Kickstarter – Well Established Companies Shifting Tactics

In my last article about Kickstarter I explored the idea that public shaming could, if used constructively, produce results. This time I want to explore and discuss how companies and creators are potentially misusing Kickstarter. I am not referring to fraudulent practices as that is an entirely different topic. No, I am referring to the premises for which they might employ the use of Kickstarter. Not everyone will agree with my thoughts and opinions on this matter and that’s fine.

This particular topic causes me lots of mental consternation. As a consumer and Kickstarter follower from the early days of its inception, I have a vision of what Kickstarter should be used for and used by whom. These are my biases and they play a large part in which projects I will back and which ones I will likely pass over. There are other factors that play into my decisions, but that’s for another day.

Kickstarter was designed and implemented as a platform to connect creators with resources necessary to bring their creations to consumers. While it is still used for this purpose today, there are a growing number of gaming companies that are using this platform expressly as a pre-ordering system with or without added benefits. I fully understand that every potential backer has to weigh the merit of a project against their own personal biases and standards, but I would argue that Kickstarter is generally not a platform for well established companies to bring projects to consumers. For example, I personally refuse to back any project that Cool Mini or Not or Queen Games kickstarts. Why? These are two well-established companies that have run their businesses outside of Kickstarter successfully. Even though they have also run successful kickstarters in the past, they are using the platform as a pre-ordering program which, in my opinion, goes against the intended purpose of Kickstarter. These companies should stick to more traditional pre-order programs unless the company is venturing into new and uncharted areas where there is considerable risk involved. For example, when Reaper miniatures launched their new plastic miniatures line they used Kickstarter to successful fund development of this product line. In my opinion, this is a perfect use of Kickstarter. Following on the heels of that successful project, what I disliked, was they continued to use Kickstarter to further their now established product line by launching two additional campaigns. Essentially, using it as a pre-order program.

It also chaps my ass to see companies like Goodman Games who is very well established elect to use Kickstarter as means to do nothing more than reprint their Dungeon Crawl Classics Rulebook. They know there is a demand for the product since this will a 4th printing and all three previous printings have sold out. None of which were funded through crowd sourcing. Why the need for Kickstarter? Some would argue that the added perks they involved as stretch goals allowed the reprinting of many of the early and out of print modules and is justifiable in that regard. Others might suggest, that there has been a paradigm shift in how Kickstarter should be used. Yet others would argue, what does it matter? So long as the product delivers everyone wins! In a sense all three could be right or could be wrong. It’s going to be a personal decision to support and back these types of projects.

Another issue I have with well-established companies using this platform is that in many cases they try to deflect most, if not all, of the financial risk to backers. Many small publishers and startups have assumed some of the financial risk up front in the form of paying for art, prototypes and/or services before launching. While some of the larger companies are more likely to have less financial risk involved. Many times, I would surmise, larger companies are not paying for concept art, prototypes, playtesting materials, etc prior to the project launching. Thereby, they have little risk to themselves should a campaign not successfully fund. Conversely, if they elected for a more traditional model they would indeed bear all the financial risk. If a company large or small is not willing assume a majority of the financial risk, why should we as consumers want to assume that risk for them? There are many angles from which this could be argued or defended. Think about Goodman Games for a moment. What risk are they assuming by using Kickstarter as a platform to reprint their DCC rulebook? Little, if any! The book is already written and any related expenses are likely to be covered by the campaign once successfully funded (which it was). Yet, backers assumed nearly all the risk for Goodman Games, save for their reputation, in getting the book published. For the record, Goodman Games has a very clean track record for their projects funded through Kickstarter.

Companies that use Kickstarter strategically and responsibly are the companies that generally get my attention. Take for example, Monte Cook Games (MCG), they kickstarted three new product line over the past few years – Numenera, The Strange, No Thank You, Evil! All three campaigns included stretch goals that furthered the product line, but MCG did not return to Kickstarter to launch additional campaigns that furthered the product lines. No, they have published additional material at least for Numenera and The Strange and distributed it through traditional retail channels or online through PDF. There was one other campaign they launched and funded that pushed the boundaries for Numenera and there was little past precedent for a project like the storage box. While this did expand the product line (in a sense), I feel that it was divergent enough to be risky as to whether or not it would be well received and as such, Kickstarter was valid avenue.

We can go back and forth all day long as to what might fall inside or outside my biases as they pertain to Kickstarter. The long and the short of it is, in my humble opinion, I don’t like the general direction some of the big players within the hobby are taking with their use of Kickstarter. Not only does it defer too much risk, it also could squelch the small companies that are trying to get attention to their projects.

I fully acknowledge the idea that a paradigm shift is happening right before our eyes, but is it one that will be good for the hobby in the long run? Time will tell, but I still believe that creators should have this avenue as a way to garner interest and support for projects. As a consumer I do not support the large or well established companies that use it solely in place of a pre-ordering system. Should any of the well established companies want to venture into a new product line, I would fully support their decision to use Kickstarter. Though I would ignore them if they are simply using it to reprint material (Goodman Games) or simply use it as a pre-ordering platform (Cool Mini or Not & Queen Games). Time will tell if the paradigm shift will have positive or negative consequences.

In the end no two consumers are alike nor are any two companies alike. Everyone considering to back or not to back a particular project will have to check it against their own biases and preferences. Companies will do much the same when determining if they should use Kickstarter or not.

~ Modoc

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