The 'tabletop' category on Kickstarter is one of the most popular on the site, but what has this meant for the industry? (Source: Kickstarter)

So far, at the beginning of May 2020, a total of $4,940,935,579 has been pledged to Kickstarter campaigns. Almost 5 billion dollars. That’s £3,990,299,573.60 or roughly the price of 17,000 houses. Since its inception in 2009, people have used the crowdfunding platform to raise money for anything and everything. Films, TV shows, albums, tours, food products, strap-on beards, meat-flavoured soaps or even the world’s largest jockstrap.

One category is particularly prominent. If you search ‘Kickstarter’ on Google, the search engine suggests ‘Kickstarter board games’ as the third most popular result – behind only ‘Kickstarter’ and ‘Kickstarter UK’. So, what is it about this website that is so appealing to both game creators and fans alike?

What is crowdfunding?

Mallow Veselak’s RPG project Wickedness has already received £13,000 in pledges – almost three times her original goal. (Source: M Veselak)

The term ‘crowdfunding’ refers to when, instead of a single body investing a large amount in a project, lots of people each invest a small amount. Lifting the financial barrier allows more people to get a foot in the industry. This means we get a more diverse range of ideas and concepts, more people thinking outside the box, more people taking risks. Games that might never be given the green light by larger companies can be brought to life without them.

“I don’t know how I’d even begin to approach a larger publishing company as a freshman roleplaying game writer,” says Mallow Veselak, 31, “like any industry, I think it’s a little bit impenetrable unless you’re connected and established.” The US-based game creator, whose project Wickedness is live on Kickstarter now, adds that the reception has been “staggering.”

“I’ve had some limited experience selling PDFs through itch.io, but I’ve never had the kind of response there that we’ve received for Wickedness.”

But, unfortunately, reaching her goal early doesn’t mean that she can just sit back and relax until the campaign ends. “We still need to crunch some numbers and also consider what other material improvements to the game we can offer. For example, some print options we rejected, in the beginning, may now have become feasible!

“Kickstarter as a platform has lots of peaks and valleys – it’s always a lot of attention in the first few days, then a lull with spikes, and then a lot of attention as you wrap up, so we want to make sure the final product is as jam-packed as we can.”

Some Kickstarter campaigns invite fans to create part of the game themselves. (Source: Olmec Games)

As well as giving more power to smaller names in the business, Kickstarter also gives more power to the most important group of people – the fans. “I’m truly excited to bring this project to Kickstarter,” says UK-based creator James Baldwin, on the fundraising page of his new adventure wargame the Ulaya Chronicles, “and invite you into the community. Let’s make something great together!”

And he means it. The top tier of reward, available for those that pledge £750, allows the backer to create their own character to be used in the game. Of course, Baldwin has to approve it, but it’s still a chance to be a significant part of the game’s history. Even at lower tiers, fans are taking on the role of investors to decide what games should and should not be made. This means that creators need to be a lot more transparent than they usually would, letting backers into the production process so that they know what their money is going towards. The page for music-themed battle card game Battle of the Boy Bands even has a timeline of the production process, from launch to shipping.

Pay now, buy later

Giving everyone the opportunity to create a game might sound like it would lead to a saturation of the market, but the harsh reality is that not every Kickstarter project succeeds. In total, according to the Kickstarter stats page, 181,486 projects have reached their financial goals – out of 484,485. This is sad, sure, but at the risk of sounding like a mean-spirited old guy in a suit, that’s business, kid.

According to Veselak, there’s definitely a learning curve. “You have to be able to look at material costs and set rates for yourself and others, and present a pitch for your game in a way that you don’t have to with other kinds of self-publishing. It can look intimidating for a new creator who isn’t confident about how their work might fair.”

“Kickstarter kind of has its own built-in audience, which is amazing, but the whole experience has also been an exercise in learning to promote my work.”

For successfully funded projects, this eliminates a certain element of risk. If a game is self-funded, and not enough market research is done, there’s a chance no-one will buy it and the publisher will lose money. Whereas on Kickstarter, if a game gets funded it’s because people want to buy it. In this, albeit reductive, sense, the platform acts as something of a pre-order service. You pay for the game before it’s even been made, and the creator then uses that money to make the game.

Tabletop horror game Kingdom Death: Monster 1.5 has become one of the most funded Kickstarter projects of all time, raising a total of $12,393,139 (£9,887,122) (Source: Kingdom Death)

With Kickstarter, the most important thing is the game itself. Not how much money you have, not how many games you’ve made before, not how big your team is. If the idea at the core of the game is good, people will be interested. And that’s the way it should be.