Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Kickstarter, indiegogo and all the rest...

It's a pretty darn good idea... if you're American!

I guess I've been meaning to write something about this whole Kickstarter and Indiegogo phenomenon for sometime now. If you are unaware of what either of these two websites are I'll give you a brief overview. Currently we're in a bit of a pickle globally in terms of having investment capital for small to medium projects. Something about bankers wasting Trillions of dollars and plunging the entire western world into a recession and or depression. So what do creative sorts do when they can't get funding via the normal channels, like bank loans or investors? Well until now they had to beg, borrow or steal off of their friends and family... but Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer a very simple and clever solution to this problem. They actually offer a distributive funding model based around service provision for funding supplied. So if I say fund somebody starting a new game up, I might get a signed copy of the rulebook when it is in print or something.

This distributive method of funding has some interesting benefits for all concerned therefore:

  1. As it's not a pure 'investment' model or lending situation the people behind the project retain 100% creative control. If you give up a share of your company or take a loan from a bank the level of scrutiny is fat greater and pressure to change the project to make it more viable can be 'pressing'.
  2. There is an upfront agreement between the funder and the fundee that there is a level service or product to be provided in return for their money. This is a much simpler and open contract, in short there's a 'consideration' happening, and that keeps things nice and easy for all concerned.
  3. Certain creative projects are actually very difficult to pitch to investors and banks, simply because the market is 'unknown'. Kickstarter and Indiegogo change that by exposing the idea to the market and showing you and others the potential of what you are doing.

The last point in turn might actually give you greater scope to then return back to those investors and banks and say "hey, look at all this support my project got. You sure you aren't interested in investing?" Personally I think this distributive funding malarkey is a genius idea, I fully support it and if I had the money there are plenty of products I'd be endorsing financially as well. However, I've seen others who simply don't like the idea of distributive funding at all, and who seem opposed to it. I've also seen people make judgements on what is worthy of funding and what isn't.

For non-American's there's Indiegogo.

I'm going to use two examples that I've spotted recently, one on Indiegogo and the other on Kickstarter. The first is Mini War Games Dark Potential, which I think it is fair to say has been a rip roaring success story so far... so congratulations to them!

As you can see from their initial video they've so totally smashed their original goal with this Indiegogo campaign that it seems unreal. I for one am glad they have, because Mini War Games have done a fair old amount to promote the hobby globally via their video's and also because the game looks interesting. As far as I'm concerned there's always more space for interesting new games... even if my games room tells me there isn't, I'll just have to fit more shelving units in there, somewhere... or maybe build an extension!

It's clear this project has gotten a lot support and good will from the wider community. Why is this the case? Well I simply thought it was because the project seemed like a fun one, and that the people behind Mini War Games are just simply put really nice chaps. However, I've sort of had to reappraise whether or not that is the case because of my second example I'm going to use, which is Zombicide from Cool Mini or Not, which is up on Kickstarter, here check their video out.

I was a little surprised though to see the comments on a Beasts of War article about the project and in a few other places. The negativity surprised me for a number of reasons:

  1. I actually like Cool Mini of Not and what they produce.
  2. The logic being used by people in defence of their own anti-Zombicide on Kickstarter opinions.

I'm not saying they're wrong to have those opinions, because they're their opinions and they're more than entitled to them! They've just surprised me is all. I guess having had to work in the field of getting money into a project via investors and banks, I personally know how difficult it can be for sensible well explored projects with sound business planning to get the funding they need. I had stupidly assumed that Kickstarter and Indiegogo were simply another tool and vehicle open to us all to use. After all the model is a simple one, you either support the campaign being run on Kickstarter or Indiegogo or you don't. If you support it you get something in return, it's kind of like going into a shop and buying something... no, it's exactly like that now I think about it.

So I'm going to look at some of the arguments used and see if I can't try and understand where people are coming from. The first one for me is simply the fact that Kickstarter and Indiegogo shouldn't be for established companies. I guess Indiegogo's name doesn't help here with the word 'Indie' featuring prominently. There does appear to be a logical belief that these projects should be for start up business or projects. I guess that's where I see their main benefit too, but why should that preclude other companies who are already established from utilising these distributive funding tools? Why shouldn't Games Workshop come to the community and ask us to invest in a new idea or game? I don't think they would because of how secretive their corporate culture is, but why shouldn't they?

Some of the really cool concept art from Dark Potential.

The argument that they already have the money is somewhat moot to me. Many companies have the money to invest in their own R&D projects but choose to go to the market to bring further investment in to support new product development. So why should Kickstarter and Indiegogo be any different? If you didn't want to fund a project you don't have too. So for me I guess I just view these two websites as another way of receiving funding for projects. Interestingly though was the specific claim that Cool Mini or Not are big fish specifically, I guess they are in a way in our hobby big fish. But they're not as big as Games Workshop, Privateer Press or Battlefront, they're certainly not on that scale are they? Conversely aren't Mini War Gaming a fairly large online retailer? So clearly the angst wasn't just about 'who' these companies were.

So what about the projects? Here we can actually see some difference and I guess I can see the logic behind the arguments here far more clearly. The charge levied at Cool Mini or Not is that Zombiecide already exists, and that therefore why should people fund a larger initial print run? That's surely a business decision that you as a company have to take. I actually have some sympathy with this sort of stance actually, I guess what Cool Mini or Not are doing is basically using Kickstarter as an advanced pre-order service that will allow them to produce a larger print run, which in turn reduces their costs and potentially increases their profitability of the project, while potentially reducing the cost to us the consumer. This is clearly a very different use of distributive funding than Mini War Gamings Dark Potential game. Question is therefore whether or not Cool Mini or Not's use of Kickstarter in this way is valid.

Some of the already sculpted minis for Zombiecide

I suppose it all comes down to how you view the purpose of such distributive funding sites. I personally view them as a tool to be used pure and simple. I don't see them as having a wider cultural or social purpose like some do. For me it's a simple consideration transaction, I give you money to help your achieve whatever goal it is you want to, in return you give me something. Either you think it's worth it or you don't. I personally see no problem with how Cool Mini or Not have used Kickstarter, nor do I have any issues with Mini War Gaming using Indiegogo even though they're also a business that should have a revenue stream to potentially support their games development. I personally would've supported both if I had the dosh, but I don't. I am however genuinely interested in what other peoples take is on both Kickstarter and Indiegogo in general, not just these two projects. Peace out!


  1. These sites (and RocketHub, etc) are currently the big indie thing over in the video gaming world, I see no issue with them being so for the toy soldier world as well.

    When I think about Kingdom Death (random start-up example pulled out of the air), this would have been the logical funding source for them rather than having to do limited-run productions of individual minis that may not have panned out.

    I really don't see why people could have an issue. No one is forcing you to fund it and I think the idea of a pre-order actually funding the product is a very good idea. Frankly, anything that helps the smaller fish compete is a good thing in my book.

    1. A lot of people object to larger, already-established companies using kickstarter and such to fund projects. The original intent of the websites was to be an avenue for new entrepreneurs that couldn't necessarily afford the high startup costs of these projects to get community support. Seeing the larger companies use it, even if there's nothing against the rules, rubs people the wrong way in the same way that a rich guy getting a free lunch from one of those "pay whatever you can afford" programs would. It's not against the rules in any way, but at the very least it's a perceived abuse.

    2. I don't think that's a fair assessment of crowd funding. This isn't some charity, it's just another avenue of funding. It really doesn't matter who the project leader is - the key is that crowd-sourced funding is the appropriate model for it (niche projects are perfect for crowd funding).

      Using it as a pre-order service is also valid, though I wonder why not just have a traditional pre-order system?

      Treating crowd funding as charity is doing it a disservice. This isn't me "giving" Double Fine (or whoever, that's just the first one that came to mind) money because the poor wretches can't afford it themselves, it's me saying "I will pay you to make this thing I want, because it's too risky to acquire traditional funding for and I can't make it myself".

      In regards to "perceived abuse" - a rich guy taking a free lunch is leeching a charity resource. A big company funding a risky product by asking the market to fund it isn't. We have enough trouble getting larger companies to take risks, let's not cut of our nose to spite our face.

      Did I just agree with Frontline? Damn, hang on, I can sort this out... Erm...


      Vive la Révolution!

      (Phew, think I got away with that).

    3. @Ant, I think we've agreed before as well! ;)

      Not too sure I like it though. :P

      I think our opinion's on crowd funding is the same. If you don't like the look of a project don't fund it. There's certainly no obligation to fund projects.

      I guess I just see it as a new way of funding commercial activity the wider community and I wish to see happen. Would I have pain money to get Prometheus made if it guaranteed me a seat at the Premier? HELL YES!!!

      I don't really care if it's small start ups or more established firms trying to branch out. If the idea is a good one this crowd funding / distributive funding model is a good one. It means we the customers get a say on what comes to the market, not bank managers and corporate investors. That's got to be a good thing surely?

    4. I never said it was a fair assessment, just that it was a common perception many people have. It's hard to shake off a common perception whether it's deserved or not.

    5. That's a fair point too Elladrion and it's a difficult thing to change common perception once it's well and truly established. Reading some of the comments on forums it certainly appears as though many people view crowd funding as a charitable donation.

  2. I know some companies use kickstarter to gauge interest in a possibly risky project. While I admit there's nothing wrong in doing things this way and it certainly makes sound business sense, I can definitely see why it strikes people as a little skeevey. Not outright wrong, but certainly not what the (perceived) intent of the system is.

    Dark Potential looks intriguing, I generally have little to no interest in post-apocalyptic settings, but I do love alien and alien invasion stuff. The figures and the gameplay are gonna be the dealbreakers, especially the figures, but judging by the concept art they've comissioned, I have high hopes for some really cool stuff. Plus you simply can't have too many sci-fi skirmish games!

    Zombiecide interests me more than I it should. Mostly because of the incredibly high production values, I'm an absolute SUCKER for great art and figures. I'm absolutely sick to death of zombie crap in general, whether it's movies or TV or games or facebook pictures. Plus there's already some truly fantastic stuff out there in the genre: Zombies! has been around for years and is very popular and Last Night on Earth is an incredibly high mark to compete against, it's fun, it looks great, it has great figures, and it has a TON of scenarios. I do love the art they have for Zombiecide though (I think it's the same artist that sells the amazing print-to-play paper minis on drivethrough RPG) and the gameplay sounds good enough to give it a try. I just wish it wasn't more zombies.

    1. I too think I'm sick of zombies... until the next big zombie product comes out... then I want it. I just can't help myself!!! So I'm with you on Zombiecide.

      As to Dark Potential, I think there are some draft rules up on Mini War Gaming's website somewhere, but I haven't taken a big look at them. As I have too many actual games to play. I'll keep a close eye on it though because it'll be interesting to see what they do with it and where the concept art leads them.

  3. I'm interested to see where this takes our hobby - a positive broadening as we've already seen in recent years or flooding the Market with poorly-developed and short-lived projects.

    I recently discovered Kickstarter and laid out some of my hard-earned to support Blackwater Gulch. Looks like a great project with good concept art and minis already sculpted and the pledge rewards were great. Comparing with Dark Potential, they seem to be substantially better - more like a true preorder with bonuses galore.

    1. Phyllion I think it's not necessarily a case of one or the other. It could be both. I fully expect more people to chance their arm if others become really successful via Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

      That will inevitably lead to some trash been put out there that will no doubt die a horrible commercial death! But, it is also quite likely to lead to some really interesting and innovative projects seeing the light of day too. Now that is exciting for the hobby surely?

      The big news story though will be somebody using Kickstarter or Indiegogo simply to con people out of their money. You know take the cash and run and never be seen again. Fraud happens in all walks of life and I've no doubt we'll see a fraud case on one of these sites soon.

      As to Blackwater Gulch... yeah I've kept my eye on it from afar simply because I think cowboys are cool. I hope they can make it stack up for themselves and get it going and making consistent money for them. We need a good wild west based game!

  4. I'm happily addicted to Kickstarter, though i have yet to support any Mini projects, mostly because i havn't seen any that really tickle my fancy. Still, some of the "Large" companies in gaming aren't really that large in the grand scheme of things, and i have no personal problem with them coming to Kickstarter or similar sites, to get funding for projects they may not have been able to do otherwise.

    Look at White Wolf / CCP for example, they started a kickstarter to do a special edition release of a book they were already planning on making. They used the money not to get money to release the original project, but to release a special edition of it just for the hardcore fans. I think thats a great idea, and if i cared at all about V20 i would've given them my money. I honestly hope more companies take advantage of this and use it to release new and better versions of things that we want, and wouldn't see any other way. I mean, think about it, GW using Kickstarter to release an updated version of Necromunga or Mordhiem, who wouldn't love that?

    1. I'm with you. It seems to me to be a great way of engaging with the marketplace prior to the launch of a product and then get them involved and give them something back. Of course it's a great tool for start ups... but it shouldn't just be for them in my eyes. If GW were to put up specialist games as a subsidiary on Indiegogo I'd be there I really would...

      Blood Bowl at £10k
      Necromunda at £20k
      Gothic at £30k
      Mordheim at £40...

      happy days ^-^

  5. Well, now.
    I've been hearing rumblings about Kickstarter, but was unsure of what exactly was going on.
    So thanks for the explanation.

    I suppose this is a good thing, although I can see it being corrupted by established companies, as some of the other commenters mentioned.
    Still, more minis, more games...these are always good things in my book.
    Interesting things may come of it, so that's cool.

    1. I'm glad I could educate you on the details of these schemes. :)

      Personally, as I say, I see no problem at all with so-called 'larger' companies using these schemes to get products off the ground they couldn't fund in other ways. Besides if you don't like what they're peddling you don't have to give them you cash like any other investor. It's a great idea, and I'll be fascinated to see how it develops in the future.

  6. In case anyone is interested, one of the games that brought me into wargamming is getting a new release, as well as a Kickstarter of its own. Ogre was a blast when i was a big and i love big boxes, @ 14lbs , this is about as big as it gets. No support for those outside of the US at the moment, but its still work checking out as an example of a company with a name, looking to crowd fund their latest project

    1. I think my dad used to play Ogre, and I certainly am interested to see how the project develops. So I'll be keeping a close eye on them.

  7. A pseudo-Western post-apocalyptic skirmish wargame called Wreck Age has already been funded from Kickstarter around last Christmas, which was the first I'd heard of the site. I would have donated if they were really struggling with reaching the deadline, but they were fine.
    Then it seems quite a few videogame developers (reputable ones like Tim Schaefer and Brian Fargo at that) got into it to ask the fans for money to create games that the publishers wouldn't consider, and some very old names (Wasteland, Shadowrun) are making a comeback as their original developers ask the fans if they want a hardcore reboot. Shadowrun Returns needed about $800,000 and it got funded in 28 hours.
    I'm really excited about what could come of this. In the short term, good games. In the long run, I hope it makes the mainstream gaming market pull up its socks and be competitive instead of brain-numbingly reiterative.
    Much the same for the wargaming market, and hopefully GW pulls it's head out of the sand some day and realizes it has actual competition on the horizon.

    1. I think it's my biggest hope that the marketplace has a wake up call and realises that as consumers we quite like and want more quirky off the wall products, and that the marketplace can take them. At least I hope it can. :P

      Kickstarter et al seem to hint that that is certainly the case. Lets keep our fingers crossed that we're witnessing the start of a broader more mature games market. It would certainly fit with what I'm calling the Golden Age of Gaming.

  8. I like the idea of the kickstarter/indigogo concept, and if its a area of intrest that you like fair enough but with regards to who should use it? that's something that I'm still on the fence about, with cool mini or not & miniwargaming they could basicly use this as free advertising and get capital invested into there projects,

    1. Well yes, but that's actually the point of both Kickstarter and Indiegogo. It's not like the people who donated aren't getting something for their money and it's up to those who donated the money to decide for themselves. Lets look at it this way, none of the companies we're talking about are actually awash with cash like we think, and getting capital investment for their projects via standard means is actually quite difficult. If I have a problem with somebody using Kickstarter etc, I won't fund them. Simples. :P

  9. I can see the issue here, but at least CMON was honest in their dealings.

    What's to stop them setting up another company, "Indie Games", and asking for funding through it? They could have even pretended Zombiecide was in development and slow-leaked the sculpts, artwork, etc.

    How do you prove your a small company? And what makes small / new companies more deserving of funding? Shouldn't the quality of the idea / product be more important?

    To suggest that funding should only go to new companies seems rather idealistic.

    Let your dollar do the talking. If you like it, fund it. If you don't, then, er, don't.

    1. I think I'm with you on this one Bishop. I can understand the idealistic argument others are putting forward but I'm personally not too bothered about who uses these schemes. I'm personally not bothered because if I don't like the project I don't have to support it.

  10. I think in the main kickstarter is great. I don't have any problem with companies of any size, they're all companies in the end right? The only difference is that smaller companies are probably small either because they are just starting out, or because traditional funding avenues are closed to them because their ideas are too creative. So kickstarter is better for these sorts of companies.

    The only thing that makes me a bit wary is the potential for the consumers to control what is coming out, leading to a lowest common denominator spewage of endless zombie games for example.

    Seems to me the greatest, most genius works of art and products are the ones that people don't expect or even know that they want. Kickstarter and it's like are incapable of delivering this sort of thing, as they rely on the developers working with the public in the same sort of way they would normally have to negotiate with a bank or other producer. Don't be fooled, it's still a negotiation. No public interest? No money.

    Imagine if Bowie (or insert whatever weird musician you like) back in the 70s had had to convince everyone that they would like his music before he could produce it, instead of just a professional music executive with a refined ear? There'd be no Bowie.

    Granted, works of such amazing originality are rare, but this medium does not support them, even though it might seem like it does.

    My other reservation is that I am a contrary bastard and I don't like telling people what I want so that they can sell it back to me ;) I want to make them guess!

  11. Agreed James, I view crowd-funding sites as a new way for companies to raise funds for projects. So in that sense I couldn't give a flying fudge cake who uses it. As long as it is used to invest in new product.

    It's funny you should mention zombie games, you'll see why this coming week... but I digress. Your point about the lowest common denominator is an interesting one. Mainly because the idea behind crowd-funding is the exact opposite, to give the general public the opportunity to fund things that aren't safe, or as you put it, pandering to the lowest common denominator. I guess we'll see over the coming years how it actually plays out.

    The point about Bowie is actually an interesting one, and I wander whether you knew that crowd funding was started in the music biz originally, as a way to fund demo tapes and EP's for out there bands that record labels didn't want to touch with a barge pole, because they weren't safe. I've been told by music industry types in the past that act's like Bowie, Allison Moyet, Kate Bush and many others would struggle to get deals today because of the way the industry is.

    I guess the reality is that human existence has started to become a race to the bottom in terms of cultural output!!! We're doomed to a future of bland beige products James... :P

  12. It certainly looks that way, and I'm bloody furious about it!

    The difference is that back in the 20th century executives (perhaps naively) believed that bold works with genuine artistic merit would succeed because people expected to be challenged by the media they consumed.

    Executives these days think that people don't want to be taken out of their comfort zone, and they're right. It's become self-fulfilling. If all we are shown is repetitive crap that ticks all our boxes in terms of interests, other things seem weird and undesirable to us. And then artists stop trying to challenge themselves and their culture and audience because they have observed that people don't want that: they appear to want clever re-hashes of familiar things.

    This is why I sometimes feel as though geek culture is the death of creativity: it fetishizes pop culture. We start to just consume things because they're about “stuff we're into.” Like a five year old girl buying everything she sees with a pony on it.

    As one of your insightful posters said above, did we really need zombiecide? No! It's not new or challenging our preconceptions or anything, it's just a slightly different/improved iteration of something that already existed. And people lapped it up, because of that.

    *Deep breath* Sorry I get passionate about this. I wrote about it here. But basically I think kickstarter etc. are not a real solution to the problem of genuine creativity being sidelined by financially driven lowest-common-denominator flattening. They just shift the blame from the executives of middle-man industries onto us, the public. The only real solution is if we, the audience, stop accepting the creative equivalent of comfort food.

    It's true, Bowie approaching a mainstream record label today would most likely be told to take a hike. But likewise, Bowie asking the public to fund him would have an equally tough slog. I'm not sure most of us are prepared to accept truly challenging art any more. We've adapted to the gruel we're fed. It's not a hopeless situation though. - it could change back just as quickly I reckon so I'm going to keep harping on about it until it does :)

    1. I have a slightly more pessimistic view of cultural output I'm afraid... That I'll not share with you for fear of making you suicidal. My personal issue with artistic endeavors is that we've all become sanitized to many of the things that shock us now. We get war pr0n violence beamed to us in HD via news stories and it's become the norm. I've yet to see a reaction away from this in any direction. As a psychologist I find that immensely disturbing.

      I also feel that if you design something to be consumed by the widest possible audience that ultimately you have to go for the bland and dull, to make it as acceptable to as many people as possible. Hence the race to the bottom. So far there appears to be no feedback loop in existence that says we've had enough of this beige crap. There is no reaction against it...

      Right I'm off to drink some strong spirits because yet again thinking about humanity has been crushingly disappointing.