Why Established Board Game Companies Are Turning To Kickstarter

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By Kevin Ohannessian

In the last few years, Kickstarter has given a chance to indie game makers to create products. But what about medium-sized companies with a slew of releases already? Why did Cheapass Games and Days of Wonder seek funding from the crowd?

The crowd-funding site Kickstarter has been instrumental in indie game makers in finding a way to launch a product--one need only look at Cards Against Humanity for the perfect example. But now known game companies are seeking the same success from fans willing to finance a game before it is made.

Days of Wonder, makers of the Small World and Ticket to Ride games, have been unique in that they develop digital versions of their board games themselves, rather than licensing it out to other companies. They launched a Kickstarter to fund new digital version of Small World. The company is making an iPad app, but beyond that? "We've heard from an increasingly vocal crowd of fans that they wanted to see our games on Android and Kindle Fire," said Mark Kaufmann, VP of Marketing. "We had been equally vocal about our hesitation--we couldn't point to any great success stories for board games on those platforms. Using Kickstarter to launch Small World 2 was the perfect way to get a true reading on fan support for those platforms before devoting all the time and energy into development. "

In one week, Small World 2 hit its goal of $150,000 and so the company is creating the other versions. Now that the project is in the "stretch-goal" phase and is creating additional content for the new app and for the original game, thus funding an expansion of the real-world board game. Kaufmann said, "Having the Small World 2 campaign funded in such a short time has certainly given us the answer that we were hoping for."

And what of Cheapass Games? Their situation was a bit more tenuous. After the founder and president James Ernest went on hiatus to work elsewhere, the company stopped creating new games. After five years away, Ernest got the company going again, but had a lack of capital. So last fall he ran a Kickstarter project to republish their game Unexploded Cow. Now, he is working on three black and white, low cost games, the kind the company is known for, but he also had ideas for a bigger game, Deadwood Studios USA. "For a larger deluxe game, we needed to raise a little extra money. That's why we did Kickstarter," said Ernest. "But for our regular products, as soon as we are capitalized well enough, we will probably do it less and less."

It took them about two weeks to raise the $35,000 they sought for Deadwood. But they turned to Kickstarter for more than money. "We consider Kickstarter a fundraising platform, but we also consider it as a marketing tool," said Ernest. "We do tradeshows, and we do the website and twitter, but there's not any good place to buy print ads anymore. It's really difficult for a small company to be everywhere. We figure Kickstarter is just one more way to do that marketing."

And Ernest would do it again, but for reasons closer to what Kaufmann cited. Ernest said, "The next project we are thinking about doing with Kickstarter is kind of an experiment, so we are going to use that platform to find out if there's enough interest. We don't know if we should print it out. It's a pretty expensive thing to do. It seems much smarter for us to say, 'Hey world, do you want this or not?' And if they say no, we can just pack it in and not risk the money on it."

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