is $60–when I sell it to a distributor, the revenue per unit is $24. Half of that covers the manufacturing cost, and the other half is profit (and is often reinvested in making more Viticulture). This is the “5x multiplier” you may have heard about.”

      Tapestry is expensive because Tapestry costs a lot to make and because we mostly sell it through distribution.

      1. Hi Jamey, I hope your Tapesty expansion have no more figures. Not that keen to pay extra for the figures. Cardboard fine.

  22. My name is Eric and I have a Kickstarter problem… When I got into the hobby about 6 years ago I bought a ton of games on Kickstarter. Over time I found what I liked the best and started focusing my purchases. I don’t mind paying a premium for what looks to be a great/unique game, especially if it has high production value, but the prices more recently have really been getting out of hand. $50-60 used to be the norm for a quality production with shipping included. That seems to have now raised to $80-100 with an additional $15-$30 for shipping on top of that. It has definitely made me much more selective in what I purchase. I often pledge for games when they are listed because of my excitement for a game I’ve been anticipating, but i’m finding that I’ve been dropping more and more of my pledges half way thought he campaign because pricing has gotten so expensive that I’m often considering do I really want to drop $100 on this game or wait for “insert hyped game here’ and see how it’s priced.

  23. Through various sales and promotions, I have been able to get lots of good games for CDN$50 or less (Azul for 30, Pandemic Legacy for 40, 7 Wonders for 40, Decrypto for 20, etc). I have a LOT of games. The ones I don’t like I sell or give away. If a game costs more than 60$ CDN there needs to be massive amounts of hype and I have to have some familiarity with the designer or the company.
    Clank Legacy is one I bought at 85$ and only because of the near non-stop praise from a lot of people I respect (including you Jamie) and it being put on many lists of top ten games of 2019. I love base Clank and knowing that it is replayable afterwards was part of what made me bite the bullet.

  24. Running a Kickstarter at MSRP would make sense for a company that is planing publishing a game as a small/single run or not planing selling it through retailers. I like GMT Games P500 approach in which a game will not be published unless the minimum of 500 orders has been placed at discounted price (i.e. the price you would pay to online retailer). Once the first set of orders is produced the price goes up to MSRP on developer website.

  25. Great article, i completely agree. I see this way of pricing as fundamental and fundamentals should never be abandoned and it’s ok people to be reminded of that.

  26. Another thing I’ve seen happening is reprints quite quickly after Kickstarters deliver so that can diminish any hopeful appreciation in price for a game that you think would be a hit. Coming in on the first Kickstarter a backer is taking the risk of the game actually being a good game, and becoming generally known as a good game, but risking your money and not having your money for a year and in most cases more than that. Once it delivers, if it is a hit they’ll almost immediately announce a second Kickstarter that will also ‘fix’ any typos/errors in the first Kickstarter and suck any value out of your first Kickstarter. Now others would have to wait on production and delivery of the next Kickstarter to get their copy and some can’t wait so drive up/keep the value of your 1st Edition Kickstarter at least until the 2nd Ed comes out (may companies will provide upgraded/corrected materials at cost/a reasonable cost).

  27. I put a dollar amount limit on games that I buy, mostly in an effort to curb what could be an addictive spending problem. I rarely break that self-imposed rule, but I did recently with Roxley Games’ Steampunk Rally Fusion campaign. I backed that one for a couple reasons:
    1. The deluxe game features components and promos that won’t be in the retail version.
    2. The price was 30% than the MSRP.
    3. You could buy a 2nd copy at a 20% discount.
    4. One of the options included the original game AND the new game in the same box.
    5. The turnaround time puts delivery of the game at about 4 months’ time instead of a year or more.

    Those are a WHOLE lot of reasons to back. Just 2 of those might be enough to compel me to back, but all 5 made it a lock. When I look at a KS campaign that doesn’t match ANY of those 5 criteria, even if it’s under my self-imposed spending limit, it’s much more difficult for me to want to back it.

  28. Jamey this was a really insightful post. I hope to Kickstart a game sometime in the future so hearing your thoughts on this certainly put things into perspective. You provide some general examples of where to price games, but when you did kickstarters did you have a particular rule of thumb on how much of a discount on MSRP you gave to backers?

  29. What a timely article. There were two Kickstarter projects that launched this week that I was really interested in, both from established publishers. However, once I saw the reward price, I decided to pass. I do think that higher reward prices is a trend, especially since more and more established publishers are turning to Kickstarter as means to promote a game and increase their profit margin in an effort to deal with a broken distribution model.

    I’m all for publishers using Kickstarter or other approaches if it helps them better gauge demand and make more money, or even be able to provide a one-time extra bonus to the designer or artist. But, there is still the question of value. With 4,000+ new games coming out every year, there are many options for consumers to get similar products, so of course they will consider the value of giving a publisher money before the game even exists versus going to their favorite store and getting a game today, probably for less money.

    Publishers should really consider being more aggressive with their reward prices on Kickstarter. You want your game in the hands of as many initial backers as possible so they will evangelize how good the game is and give it the best shot at long term success. I often hear publishers lament the one or two print runs a game gets and then its gone. The trend of high Kickstarter reward prices certainly isn’t helping their cause.

    1. Tim I perceive that more and more with Kickstarters. There may also be the beginning of the end of expensive Kickstarters as they collapse on their own weight of price (and miniatures which usually lead to high(er) prices). During the current economic situation I’ve been going over my pending Kickstarters (almost all are miniature heavy) and I somewhat can’t believe what I’ve sunk into them (I’m an All In’er in most cases). Now when most deliver, you get Tons of Stuff, and I mean Tons…

  30. I only recently started watching KS projects, and price has kept me from backing several. I’m typically not looking for the deluxified version of the game because I haven’t even had a chance to play it yet. I’m looking to ensure that I have a copy of a promising game in case it isn’t available for a while. The catch is that it ALREADY won’t be available for a while due to fulfillment time. In that setting, it really takes an interesting game (or a reasonable price) to catch my attention.

    1. You really should consider the deluxe version. If you just want the retail version, it’s typically always better to wait for it to come to stores – will save you money on shipping etc. Also, if it turns out you don’t like the game, you can typically get your money back from selling the deluxe version, cause that’s the version people will be after on the second hand market. The retail version will most certainly make you lose your money.

      1. I think we need to spend a few more years finding the right name for it. Beericulture is fine, but what about Beerphoria? Between Two Beers? My Little Beer? Beerspan? So many options!

        1. Uwe Rosenberg has just solved this. He called it Hallertau after the largest hops are in n Bavaria, Germany.

  31. On the other hand, there is some weird psychology to consider. If you offer people two bottles of wine, one labeled $2 and the other labeled $20, the vast majority of people will prefer the taste of the $20 bottle – even if the same wine is in both bottles! I think, unfortunately, this psychology has also affected hobbyist gamers. They might see a project on KS with a $34 backer price, and think to themselves “that’s the cost of a cheap game – if I’m backing a KS project, I want to back a premium game”. That might be so even if that $34 game has the same manufacturing cost as another project listed at $59. Not to say that you might still be right in the long run – but I do think this particular psychological influence will also be a factor and might counterintuitively cost some backers. (As a bargain-shopper myself I would much rather live in a world where KS is a get-in-early-and-get-a-deal platform, which it may once have been, but I fear norms have changed.)

    1. Steven, you make a good case. There was once a legal argument made that price was part of the product, that is, because it was expensive it was what people were buying. That has become true I believe. Many expensive goods aren’t as (near a) high a high quality as (quite) cheaper goods. See consumer reports magazine.

      I believe I in fact have done this with some Kickstarters.

      1. Yep you guys are definitely making me think about luxury good pricing generally. If I paid over $100 dollars for this game, I bet it’s going to be great! (or it is great! after the fact). The pricing helps drive a confirmation of the quality of the good. Surely there are small elements of status/bragging rights involved here too, even if we’re only talking about 20-40 dollars beyond what prices many out of the purchase.

  32. I’ve certainly opted out due to price. Another factor is that the USD is high against other currencies at the moment. For me, once a game breaks my psychological barrier of $100AUD (currently around $65USD) I take a pretty hard look at whether I really want it or not.

    1. Same, living in Australia, most games even in retail tend to hit the $100-$120. So when I see KS in EURO or USD then add the estimated shipping I often find they would cost me more like $140-$200 AUD. Ultimately, I find myself passing on them and due to the nature of retail and limited true game stores here I never expect to ever buy the game even in retail. This year I have backed only 4 KS, all but 1 were under $40USD. Like you my barrier is not the price on KS, its the price post exchange rate inclusive of estimated shipping in my currency. I think exchange rates are also a huge factor for international backers.

  33. Fantastic article. You are 100% correct. I’m an avid backer, but I’ve really slowed my roll. $150 l, $200, $250… not uncommon at all now. Or rather, core at $100 then… here come then add ons and expansions and full retail. And who doesn’t want a complete game? So now I’m waiting until the last day, which has entirely new set of complications for game makers and their budgeting. Bravo. Well said.

  34. Price is definitely a factor, and it becomes an even greater consideration for people that are new to the Kickstarter platform. Outside of the “hobby gamer” that is familiar with how KS is supposed to work, you have these magical price numbers that give general consumers pause.

    There is a reason products are priced at $49 instead of $59, and at $19 instead of $24. There are some massive spikes in customers “thinking about it” when you jump above certain tiers. You heard this talked about all the time on Shark Tank with commodities — price often means a product dies at the starting line (for games on KS, that’s usually right after a successful campaign and delivery).

    While on KS, you certainly handicap your sales, but if you’re trying to think at all past that to become a company that can support itself, price is important to consider seriously.

  35. I have backed 114 projects since 2011 only in the boardgame section and I have to agree that I’ve seen this trend also. I’m also affected by my poor Canadian Dollar value versus USD and sometimes this means getting a very standard Euro for more than 100$ CDN that’s a lot!! So my pledge were few this year and I’ve found myself pledging for games in the 39 – 59$ range everything else will wait for retail.

  36. Personally, when I look at whether to back a KS, there are many factors besides price – but price is always a large part of the equation.

    I’ve been backing campaigns long enough that I can take a historical view and compare current prices to what I paid 3-5 years ago for something like it, as well as comparing to today’s MSRP of similar games. Unlike some folks, I don’t go to KS so I can be the first to get something. I’ll back a board game either because I think it may not ever hit retail, or because it’s a significant savings off what MSRP is likely to be.

    Some examples might be useful – all prices and shipping are US:

    I backed the original Steampunk Rally 5 years ago for about $50 including shipping. Last month I backed the sequel for only $6 more, and it has more dice and a plastic tray. The main difference being shipping isn’t included this time, so that’s another $5. Considering inflation and the added value it seems like they are keeping it in line.

    The original Chronicles of Crime KS was $39 (which is its current MSRP) and they charged $8 shipping. I didn’t back it. The new campaign is $30 for one game, $60 for two, or $80 for 3, plus $13 shipping. I don’t know what the MSRP will be, but instead of paying almost MSRP for the original game ($36 on Amazon), I figured I’d back the new one and get whatever improvements they’ve made. But being an unknown for me, I wasn’t going all in. I backed for one game. If they had offered a bigger discount, say two for $50, or all three for $70, it might have felt worth the bigger gamble.

    I know I’m not alone in this thinking, so I think you are correct. However, there are clearly plenty of people with a lot of money to spend on board games that will pay more than I would. It’s definitely a balancing act for creators. I hope they all take your advice and at least pay attention to the question.

  37. There are a couple reasons to keep things high. First, as mentioned, good will from brick and mortars. Shelf space = better title longevity. The other is bypassing retail. Chip Theory, early CMON, etc, made all their money from direct sales at KS or direct from website. That represents a small percentage of creators, but is worth considering.

    Over all though, I agree. Better pricing makes for wider distribution, which helps literally everybody win.

    There is 1 more false reason for close to MSRP levels. If your game is a hit, a distributor and FLGS are more likely to want in if the KS hasn’t already saturated market. The trick is, with this many games out there, how can the buyer tell a high demand title w/ low saturation from a title just nobody wanted?

  38. This has been something I have noticed a lot recently. I have really been more selective on what I back on Kickstarter. I currently have multiple saved that I am on the fence about due to the price more than anything. If I am going to spend a lot of money on something, I want some reassurance that it will be worth the money. I will sometimes take a chance because I trust the publisher/designer, but I’m much more hesitant now. I think part of it though is high price with unknown results. I’ve backed a few high price campaigns that did not turn out well, and now I’m more careful about it!

  39. I’ve backed fewer and fewer kickstarters for this very reason. More and more games are just listed at full retail cost PLUS shipping. There’s really no incentive for me as a backer to invest while it’s on Kickstarter… unless I just want to feel good about myself… but I’ll only pay so much for that.

    1. Thanks Jamey! I found it really refreshing to hear this perspective from someone on the other side of the ‘board’ (if you will).

      I’m just a customer and a player, and I’ve definitely regretted one KS this year alone for this exact reason. I personally felt like an idiot for paying more on KS than I would have if I had paid slightly less in, and while supporting, my FLGS.

      Can I also say, and I’m not saying you have to do it.. But Beericulture sounds like something I’d definitely back! Ha.

  40. I completely agree. There have been a number of games that I have passed up because prices were too close to what I suspect retail to be. Especially since shipping is often a higher price also thank shipping costs from local distributers once it hits retail. In some cases the KS price has been HIGHER than the eventual retail price. It may just be me, but the games I tend to look at (I don’t see them all) that are worse with this are usually from more established companies who are also selling their brand, the smaller designers and companies tend to rely more on KS support and have more reasonable pricing. Some larger companies seem to just use KS as a preordering service.

  41. I think the current trend is to not devalue the product by reducing the price as it alienates your local game stores and a few other groups of people. So, keeping your project at or near MSRP is where a lot of creators are focusing. Reducing price may cheapen the value of the product in the long run.

    1. Robert: I appreciate that perspective, though is there any evidence of it? In the years that have passed since the original Kickstarters, I can’t recall any retailers telling me that my discounted Kickstarter prices cheapened the value of any of our games. If a game has long-term retail appeal, I think the original Kickstarter prices are irrelevant to the MSRP.

      1. I think the lower price on Kickstarter would be incentive to buy in before the game hits retail. If it’s going to be the same price at my local or web store, I would prefer to wait until the game gets released, played and reviewed before committing.

        1. But on that basis the chances are it will never get made as the creator presumably can’t afford to pay the upfront manufacturing costs, the reason they came to KS – at least for small creators. So there needs to be some give and take, you (th creator) expect us to fund manufacture, we expect something cheaper than retail.

  42. Jamie, what are your thoughts on retailers who complain about Kickstarter’s prices being less than the MSRP they need to charge in their stores? And future customers after kickstarter purchasing the game who will feel like they missed out on a good deal? -Corey Wright (Massif Games)

    1. Corey: With all due respect to retailers, I’ve found that it is extremely difficult for a retailer to be 100% happy with any Kickstarter creator’s strategy. Creators essentially have to choose between unsuccessfully appeasing a small number of backers (retailers) or appealing to a much wider audience of potential early adopters–people who will be the game’s greatest advocates when it’s available to broad distribution. Plus, creators can still offer retailers a discount during the campaign.

      As for future customers, is it a problem for them to feel like they missed out on a good deal? That indicates that you made something awesome that they want. I can certainly recall a few emails from people asking if they could, say, get the KS price on Scythe in the month’s that followed the game’s release. But I think we packed enough great stuff into the retail version to justify the MSRP, and we’ve sold exponentially more copies of it after the Kickstarter than during the Kickstarter.

  43. I was wondering if I was the only one who thought the pricing of recent Kickstarter projects were odd. Glad that someone with Kickstarter creator experience thinks the same way. There are actually quite a few numbers of recent Kickstarter games I was interested in but decided I would probably get a better price after the game hit retail.

  44. Hi Jamie, Great article. This is actually one of the driving forces behind Squatchy Games. It was a decision of mine to keep the games financially accessible. So we are striving to be in the sub $65 game space. For example my first game Harry’s Place, launching July-ish, the lowest price with acceptable quality runs $4.10 to manufacture. I haven’t got the final figure for landed cost but I suspect it will be another $2-3 dollars per unit so let’s call it $6 landed. The 5x rule of thumb would have me at $30 but I plan on $24 because that feels more accessible. And since it is a family game that feels more on target with the audience. I really wish I could take it down to $20 but I just don’t want to cut corners in quality or too much profit to get there.

    1. Thanks for your note! I appreciate your philosophy here, but again, keep in mind that the 5x multiplier only matters for calculating the MSRP–it’s entirely irrelevant to the Kickstarter price.

      1. Another great article Jamey. Do you have a current philosophy about how you think about (or how you think new Kickstarter companies) should look at the cost of product that must be ordered (to hit MOQ) vs. the costs/profits of the units sold through the KS campaign? In other words, if the campaign sells 1,000 and MOQ is 1,500, how do you look at those other 500 units? Should the current product not be priced with any regard to the cost of those units? I think you’re saying price based upon what you think the majority of customers will pay, and that… in pricing lower, you should also have the best chance of selling through the MOQ. Sound about right? I just wonder how many people are driving their pricing on the cost of the MOQ print run.

        1. Thanks Jason! That’s a great question about MOQ. In my opinion, the basic manufacturing cost I discuss in the post should be the cost of the minimum order quantity (which is often 1500 units, as you note). So that’s your baseline, and it impacts both the reward price and your funding goal, which I would calculate roughly as you’ve done here–60-70% of the MOQ, with enough padding in the profit per unit to make those games if you don’t reach the MOQ on Kickstarter. You could even factor that into your reward calculation if you want to play it really safe.

          1. Makes sense- I think your last sentence is kind of hitting the nail on the head for me. I wonder how many people think… yeah I have to price it to make sure that the full MOQ is completely covered w/ KS profits. As opposed to treating that as inventory that you fund separately. I suppose one is back to questioning whether you will or will not sell through that remaining inventory and (like you say) how safe you want to play it.

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