Kickstarter and the Gaming Industry: Weal or Woe?

(Note: For this post, I’ll be focusing on Kickstarter as it relates to the gaming industry and community.  Some things may apply to other creative avenues; your mileage may vary.)

If you belong to the nerd community, you’d have to be living under a rent-controlled rock to not know about Kickstarter.  For those paying a cheap lease for granite ceilings, Kickstarter “is a funding platform for creative projects”, as per their website.  Basically, if you have an idea for a creative endeavour you use the site to promote it and raise funds.  If enough people get excited and buy into your idea, you get the funding they pledge and can move ahead.  If you don’t meet your goal, you don’t get the funding, and no one has to shell out anything.

It almost sounds too good to be true, right?  Especially when you look at the massive success stories.  Reaper Miniatures ran a Kickstarter campaign last August to raise $30 000 for their new Bones line. When the dust settled, the company had raised a little over 3.4 million dollars. Yes, I said million. With all the zeroes, yes. More recently, Monte Cook hit a couple of crowd-funding home runs: his campaign to fund his new role-playing game Numenera raised $517, 255 ( a skitch over the $20 000 he set out to achieve), and the Kickstarter for Torment: Tides of Numenera, a computer game set in his new world, more than doubled its goal with $2 million in just two days, with 28 days left to go in the campaign.

You might wonder, then, what kind of idiot wouldn’t run a Kickstarter for their new gaming project.  And it’s true, even if your success is not as pronounced as the above examples, you may still find the crowd-funding lucre you seek.  But it isn’t as easy as just telling people about this neat game idea you’ve had, promising it will be the RPG second coming.  Kickstarter is equally filled with projects that didn’t reach their goal. In some cases it isn’t hard to see why; sloppy planning, vague promises and unrealistic goals abound.

But seemingly solid projects, well-laid out and presented, also fail to fund.  Key reasons?  Maybe the idea was not as widely popular as the creator thought; what works in your home game may not translate to the general gaming public (and thus, why I stopped work on Blubber & Bannock, my alternate trail rations sourcebook).  Most often though, it comes down to gaining attention for the project.  I consider myself pretty aware of what’s going on in the RPG industry, at least as much as an “industry enthusiast” can be.  But for every Kickstarter campaign of which I become aware, a quick search of the Kickstarter site turns up dozens more I have and had never heard of.  Obviously, then, while Kickstarter can do a lot to help a project the onus is still on the creator to get the word out.  The internet is too vast to simply pitch your tent and wait for visitors.

The onus is also on campaign investors to be smart.  While it is true it costs you nothing if a Kickstarter doesn’t reach its goal, there is very little besides internet disapproval to guarantee delivery on your funded investment.  A quick Google of “Kickstarter Fraud” turns up a pretty solid list, with the “Mythic” debacle showing up quite often.  To be fair, though, most of the stories are close to a year old, so it seems on the surface that out-right fraud on Kickstarter was a self-correcting issue.  But life can and does happen, and projects can find themselves unable to deliver on Kickstarter promises for any number of good reasons.  Good reasons don’t make you money any less gone, of course.

But taken all for all, Kickstarter seems to have brought a definite boost to the gaming industry, providing unprecedented contact between creators and those who might play (and therefore are likely to fund) their games.  While this contact is of obvious benefit to creators and massively convenient and exciting for gamers, there is some push-back at the retail level.  Many Friendly Local Game Stores feel that Kickstarter cuts them out of the loop, eroding their position as purveyors of the new and wonderful in the gaming industry.  And that has some merit, as far as it goes.  True, in days of old my FLGS was often my first contact with a new and interesting game; Kickstarter has stepped into that introductory role almost exclusively for many if not most.

But I also think that retailers may be engaging in a bit of a straw-man fight.  Many Kickstarter campaigns include pledge levels directed at the brick-and-mortar stores, allowing them access to a potential “new classic”.  As well, nothing about Kickstarter fundraising excludes FLGSs from the same role they have always played, as promoters and boosters of already published games.  After all, the goal for most campaigns is not just to provide enough of the new game to hand out to supporters, but to get published.  To varying degrees the funding allows the creator to publish in numbers beyond that needed to satisfy backers, and that is the point at which FLGSs step into their familiar and comfortable role.  Really, Kickstarter offers the same opportunity to retailers and distributors as it does to us, the gamers: a look at the new and exciting projects in the market.  If there is retailer exclusion in the Kickstarter process, the retailers seem to be doing it largely to themselves.

So Kickstarter has become an undeniable element of the current gaming landscape, ignored at one’s peril.  What about the future?  I don’t think the basic idea of Kickstarter is going away any time soon.  The low-risk, high-reward possibilities of crowd-funding make it too attractive to disappear, now that Kickstarter and its competitors have made the process so damn easy.  While variations on the theme might appear from time to time, there is no question that for the foreseeable future creators will continue to sing Kickstarter’s praises.

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If you are a burgeoning Kickstarter junkie, here are some other gaming-related campaigns that may be of interest:

Cheapass Games’ Deadwood Studios USA

Lester Smith’s Monster Con Card Game

9th Level Games Kobolds Ate My Baby! In Colour!

Green Ronin’s Freeport: The City of Adventure (Pathfinder ed.)

Alina Pete’s Weregeek Book 5: Random Encounters

 

What are your thoughts on Kickstarter and crowd-funding?  Have horror stories, or a potential KS gem you’d like to share?  The Comments await your coming!

Humpday Links for February 20

Another Odin’s Day is upon us, and with it the traditional offering of electronic links, as it was in ancient times.

But first, the news.  I reached my fundraising goal for the Hair Massacure with a nail-biter of a finish.  A huge thank-you has to go out to everyone who donated to the cause; I just paraded Imagearound in pink hair for a month but you guys made this fundraiser work.  Thank-you so much, and I hope you’ll keep the support going next year.  As you can see by the pic, I need to get going on growing out the hair now…

Also, the “My Patronus is a d20” t-shirt I created to support the fundraising did not get enough pre-orders to print, which is sad.  What isn’t sad is that I re-started the campaign with a Imagelower price, longer duration and lower pre-order minimum.  Proceeds still go to the Stollery, it just won’t be part of the Hair Massacure donation.  But I wanted to make sure the T-shirts printed this time, to reward the stalwart few who wanted them.  So click on the T-shirt image (or here) to go to pre-order and get your very limited edition nerd shirt.

Okay, less blather, more links!

Ernie Gygax Jr.’s home has burned down. Thankfully no one was hurt, but he could use our help.

Wizard’s of the Coast is set to re-print the original D&D white box set.  On the one hand I’m happy that a new generation will see where our hobby started. On the other…hey WotC, how about some new gaming material?

– Dragonchow (makers of my favourite dice bags) is undergoing a fantastic change as it turns three years old.

Weregeek creator Alina Pete has a Kickstarter going for her fifth Weregeek collection.  It is already on to stretch goals, so jump on board now!

– You’ve likely seen the “Chaos” teaser for the return of Game of Thrones. But it’s worth another watch, right?

– While you await the return of GoT, maybe you can hug these Jon Snow and Ghost plushies.

– If you’re like me, you love the old pulp sci-fi covers.  Now you can make your own.

SyFy is set to adapt Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle” as a four-part mini-series.  I’d write more, but I think that is the punchline.

– Paizo Project Manager Jessica Price gives a great article on how the gaming industry is getting less sexist.

– Wondering who the nominees for the Nebular Awards are?  Let SFFWA President John Scalzi tell you.

– If you are going to Gen Con (or even if you aren’t), why not book a few extra days and stay in a castle?

– If you like to doodle, why not give it a try in three dimensions?

– Ever wonder what Star Trek would look like if Pixar took the reins? Wonder no longer.

That’s all for this week, stay tuned for more bloggy goodness and don’t forget to be awesome.

Speak Out with your Geek Out: Day One – Web Comics

As part of the Speak Out with your Geek Out project started by Monica Valentinelli on her blog, all of my posts this week will highlight some aspect of geekery that I love. So join me in taking a little break from the anger and angst, and let’s remind ourselves why we love geek culture.

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Growing up, the comics page and Saturday comic insert were my favourite parts of the newspaper.  Until I got much older, I didn’t understand why they even bothered to print the rest of the paper ( a feeling I still carry, actually). The comics page, featuring the antics of Peanuts (“Curse you, Red Baron!”), The Far Side (“Bummer of a birth mark, Hal.”) and Bloom County (“Oop! Ack!!”) was obviously the star of the newspaper. But hey, I was a kid, what did I know?

Fast forward to 1999, and I’m just starting to spend a decent amount of time on the internet. Punching in whatever page search strikes my fancy, as was my wont in those days, I come across a link for something called pvponline.com…and that was my first step into the wide beautiful world of web comics.

Of course, after that first step I will admit I wallowed like a pig in muck for a great long while. I went through my early addictive phase, where every web comic was a little gem to add to my growing dragon’s hoard. I didn’t care about things like art quality or story in those days, I just knew I needed to read more, more, more! Eventually, realization that I only had so much time in a day to spend reading web comics led me to develop a more discerning palette, and the razing of my bookmark list.

Nowadays my decision to follow a particular web comic is dependant on three things: 1) does the subject interest me?, 2) is the art good? and 3) is the writing/story good? I don’t need all three of those to be a resounding yes; I can read a comic about gamers that has good writing and only okay art, for instance. But if the answer to the any of those questions is a no, that comic will never make it to my bookmarks folder. You may think that would limit my reading somewhat, but as of this post I have 56 links in my Web Comics folder, plus another 6-8 under review at any moment.

So why do I love web comics so much? First, the web is the only place I’m going to find comic strips with subjects and settings that I enjoy. What print newspaper is going to feature the fantasy gaming misadventures of Order of the Stick, for instance? Or carry the touching story of a pseudo-hipster and his friends, a la Questionable Content? Or even acknowledge the living presence of Something Positive (which I love sooo much!)? Second, besides the enjoyment they bring me (which is prodigious) I see web comics as a sign of a healthy geek culture. Not only are there enough readers for existing properties, but there are enough that new web comics are able to find a stable footing early on. Not to say I think it is easy for new strips, not by any means.  But if the strip creator is willing to put in the work, there are opportunities to grow an audience and make the strip successful. And that is exciting to me.

So if you aren’t already doing so, take some time to explore web comics and find some new ones to read. I can guarantee you will find at least one that will interest you, and often that one will link to others you may fall in love with. To get you started, here are five of my favourites, in no particular order. If you like them or already follow them, take a second to look at their links pages, and check out the web comics they recommend. You may find yourself a hidden gem…

– I have followed the work of Phil and Kaja Foglio since the days of “What’s New with Phil & Dixie” in Dragon Magazine. So falling in love with Girl Genius was practically pre-ordained. If you already follow this comic, revel in your luckiness. If you don’t, you’re welcome.

Weregeek, by Alina Pete, is a perfect example of a fantastically drawn and written comic for/about geeks that would never be syndicated in a print newspaper. Which is fine with me, more geeky goodness for those of us on the web. Also, Alina and her boyfriend Layne are the nicest people ever; if you have a chance to stop by their booth at a convention then do it!

– How could science and computers possibly be funny? xkcd and Randall Munroe answer that question in spades! Also, it is my second favourite stick-figure comic strip, out of…well, two. Note to new web comic artists: no more, OotS and xkcd have it covered.

– A relatively new discovery, Christopher Baldwin’s Spacetrawler is a funny, touching story of humans “drafted” to fight for inter-stellar liberation. You’ll even fall in love with the villains, it’s that kind of comic.

– And finally, d20 Monkey, one of my favourite RPG related strips. Brian Patterson really captures the heart of the gamer community with his strips. And yes, admittedly, that heart has a goodly share of dick jokes. I regret nothing.

That’s all for today, folks! Have a favourite comic of your own to share or a comment on the ones I posted here? Comment below, but please limit yourself to one link per comment, please. And join me tomorrow for the next installment in Speak Out with your Geek Out!