By: Chris Wray and Jeff Lingwall
Game night begins, and everybody stands around waiting for somebody to nominate a game. These days, most large groups have at least one Kickstarter enthusiast, and he or she always seems to speak first. You probably know the speech, which sounds something like this:
“I backed this game last year, and my copy just arrived. I really want to play it. It came with painted miniatures, plus it hit all of its stretch goals. My copy is a Kickstarter-exclusive!”
The enthusiasm is understandable. The backer has paid a small fortune for the game and waited a year for its arrival. Meanwhile, the designer/publisher has been sending weekly or monthly updates, causing the backer to develop somewhat of an emotional attachment to the game.
But not all of us are Kickstarter enthusiasts. In fact, among experienced gamers and game critics, most of us seem to be Kickstarter skeptics. We’re suspicious of the word “backer” — just call yourself a “buyer” — and we think the phrase “stretch goals” should be used primarily in yoga studios.
We’re not being curmudgeons: we’ve been around the block a time or two, and we know just how bad Kickstarter games can be. (Really bad.) Our time to play games is limited, so please pardon us if we’re not eager to play the game that you paid a fortune for — and waited a year for — without ever playing.
The fact that the game was on Kickstarter doesn’t mean it is a better game: if anything, it probably means it isn’t. Traditional publishers are highly selective, and they often spend years developing games, two gatekeeping functions that aren’t present with Kickstarters.
The BoardGameGeek (“BGG”) data supports us. In recent years, Kickstarter games have, on average, underperformed their traditionally-published counterparts in the BGG ratings. And as time passes, the underperformance gets worse. As we’ve previously explored, the ratings of most games decline over time. But that effect is particularly pronounced among Kickstarter games, which have ratings that decline even faster than those of traditionally-published games.
This is our empirical analysis of Kickstarter games—our attempt at partially explaining why they underperform their traditionally-published peers over time. Continue reading