Tuesday, March 19, 2013

My Kickstarter Criteria

Kickstarter has revolutionized the way creators bring their projects to the market, combining online communities and interaction with marketing and fundraising. I signed up for Kickstarter almost a year ago when Wired’s GeekDad ran a feature about some games under development that caught my interest; during that time I’ve backed a handful of projects that both engaged my interest and remained within the limit of financial reason.

I’ve discussed “Kickstarter & Game Project Patronage” here at Hobby Games Recce before. It’s an innovative way creators can tap into their fan base, gauge interest in their projects, generate more excitement online, and raise money from generous “patrons” eager to see the project reach completion. Kickstarter projects have their complexities and pitfalls, as noted by several blogs, articles, and even statistical studies. As a “patron” I’ve had a fairly satisfying experience thus far, given my fairly laid back attitude toward project fulfillment. Aside from ultimately receiving fantastic, creator-driven projects, I’ve found Kickstarter taps into a sense of artistic philanthropy, of funding a project I find worthwhile with the distant future promise of receiving something in return.

I’m not into fancy graphs or statistics like other folks evaluating their Kickstarter backer experience; but if you’ll indulge me I’ll offer a few glimpses into the kinds of projects I’ve supported thus far:

* Total Projects Supported: 7.

* “Game” Projects: 6. “Publishing” Projects: 1

* Delivered Late: 1. Pending: 2. Late & Undelivered: 3. Still Funding: 1.

* Projects by People I Know: 3.

* Board/Card Games: 4. Roleplaying Games: 2. Book: 1.

To offer an insight into what engages my interest and hits the right pledge price point, here are the seven Kickstarter campaigns I supported: Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule! (card game), Minion Games’ Tahiti (pick-up and deliver tile board game), Catalyst Games’ The Duke (abstract strategy board game), Wicked North Games’ Westward (steampunk sci-fi roleplaying game), Monte Cook’s Numenera (far-future sci-fi roleplaying game), Stan!’s The Littlest Shoggoth (illustrated, Cthulhu-themed children’s book), and Tasty Minstrel Games’ Dungeon Roll (dungeon-delving-themed dice game).

Kickstarter projects must fulfill several requirements for me before I consider backing them:

Innovative, Engaging Idea: A project must tap into one of my many fields of interest across the spectrum of original board, card, and roleplaying games. The few I’ve backed involve themes of steampunk, far future, goblins, dungeon-delving, and strategy. And Cthulhu, we can’t forget Cthulhu. Some I’ve supported because they offer young player potential for that time when my now-toddler grows old enough to dive into the lighter aspects of games (or completely hate it); even then, they must exhibit innovative mechanics to engage older players or entertain people who are relatively new to gaming. The one “publishing” project I backed for numerous reasons, not the least of which was to have something fun and Cthulhu-themed to read to/corrupt my toddler.

Price Point: After a project catches my eye it must pass perhaps the ultimate test for me…how much must I pledge to receive a physical copy of the material? The price must remain reasonable. “Reasonable” remains a subjective term for many, and even within my own realm of experience. For me this generally hovers around $25, though I’ve invested more in projects I’ve deemed particularly groundbreaking for various personal reasons. I’m even more excited when the price point seems reasonable in exchange for high production values or additional stretch goals that heap more material into the hands of supporters at the basic, print-product backer level I usually pledge. Trust me, I’d love to back Ares GamesSails of Glory Kickstarter -- I love the company’s Wings of Glory games (previously named Wings of War), want to support the company in its endeavors, and like dabbling in the historical period -- but $80 is far too much for me to spend on the basic starter set necessary to play the game. Many interesting projects offer to deliver finished materials in PDF form (either for a roleplaying game book or a print-and-play tabletop game), but I like professionally produced physical copies; the jump between the PDF backer rewards and the print ones often seem too great for my budget.

High Production Value: The finished product must exhibit quality worthy of the basic pledge price to obtain a physical copy (see above). This isn’t always easy to judge on Kickstarter. One must base this evaluation primarily on the graphic design quality of material previewed on Kickstarter, including the promotional video, illustrations of work in progress or final artwork, and even PDF materials such as rules and print-and-play components. The best projects offer frequent updates showcasing graphic elements as they’re finished; some even have separate websites offering constant development updates and additional artwork. Though I’ve only received one out of seven backed projects so far, I don’t feel I’ve supported anything with substandard production values.

I Know These People: I’m more apt to back a project by someone I know and admire than a complete stranger with even a stellar Kickstarter pitch. I know personally or by reputation the principles on three projects I’ve backed. The people behind two projects are folks with whom I’ve worked with before in the gaming industry…and they’re fantastic people to know personally. The other personality behind the third “people-based” project I backed is such a game industry rock star who proposed such a groundbreaking product that I couldn’t resist. On one of these I actually paid more to back the project (beyond the level of getting the basic print product) both to get some fun extras and to show my support for a friend.

I don’t worry about delivery times as long as I get a product someday. I’ve not yet backed anyone who’s disappeared from all existence along with their project, but I’ve backed several who’ve taken longer than anticipated to fulfill their Kickstarter promises. I don’t mind; I presume delays come from the creators trying to ensure quality in the finished products. I view my pledge as an investment in a game that, when it finally arrives -- sometimes long after I’ve forgotten about it -- is a pleasant and engaging surprise.

I do not actively wander around the Kickstarter site itself looking for projects worth my investment. Finding them through other venues requires them to have merit enough that folks I respect (having read their comments, blogs, or web features) recommend them. My two primary sources for news of interesting Kickstarter projects remain Wired’s GeekDad and Google+ scuttlebutt. GeekDad regularly offers features on Kickstarters interesting and worthwhile enough to garner its editors’ attention; such honest, third-party evaluations help me decide if the concept, content, and price are worth a closer look. Folks within my Google+ Circles often bring to my attention engaging Kickstarter projects; they’re in my Circles to begin with, so I know and trust them, or they share similar interests I can appreciate. Google+ also has several Communities discussing worthwhile Kickstarter projects, and one can always search Google+ for “Kickstarter” to survey what’s new and shiny.

While my Kickstarter backer experience has proved satisfying at both the philanthropic and gaming levels, I’m still on the fence whether Kickstarter would prove right for funding my own game projects. The process, requirements, and uncertain enthusiasm from backers all seem daunting to neophytes like me despite the promise of well-funded projects, exciting stretch goals, and eager backers.