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Board Games Draw Big Bucks on Kickstarter

The barrier entry to successfully publish board games is much lower on crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

For a while now, Games have been the most profitable category on Kickstarter. The closest competitors are Design and Technology. The term ‘Games,’ however, includes two most divergent types of products: board games and video games. From 2012 to 2017, the amount of Kickstarter game projects has grown by 228%, and the money earned has increased by 120%. There’s a simple reason why there are less successful video game campaigns than there used to be.

Board games, despite their intricacies, are products that can be handled by a small team, have definite costs, and are less likely to require a million copies sold to make a profit. Video games, on the other hand, comes with a broad scope. A tiny team cannot make much difference. An average video game project goes through a tonne of stages such as prototype, pre-production, production, post-release support, etc. for at least 36 months, sometimes even five years, and the team size varies from 20 to hundreds of individuals, depending on the scope of the game. The professionals involved are – server programmers, coders, animators, artists, game designers, writers, level designers, QA, marketing, and are often people who’re in high-demand and expensive. The profits made depend on the kind of deal made with the publisher, the distribution plan, and sometimes even rely on the success of the hosting platform. In simple words: it’s a complicated business.

A lot of video game projects that relied on crowdfunding, including Broken Age, ended up facing issues and delays in their journey. Even when the game raises an astronomical amount, it needs a lot more money for the final product to reach the customer.

Assessing the pitfalls can take time for both the kickstart project backers and the game studios. What once looked like a funding solution may start to deliver its own challenges in the long-run. Keeping the community happy, the constant need to track and show all progress, postponing deadlines, etc. does not show a very healthy picture. Game studios want to focus more on developing a game. Many revert to the traditional funding route when they’re unable to deliver on time.

Unlike video games, board games are flourishing without any glitches. With a total of $900 million USD, board games have been growing by 23% in 2016, and 38% in 2017. By comparison, video games are stagnant at 17 million USD. Now there are more board games being made than ever.

One of the most successful Kickstarter projects Cards Against Humanity is a board game. The game raised a modest $15,000 in 2012 and has gone on to become a cultural phenomenon.

Kickstarter campaigns play two very important roles in the board game universe. First, they are effective democratizing tools. Crowdfunding tools have done the same thing for game designers that WordPress and Tumblr did for writers: turn them into publishers. In the absence of outlets like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, game designers would have to pitch to traditional publishers. These publishers would have total control over a game – they could tweak the artwork, theme and the overall marketing campaign.

Second, crowdfunding platforms come in handy as a way to assess the market’s willingness to order a game. All a game designer has to do is explain their idea on the platform with photos and videos and ask for pledges. If the fundraising goal is met, the game is published.

Game designers are exchanging tips too. There are tons of websites with advice on how to successfully launch a board game on a crowdfunding platform. Reviews like The Dice Tower and Shut Up & Sit Down put the spotlight on new and promising games and publicize them on blogs and podcasts through social media. Stonemaier Games, for instance, offers Kickstarter insights on board games.

Given the influence of gamers and designers, you can’t just throw the idea out there and expect it to thrive. A successful campaign requires a lot of prepping to try to hype up the game to potential donors.

This gold rush hasn’t been without its scandals. The Federal Trade Commission launched its first ever crowdfunding case in 2015 when a game campaign which had earned over $100,000 failed to deliver its promise. The man behind the campaign, Erik Chevalier, agreed to a settlement with the agency.

As our lives become more and more virtual, you might expect board games to fade away. But if anything, the trends suggest this genre will reach new heights in the coming years – in part, thanks to crowdfunding platforms.

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