Founded ten years ago, the young start-up Kickstarter has become the hottest and largest crowdfunding platform in the world. In addition to music productions from projects from the film and television world, it is above all games that fans support with their money. With the launch in 2009, a completely new investment idea was born: fans all over the world were able to "bake" projects from independent providers that would probably never have been realized without the support of the masses. But Kickstarter and the business have changed: crowdfunding is now a billion-dollar business.

A touch of rebellion wafted through the network world in 2009: The year in which Perry Chen, Yancey Strickler and Charles Adler launched the Kickstarter platform, which was the year in which fans all over the world were able to demonstrate against the big players in the industry - by directly supporting independent developers and their projects. Instead of relying on the releases that large corporations included in their business plans, users could actively participate in new releases.

Financial contributions are literally exploding

In 2015, only around six years after it was founded, the platform broke the two billion mark in financial contributions. Today, in the tenth anniversary year, the numbers have more than doubled: The crowdfunding market at Kickstarter alone is almost 4,6 billion US dollars. Other platforms, such as Startnext, are not included.

The touch of independence that Kickstarter stood for when it was founded can hardly be felt today: Kickstarter has become “big business” on the one hand, and a kind of lifestyle on the other. Where fans used to look for projects full of enthusiasm and share their most innovative finds with like-minded people, project knowledge is now a requirement in many communities.

In forums and groups one often reads a central question: "Have you already baked [game title]?" The question alone implies that fans do not choose whether to support a crowdfunding project, but when to do their "pledge". In the board game segment in particular, the “Kickstart method” seems to be becoming the standard. More and more often those publishers are financing their new games that actually don't really need to.

The arena board game "Fired up" was recently launched on Kickstarter. Photo: André Volkmann

The arena board game Fired Up recently launched on Kickstarter. Photo: André Volkmann

It is noticeable that it does not seem to be about the quality of the game, but about an effective Kickstarter campaign. Yes, the first impression should be right for fans to put their hard-earned money into a project. Indie titles are getting lost in the mass of highly polished crowdfunding campaigns - to the chagrin of those little developers for whom crowd financing was originally born.

Miniature games in particular seem to be predestined to raise large amounts of funding: a couple of pretty characters applauded an old game idea, and the ruble is rolling - and quite a bit. New editions, expansions, decoupling - publishers finance almost all of their ideas through swarms of fans. Why not? Publishers hardly take any financial risks to discard their products on the market. If a funding campaign is successful, the part appears - regardless of whether the playful quality is worth the money that the fans have pumped into it.

Scene: Real connoisseurs buy Kickstarter

Not infrequently, the advertised board game innovation turns out to be a warmed-up concept. Players usually don't find out until a year later, when the titles are actually delivered. The "pledge", which was then understood as a leap of faith, can now be understood more as a sober analytical factor: If a game receives a lot of attention, it is possible to think early on how the cow can best be milked.

If a Kickstarter project is popular with a particularly large number of backers, real hype develops around the title. More and more often, players are promoting their chosen "kickstarts" as the original types of good board games. With far-reaching consequences: If you want to be taken seriously in the scene, you have to pave your game shelf with crowdfunding projects - this impression could at least arise if you look at the core of the board game community.

In fact, the connoisseurs only represent a small part of the scene, just as the "high-priced kickstarts" only make up a fraction of the total number of projects: Of a total of around 173.000 successfully financed Kickstarter projects, only around 400 have reached the magical million mark, and a further 6.000 projects are now for funding amounts over US $ 100.000. The majority of crowdfunding takes place in the low-priced segment. Nevertheless: of the almost 400 million projects, 150 come from the “Games” category, the rest from “Design” and “Technology”.

Prototypes give players a first impression of future Kickstarter projects. Photo: André Volkmann

Prototypes offer players a first taste of future Kickstarter board games. Photo: André Volkmann

This clearly shows that gamers in particular are willing to grant developers, publishers and authors a leap of faith. In any case, games are among the top when it comes to crowdfunding financing - there are only more successes in music, films and videos. There the productions up to 10.000 US dollars dominate. Games, including board games, can therefore be described as lucrative campaigns, including for the platform itself.

But you shouldn't be fooled by the highlight projects. Crowdfunding is a highly competitive business. The financial resources of many backers are finite, so many customers choose who to give their money to and which projects go unnoticed. It is not uncommon for the reputation of the project starter to play a role and the idea of ​​getting exclusive games early on is also essential. Sometimes, however, it is details that determine whether a player supports a campaign or not: good photos and videos, innovations, background stories, shipping costs.

Getting noticed - also by cats: a little show is often part of Kickstarter presentations. Photo: André Volkmann

Getting noticed - also by cats: Show is often part of Kickstarter presentations. Photo: André Volkmann

Because the duration of crowdfunding campaigns is limited, potential "backers" only have a limited amount of time to support a project. Many fans accept that, but not all. Some don't want to be exposed to the pressure to buy and forego Kickstarter games entirely. "What's good will be on the market anyway," says fans.

Where there is light, there is also shadow: there are certainly disappointed “backers”. Delayed deliveries are often the cause of trouble, but the quality of the gameplay can also deviate from one's own expectations. "Not bad, the expectations were too high," say some, "I expected more from a board game that cost me 150 euros," comment the other fans. 

Lasting success: around half a million projects

The number of projects going live is approaching half a million, but not even half of all campaigns are successfully financed. Around 40 percent achieve the targeted financing target, the rest fail. About 29.000 game projects also fail to make the targeted money mark. However, the chances of success increase when more than 20 percent of the planned amount is reached. The majority of crowdfunding projects fail in the 20 percent segment, so that this brand can definitely be used as a barrier by providers. The chances of success increase to around 78 percent once the limit is reached.

Probably at this point in time a kind of quick ball effect also unfolds: Insecure users see the amount reached so far and deduce the quality of a title from it. Overall, board players seem to be less critical, but above all, if the quality is unclear, they are more likely to grant a leap of faith. Video games are more likely to have concerns about this type of project funding due to negative headlines in the past. In addition, the market for digital games appears to be more saturated. Big publishers bring big games: the need for Kickstarter funding seems to be less.

Board players are critical, but in moderation

The Hamburg studio Rockfish Games, for example, recently launched the Campaign for Everspace 2 successfully completed - overall, however, the achievement of the financing target was closer than expected. Only with a final spurt did the developers reach their goal of 450.000 euros. Rockfish CEO Michael Schade justifies this with the critical attitude of the fans, especially towards release exclusivities that PC and console gamers regularly encounter.

"Kickstarter" help to increase the variety in the field of games. Nevertheless, crowdfunding projects do not appear to be perceived solely as alternatives, but rather as a central trend in a growing industry.

Successfully financed board games are often advertised as a kind of "Holy Grail of entertainment" - and understood as such by players. A market of its own has developed from the previews of Kickstarter projects, with large sums of money flowing to Youtubers and bloggers who then praise the projects. Because every video and every contribution is intended to serve advertising purposes, it is of course skimpy with criticism. In the context of crowdfunding, the proximity to the fans would probably be the ideal environment in order to deal self-critically with your own product. There are also providers who question themselves and their projects - but this usually happens when campaigns have failed anyway. Until then, Youtuber logos and previews are considered digital accolades for crowdfunding projects - often bought in, but effective in advertising.

Future Kickstarter projects will be advertised at game fairs. Photo: André Volkmann

Future Kickstarter projects will be advertised at game fairs. Photo: André Volkmann

Kickstarter and information on crowdfunding projects have long ceased to be purely online appearances, otherwise also as topics at trade fairs and events, including the GAME in Essen, arrived. Publishers and authors post their ideas there, distribute thousands of flyers indicating the start time of the campaign, so that potential backers can, at best, let money flow right from the start. After all: Independent authors and small publishers in particular can benefit from this, at least if their presentations reach the players.

A kind of subculture has developed within the board game scene: the Kickstarter generation. Crowdfunding projects seem to be omnipresent, even if there are probably a few players who actually support large amounts as Kickstarter campaigns. This is at least suggested by the rather low editions of crowdfunding board games: Kickstarter games seem like a mass phenomenon, but they are not. Real bestsellers are made later, when publishers take up the ideas and prepare them for the big market. Games originally conceived as Kickstarter appear more and more frequently on the world market for parlor games - in different language versions and usually with several editions. Then it becomes apparent what Kickstarter projects can really contribute to the industry.

Kickstarter is now a multi-million dollar market. Little is left of the rebellion of that time. Nevertheless: Without the possibilities of crowd financing, there wouldn't be a lot of good games even today.

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