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Soapbox: Kickstarter Exclusives

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.

6 thoughts on “Soapbox: Kickstarter Exclusives”

  1. It is companies like Stonemaier and the guy who did Xia: Legends of a Drift System that deserve the backing. Small independent game designers who may not get picked up by a publisher.

    Even without all the shiny stuff I would have backed Euphoria as it sounded to be a good game and the price with Viticulture as well made it an absolute bargain. Plus there was no guarantee that Esdevium would stock the retail box of Euphoria. In some ways I wished I had backed Xia as well but it was a case to too much at the same time.

    I don’t mind stretch goals and I believe that the stretch goals should not be KS exclusives but items that make it to the retail box as well, but without the guys who back the project those ‘extras’ would not see the light of day.

    What a certain small but well know games publisher did with one of their KS projects (allegedly) is to split up a otherwise complete game into KS stretch goals and mini expansions this is not so cool.

    One of the key factors that stops me from backing a lot of projects is the postage, games projects are based in the states and they have a high postage to the UK, which usually means that waiting for the game to hit retail is better as with OLGS/FLGS discounts it is usually far cheaper than to back it in the 1st place, but there is the uncertainty of it actually being released.

    I’m looking forward to Stonemaiers next Kickstarter which is Tuscany the expansion to Viticulture and Viticulture should be being made available again at that point.

    1. Hi Andy, thanks for your insights. I’m glad to hear Euphoria was a successful campaign for you (I certainly can’t wait to play Johns copy).

      Getting a kickstarter “right” is a tricky thing to achieve it seems. There are many ways to approach a campaign and a successful approach for one company may not work for another.

      The postage is certainly an issue – especially now that import tax is being enforced more rigorously. I have seen many games from the US that I want, but I simply cannot justify the cost once tax and postage have been added on.
      A real shame.

  2. I’d prefer a market where KS Exclusives are non-game content related (posters, t-shirts, etc) and any stretch goals make the retail version good for all.

    But without exclusives what should be the compelling factor to back a project? Well first and foremost it should be a professional project with lots of art, videos, and rule descriptions. It should be plain to us that the project looks good and has a USP for us. Add a discounted price and why wouldn’t we back it?

    ASIDE:
    I’ve seen far two many Fighty games on KS which hope to raise millions by offering umpteen miniatures for the painters and collectors out there. Let me expand this as a full complaint:

    1 – It is very easy to come up with a game which has two sides fighting each other. Regardless of theme or mechanics just create two opposing forces with slightly different strengths and bung it up on KS. This type of game is flooding KS and is an immediate turn off for me.
    2 – “never mind the gameplay, look at the minis”. I suspect this is only a gripe for me from a board gamer’s perspective, whereas all the mini fans and painters are probably in heaven over them. BUT IT’S ARTIFICIAL! Look at Flying Frog’s new game Shadows of Brimstone. I unique looking Western/Horror dungeon crawl that was tempting but it ended up horribly full of exclusive minis, many simply alternative gender models, and charging hundreds for the complete version. Yet it generated $1.3m. Ye gads!
    END ASIDE

    Now to end this rant on the last honest point of my objection to KS Exclusives.
    Many projects are $30+ shipping to the UK. I am happy to wait for the retail version to arrive BUT I want it to be the same as the KS version, thanking the American colonists for making the project happen.
    I don’t want to have to chose between paying for the exclusive KS version with $40 shipping, or the retail version which has less content. Because I will chose the retail version to save my money but that means I’ll always feel I have the inferior product.

    So as John says: two tier? BAD!

    1. It’s also a really interesting point you raise about fighting based games. I wonder if that’s what it feels like or if self-publication really is leading into an increase in this type of game. I’m not sure how you’d quantify it, but it might be interesting to look into it.

      I could be wrong, but I’m also not sure that the minis have that much appeal to the painters. Usually a box is filled with a load of miniatures, but they’re often masses of the same thing. The people who I’ve chatted to about model painting would rather have a couple of really nice detailed pieces on the whole.

      I’d love to hear the thoughts of mini painters out there.

  3. In the spirit of openness and honesty I have now indeed backed the campaign. The sweeteners became interesting enough and my desire for this cool looking game got the better of my wallet.

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