Kickstarter – how I choose what to back

After some initial hesitation, I have become keen on Kickstarter, and I often take 5-10 minutes each day to scan the latest listings on the /games section.  So far I have pledged for 26 games and 2 comic books, but only two of the games have been delivered so far.  Most of the games I have backed, have been backed in the last six months, so I am not too worried about that lack of fulfillment so far.  It is a bit worrying, however, to get an update on Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition, which was originally scheduled to ship in November 2013, that Chaosium have a new President and unspecified company problems.  A firm reminder that everything on Kickstarter is vaporware until its in your hands.

Over the last few weeks I have passed on a lot of tempting Kickstarter offers, as I need to save some coins for an upcoming trip to the USA/Canada.  So I started thinking on why exactly I was passing on some Kickstarter projects and not others.  I have looked at a few other crowdsourcing websites, but Kickstarter seems to be where all the action is.

Instant turn-offs:

  1. Pretty much every pitch for an MMORPG, RTS, phone app, or top-down isometric computer game.
  2. People asking for charity, or to support events/organisations in places I don’t live.
  3. Bad thumbnail art.
  4. Failure in first sentence/opening paragraph text to convey what the main hook of the concept is.

Instant excitement:

  1. Beautiful artwork.
  2. Established IP that I love, or…
  3. … something that sounds innovative on a topic I am interested in.
  4. A designer whose prior work I like.

So I look through the rest of the pitch carefully, star it if I don’t see any further turn-offs (gender exclusive language annoys me) and come back to it 2-4 weeks later.  I do not usually look at the video pitch until the final 48 hours, at which point I will also scan through the updates and comments looking for danger signals.

The danger signals are:

  1. Pledge levels that are confusing.
  2. Updates or comments from the developer that indicate problems with the project, or where I can’t actually understand what it means (sometimes this is an English as a second language problem).
  3. Massive mid-campaign changes to the product or pledge levels.
  4. People posting that its a rip-off.

So if I still like the general idea, and I have some degree of confidence I might get the product someday, how do I choose to part with my money or not?

  1. Would I buy it off the shelf at that price if it was in front of me right now?
    1. Bread, taxes, bills, etc, all come before entertainment spending
    2. Opportunity cost – what else could I be doing with this money?
    3. What is the shipping cost?  Living in New Zealand, shipping costs can exceed the item cost.
  2. Do I intend to use it in actual play, or do I just want it for the ideas?
    1. If I just want to loot the ideas, PDF is fine, and can I find something similar already on Drivethrurpg.com?
    2. If I want to use it at the gaming table, hard copy is better.
    3. Will I use it more than once?
    4. If I want to hack it, will I get the files to do this easily?
  3. What am I rewarding in the pitch?
    1. Innovation in setting or design principles (or an iterative progression on existing ideas).
    2. Nostalgia for the games of my youth (I backed Paranoia but not OGRE).
    3. Is it just a fun looking Fantasy Heartbreaker?
    4. Am I just being a fanboy for this particular designer?
  4. How close is it to completion?
    1. A boardgame should already be fully playtested and draft rules available.
    2. A roleplaying game should have a playtest draft ready for backers to access.
    3. Computer games … should at least have concept art ready.
    4. Is it bleeding edge research that could fail? (I did not back Clang!)
  5. Do I already own this product?
    1. You can get diminishing returns from anything. For gaming, dice are pretty, but few systems really require me to get yet another set of the classic polyhedral dice.
    2. Do I really need the new edition?
  6. Does it look beautiful?
    1. Art is subjective, but if the art looks ugly to me, I am unlikely to spend money on it.
  7. Are those add-ons, peripherals, etc really needed?
    1. I have eight plastic tubs full of t-shirts, I really don’t need more of them.

There is a very old adage – if the deal looks too good to be true, then its probably not a good deal.

Part of the reason I am paying attention to Kickstarter, is to learn what not to do for the day when I try running one.  A lot of the problems I have seen come done to poor communication, or insufficient preparation before the campaign begins.  I would not start a boardgame project unless I was 99% sure I could get the components manufactured, and I would not start roleplaying game project unless I already had the first draft of the manuscript ready for playtesting.  I can see that communication also needs a lot of prep for the crucial early launch phase.

Anyhoo, time to listen to some game design podcasts and scribble ideas on paper.

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