I’m going to be doing a couple of articles loosely based on the trends that I’ve seen lately in the board game world. This is the first of those and relates to Kickstarter and it’s influence.

Everyone has an opinion or suggestion or thoughts regarding Kickstarter lately, so I thought I’d throw my two cents into the ring as well.

Recent Kickstarter promotions got me thinking, starting with how marketing goes into the success of games, and in this case, how it changes and evolves as their funding period nears the end. My twitter feed blew up with all the tweets regarding Skyway Robbery and the countdown in hours and dollars until it finally hit its funding goal with sparse minutes to spare.

Specifically, buried within those tweets, there had been a comment early in the day that gave rise to this conversation in my head. It was about why another game, perceived to be of (questionable) subpar quality comparatively, had achieved considerably much more financial backing while arguably lacking a significant portion of the major reviewers endorsements and comments (i.e. raved reviews) while the one that had them was limping to the finish line like a sprinter with a torn Achilles.

At first pass, I looked at it like similar to this scenario in another industry; the current TV market. Shows like NCIS and The Big Bang Theory are the most “popular” (by ratings) shows on television the past several years. But are these really the “best” shows on TV? Those seen above could be argued to have much more critical acclaim than their counterparts. Or have they simply used the best combination of marketing with a product that has the broadest and lowest common denominator in terms of likability and used that as an outline to success?

One of the most acclaimed shows in recent memory, Breaking Bad, had an epic, immensely touted, could not miss grand series finale on AMC that had a total of…drumroll please:

10.3 million people watch.

AVERAGE # people watching NCIS during 2013-14 season:

18.51 million (19.7 depending on the source)/(22.4 million w/DVR included)

Just so it doesn’t make it look like I’m totally skewing the data, according to this chart shows like “Mike and Molly” and “2 Broke Girls” both averaged near the 9-9.5 million views mark, which doesn’t put them much below that Breaking Bad number. And nobody should be willing to argue that they’re anything to write home about.

So basically, a middle of the road quality TV show on one of the big 3 major networks is almost guaranteed numbers wise to meet or beat a top tier quality (i.e. demographics/ratings) just through sheer attrition of people. Akin to this, a top notch written board game article on a small blog getting less reads (views) than a “popular” board game site writing one of significantly lesser quality. This is an example of and leads me right into the next point…

Popularity breeds popularity and momentum breeds more momentum which then brings success, and the board game design/publishing race is no exception to that rule (as Jamie so recently pointed out again). I frequently find myself cruising the board game launches page on Kickstarter and admit, I too, love to use the “Sort by popularity” feature to see what’s trending. But recently, my browsing has left me thinking something different; something I shouldn’t have been as surprised by and should have perhaps crossed my mind earlier…

Because as Andy Grove stated “Success breeds complacency” leading me to wonder…

Has the Kickstarter board game bubble burst?

I haven’t crunched the data but the fact that the topic has come up makes me legitimately consider such a thought. The last year on Kickstarter for board games, their funding, and the popularity has been at the very least, outstanding, and the without solid evidence to back it, most likely off the charts historically for this pastime. But like the dot com, housing, and cupcake bubbles, has common spending sense with limited financial resources finally caught up with the recent board game craze?

I’m not sure the reason it looks the way it does right now. Is it that more board games are being put up on Kickstarter thus causing a dilution of limited funds? Are more games just funding at lower goals? Maybe there just aren’t as many people funding in general currently. A big common post that can be found on Board Game Geek at any one time recently is the i.e. “Look at What I’ve Backed on KS” thread. But quite often contained within those threads are the not so subtle posts along the lines of:

“I shouldn’t have back this/as many games as I did…” or

“I’m looking to sell my Kickstarter version of the game because of …{insert reason here}…”

Interpreted basically, has the legitimate concern for having buyer’s regret combined with limited backer financial resources overcome the urge to spend on the sheer premise and promise of a game, even in the setting of stamp of critical acclaim?

Or are we looking at other factors or a combination thereof altogether?

Are people just feeling over-saturated or burnt out? You can only own so many games before some, if not a significant portion, stop being able to hit the table on regular basis regardless the hourly devotion to the cardboard craft. “Strike while the iron is hot” approach is seen on the genre and themes of games but seriously, how many party/Cards against Humanity/Zombie themed games can people back before buyer fatigue sets in? (**This is a topic deserving another article altogether**)

The complacency in this case is one where new and old designers/publishers alike have seen what has been popular, and instead of creating their own unique product, would rather ride the coattails of said theme that people seem to be smitten with. Staying with the TV theme, hence the recent relative years of betting by networks on spin offs and rebrandings (CBS comes to mind in particular for criticism here) and as much as I love me another CSI: Timbuktu (I’m looking at you NCIS: New Orlea-blah), saturation occurs. In the Kicstarter setting especially, it’s an issue even more so when it becomes compounded by the fact that there’s no instant payoff, and can often take months to even a year or more to see a return on funds that become immediately sapped from your bank account.

How about another theory? Are we simply looking at the pendulum swinging back the other direction with the big players, i.e. major board game designers/publishers ramping up their efforts to get those dollars back in their pockets? Are they upping their ante in trying to get buy up smaller games and ideas to keep from giving consumers more options? Let’s not forget how conventions play into this as well. They remain a huge market for hordes of gamers in a single place and having a product in hand that you can physically walk away with. This becomes innumerably more the case with ones biggies like Essen, where each year limited versions and amounts of yet to be broadly released games are given/sold out like Rolls Royce to only the lucky few. Mix that in with a community that has a distinct clique of “I-want-it-all collectors”, the thought of missing out tugs at their heart strings and seemingly provides an unending life to this model.

And publishers know this; they wouldn’t continue such practices if it didn’t bring in the moo-lah. Why else do you think with the recent successes on KS and otherwise, many smaller “Indie” companies have popped up? Their success, often with first projects based off of Kickstarter, allow future support of designers/publishers on subsequent projects and allow them to be more mainstream outside of the Kickstarter funded world. But this too further spreads those dollars.

So what do you guys think? Would you agree that the Kickstarter “bubble” is burst? Or are we somewhere else along that trajectory? I’d love to hear other peoples’ thoughts on the topic.

Let me be clear, though. I think Kickstarter is here to stay and won’t become a dying cause because of any of these reasons listed above. But the pendulum has swung back a little and I do think that it is starting to reach its equilibrium in terms of appeal and total funding levels. And then again, I could as easily be wrong on any of these accounts. But I do think it will remain because I think you’re still looking at a free market capitalistic enterprise where the person with a superior idea/game and initiative can/will find a way to get it funded and made. Those willing and able to be creative, inventive, and bring us games that are fun and of high quality will still manage to succeed regardless of their route.

After all, isn’t that what we’re about?

Sneak Peak of the next article’s topic: Going a little meta, talking about reviewing in general.
So if you have any thoughts or questions, feel free to send ’em to me…