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…
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 …
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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).
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.
I’m of three minds on this issue.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- Total crap that is successful like rethemed 52 card decks, Co-opoly, and Borogove.
- 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.
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.
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.
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!