Right well I guess this is overdue in some respects. Like many in our community I've spoken about this crowd-funding phenomenon that seems to have swept through our hobby, mainly in terms of the projects that are up and running on various crowd funding sites. Many of the projects that I see are genuinely interesting, and many more really exciting. I'm a terrible person for new shiny stuff, I'm a magpie at heart and I struggle to resist the allure of new miniatures and games. So this crowd funding phenomenon is a bit like a drug to people like me. The opportunity to help somebody else realise their dream and goal of producing their own miniatures range or game has been a very powerful motivator for me, and my currently quite limited spending power. I'm partly a contrary bugger who likes seeing odd ball indie games developed, and I've always sought out the weird and out of way stuff in whatever environment I happen to be operating in, be it comic books, music, films, computer games or hobby. Kickstarter is therefore right up my street.
It also appears quite oddly to be up many other peoples streets too, which is great because it seems many products are getting the funding they require to made into reality. I have personally maintained my belief that Kickstarter and Indiegogo would go through a brief euphoria period with us hobbyists being enraptured and enamoured with it. Spending all of our cash on it, and then settle down. I honestly thought it might be a fleeting fad, and that people would start to get a bit annoyed with waiting for all their shiny miniature goodness to actually arrive. I still maintain this will ultimately be the case, but, I thought this process would actually take far less time that it appears to be taking. This is a boon and a bane in some respects for our industry. You see, I've followed crowd-funding for a little time, and from before our hobby cottoned onto it as a good idea. I've witnessed the collapse of computer game projects after they've received funding, and the inevitable recriminations that follow. I actually think that our industry on the whole has been significantly better than others at actually fulfilling there promises... which either proves as a sector we're awesome, or that these products didn't need crowd-funding in the first place.
OK sure there have been the odd delays here and there, and a few issues surrounding quality of product with some campaigns. But, on the whole as an industry the miniatures games and boardgames industry has delivered. That's something as a sector people should be rightly proud of, but it's also storing up further issues. Part of the reason that so many of our industries crowd-funded projects have been so swimmingly successful is the fact that many of them were completed projects in reality, or soon to be completed products any way. Now I'm not going to talk about whether or not such projects should actually be on crowd-funding sites, because it will open up a whole can of worms I'm not sure I want to be discussing on here right now, although I may return to the subject. However, these projects and lets be brutally honest here and call some of them products, are in effect almost acting like a pretty big pre-order bonanza party. We're talking about completed products, or very near completed products, being preordered in effect, and the reward we all get for lots of preorders is we get 'extra' stuff.
|A Kickstarter I was more involved with than most|
Now I know I said I didn't want to discuss whether or not it's right that such products should use crowd-funding sites, but for me I'll say they're not really in the spirit of the crowd-funding ethos. Note I never once said they shouldn't be using Kickstart or Indiegogo. Because lets face it, part of these websites appeal to firms is the fact that they reach such a wide audience, and thus as a marketing tool they are really good platforms to be involved with. So I do think using Kickstarter or Indiegogo as a marketing tool is a legitimate use to a certain degree. But, there are problems associated with it. These sorts of campaigns have warped how we as hobbyists view crowd-funding. We do now think that we're on the main preordering product and that brings with it increased expectation levels, not just for those projects that are glorified preorder schemes, but also those that aren't. Those projects that actually are in need of development budgets and that have a lot of work to go before they become fully completed products.
Our view of crowd-funding, as a collective community, has become somewhat warped from the initial concept was intended to be. I'll direct you back to an already finished Kickstart campaign, that of On the Lambs Endless Fantasy Tactics. Now I had a lot of people talk to me about that game and Kickstarter project in particular, but what struck me was just how many people came back to me and said "the game isn't finished yet"... o_0 ... that's me making my confused face if you will. Of course the game wasn't finished yet, it was being Kickstarted so they could finish it; and unless I've got this whole crowd funding malarkey completely backwards I thought that was the exact reason why Kickstarter was set up. Wasn't it? It wasn't set up so we could all take part in a glorified pre-order system for a project that was already completed, which is what some of our industry luminaries have essentially turned it into. Don't get me wrong, what the likes of Mantic and Cool Mini or Not have done is exceedingly shrewd business, but it could be argued it has skewed our views of what should be possible.
|This campaign hit some turbulence, but was still funded.|
I read a number of articles a few months back now, way back actually on the Black Diamond Games blog. The first talked about what they termed the Kickstarter Hype Cycle and got my attention because it contained the 'hype cycle' graph. This is something I've come across multiple times in my own work, and the five stages don't just apply to technology, they apply to all sorts of things, including political campaigns. You can read more about it here if you want to, and it's a sort of balanced critique and alternative path offered; if you're into your marketing then Scott Brinkers Blog is an interesting read, and comes highly recommended by yours truly. But I digress. Gary of Black Diamond Games fame made a compelling series of arguments about Kickstarter, and like him I think our industry is travelling along the Gartner Hype cycle, perhaps we might disagree at how fast we're likely to travel along it with regards crowd-funding, but I do agree with him that we're pootling along at some indeterminate speed. Thing is we do seem to have stayed in the 'peak of inflated expectations' far longer than I would have thought possible, or probable. Maybe we should look at individual products instead?
|Both brilliant games... but do they have long-term shelf appeal?|
I guess part of this seemingly indefinite stay at the peak is to do with how some in our industry have seemingly approached crowd-funding as a way of pre-selling already completed products. Taking the hype cycle into consideration for individual crowd funded products, as opposed to say the entirety of the crowd-funding phenomenon, you could argue that the products crowd funding period all sits clearly in the hype cycle. Think about it, the best campaigns smash targets on a daily basis, offering extra "promises', quite often of not very much, or extra special cool limited options you can only get through this campaign!!! Shock, horror. MUST BUY MOAR!!! It's hype, Kickstarter and Indiegogo are great hype factories. So what happens after the hype goes away? What happens when it's all over and the product is funded, or not as the case may be? Well I've had some really interesting conversations around this recently with retailers and gamers alike... not that the two are mutually exclusive you understand. Personally I think if there are Marketing students out there, there is a whole thesis waiting to be written on this topic.
In particular I've been really interested to discuss with retailers how these Kickstarted, post hype products fair in the retail environment. Now, nobody has been able to give me sales figures, God only knows why they won't, perhaps it's because it doesn't suit these retailers narratives; or maybe it's because they don't exist because they're not very good. BUT, there is a sort of consistent pattern emerging with those I talk to. I'm going to direct you back to another excellent little article on Black Diamond Games about 'the Mark of Kickstarter' he also wrote an further clarification and follow up. In the article Gary talks about something I'd sort of assumed to be the case, the idea that Kickstarter is already very effective at getting good market penetration within our sphere, our sector. In short, if somebody in our hobby wants the product or is likely to buy the product the fact it has had a Kickstart or Indiegogo campaign means it's already pretty much exhausted the market for sales.
Gary mentions small to medium firms being the ones that have little to no value after the crowd funded fact... but, I've had a number of retailers talk around the issues of proximity of product launch to campaign close down. Interestingly I've been told consistently that it is vitally important that organisations do one of three things with their products:
- Launch them as close to the campaign close as possible, preferably within a couple of months, so the hype train is still in full swing. This allows stores to get in on the act and ride the hype to further sales.
- Launch the product way, way, waaaay after the campaign, we're talking at least 12 months after close down here, if not longer. This is to allow the hype to die down and disappear, which then gives you as an organisation the opportunity to start building the product up again in a more sustainable way.
- Kickstart part of a product, like a faction or expansions to an already established and existing product line. Use it as a way to expand the appeal of something that is already sustainable.
The third option I'm told proves the most successful at retail. I'm also told products that launch in between these two timeline extremes identified above that retailers have the most difficulty with. The campaign might not be fresh in gamers / consumers minds, but they know that it's campaign closed down recently, and it's no longer the hot new Kickstarter on the block, no, that's Quasark Death Race Murderball 3000 from Boonies Games Incorporated (both names are trademarks of Frontline Gamer Blog PLC).
|I still haven't done anything with Gruntz.|
This has some interesting implications for our industry. They may not even be readily apparent right now, although I'm starting to see what I term 'shoveling' from some firms. 'Shoveling' as a sales tactic is most commonly associated with cheap product, disposable product. Companies that are in the business of making annoying ring tones. They 'shovel'. The idea is that your business builds nothing that is sustainable long-term. You are always looking for that next big product, or as I suspect with our industry, that next big Kickstart campaign. I'd assumed that this sort of behaviour amongst in our sector might be some way off, but I'm afraid it might already be here. While I like the products that have been put forward by the likes of Cool Mini or Not and Mantic Games so far, I am starting to be alarmed by the rapid turnover in campaigns. Mantic are on their third campaign currently, the rather good looking Deadzone, yet I'm informed by some people who have pledge for their Kings of War campaign that they've either only just finished shipping on that product or have yet to finish. I'm not sure either way because I never pledged.
However, there is a disturbing pattern emerging with a number of companies now, that makes me concerned that they might be chasing the Kickstarter dragon. Constantly looking to live off of the next 'high'. That's not sustainable. It's not building a product base that can live on a plateau of steady turnover. It's a constant fire sale, and that will ultimately harm the crowd-funding phenomenon for others. How many short-term successes that fail to translate into sustainable long-term products will it take for people to say enough is enough for crowd-funding? Maybe it's hundreds. Maybe it's thousands and thousands and thousands. Maybe there will be no trough of disillusionment, but I'm a realist and the low is coming. Already in my gaming fraternity there have been rumblings of discontent at the number of Kickstarted games that seem to die on launch. These games are supposed to have a ready made community, but if the game has reached market saturation, and in your town only two people pledged... well... that's not a sustainable product is it?
How our industry and more specifically certain trends in our industry develop over the next few years will determine what sort of relationship it has with crowd-funding. We've yet to see the big failures, because on the whole the boardgames / wargames / card-games industry / industries have been by and large peddling completed products. We have though seen a number of disappointing products... no I'm not going to list them here, because for each of us they'll be different. Think about it, in many ways we're blind buying products based off of nothing but biased marketing hype. Not all of them can live up to all of our expectations, and different products will disappoint and satisfy different people. So we'll each have our successes, and failures that are personal to us. I'm guessing it's the weighting of these that will ultimately drive individual consumer behaviour. But the more our industry 'shovels' quickfire product onto us the more likely it is that they'll be building up these long-term 'unsustainables' in our piles of games, which in turn reduces our impetus and drive to fund future projects. It's an attritional build up.
|I thought Sedition Wars got insane levels of backing...|
Just to be clear, I'm not down on crowd-funding. I've personally had way more successes than failures. My Freebooter's Legends stuff turned up yesterday morning and they are fabulous. But this idea of using Kickstarter as a focus for for a Business Plan is... erm... unwise. I'd start to urge caution about how we all approach crowd-funding, let's not turn it into a boom and bust cycle, except where we permanently bust things. We need crowd-funding as a tool to get projects off of the ground. We're never going to be a sector that venture capitalists want to pump there money into. We're not going to offer the the large investment opportunities and we're certainly not going to offer the returns; the market space is just way too small, intransigent and paradoxically, and somewhat ironically, quite fickle too. We mustn't allow crowd-funding to become the modus operandi for our industry, we need to start looking at building long-term sustainable products, not just in terms of the normal retail distribution network, but in terms of steady community growth.
|...then Kingdom Death cam along!|
I'll be really interested in hearing all of your thoughts on Kickstart and Indiegogo. Have you had any products turn up that have blown you away or maybe disappointed you? How has crowd-funding changed your spending habits, because it has certainly changed mine, and I'm unsure of the long-term damage or benefits this change in spending will have on our hobby. In short I'd like to hear you all talk about this crowd-funding phenomenon, because make no mistake it is a phenomenon. Do you think we can continually ride the wave? Can our industry continue to deliver these fire sales? Or will there come a point where we've all been stung a little too often and we wise up to those who are aiming to cyclically fleece us? And does it really matter if they are 'fleecing' us if the product is continually of a high enough standard not to make us feel let down? It's a complex discussion, and certainly don't claim to hold all, or indeed any of the answers. I just think our industries relationship with crowd-funding is potentially maturing, and we need to make sure it matures in the right way, and we don't go through too many painful growth spurts. Peace out!