Are Kickstarter campaigns with one-shot exclusives creating a two-tier gaming community? Those who have the regular games and the “Kickstarter elite” who can afford both the time and the money that the higher tiers require? Is this even a problem? Our very own John shares his views:

What follows are my reflections on my changing opinion as a direct result of interacting with some of our followers on Facebook.

On the FATB Facebook page I expressed minor disappointment with a Kickstarter campaign by an established publisher. It related to a fully developed game which would be published regardless of crowd funding and no content was exclusive to Kickstarter. Essentially the campaign was a way of ensuring pre-orders and recouping development costs as quickly as possible. I expressed that whilst I didn’t think this was ‘wrong’, it wasn’t in the spirit of Kickstarter.

This prompted a few comments both on Facebook and in real life, causing me to ponder the issue more deeply and ultimately changed my opinions.

The “oooooh” Factor

Like many, I enjoy having something a bit special, something that elicits an involuntary “oooooh” as it’s revealed. In game terms the Kickstarter exclusive serves this purpose well. An extra character or a fancy box can provoke an excited response. Yet, our pleasure in this sense of pride is essentially born out jealousy and that, to my mind, is against the very ethos of our beautiful hobby.

Gaming together should be a shared experience where everyone has fun. Envy plays a very one sided part in the fun balance, its very nature means one person is enjoying the other’s sense of inadequacy.

Two tier gaming

There shouldn’t be two tiers of game owners – those who had the opportunity and resources to back a campaign and those who buy an inferior retail version. Expansions also create this disparity. However, the key element in that situation is choice.

Let me elaborate, Kickstarter exclusives are often offered as incentives to over-fund the whole project, known as stretch goals or as different levels of commitment you wish to invest known as a your pledge level. Once the campaign is completed there is usually no way of obtaining these. Whereas retail expansions offer an ongoing chance to enhancing an already enjoyable gaming experience.

Simply pre-sales?

Obviously a huge bonus to crowd funding is projects produced by start-up companies or with a niche market may become viable. It guarantees sales before expensive, small scale, production runs happen. However, established companies have often met their development costs in advance of the campaign. At first glance the benefits appear to be heavily weighted on the publisher’s side with little benefit to the backer, especially if it lacks Kickstarter exclusives.

Equality to all and power to the Meeple

So does this mean they shouldn’t use this model of funding? In my opinion no, the use is legitimate and we have a choice not to back a project. More importantly though, there’s an opportunity to improve what everyone gets.

The retail version of the game can be enhanced. It’s a chance to put more in the box, fund additional development or upgrade components. The result is everyone who buys the game gets the best possible gaming experience. Equality to all and power to the Meeple.

Backer recognition.

But shouldn’t backers get some kind of recognition of their early stage support? Pledging your hard earned pennies for something which doesn’t yet exist, is an act of trust and this should be duly recognised. Most significantly, communication. You should know what your coppers are actually achieving and what’s happening specifically because of you.

As a backer you pledge money in advance and it’s nice if you receive the game ahead of commercial release.

 That said, talk is cheap, yet money talks. Without Kickstarter exclusive content why not wait for the retail version? Price reductions are excellent motivators. The industry standard is for heavy discounts through retailers and this direct selling model offers a chance to at least match that (which may not be possible for new companies with small productions).
 It would be galling if your early commitment results in paying more for the same thing. It’s like the Christmas presents you bought later appearing in the New Year sales. We know it’s going to happen, but that doesn’t make it any more pleasant.

Time is money. As a backer you pledge money in advance and it’s nice if you receive the game ahead of commercial release. Although offering a benefit, production values remain the same. Moreover, the people in receipt of the pre-release games are often enthusiastically vocal. When there are questions of “how does a game make it’s presence known in a flooded market?”, free advertising is a gift.

I’m not actually completely against Kickstarter exclusives, just those which create a superior game for a limited period. Backer acknowledgements in rule books, t-shirts, art books, posters etc are a unique thank you without elitism.

Euphoria's kicksterter exclusive realistic resources

Realistic resource tokens, a Kickstarter exclusive for Euphoria

Interestingly, the day after I reached these conclusions, Stonemaier Games sent out a Kickstarter update which explains a very similar epiphany regarding Kickstarter exclusives which resulted in discontinuing the, previously very successful, practice in future campaigns.

Furthermore , Stonemaier Games is seeking the consent of their backers to make a new version of the beautiful realistic resource tokens, previously a Kickstarter exclusive, as part of a ‘treasure chest’ to be used with many games, not just their own. Obviously this is an additional product in their line, but it also stays true to the ideal that everyone should have the best possible gaming experience when playing any game.

In conclusion

So have I backed the campaign that originally underwhelmed me? Truthfully, no. The incentives aren’t yet great enough for me to hand over my cash. However, since pondering these matters my respect for the way it is being run has indeed increased.

I am also really glad that other people are backing it. The stretch goals are being reached and the development and content is coming on a pace. The retail product, which will be identical to the Kickstarter product, looks fantastic. What this ultimately means is I will support the other potential victim of the direct sales model by buying this awesomely enhanced title from my local games shop after release.

In the meantime, I’ll have to listen to all those people who get their hands on it first… and by backing it they’ve earned the right to shout about it.

Thanks to everyone who entered this debate. My current viewpoint is very different to my original perspective.

So readers, what are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below or drop us an email. We’d love to hear from you.