According to Kickstarter, they are a funding platform – nothing more, nothing less. While this is true in the broadest sense, if you spend a few minutes looking through the projects you will see a slight variation in most of the pitches of the site’s users. Kickstarter, according to the majority of it’s project creators isn’t just a funding platform, it’s become the funding platform for everything from the expected to the niche.
As with anything in life though, where there is money – especially free money – there will be unintended (but perhaps not entirely unsurprising) consequences. As Kickstarter leaves the door open for just about any kind of project, knowing that the only criteria is providing a concrete ‘thing’ as a result, the project rosters have become filled with a variety of people ranging from unknowns to internet celebrities, and garage start ups to companies that are already established in their field. Lately I can’t help but notice that the big fish are starting to crowd out some of the smaller ones in this particular pond.
Queen Games is a German euro-game company, founded in 1992. While not one of the biggest companies, having only 7 full time employees, they are regarded as producing a great product (they won the prestigious Spiel des Jahres in both 2003 and 2012). Though perhaps hard to find in the past, their products are on the shelves of most any well stocked FLGS today. Given their size, and devoted following, they certainly qualify as “indie,” but their extensive catalog, recognizable brand, and established reputation hardly makes them underdogs in this industry.
Though Queen Games is not the only company out there that has taken to using Kickstarter less like a funding platform and more like a distribution pipeline, they are in my mind the most aggressive when it comes to using this particular niche of financial ecology (and it turns out I’m not the only one to notice.) Lets start with the facts. To date Queen Games has created 6 projects:
- Escape… from the Temple Curse
- Edo: Tokyo 1603-1868
- Locomotive Works
- Ruhrschifffahrt (Ruhr River Barge Run)
- Lost Legends
Of these six, all have successfully funded. Their first two projects were funded at the same time; I didn’t even know this was possible. ‘Escape’ started funding on March 4th and ended on April 13th, while ‘Edo’ started on March 20th and ended on April 23rd. For the record, that is six projects in six months, making them the most prolific successful creative team that I have come across on Kickstarter. To date they have raised over $171,000 dollars using this model.
As I see it, this activity is best viewed in one of two ways: this new funding method is invigorating a company in tune with both it’s fan’s, and the needs of the crowd, or this company has found a way to fund its projects with significantly less risk, and a significantly higher margin. Lets explore both possibilities.
Crowd funding can fund whatever the crowd wants, be that Nike’s latest shoe, an indie comic book, or a hot tech start up. Though I doubt they ever would, I imagine that GM could fund the development cost of a new electric car with it. These are all true statements, but I can vote with my dollars as well as the next person and I prefer to give the majority of those to creators with a real need; major players can compete for my money on the shelves of my FLGS like everyone else. Best case scenario: Queen Games is functioning as an intermediary for unknown game developers, and giving it’s fan base, via Kickstarter, the cream of the crop from their backlog. On their website they say that they have over 300 promising prototypes; if this is the case, then I think they should do a couple things:
- Make this clear in its video and branding, and perhaps even create a sub imprint to emphasize this fact.
- Start giving back to the Kickstarter community. To date Queen Games has received almost $200,000 dollars from Kickstarter, and backed only two projects. If they keep this up for another year, I’m sure other people will notice this story. There is no cheaper PR to manage this future problem than finding a couple good board games now and then, buying a copy, and leaving a glowing comment on that creators project; praise from a heavyweight like Queen would go a long way for any aficionado.
- Cut your fans a break. As I deal with below – the margin on selling games through Kickstarter is significantly higher. Why sell at the same price they will be able to buy the game for after release? Reward their faith with a discount at a minimum!
I contacted Queen Games, sending them a copy of this article and asking for clarification on several points. Nikki responded, telling me that:
For us, and many publishers, Kickstarter is a way to market our games. We are beginning to publish games that are not usual for us, like Escape The Curse of the Temple, Lost Legends and an unannounced game we are also truly excited about. Kickstarter also allows us to get feedback directly from our customers prior to publishing the game. We have made changes to several components and elements before sending the games to press because of this direct feedback. We strive to make very high quality games and doing some of our more adventurous and challenging games through Kickstarter helps us to achieve this.
This statement, in of itself, doesn’t address the main points I tried to raise, however, she went on to say that:
You mention one of the campaigns we ran, Ruhrschifffahrt. That actually is not our game but one from the independent publisher Spielworxx. Spielworxx games are usually very hard for folks outside of Europe to obtain, and we helped the publisher in an effort to make his excellent games more widely available. This is part of a new effort we are making to help independent publishers in Europe and North America reach larger markets. As for backing projects on Kickstarter ourselves, we generally do not back campaigns as a company, we back them as individuals. I myself have backed far too many campaigns, but haven’t regretted a single one. We believe in Kickstarter’s business model and feel it can be beneficial for everyone involved.
The above quotes help soften the ideas that Queen Games is in it for the money, and has launched campaigns with an eye to help both fans and other game companies. This is great, and I hope they do more to communicate it in the future. However, I still worry that if the likes of Queen Games, Fantasy Flight and a few others decide that preselling their latest titles on Kickstarter is a good idea, then they will crowd out the actual start ups that need crowdfunding to get off the ground.
There are a couple points that I think work against some of statements made by Queen’s official representative above. Lets look at it like this: If you go to your FLGS to buy a $50 euro-game tonight, you should know that the store is making about $25. On average stores pay about half the price from the distributor. Queen Games sells the product on the other hand to the distributor and gets the better part of the remaining $25 dollars (minus the distributor’s cut). On Kickstarter though, Queen has seen fit to charge its backers, presumably some its most loyal fans full price, effectively doubling their profit margin. The only ‘funded’ game, Escape, currently scheduled for release is likely to MSRP for the same price that it was put up for on Kickstarter (I can’t seem to find an exact number) but preorders from reputable online dealers go as low as $35. This is not rewarding your fans (or the stores that stock your products) – it’s a revenue stream.
I like Queen Games. I own both Alhambra and Fresco, and have also purchased copies as presents for friends. I think they make great games, and their latest offering looks great. It tempts me terribly, but as good as it looks I don’t care much for this trend. I’ve backed a couple projects by established companies but if they attempted to do a serial launches like this I wouldn’t support them either.
So what do the rest of you think? Is this okay, or am I way off base? Will the adoption of crowdfunding by big names turn the grass roots support of Kickstarter to astroturf, or will it’s collective fan base take the movement to a new level?