Opinionated Gamers Roundtable: Is Crowdsourcing good for our hobby?

In a previous roundtable (on New Games), Jeff Allers brought up the current trend of “quantity over quality” that has been seen in the hobby over the past few years.  To quote him:

The whole trend actually pushes both publishers and designers to emphasize quantity over quality.  If someone wants to make a living from game design, they need to release lots of games (including variations of the same game for different markets), as most will only sell a few thousand copies before they are out of print.  The solution?  I think the bubble is destined to burst at some point.  Most people will stop buying so many games (perhaps, it’s already begun), and publishers will either limit their new releases to 1 or 2 every year or they will go out of business.  Competition among designers will grow, but that will also force all of us to work harder in distinguishing our games from our competitors rather than producing so many games that work well but feel similar to those already out there.

Jeff raises a good point that there is a lot of “quantity” going on right now.  I think that this issue is being exacerbated by both the “mainstream” industry players as well as Kickstarter.  For better or worse, Kickstarter lowers the financial barrier to publishing a game.  There are a lot of games that would not exist in published form were it not for crowdsourced capital.  Is that good?  I think the jury is still out (at least in my mind) — crowdsourcing has definitely led to more games coming out, but what about the quality of those games?  Will Kickstarter end up being a boon or a obstacle to those looking for good new games…

Thoughts?

 

Liga:
I think more than quantity the problem now is the need to be there with a new game Essen after Essen … having nothing new to present at the spiel looks like not being in the market anymore … on the other side, gamers (and also general players) are looking much more to quality and replayability since the offer is rising up … that means that some projects, like the ones supported by kickstarter, with much more time to grow up and develop, look more interesting than other releases that seem weaker …

Larry Levy:
I think the Kickstarter issue is a reasonably complicated one, with plenty of pros and cons for those who want to look for them.  My feelings at this time are mostly negative.  While I recognize what a great opportunity this is for many designers and publishers anxious to enter the gaming market without exposing themselves to too much risk, I’m not convinced this benefits the average gamer much.  There is already an historically large number of games being published each year, along with many new publishers who don’t always take the time to do sound development work or basic practices like blind playtesting.  A glut of Kickstarter titles only figures to exacerbate this problem.  While one could argue that more is always better (and I’ve been known to take that position myself in the past), it’s also true that there’s only so much reporting on new games that can be done and only so much time to do personal research.  I hope this doesn’t sound too harsh, but a bunch of untested games from what are mostly amateur publishers isn’t the sort of thing that figures to improve this situation.

I hasten to say that this doesn’t affect me personally.  With few exceptions, I’m very much a “try before I buy” kind of guy.  The only Kickstarter game I’ve ordered is one that I’d played before and which I was very familiar with (Montage).  It’s very easy for me to ignore just about every Kickstarter game and not bother myself with them unless a gaming buddy has picked up a copy that he wants to play.  So I don’t see myself as being one who is at risk of losing money on pig-in-a-poke purchases that sounded great but didn’t deliver.  However, others might be.  The question is, do we really need to protect “buy anything” gamers from themselves?

In the final analysis, it really doesn’t matter what I or anyone else feel is “best for the hobby”.  Kickstarter will remain, as it deserves to, until people stop supporting it.  It will be a market decision, based upon purchasers’ perception of whether they’re getting good product for their money.  If people like what they get, I suspect it will stick around indefinitely, or at least until some other buying scheme supercedes it.  If not, it will slowly fade away.  And that’s fine.  Even though I may not like the collateral effects, there’s nothing inherently wrong with more purchasing options.

Matt Carlson:
I’ve actually broken down and bought two kickstarter games.  Where I see the advantage of the situation is the heavily discounted prices (and/or essentially discounted when freebies are added in) of Kickstarter games.   I do not surf Kickstarter looking for any games but will occasionally throw in with a game in which I know I’m already very interested.  While that may help a very occasional small publisher, I doubt I’m helping many unknowns.  I suspect Dale is right in that the Kickstarter is helping flood the market with games, but it isn’t an issue/problem for me personally, as I will simply ignore most of those.  Essentially, they won’t become “noise” to me since I’m not even paying attention to that area.  Thankfully, Kickstarter is (supposed to be?) used to fund initial game production runs so truly great games should also be available later and I could pick them up at that time.  Some of the older, smaller game companies have been doing essentially the same thing for a long time with preorders.   (I’m looking at you GMT.)  Where they don’t actually print an upcoming game until a minimum number of preorders come in, essentially adjusting their printing schedule forward and back to meet the demand of the consumers.

Joe Huber:
It sounds like there are really two different questions being asked here.  First, are there too many games being published?  And second, the primary question in this article: whether or not Kickstarter and other crowd-sourced funding is good for gaming.  I must admit to being of two minds on Kickstarter.  As a practical matter, I prefer the existing model of a game either (1) having impressed a publisher enough to place their own financial resources at risk, or (2) the designer believing enough in their own game as to self-publish.  This model isn’t perfect – it can prevent a game with no matching publisher and a designer without a sufficient financial position to self-publish from getting to market.  But the consequence is the players taking on the risk, albeit in smaller portions; as a game player, I don’t care for that.  And as a result, I haven’t backed any games on Kickstarter, and have no intention of doing so.  As a designer, I’m in an odd position of not worrying whether my games are professionally produced or not – and so I’m not particularly advantaged by the Kickstarter model.

On the whole, though, Kickstarter isn’t an issue in and of itself.  If people find themselves burned by the games they backed, they’ll stop doing so; if not, it’s really not an issue.  The bigger issue is whether this results in too many games reaching the market, _or_ the traditional publishers being pushed out of the way.  The former seems to be happening – there are now so many games coming out that good games are regularly getting lost in the shuffle, and often publishers are finding it necessary to sell off poor sellers at bargain basement prices.  It’s not seemed to reach the point of causing financial distress for the bigger hobby publishers yet, but it’s altogether possible that it will in the future.  I definitely do see a trend towards designers steering away from traditional publishers; in discussions I’ve had with a couple such publishers, they are seeing fewer submissions, even while the overall market is growing.  This I see as unfortunate, as some (though by no means all) of these publishers employ (or are run by) strong game developers.  And by far my largest complaint with recent releases is that they could have used more development.

Greg Schloesser:
I basically agree with most of Joe Huber’s comments.  If a game is good enough, it should be able to catch the attention of an established publisher.  I have more faith in an established publisher promoting a game on Kickstarter than I do individuals or their own fledgling company.  The Kickstarter model puts the risk on the shoulders of the buyers, a situation with which I am not very comfortable.   As a result, I have only backed one Kickstarter game project and have not yet received the game.  We’ll see if I get burned or not.

Larry:
So Joe, I’m not sure if you can answer this, but why do you think that designers are avoiding the established publishers?  It still seems as if there would be big advantages to having your game be released by a prestigious outfit.  Do you think they don’t want to risk having their game be developed in ways they may not like?  Or is it the fear that their title will be out of circulation while they’re being evaluated?

Joe:
I can’t say with certainty, but I would note a few issues:

  • There is no longer a component advantage to having a large publisher put your game out.  Once, if you wanted your game to receive the best production, it had to go to one of the bigger hobby publishers; that just isn’t true any more.  The smaller publishers and one-off efforts have lower overhead than, say, Alea.  Think of the complaints around the quality of recent Alea releases – even with the power of Ravensburger behind them.
  • There is a _rush_ to get games published that isn’t consistent with the hobby publishers.  I’ve had four games published, or en route, from hobby publishers, and the time to market just doesn’t quite match up with Kickstarter in most cases.
  • There is such a close view on Kickstarter these days that you can garner at least as much publicity for your design from that route as you can in going with an established publisher.  (Though it’s worth noting that established publishers have also employed Kickstarter, a practice that I’m not particularly thrilled with either…)
  • There is greater control in funding your game through Kickstarter.  In my opinion, this is actually a _bad_ thing – the designer of a game is one of the last folks I’d want to give control over its publication – but most designers prefer that model, and even I would have to admit that there are times when I wish I would have had more direct input (he says, thinking about the lack of cost information on the rides in Scream Machine).

Jonathan:
I think we are in the honeymoon phase – the projects are honest, the effort it takes to post a project is high enough that there is a barrier to entry, ensuring some slight quality control.  Once the first few projects that people funded fail to ship or go under, there will be hue and cry, then the world will go on as usual.

The games are OK – I think KS will work well for abstracts and other games that don’t require extensive balancing/playtesting.  For those that are more complex productions, I see supporting something on KS as paying to be a beta-tester.

Unlike new games, I think KS could have a great role in gauging the demand/interest in expansions.  If the project is run by the same people who did the base game, in theory you already know the quality level you are getting.

I am not sure if it will be the hot thing this year or next year, but with the arrival of 3D printing, the need for capital to create boardgame copies will decrease further, perhaps decreasing the need for KS as a funding tool.  It might become more of a marketing tool at that point.

We really need something that does not exists – a trusted quality control service mark.  This would be a group that creates a recognized mark and permits approved games to carry that mark.  Approval would be based on testing of the game with a transparent process and clarity that absence of such a mark should not be take as a negative implication.  We already do this through the reviews all over the place, but it would be better to be done systematically and prior to the start of the KS campaign.

Ted Alspach:
I’m of three minds on this issue.

  1. As a publisher there are few downsides to this. It doesn’t matter if you’re big or small, getting $$ upfront and testing the waters with a new idea is great. I was very concerned that the similarities of Mutant Meeples to Ricochet Robots would hamper it from being successful, but thanks to the Kickstarter campaign (and a little market research I did when it was over), I discovered that the exact opposite!
  2. As a gamer who buys lots of games, more often than not unplayed/tested by myself first, I like seeing all the new stuff that’s out there. And I like getting exclusives and games before they’re available elsewhere. There’s also something compelling about being part of the cutting edge; getting games before most others.
  3. So far, I’ve been pretty disappointed in the majority of my kickstarter acquisitions. The best example of this is Carnival, which has terrific graphic design and seemed to be a fun dice allocation set collection game, but turned out to be just this side of unplayable for a whole bunch of reasons. Another example is Creatures, which had a fun premise but horrendous gameplay. The latter is exactly the sort of game that you see all the time at the one-off stands in hall 4 at Essen…a first time publisher with a game that no actual gamers really like. Those are bad purchases on my part, as I think it’s just a wave of irrationality that overcame me when I first backed these projects. I never would have ordered them from Boards & Bits.

And it’s frustrating to see games up there that fall into three categories:

  1. Mayday’s Overflow Warehouse(™), where they unload crates of random stuff they acquired (Terra Evolution, Toc Toc Woodman, Weykick), and most backers are duped into thinking these are games they can’t get elsewhere.
  2. Total crap that is successful like rethemed 52 card decks, Co-opoly, and Borogove.
  3. The glut of junk that clogs up the Board Game category, like Scorched Earth (“educational”–right), Whot! (“better than UNO”), Random Thought the Game, CamPAIN, and the bizarro vanity project Nothing (which is both TM’d and R’d every time it is mentioned on the description).

Other issues with Kickstarter include the terrible sorting/filtering options, that seem designed to waste your time hunting for new items, and the “staff picks” (used to be “new and noteworthy”) picked by staff who obviously don’t play boardgames.

On the other hand, Tasty Minstrel seems to have a great model and is a company I’m glad to support there. Clever Mojo is doing everything right as well.

I’m glad Kickstarter exists, and I think I’ll continue to back projects (though much more selectively than I have in the past), but it still needs some evolving.

Erik Arneson:
I understand the “con” points made by others above, but I cannot fathom how using Kickstarter to bring games to market can be described as bad in any way.

As Joe pointed out, the Kickstarter model shifts the risk of investment away from the publisher (which could be a self-publisher) and onto the buyer. Of course, no one is forcing anyone to take that risk. If I’m not virtually certain that I’ll like a game (based on the designer’s track record, the game’s rulebook, comments from those who have played a previous version, etc.), then I won’t help fund the project. (I have participated in two Kickstarter projects, and missed the deadline on at least two others that I would have liked to help fund.)

At least as far into the future as I can see, the vast majority of games sold will be developed via the traditional model. But having the Kickstarter option available is absolutely a good thing.

Craig Massey:
I’m with Eric on this argument.  I’m hard pressed to see any real negative to crowdsourcing as a method to bring new games to market.  I have a hard time believing that this model will fundamentally shift game publishing away from traditional publishers.  It will simply be an option that will be utilized to help bring some games to market that may or may not have seen the light of day using the traditional publisher based model.  The worst that can happen is I as a gamer might be burned a time or two, but hasn’t that happened to all of us buying a game that was developed and published the traditional way?  I firmly believe that choice is a good thing and right now Kickstarter gives us more choice.  It is incumbent upon me as a consumer to do my research so I limit the number of bad choices I make.

Is there another industry where crowdsourcing has had an overall negative impact on the industry?  I can’t think of one.  I believe that in general this type of paradigm shift tends to make an industry stronger in the long run as it might force those already in the industry to improve their product and processes to adjust to the new model.  It should help foster creativity and consumer choice in the long run – even if in the short term you have to deal with some rough edges.

Jeff Allers:
In my above quote, I was not, of course, blaming Kickstarter for flooding the market with too many new game releases each year.  The glut of new games is a complex problem, and there are many reasons for it.  For example, internet sellers encourage large purchases in order to save on postage. And while the globalization of Eurogame publishing adds a nice international flair, it often results in mediocre offerings (“I know that there are already so many worker placement games, but this is the first one designed by someone from a new publisher in Kalamazoo!”).

Larry said earlier, “It really doesn’t matter what I or anyone else feel is ‘best for the hobby’.”  I know what he is saying, but replace “hobby” with “industry” and it matters quite a bit to a lot of people, especially those who work in the industry.  What is “good” for the industry, however, means something different to consumers, publishers, and designers, and I think the same rings true for Kickstarter.

Is Kickstarter good for consumers?
Perhaps, if one is discerning enough to only invest in something that provides enough information (the rules, a video demo, sample art and components). It’s not really something I’m interested in as a consumer, as I do not have the time to sift through it, just as I do not have the time to find the good writing buried under the heap of posts at Boardgamegeek.  I’ve even stopped reading the designer diaries, as they have been flooded with Kickstarter games from unknown designer/publishers, and I have yet to find one that interests me.  There may be something good in there somewhere, but I’m sure I will eventually hear about it elsewhere if it is anything groundbreaking (that’s what OG is here for, right?).

As for other buyers of mediocre games, I will not be joining any campaigns to “save impulsive game buyers from themselves” either, but, as Kris Hall pointed out, it may have an effect on a local game group.  Some gamers feel good about themselves when they are the first to bring a new game to their group.  Too much of that, and it can become part of that group’s culture, where “older games” (from a year ago, for example), and the gamers who want to play them are excluded.

Is Kickstarter good for publishers?
Yes, for all the reasons mentioned here and by the publishers themselves.  It is, in fact, probably the best way to start a new publishing company, as there seems to be very little financial risk involved.

Is Kickstarter good for designers?
Yes and no.  I have never signed a contract with a publisher who planned to do this, and so it is difficult for me to know what that would look like.  Important stipulations would include:

1)   A maximum amount of time (say, 1 year) from the date of the contract before the Kickstarter campaign ends, and a maximum amount of time to produce the game, if successfully backed.

2)   The production minimum—and thus, the minimum royalties—should be clarified (current industry standards guarantee a minimum of $1,000 and 5% royalties on net earnings).

3)   The designer receives his/her royalties within 30 days of the publisher receiving the Kickstarter funding

4)   The rights to the game revert back to the designer immediately if the Kickstarter project fails, or if any of the other contract stipulations are not met within the time specified.

A contract that includes these points could be good for a designer, especially if the publisher has greater net earnings through Kickstarter (direct sales without needing a distributor), which would also mean a larger royalty.  Unfortunately, my experience with most of the smaller, start-up publishers has not been a positive experience.  I’ve contacted many as soon as I heard that they were looking for submissions, and most were unwilling to offer anything remotely resembling a standard industry contract.  With Kickstarter lowering their risk, however, I would hope that they would be able to offer more to designers.

As for designers wishing to self-publish, Kickstarter has obvious benefits as well.  I have heard countless stories of over-eager self-publishers left with a basement full of unsold games because they misjudged their game and/or the market (fortunately, that has not yet happened to my friend, Bernd).  Kickstarter could be a good testing ground in order to avoid wasting money, materials, and space for those designers.

Personally, I have never been interested in self-publishing.  Pitching to publishers is not an easy process, but I have found that, even when a prototype is rejected, the feedback from a publisher can be very beneficial to the game’s development.  Two of my future game releases, for example, were improved by feedback from publishers who ultimately turned them down. I would not want to bypass this process, and would personally only use Kickstarter if I had already gone through those channels.  Even then, I would need enough positive feedback from those publishers and others outside my normal circle of friends.

And I do think that there is still a substantial barrier to self-publishing through Kickstarter, and that will only increase the more people use it.  Illustrations need to be commissioned for sample prototypes, promotional material needs to be made (including demonstration videos), and copies of the prototype need to be tested by influential groups within the game’s target audience.

Taken as a whole, then, Kickstarter is obviously a mixed bag, and while I’m not personally a fan of it as a consumer, I would not be opposed to working with a publisher who uses it, as long as they offer a fair licensing contract.

Dale: Thanks for that insight, Jeff.  And I didn’t mean to put any words in your mouth!  The whole topic just sort of sprung up in my mind after reading your comment…

My position on the Kickstarter phenomenon is that it’s not for me.  I’m not willing to take the financial risk on games that are unproven.  But, I do understand that there are plenty of people who are in love with the idea of getting involved with a project.  And, as long as they’re OK with it, and they’re not asking me to do it too — then everyone’s a winner, right?  I still think that there is an issue with too many games coming out right now, but after a bit of retrospection, that is probably a better problem to have to deal with than too few games!

What do you think about it?

We’ve added two polls here to try to get a better feel for what people think!

About these ads

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
This entry was posted in Commentary. Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Opinionated Gamers Roundtable: Is Crowdsourcing good for our hobby?

  1. jeffinberlin says:

    Reading my quote above again, I think it might sound a bit harsh towards publishers. The established ones, especially, are always looking for quality games, and are probably happy to reduce their new releases for the year if they do not find enough of them. It might be as Liga states, that the smaller independent publishers feel more pressure to get a new game out each Essen, or for newer publishers to get a big catalogue of games built up in a short amount of time.

    It is that rush that could create less quality (and by that, I mean “more derivative,” as most of the games work fine, but just do not offer anything new).

    So, yes, there seems to be more quantity than originality, but I doubt many publishers are consciously emphasizing quantity over quality.

  2. Paul Lister says:

    In the end the market will decide if its a success or not. In the form of P500 there is evidence that quality crowd sourcing can work – however, this is offered by established and quality concious publishers, Personally i have not supported any games on kickstarter, and the ones I was tempted to have proved to be no better than average when I have got to play them (Alien Frontiers, Eminent Domain). I sense the beginning of a back lash against Kickstarter because of slow delivery and I believe that once the novelty has worn off then only quality and niche products will survive in this format (whilst i don’t like them i’d include Frontiers and Domain in this category) Traditional publishers who have the resources to publish without equity support are most likely to get the option on good designs because they are willing to make an equity commitment to publish them, KickStarter is mainly for products on the quality margin. If the market glut of game offerings slows down (because of reduced demand – and as a retailer I am seeing that beginning to happen) then I expect Kickstarter games successful offerings to be those from established players (Mojo/.Minstral) or some niche games. I must also disagree with Jeff’s comments about quantity discounts causing extra demand – these discounts have been around for a long time. I see the main causes of the glut of games as cult of the new, the increased wealth of gamers over the last 10 to 15 years and the relatively cheap cost of entry into publishing.The questions about Kickstarter are interesting because they raise a bigger question about the future of the hobby – I suspect that the number of games published will go down as a reaction to market forces but have made being saying this for a long time and apart from some evidence from my small corner of the market it has not happened yet

    • Yep that’s the beauty of the market. If there are too many games, then soon there will be fewer because publishers will take fewer risks. If there aren’t enough games, then publishers will take more risks. It’s so awesome that no one really has to be concerned about this. Unfortunately gamers may get burned on some bad games, but one nice thing is that games don’t cost that much in the end, so if I buy a crummy one it’s not like I have lost a large investment. I’ll remember though not to buy from that designer or maybe even that publisher again however.

      The hobby has grown tremendously over the last 10 years so excess is to be expected. It will work itself out over time however, although there will probably always be a few too many games simply because the barrier to publishing is so low.

  3. peer says:

    I believe the good and the bad will eventually cancel each other out.
    What Kickstarter will do is to allow niche products be produced, that otherwise wouldnt find a publisher because of a too small target group. So the diversity of games will increase and thats a good thing in my book.
    On the other side there will be -as stated – a lot of amateeurs and crappy games. But what eventually (Im being pessimistic here) cancel the positive effect out is that it will be enormiously important to have a good marketing, especially a good video. And so not the best games will be backed up, but the ones with the most competent PR. And then Kickstarter will be just one more business modell…

  4. John Bohrer says:

    From the supply side, easier access to markets will bring increased competition, which will result in better products from the suppliers, no matter which channel of trade they may utilize. Quality suppliers (publishers) will prosper over the long term.

    From the demand side, having more choices is better, with the downside that their risk of receiving a poor product is increased. Caveat Emptor is as important today as it was 2000 years ago.

    • Paul Lister says:

      John,

      is Kickstarter something you can see Winsome using?

      • John Bohrer says:

        No, Paul. The Kickstarter is a vehicle to get a load of cash to do a traditional print run, which we do not do. All our focus is entirely on design, development and flowing gameplay, hence our ‘merely functional’ (nods to Matthias Hardel at Spielbox) components.

  5. barbasol says:

    It might be interesting to turn the question around and ask if the current glut of games, and perhaps lack of originality, is making Kickstarter more attractive to both consumers and designers. If a designer expects to only sell a few thousand copies with a big publisher, perhaps they’re more tempted just to self-publish for more control and royalties via Kickstarter? For consumers, seeking out games via Kickstarter could be a way of trying to find more original, niche products. (Though I’m not sure I actually believe that myself.)

    One note, I recently started following a Geeklist of Kickstarter projects on BGG and wow, there are many that obviously won’t get funded just because they don’t look ready for primetime or just aren’t compelling. It’s easy to only look at the successes of Kickstarter, but there are just as many failures that are being weeded out through lack of funding. Additionally, I think the novelty has already worn off. You really have to have your stuff together if you want to be successful. Eventually, it’ll just become another pre-order mechanism. But if Kickstarter can also enable some niche games that never would see the light of day with a larger publisher, then I’m all for it.

    • Dale Yu says:

      @Barbasol – yes, I agree that the Kickstarter process will likely turn into a glorified pre-order process. And while there are plenty of games that haven’t been funded as they aren’t ready, there are still a few, namely D-Day Dice, that are so successful that it keeps me from totally writing off Kickstarter.

      It’ll be interesting to see how things shake out in the next couple of years.

      D

      • Norman Gerre says:

        D-Day Dice is an interesting one. The gameplay hasn’t changed much since the free print-and-play version, and all prospective backers had to do to try it was print one page, round up six dice and a pencil. Most backers never bothered; they just plonked down their money based on a video and a few enthusiastic comments. I have played that version, and I think it will prove to have much less broad appeal than the campaign’s success suggests — it’s similar to Roll Through the Ages but less forgiving and less family-friendly, and as a co-op offers less interaction than something like Flashpoint: Fire Rescue or Pandemic.

        The success of the campaign is incredibly depressing. A huge amount of the buzz and funding came from the vast quantity of free extras available for backers, most obviously with the “Line for Life” levels, transparently advertised as being worth four times their advertised cost (and much more than that for overseas backers who normally have to pay exorbitant shipping). We all know that a lot of gamers are irrational about exclusives and promos — just look at the recent dust-up over the Eclipse promo selling out in the Geek Store — but I think this is the first case of someone selling a game that comes with more free extras than components. The worst part is that it clearly worked.

  6. Ben (chally) says:

    The comprehensiveness of the viewpoints expressed makes it hard to contribute anything that hasn’t been said already (and likely better).

    I think that too often the objections to Kickstarter are written off as paternalistic meddling–saving the unwitting consumer from his own bad decisions. But my concern is more self interested. I fear that the existince of Kickstarter as a risk-free avenue of self-publishing will result in quality designs shortcutting the refinement process that could have taken them from good to great. Setting aside the issue of reduced submissions to publishers, designers that have had a submission rejected by a publisher (for whatever reason) now have an easy alternative for taking the game to market in its current form. In the absence of Kickstarter, that same game would likely have undergone additional development, both prior to resubmission and following its acceptance by a publisher. I this worry that crowdsourcing technology will hinder the hobby by stunting the development of ideas that carry the potential to be exceptional.

    Perhaps this is a function of my own gaming tastes. I often decry what i percieve as the absence of ambition in modern games. Most of my favorites are sprawling behemoths of Eurogames where the designer’s passion for the subject matter and respect for the most granular details of design are evident. While its true that not all (or even most) of the games published by traditional publishers meet these criteria, I cringe at the thought of masterpieces like Agricola or Dominant Species being rushed to the market in their infancy.

    • huzonfirst says:

      Ben, I agree that the real potential danger from Kickstarter is that fewer games will get the development they need and deserve. And it’s not just the “behemoths” that need this additional seasoning. In fact, you could argue that simpler games require development even more than more complex ones, as it’s so important that they not contain a bit of fat in their design. But almost every game benefits from sound development, so anything that lessens the chances of that happening will diminish the hobby in the long run.

      • Ben (chally) says:

        I agree that all games benefit from additional refinement and development, but my experience has been that players are generally more forgiving of flaws in shorter, lighter games. I was actually introduced to a filler game last night with the sentence “This game is pretty random and pointless, but its fun.”

        I also think that the costs of abandoning the Kickstarter model fall more heavily on those gamers who prefer shorter, simpler games. First, because shorter, simpler designs are generally the entry point for the type of fledgling designer that would be shut out of the market in the absence of crowdsourcing. Second, because such a preference is perhaps a necessary consequence of the pursuit of diversity or novelty for its own sake. My own preference for more ambitious games certainly correlates with my contentment exploring a smaller number of titles more deeply. The real loss would be felt by those who are happier playing a steady stream of new games of inconsistent quality than playing a few excellent games repeatedly.

        • huzonfirst says:

          Ben, it’s possible that somewhere in this wide world there are people who are so desperate for gaming variety that they pine for every other Kickstarter game that shows itself. However, I’ve never met anyone remotely like that and I know a lot of people who adore playing new games (present company very much included). Given the enormous number of titles produced every year from the established publishers, I don’t see why Kickstarter games would be necessary to fill this need. In fact, they just add to the frustration, since they represent that many more new games to track. So, as a number of commentators here have said, we just ignore the crowdsourced designs.

          And no one wants to play a “steady stream of new games of inconsistent quality”. Cult of the New gamers try new games in the hopes that some will be good or even great. And there are many gamers who would rather, for variety’s sake, play a bunch of very good games, rather than play a handful of excellent titles to death. But no one is happy with a mediocre game, no matter how new it is.

          I think the gamers who would be most disappointed if Kickstarer died tomorrow are those who like niche titles. The essence of a crowdsourced game is one where you immediately say, “Wow, that sounds cool!”. The concept needs to sell it. This is necessary, to some extent, since you usually know nothing of the designer or publisher. And it’s true that there are many niches which are underrepresented in gaming, so the success of many of these games is understandable. But it’s the niche players who seem to generate much of the enthusiasm behind Kickstarter titles and they would be the ones who would miss it the most.

  7. gamingleet says:

    Not emphasized above is that the industry is shifting from a gatekeeper to a scorekeeper model, much as has happened in other models. In the future the role of reviewers and peers to help find good games will be more important.

  8. nate l says:

    Jonathan – Just a note, a kickstarter QA source does in fact exist! It is called Springboard and is run by the same people that do Game Salute. I think the basics of it are that projects are funded through KS, but then tweaked and fine tuned as a publisher would by Springboard. I believe Sunrise City is an example. I think it is yet to be seen how well the process actually works.

  9. Eric Brosius says:

    I see the Kickstarter boom as a small-scale example of a category of phenomena that includes the Railway boom in the 19th century and the internet boom in the late 20th century. Risk is transferred from the scheme promoters to the investors, so that the people taking the risk are less closely connected to the implementation than they were before the boom took off. In the past, such booms have ended in massive disillusionment on the part of the investing public, despite the fact that some worthwhile projects were completed, and despite the fact that some early investors were quite happy with their results.

    Effectively, a feedback loop is created in which early successes lead to more enthusiasm, which allows less well-planned projects to be funded, creating even more enthusiasm. At some point, as a result of a lack of discrimination on the part of investors, the quality of the projects degrades so significantly that many people are disappointed.

    I don’t see any way to stop it, and it’s a natural free-market outcome, but that doesn’t mean it won’t cause some damage to the hobby. On the other hand, like the massive building of railroads and the massive expansion of fibre-optic capacity, even the wreck of the boom can yield benefits.

    • Walter Hunt says:

      Eric – there’s also, at least right now, the “coolness” factor for people who get in on the ground floor with a project. Backing a game that turns out to be very successful is “cool” – but I agree with the notion that too many badly-planned projects get funded, get produced, and wind up gathering dust on shelves.

      I’m concerned that too many mediocre projects will crowd out the few really good ones – but that happens in commercially-produced venues as well. As John B. says, “caveat emptor.” That’ll always be the case.

  10. I think that when composing these arguments about the number of games published and Kickstarter, many people are disappointed if a game is not an amazing game for them. For me, the most amazing modern game not published by Tasty Minstrel is probably Puerto Rico. It never gets old or tiresome, and I play it a handful of time a year.

    The important aspect to remember is that every game has its niche, market, and target audience. Kickstarter allows more games to find their audience. Nobody is being forced to support a project. I also agree that the most successful projects on Kickstarter will continue to come from publishers that have proven themselves, at least on some level.

    That means that I would expect to see more success from Clever Mojo Games, Living World Games, Dice Hate Me Games, and even my own Tasty Minstrel Games.

    In any historical market that I can think of, more choice is better for the consumer. It is a driving force that increases quality and decreases prices.

    Cheers,

    Michael Mindes, Founder
    Tasty Minstrel Games

  11. Jiiri says:

    I’ve kickstarted about 12 board-gaming projects and am pretty much putting the brakes on, with a few exceptions. The arguments that Kickstarter will likely contain lesser quality in terms of game-play, are, I think, valid. Other people have pointed this out, but the problem is that risk is largely offloaded to the consumer prior to deciding if the project will even be attempted. For obvious reasons, this is appealing for many companies and potential game designers.

    In a model where publishers have to vet potential designs, play test, hire known artists, change theme, and then, when all that is done, put up their own money on the belief that the game will be appealing to gamers, the publisher takes a lot of risk. As a result, it is true that perhaps some good designs don’t get picked up for fear of that risk. But, it is far more likely that lots of average games that publishers don’t want in the traditional model are going to go straight to Kickstarter after being rejected by publishers.

    Known commodities and known publishers that are in the business for the long haul are different. Small companies that are using Kickstarter to get out vetted designs that they would publish anyway except for being short on capital are NOT what I’m talking about here. In fact, I’ve kickstarted every single project by Tasty Minstrel Games and have been largely satisfied. I’m thus more likely to Kickstart a TMG design in the future. I understand the wish to use Kickstarter to factor into a more traditional model in order to supplement already outlayed capital.

    But a lot of the designs cropping up on KS (I’ve backed a few that were average at best) are not of this variety. They are designs that, for various reasons, were passed on by publishers – or just not shopped at all by lazy designers – and I see no reason why I should subsidize either case. I WANT the people at publishing companies to either be worried about their financial risk or the risk to their reputation. A company that is pushing their first design makes me nervous, as they are neither outlaying much capital out of their own pockets up front, or have very little reputation to risk. I will very rarely back a company or individual in this situation again.

    If a design is particularly good, I feel confident it will be available at some point in regular distribution. After I read reviews, and see how others fared with the design, I’ll get a copy then. With as many games that are available each year these days I see no reason for me to spend my board gaming dollars on unproven companies and unknown designs.

  12. In my mind Kickstarter is a virtual Essen for North America. Right now we are still in the honeymoon period – much like that virginal trip to Essen where everything looks good and you can’t believe the land of riches you’ve stumbled upon.

    But reality is going to set in soon, and the broader game buyer will be reminded that a publisher does more than just print the game the designer hands them. At that point kickstarter will likely be less useful to the self-publisher looking for funding (just as Essen is now, very few first time self publishers exhibit). But kickstarter will likely remain a good option for smaller publishers that depend to some extent on the increased margins from direct sales. As a benefit to consumers, kickstart offers a venue to get games before your friends and the cool bonus items that were once the convention only extras.

    So over time I see the parallels between Essen and kickstarter continuing to grow. Publishers (like Indie Boards and Cards) will participate both with kickstarter and at Essen as a way to promote well developed games and develop a deeper direct relationship with our supporters.

  13. Jiiri says:

    I should add, Travis, that games from Indie Boards and Cards will always get backing from me. So far I own every game you’ve put out and they’re among my favorite. The Resistance is probably my favorite game, Triumvirate is great with the wife, I play Haggis when we have 2 or 3 and want to play a trick-taking game, and I love Flash Point.

    As I mentioned above – small, proven publishers are, for me, just about the only projects I’m interested in supporting these days. Tasty Minstrel, Clever Mojo, and Indie Boards and Cards are among the companies whose projects I have backed and been pleased with.

  14. jeffinberlin says:

    I understand the whole thing about the market being depended upon to correct the problem–I even alluded to that in my quote at the beginning. But it’s also important to note that the market isn’t perfect. As Peer points out, slick marketing can sometimes count more than quality. I bet “games” like LCR, for example, have sold better worldwide than any of the BGG’s top 10. And so do games with popular license tie-ins.
    Perhaps the hobby niche market will be somewhat more reliable in its “natural selection” process.

  15. lambolt says:

    I don’t really understand a lot of this talk about the ominous sounding shadow quantity “The Hobby”. What does that even mean? As enthusiasts of “off the beaten track” games, we’re an incredibly niche market. It seems that on the whole KS games are not really pushing the front edge of game design, and are perhaps more suited to vanity projects as much as anything. As others have said, the market in KS should self correct, it won’t take many bad experiences before people will stop backing, but then again many projects might succeed by selling a small print run to people who have an interest in the theme, concept, components or designer. No harm in that, I don’t see any “need” for them to be great games, or comparable to established publishers, quite the opposite in fact. Feels a bit like a bit too much hype about an issue that’s had no time to really settle. Let’s see in 12 months, 2 years time how KS is faring, I imagine a lot more likely there’ll be smaller, vanity projects and quirky themes or rethemed ideas that will appeal to a small niche within our own small niche. I don’t see any possibility that the KS projects present any problem whatsoever to established publishers with better developed projects unless the products on there somehow come with a similar level of quality, probably unlikely given that something really polished will probably have at least been shown to some publishers before a KS model is started. Honestly, I think the whole fuss over KS is a distraction, much more interesting is the discussion about how the market is evolving, the glut of new games, often with (in all honestly) very little in terms of worthiness over previous titles of similar ilk, but we do have more expendable income (and Paul knows all about my madness in that area haha). I think the glut of games, the copycat mechanics, the retheming of old ideas is much more damaging to “the hobby” than this other stuff, but I’m not really sure even that means anything. I’m sure there will be some self balancing, and a reduction in the number of games made, and the endless recycling of ideas will probably produce occasional evolutionary leaps (Dominion->Few Acres of Snow, notwithstanding any HH issues!), so even the copycat process serves its purpose. I personally feel under pressure to give in to looking at new games when really and truly I would be much better served spending more quality time on a few titles, mostly from the initial “classic” period of euro games. But ultimately the market will decide what it can bear, it feels like it’s slowing up somewhat, but I’m pretty sure that “The Hobby” will remain quite operational long after any rebel kickstarters arrive and later disappear.

  16. rbliss says:

    Kickstarter generated 110 successfully funded game projects last year. That includes card games, dice games, RPGs, board games, and game accessories. Board games were about 45% of that total, which is about 4 games a month on average. How is four games a month considered a glut?

    And since when did publishers have a lock on good game design. Most publishers are in business for one reason: To Make Money. The belief that a good game design is critical to a games success is just not true. Plenty of mediocre games are put out every year by reputable game publishers. The secret to making money in this hobby industry is to not take risks. If you play it safe, come out with something fairly generic and well liked, you tend to make your minimum number of sales and the game survives and everyone gets their tiny little cut.

    A game designer with a unique approach, a crazy idea, or a niche offering isn’t of interest to the vast majority of publishers. They are not in the business of taking risks. They are in the business of minimizing risks.

    Kickstarter provides a creative outlet for risky games. Of course there will be failures, just like traditional publishers put out failures. But Kickstarter minimizes the risks for everyone. Instead of a publisher dropping tens of thousands of dollars into a game design, the risk is shifted to hundreds or even thousands of backers who all agree to share the risk, paying a little to allow the risk to be lessened.

    If Kickstarter games are pushing out traditional publishers, don’t blame Kickstarter. That speaks volumes of the dysfunctional nature of the current industry. That communicates directly that something is missing in the current model, something that is addressed by Kickstarter.

    Gamers appear to want more choice. They appear to want to have influence in a games design before it makes it to the store shelf, they appear to want to take risks with their $35.

    I’m much happier to risk my $35 on a game backed by hundreds of other people, knowing that I may end up with a mediocre game, rather than putting down $50 in a retail store to get the latest slicked-up, middle of the road, shove out whatever sells, board game that may or may not be a good game.

    Kickstarter delivers choice and change. It is opening up creativity that has lain dormant in designers attics and basements. How often has a great game been denied by a company because they say “We already have one of those”?

    Kickstarter will not go away and it won’t go back to the way it was. The change is permanent and barely a blip on scale of what is to come.

  17. Jeff says:

    As others have touched on, I wonder whether a glut of KS games will strain the review infrastructure that many prospective buyers rely on to make informed game purchases. As more projects come out, having reviews from A-list reviewers could become a necessity in order to distinguish your project from the pack, which will result in the A-list reviewers being inundated with a flood of prototypes to evaluate. They may not have the throughput to review all of these submissions in addition to the traditionally published games that they review. I could see two possible directions; one would be that quality reviews from respected reviewers are financially incentivized on the consumer side, and prospective buyers in some way pay for the service of reviewers in evaluating lots of games (much as film critics are paid to review movies). The other is that reviewers simply apply some sort of filter as to which games they’ll look at, possibly charging a fee from the publishers who wish to have their games reviewed.

    The thing is, of these two possible models, the latter seems much more realistic. The game-buying publics likes reviews but is used to getting them for free, and probably doesn’t want to start paying for them, particularly not as a mechanism to weed out which of the many KS games are actually good. On the other hand, eager publishers will see a big-name review as a cost of doing business and will gladly plunk down the money. But I think this is a far less appropriate model. Something like Jonathan suggested, a centralized review “mark” would be great but perhaps too complicated to set up, but at least a standard industry-wide fee structure for reviews of pre-release games would at least level the playing field and remove the possible appearance of impropriety on the part of reviewers — it blurs the line being reviewing and advertising, and calls the reviewer’s objectivity into question. If every pre-release review costs $X, then you know that publisher Y paid $X to have game Z reviewed, because that’s simply what it costs, and not because the reviewer is being paid to help market the game.

Comments are closed.