Friday, April 20, 2012

Kickstarter: One Year and 33 Projects Later

Do by Daniel Solis launched on Kickstarter in early April of last year, and I signed on in the first couple of days as a backer. Since then, I've backed a total of 33 projects with pledges ranging from $10 to $175 (I'm not going to post the total amount I've pledged on the off chance that my wife reads this post...). Most of the projects I've backed have been either board game or RPG related, but I've backed a few other projects along the way.

Here's the breakdown:

RPGs:  9
RPG Adventures: 1
RPG Accessories: 1
RPG Fiction:  3
Board Games: 11
Board Game Expansions: 1
Computer Games:  3
Miscellaneous:  4

Funded:  30
Ongoing:  3 (2 RPG Fiction, 1 Computer Game)
Failed:  0

Received:  14 (5  Board Games , 6 RPGs, 1 RPG Accessory, 2 Miscellaneous)
Pending:  15 (6  Board Games, 1 Board Game Expansion, 3 RPGs, 1 RPG Adventure, 2 Computer Games, 2 Miscellaneous)
Special Status:  1 RPG Fiction which is an ongoing project for which I have received the first installment

Out of everything so far, the only category I've been displeased with is the board games.  So much so, that I've decided to refrain from further board game pledges unless it's a game that I already have solid information on.  For example, a reprint of an existing game, a game by an established designer that I trust, or an expansion for a game that I know is good.

A preview of the game, even by a normally reliable source, just isn't going to cut it anymore.  For the record, out of the five board games I've received, I've only really been pleased with one of them.  The others have all either had poor production quality or simply failed to be good games.  The latter is subjective, and I know that some people appear to be perfectly happy with games that I am less than pleased with (edit:  the average user rating on BGG for the four games I disliked is 5.69, while the one I liked has a 7.48 rating, so while subjective on a personal level, it's obviously a subjective view shared by others).  That's true of just about any game, but the problem is magnified by the Kickstarter model.

A traditionally published game will usually have a lot of information out there even before it's available, with reports from Essen and elsewhere being posted in various forums so that a little research will generally give you enough information to let you know whether or not you would like a game before you have to commit money to it.

With Kickstarter projects, there's rarely anyone who has played the game outside of the designer's playtest group prior to your pledge being finalized.  In those rare cases where someone else has played it, it's generally been in the form of a paid preview rather than a critical review.  This means that any glaring deficiencies tend to be glossed over.

For example:  Miskatonic School for Girls.  This was a game that got a lot of hype, largely due to theme, good artwork, and the fact that it's a deck building game that was Kickstarted when deck building games were near the height of their popularity.  I finally gave in to the hype near the end of the pledge period, and now wish I hadn't.

Two glaring problems with the game were immediately apparent when I opened the box and read the rules.  First, it relies on a player elimination mechanic to determine the winner.  That's been unacceptable in any game involving more than two players since at least the beginning of the millennium (werewolf and its clones being the exception that proves the rule).  Second, players draw new cards at the beginning of their turn instead of the end of their turn, which means you can't plan your next turn while the other players are taking theirs.  This inevitably leads to more downtime and longer games.

In hindsight, I can go back and look at the Kickstarter page and see where they talk about the sanity loss mechanic that eliminates players from the game, but nowhere do they explicitly say that this results in players being removed from the game before it is over.  This would be the kind of thing that should be emphasized in just about any objective review of the game.

Even when a game does have solid information available on it, I am still less likely to pledge than I once was.  Both Steve Jackson's Ogre Designer's Edition, and the Sentinels of the Multiverse expansion and re-print are projects that meet my criteria, and which I would have pledged to a few months ago.  Now though, I am likely going to pass on  both of them due to my general dissatisfaction with board games on Kickstarter, combined with a decision to spend less on board games in general.

On the other hand, I will continue to pledge to RPGs happily.  I haven't had a single RPG dud come from Kickstarter.  Admittedly, there are probably a couple of games I will never get to the table among the ones I've backed, but even there I've enjoyed reading through the books and feel that I got my money's worth.

It's too soon for me to tell whether RPG fiction or computer games are worth supporting on Kickstarter, but the comparatively low buy-in price to get a complete digital copy of either makes taking a gamble on them a better bet than board games.

So that's my stand on Kickstarter after a year:  great for RPGs, not so great for board games, and I don't have enough experience to have an opinion on any other categories.  I will say that I haven't had a single negative experience in terms of being scammed.  Even the projects I've ultimately been unhappy with have had more to do with communication issues or factors outside of the publisher's control than any deliberate attempt to make a sub-par product.  As with all of commerce, caveat emptor applies, and you should do your best to find out what you're getting into before committing to it.


Jabbott said...

1) Werewolf is not the exception, player elimination still sucks in it and is one of the reasons I think those games are terrible

2) Do you think the RPGs on Kickstarter are generally turning out to be better products, in comparison to board games, because between the two hobbies RPGs tend to attract more actually creative people and RPGs already have a history of people making stuff up and thinking creatively on an amateur level?

Fulminata said...

I listed Werewolf as an exception because so many people whose opinions I respect on games seem to like it, and it immediately came to mind when I tried to think of popular modern games that featured player elimination. I've never actually played it, and have to agree with you at least to the extent that it doesn't actually sound that fun to me.

I think there's a couple reasons why RPGs tend to be superior products. On the quality control side it's obvious. It's easier to put out a book than it is a box of components or a deck of cards, and any flaws in that book are less obvious and rarely have an impact on play. A miscut page in a book doesn't usually have an effect on play, whereas a miscut card in a game usually does.

I think an even bigger factor is the design community. The designers of the games I've backed are all, to some extent at least, part of the RPG design community. That community regularly bounces ideas off each other and gives solid feedback.

There is a board game design community, but the projects on Kickstarter seem more likely to be designed in a vacuum with no input or review by other designers.

There's also the simple experience factor. Most of the RPGs on Kickstarter have been designed by people with prior credits in the industry where a lot of the board game designs are the first published designs by their creators.

Fulminata said...

Incidentally, the one board game I backed that I like is Imperial Crusade Armada, which we really need to play some time!

librarian said...

Thing about an RPG product - as you indicate - it has a value outside of it's actual play value. You can read an RPG product as a piece of fiction (most of my RPG purchases are like that these days, sadly).

While a board game is nothing but a bunch of inert components until you actually get it out and play it.

In regards to Ogre and Sentinels of the M-Verse, my understanding is those games are going to get made regardless of their Kickstarter performance. Especially in the case of Ogre, the KS is merely encouraging them to put MORE stuff in for general release. So fortunately for you (and me), we can sit back and see what the response is from the initial buyers and then can jump on it.

Fulminata said...

Fortunately, I'm in a position where most of my RPG purchases actually see use at the table, or at the very least inspire ideas that I use in those games that do see the table. Those that don't are the exception.

Full Disclosure: I ended up backing both Ogre and Sentinels, but what would have been no-brainer, fund on day 1 decisions before some of the disappointments instead became projects that I only funded near the end of their respective periods after much thinking.

I've also since gotten in two more boardgames that I backed, and they at least look good enough that I'm going to try to get them to the table. One looks a little iffy from reading the rules, but I'm still going to give it a try. The other looks a bit better, but is in a niche which has a lot of competition right now, so I doubt it's going to end up on the top of that particular pile.

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