Kickstarter – how I choose what to back

June 3, 2015

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.


Gaming Kickstarters/crowdsourcing I have backed

October 13, 2014

Draft-Map1

I’m watching the last few hours of the 13th Age in Glorantha Kickstarter. I was not familiar with the 13th Age system until last week, but I found a comprehensive review of many of its mechanics (Icons and the One Unique Thing look really cool), and it sounded well suited to Glorantha’s mythic level of power, and better for my own old school style of gaming than Heroquest.

It met most of my criteria for backing something:

  1. Already something I am a fan of (Glorantha, especially that rework of the classic RQ 2 map)
  2. A product I am reasonably sure will finish (from a company that already has published stuff)
  3. Involves someone I respect from previous work (Jonathan Tweet et. al.)
  4. Looks like it will be fun!
  5. Nothing too risky (which is pretty much every computer game I have looked at). Shipping seems to be an area where things go horribly wrong and costs exceed the initial budget.
  6. Affordable (just, the shipping to New Zealand for a couple of books increases the cost by around 40%).
  7. Learning about it before the Kickstarter ended (curse you Pathfinder miniatures!)

I do sometimes wonder, if I am backing something to reach stretch goals for content that should have been included in the standard product. More money for more artwork seems reasonable. Money for vanity stuff, like having your name or myth included, sure, if its optional its not my money. Money for extra monsters or enemy organisations … I’m not so sure about that. Money for extra gaming products to go with it, sure that sounds good.  This is something I think about, as its possible I will try and crowdsource funding for a boardgame design, so collecting a few ideas for cool stretch goals could be handy.

I backed Sprawl. Not that I really need a cyberpunk system right now, but it is fun to back something your friends have started, and the Dungeon World style is good for paring things down to the basic tropes.  This makes it good for convention games … where the sheer complexity of the options in something like Runequest just drowns the story out.

I backed Call of Cthulhu 7th edition. In part this was due to the sheer nostalgia for the epic campaign Shane Murphy run almost 25 years ago, which had a major influence on my life at the time. Its almost complete, and I should have my hands on the leather bound hardcover books before Christmas. I only glanced at the PDF proof of the rules that came through (buying various Bundles of Holding has given me a long backlog of RPG books to read through), but it all seems on track for delivery.  I used the quick play version of the rules for Asterix and the Deep Ones, but it was almost too complicated for a 3-4 hour convention game.

Call of Cthulhu has built up a lot of mythos related stuff over the years, so the Kickstarter was able to offer reskins of classic RPG products, t-shirts, hats, fake coins, coffee mugs, pins, cards, dice … having a vast plethora of addons from stretch goals certainly gives people something to watch as the Kickstarter progresses.

The Old Ones got even more money pledged from me for Cthulhu Wars. From the fun game point of view, this was powerfully attractive for the promise of insanely asymmetric faction powers, something I loved in the classic Dune boardgame. I am hoping to have the main game in my hands before Christmas and I intend to bring it to Big Gaming week in Christchurch. It looks like all the supplements will come through in the new year sometime. Probably good for my customs bill that it gets split up like this.  I like the look of the rules and have borrowed from them for the next iteration of Housewar.  One reason for backing it at a “get one of everything” level was the sheer number of miniatures on offer. I will always have something to pull out for a crawling chaos horror at the FRPG gaming tables.

HeroForge – is now in beta and I had a play with the alpha, building an elf in musketeer style clothing. My feedback was that it needed an “undo” button. Its fine if you have a limited menu of choices, but once you have a large list trying to reselect back to what you just changed out of will be a pain.  An option to easily share the images you generate to social media would also be nice.

By way of comparison I took a quick look at Figureprints which has been making World of Warcraft figurines for a while. The price there is US$130 plus shipping for one painted miniature, with a limited menu of options (items earned in game, and still stored on the account, or from a small list of classic weapons and armour).  So for HeroForge I am getting six unpainted miniatures for $160, or around $27 each, but I have free range to design what each miniature looks like. HeroForge is something I backed because in part I thought, this is a service the gaming world needs.

One thought I had about 3-D printing of game miniatures. When the price drops, and printers become more available, where does the market for Games Workshop’s expensive propriety miniatures go?

I also backed the Runequest 6 Collectors Edition through crowdsourcing. This was pretty straightforward, no extra kitsch to worry about, just good artwork and packaging. I’m such a fan I got multiple copies, for fear of disasters with cups of coffee.

I have not backed everything I have seen appear on crowdsourcing platforms.

  • Cthulhu Invictus modules – I was not actually all that impressed at the quality of the other Cthulhu Invictus modules/scenarios – far too much physical combat, and calling for reinforcements from the local Legion fortress
  • Boardgames that just had themes which didn’t appeal to me
  • Glorantha world maps at a 5k per hex detail, and Glorantha coffee table books, at the time I was interested in other things and had less spare cash to take a punt with
  • OGRE, from Steve Jackson Games, what was on offer was a game that was goldplated and full of a thousand addons that would have broken me for shipping and customs – it simply grew too far away from the simple ten minute game I used to play with friends in the high school library.

I will have to do more research on how these things work, both what helps a project succeed, and what can lead to them failing. I suspect trying to get a boardgame with big plastic space dreadnought miniatures off the ground, without an established reputation, will be a hard slog.