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The Highs and Lows of Kickstarting Games

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I’ll keep this specific to Kickstarter, since I’ve no experience with the other crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo, but I will say that the Kickstarter process of only charging you at the end of the project, IF it successfully funds, makes vastly more sense to me than charging you immediately for something that may not even receive enough money to be created.

Kickstarter is a wonderful thing, it lets people with idea’s that might not seems commercially viable to big corporations try to bring their product to life. There have been notable successes, Oculus Rift being by far the biggest following its multibillion dollar sale to Facebook and Star Citizen is another, which is still raking in record amounts of money. There are, however, spectacular failures as well, projects that have promised great things and failed to deliver at all.

To date I’ve backed 6 projects on Kickstarter and only 1 has actually delivered. In most cases my buy in is pretty low, less than £30 as I’m happy with the base product most of the time and I tend to back things with little to know postage costs since the postage from America is pretty steep (more on that soon). This far I’ve backed-

  • Shadowrun Returns
  • Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition
  • Paranoia
  • Tiny Epic Galaxies
  • Shadowrun Hong Kong
  • Epic Card Game

In the near future I’ll also be adding Tiny Epic Kingdoms: Heroes Call to that list.

My experience with Kickstarter is hit and miss. Shadowrun Returns is the only one to deliver and that delivered late, although there was strong communication throughout and that actually resulted in two games a one of the stretch goals was upgraded from an additional mini campaign to a full game in Shadowrun: Dragonfall. It was because of the success of this, along with an excellent and characterful game, that meant I happily backed Harebrained Schemes again for Shadowrun: Hong Kong.

Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Kickstarter

On the flip side of this is Call of Cthulhu 7th edition. This was my first RPG Kickstarter and, if you are a regular reader, you’ll know my love of all things Lovecraftian. I’ve played Call of Cthulhu for a great many years, in one guise or another, and the ability to be part of the new edition, plus the promise of some rather shiny Leatherette Editions lead me to back the project for over $400, once postage and a copy of the updated Horror on the Orient Express were added to my Nictitating Nyarlathotep pledge.

Call of Cthulhu was supposed to deliver in October 2013 but this was, understandably, delayed once the books were upgraded to colour and we were advised of this during the Kickstarter period. Delivery was re-estimated in late 1st Quarter 2014. To date (June 2015) the core books haven’t even gone to the printers and the status of the sizable list or promised stretch goals is in limbo as we’ve heard little to nothing about them. To make things worse Chaosium, a company I’ve always had respect for, went all but silent to requests for information for a significant amount of time and EU backers of their previous Kickstarter, Horror on the Orient Express, which was funded a year earlier than 7th Edition, are still waiting for their copies despite them being available in retail for over 6 months.

This nightmarish situation has developed further in recent weeks, with the announcement that the President and CEO of Chaosium and the Chief Accountant had been removed from the company by the other shareholders and the CEO’s stake was being bought out by the company. The other shareholders, Chaosium founder Greg Stafford and Call of Cthulhu creator Sandy Peterson, have taken on the role of CEO and VP respectively and worrying information is starting to make its way to backers. Now, I give credit to Greg and Sandy, since they took over we’ve had more contact and updates from them than we had in the previous 6 months from Chaosium under the old management but that’s of limited comfort when it appears that everything the backers have been told for a year was, basically a lie.

I won’t speculate on the state of the finances or what happened to the half a million dollars of Kickstarter money here as no solid information is available but, needless to say, I’ll be waiting a fair bit longer for my promised goods and whether I get everything promised is up for debate.

Of the other Kickstarters-

Paranoia Kickstarter Logo

Paranoia is behind schedule as it was due for delivery this month (June 2015) and I have to say that despite a pretty detailed update recently, I’m a little disappointed at the communication from Mongoose Publishing. That said, they appear to have been pretty honest with regards to the delays and when we can expect delivery and so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now.

Tiny Epic Galaxies Kickstarter Logo

Tiny Epic Galaxies is on track and the communication from Gamelyn has been first rate. They have even provided a pretty precise timeline for when each step is due to be completed and I couldn’t ask for more. I’ve been that impressed by the game and the company that I’ve sought out Kickstarter copies of Tiny Epic Kingdoms and Tiny Epic Defenders and I have no reservations at all about back Tiny Epic Kingdoms: Heroes Call when it begins on 22/06.

Shadowrun Hong Kong Kickstarter Logo

Shadowrun: Hong Kong is ongoing. It’s due to deliver in August 2015 but I’ll be surprised if it does. That doesn’t bother me though, Shadowrun Returns and Dragonfall were excellent games and they are so true to the Shadowrun Universe, one I love, that I’d rather they get it right than I get it right now. As with Tiny Epic Galaxies, the communication has been excellent and backers know what is going on. Given that they managed to deliver Shadowrun Returns I have no reason to believe that I won’t get Hong Kong, it might just take a while.

Epic Card Game Kickstarter Logo

Epic Card Game is still live at the time of writing with an estimated delivery of September 2015. There have been numerous updates throughout the project and the stretch goals are modest and spaced fairly far apart, especially for a card game. I backed this one specifically because I love the previous offering from the creators White Wizard Games, being Star Realms. Star Realms was also funded by Kickstarter and delivered without a problem and, given that White Wizard Games have been pretty open about the fact that 90% of the work is already complete on Epic Card Game, I have no reason to expect that this one will arrive significantly late.

So, given that only one project has actually delivered, why do I keep backing things on Kickstarter? Well, partially it’s because I like being part of the creation of gaming products. Like this blog, backing Kickstarters makes me feel like I’m at least peripherally involved in an industry that I love and since I don’t have the skillset to create a tabletop game or RPG of my own, I like being part of helping someone else bring their vision to life. In truth though, the main reason is that I love the exclusive additions that come with the Kickstarter versions of games, from the Leatherette Call of Cthulhu books, to the exclusive Ultraviolet Paranoia box, to the promo cards in Epic Card Game. As a previous article says, I’m a sucker for limited edition variants and Kickstarter offers me those with wild abandon.

As you can see though, backing a Kickstarter isn’t without it’s risks. Looking at the spectacular mismanagement of Call of Cthulhu, there is a chance, hopefully a small one, that is just might not deliver and then I’m out of pocket by over £300. There are no guarantees on Kickstarter and the terms and conditions are pretty clear that a creator has to make every attempt to try and deliver the promised goods but, if they don’t, that’s a risk you accept. Kickstarter isn’t a pre-order service (though some companies certainly treat it as such) and people needs to remember that when backing a project. A recent Court Case in the US does give backers some hope for the ability to take legal action against Creators who don’t deliver and never really tried to – though, this appears to just be the exception rather than the rule at present.

Due to how Cthulhu has panned out and from what I’ve noticed on some other projects that I’ve followed but not backed, I’ve created a few little rules that I try to follow when considering backing a project-

  • Is it EU (specifically UK) Friendly? For RPGs this isn’t an issue as books don’t attract UK Customs charges but for games or RPGs that include Dice/Pencils etc. as stretch goals, it’s important. If it doesn’t ship from Europe and comes in at over £20 then I might get hit for VAT and that’s something I don’t want.
  • Do I get something more than I would if I waited for retail? This might be an exclusive add on, cover, expansion or whatever and it might cost me an extra couple of pounds but if I’m not getting anything different to retail, or it’s not coming in cheaper, then I’m not interested.
  • Is postage stated or at least estimated? Postage from the USA is pretty horrific nowadays. Even if something ships from Europe it’ll often go via the Creator in the US and that can mean that it’s pretty expensive. In some cases the postages of RPG books can exceed $50 and I’m not willing to pay that on top of my pledge unless I’m getting something really special. If a project just states “Shipping to be calculated at the end of the project/time of shipping” then I’m out as I’m not willing to get stung for hefty fees at some arbitrary (given the ever apparent delays) point in the future.
  • Has the Creator successfully delivered other Kickstarter Projects in the past? If I’d though to check on Chaosium I’d have known that they hadn’t delivered anything before and still hadn’t fulfilled their promises to the HotOE backers. I know Kickstarter is about people going out into the world to get backing for their wild idea but, unless you have a proven track record, I’m probably out. If your product is cheap enough, or fascinating enough, I might make an exception but you’ll have to work extra hard to win my money.
  • How much is this going to cost me? I went a bit nuts with Call of Cthulhu and it might end up coming back to bite me. Nowadays I won’t back anything to a degree that I’m not willing to write that money off. Kickstarter is a gamble and you should never gamble with money you aren’t prepared to lose.
  • What are the Stretch Goals? I love stretch goals, they mean I’m getting more for my money and they are often exclusive to the Kickstarter but they can also be an early warning that the project will be delayed or won’t deliver on some/all of the promised goods. I have to keep using Call of Cthulhu as an example but take a look at what the RPG company have promised, above and beyond books and you’ll see what I mean. Chaosium promised Mugs, T-Shirts, Pin Badges, Posters, Music CD’s, Customer Coins, Card Decks and more to backers and that should have been a warning. Every item out of the norm for the company means that they have to engage with whole new industries to bring the item to market and that’s expensive and time consuming, especially for relatively small runs.

To me the stretch goals need to be present and interesting enough, after all backers should be rewarded for their faith in the product, but they should be well judges enough and far enough apart to be realistic. Epic Card Game has gone the other way, offering just additional cards for fairly big leaps in funding but they have, at least, explained that this is ensure that they deliver on time, on budget (since they have to actually make money) and don’t end up losing out on postage costs.

I’d say the perfect example of what to look for in stretch goals is in Tiny Epic Galaxies, they are fun, add quality or usefulness, and are directly related to the game. The Creator made sure, to fractions of an ounce, that the product would come in as close to the shipping weight limit as possible so backers got as much as possible for their faith in the company.

Kickstarter should be treated as an investment (although at present backers don’t have the same rights as commercial investors) and, as such, you should do your research before choosing who gets your hard earned cash. It’s also a two way street as Creators need to realise that backers are investors and need to be communicated with appropriately. Of all my issues with Chaosium over Call of Cthulhu by far the biggest is the utter failure to communicate with me as a backer. Had I been made aware, at appropriate points, of the issues they were facing and been provided with honest and clear information I wouldn’t be half as annoyed as I am. I’ve worked in project management, I understand that there are unforeseen delays, but I expect to be told about them as soon as possible.

My experiences are, as shown, mixed. Despite only one project having delivered I fully expect at least 2 more (Tiny Epic Galaxies and Epic Card Game) to reach me this year within, or close to, the estimated delivery dates. Of the others I’m not concerned about Shadowrun: Hong Kong as it’ll be ready when it’s ready and, at least right now, I’m fairly confident about Paranoia. It’s a shame for me that Call of Cthulhu, the one I wanted the most and the one that has cost me more than double all of my other backed projects combined, is so late and has no end in sight. I’ll continue to back projects but I’ll be a lot more careful about what I back and Chaosium will have to go a LONG way to restore my confidence in them as a company again.

Kickstarter is a great thing. It has meant that more and more people are able to have their vision brought to life by linking them up with individuals who share that vision. Crowdfunding in general is the future for many industries, especially niche hobby industries, and I think it likely that we’ll eventually see more and more large commercial community ventures, such as libraries and museums being funded via this format. It’s not without its risks but as long as you are careful about what you back and with realistic expectations then it can be very rewarding to back projects.


One thought on “The Highs and Lows of Kickstarting Games”

  1. I hear you. I had the misfortune of supporting a Kickstarter from a well-known group of designers, for a setting which promised to be brilliant, and supported across three RPG systems, including 13th Age, which I love. It turns out the delivery was more than a year late, the 13th Age version sucked, and of the promised add-ons, not trace. I managed to get back some of my money by only going the pdf route, still it left me with a really bad taste in my mouth.

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