Kickstarter: It’s Not Just for Indie Games Anymore

When you think of Kickstarter.com and hobby gaming, the mind immediately leaps to the upstart game designer self-publishing a title from his garage. That may hold true in most cases, but the crowd fundraising site is not just for the indie set. Queen Games, one of the industry’s most prominent publishers, has shattered this small-publishers-only convention with their attempt to publisher Escape… From the Temple Curse using Kickstarter funds.

If you’re coming at this from the digital world, then pardon me if I chuckle a bit when video game journalists who have never heard of Kickstarter before rush to latch onto Double Fine’s $2M+ adventure game project. The internet is full of preaching on how this project will revolutionize the concept of game funding.

Yet board games have been treading this ground for almost two years now since Alien Frontiers came along, tripled its funding goal, and entered 2010’s game of the year conversation. Since then, an entire industry has sprouted up around Kickstarter publishing, resulting in a slew of new small publishers such as Tasty Minstrel Games, Stratus Games, Clever Mojo Games, and Dice Hate Me Games, all of which use the fundraising site to their benefit.

The bottom line here is that Kickstarter funding has helped create some utterly fantastic board games that might not have otherwise seen the light of day, and this has been going on for quite some time.

Now that the stage has been set for long-term indie success, it is only natural that these smaller publishers and fans of their games will feel threatened when industry stalwarts coming along, threatening to eat up the Kickstarter pie. I’m here to explain why I feel that is not the case, and how Queen Games and their recent project may benefit gaming as a whole.

While I poked fun at video games lagging behind board games earlier, there is one area where the digital side is light years ahead of its analog cousin: pre-orders. The ability to gauge interest in a game is key to a publisher’s success. If too few copies are available, there is money left on the table as interest in the title could fade before supply catches up with demand. If too many copies are produced, the publisher will end up eating the cost through liquidation of overstocked titles.

To put this all in perspective, this tight gauging of game demand is crucial in a video game industry where DVD copies are cheap and easy to produce. In a board game industry filled with custom molded components and machined wooden bits, production owns a much larger chunk of both cost and schedule.

Video games have achieved such large-scale success for many reasons, and the strong pre-order support at retail is a major factor. Board games simply don’t have that sort of data, so while publishers can easily gauge AAA releases, game with no built-in appeal represent a higher risk, and are more prone to falling off the production schedule.

As the hobby gaming industry booms, it faces a risk of being overburdened with uninventive clones and “sequelitis” expansions. That is, unless publishers are given some way to properly set production on their high-risk/high-reward titles, preventing them from breaking the bank should they should flop.

This is where Kickstarter comes in. Animosity between indie and established publishers is unnecessary, as they are both put on an even playing field with Kickstarter. Nobody is forcing customers to purchase from one or the other, just as the consumer’s hand would not be forced if all publishers were given equal shelf space in a game store. The result is simply that publishers of all sizes are given the financial backing they need to take chances. That puts better games on our table at the end of the day, which is something I would never object to.