May 042016

Cthulhu MythosOn the occasion of backing one hundred kickstarters, I thought I would reflect on this new sales platform from the perspective of a backer – particularly one who is a tabletop RPG gamer.

As context for this review, I’ve been playing tabletop RPGs for over 30 years, I’m fairly cautious about which projects I back and my focus is on Savage Worlds, Powered by the Apocalypse and Cthulhu-theme games. I’m not a big D&D or Pathfinder player, so generally ignore those. I am a part professional game writer and a current amateur game designer, so novel new systems catch my eye. Finally, I’ve succumbed to the lure of 3d terrain and extensive use of miniatures.

Some Stats

My first project backed was the first Reaper Miniatures Bones one in August 2012. I backed five more projects that year, 31 in 2013, 28 in 2014, 23 in 2015 and so far this year, just five.

Ninety-two of the projects were tabletop RPGs or tabletop RPG accessories (adventures, supplements, miniatures, terrain, cards, etc.). Seven were gaming-related in some way and included card or board games, a movie, an art project and a toy. One was for a book that was entirely unrelated to gaming.

Most were for new RPGs (33) or RPG accessories (27). I’ve become a big fan of using 3d terrain in my games (20 projects backed) and seven were for miniatures. I should note that the two board games backed were entirely for the miniatures. I might try the game at some point, but really I wanted the miniatures.

Five of the projects failed to fund, but more importantly, of those that did fund, only four to date have officially failed completely. There are six currently that are over one year late, of which I think only one is truly hanging on the thread. The others look like they’ll be incredibly late, but ultimately successful. This is a pretty good success rate. I’ve also noticed that delivery times are improving.

Of those that failed, it’s notable that they were all either individuals or completely new companies, which shows the risk inherent in backing newcomers. That being said, there are another dozen or so projects that fall in the same category that did deliver successfully. I do tend to mitigate my risk by backing at a very low level such projects, keeping in mind that there is a higher likelihood of failure.

The average delay (not counting those that failed) for 2013 was almost six months, for 2014 the average delay is currently about five months and 2015 so far is about one month. These last two averages are slowly increasing as there are a number of outstanding projects, but the trend is for better return times. The worst delay was a whopping 31 months, while the shortest was negative seven months. Yes, that’s correct, one project actually shipped seven months early and for that, RPG and Wargaming Tabletop Accessories deserve a shout out for the most amazing turn around time.

My Approach to Backing Projects

I avoid any project that isn’t almost completely written already. I’d recommend any prospective Kickstarter creators to have the writing and editing done in advance. The manuscript should be ready to go. Use Kickstarter to fund the art, clean it up and for printing costs. The projects I backed that failed were not ready to go and in one case the creator commented that “writing is hard.” Yes, it is. Don’t let people down by discovering that after you’ve suckered them in for your project.

If a project looks unprofessional, the end product is likely to look even worse, so I avoid those like the plague.

A high price for pdfs is a major turn-off. A low price for the pdf is very likely to get me to back the project, provided the subject matter interests me. For example, I may back an adventure or source material for a game I don’t play if the pdf is low enough priced.

When it comes to miniatures or terrain, I am always looking for painted options. I have limited time (and skill!) for painting, so am willing to pay a bit more to get something painted. I may back a project that is entirely unpainted, it has to be something that seems like “must have”. That being said, the painted price needs to be reasonable, which (fair enough) is difficult for most projects.

Final Thoughts

Kickstarter has been a huge game changer for the whole industry. It used to be the best deals were on games at the end of their life cycle in the bargain bin. Now, you can get in on the ground floor of the hottest new games at great prices.

The downside of this is of course that the brick and mortar stores are suffering. However, I think that the increase in overall gaming is bringing more people into the stores, so it evens out or may even be positive. After all, you can’t get your regular gaming purchase through Kickstarter. Most projects are months (or years!) out from delivering from the time they go live and many gaming products are not produced through Kickstarter, so once you’re into the hobby, you’re going to use the neighbourhood gaming stores to feed your habit between Kickstarter deliveries, which is more often than not.

Should you back a project if it interests you? Sure, just be aware that it’s not a pre-order, it’s not an investment, it’s a donation to the project creator on the basis that they hope to be able to ship you something in return for your confidence in their ability to pull off the project. If you don’t think they’ll be able to pull it off, don’t donate that money to them. And if it does fail, forgive it as a donation to the hobby, and avoid backing their projects in the future.

Finally, Kickstarter is making our hobby more accessible to more people to get into publishing, but just like in the old days, they’re still going to have to have what it takes to succeed. What is different is that there used to be companies in between you and them that shielded you from the risk. Now, you’re on the front line, both for the good and the bad. So, if Kickstarter brings us all a little closer together, that’s a good thing.

PS – My 100th Kickstarter was Sandy Petersen’s Cthulhu Mythos for Pathfinder – for those awesome Cthulhu miniatures! Now if only they were painted…

More awesomeness...

Justin Schmid

Justin started tabletop gaming in 1983 with Basic D&D (red box) and never looked back. He runs and plays in a wide variety of games, including Savage Worlds, Dungeon World, Trail of Cthulhu and many, many more. He also writes professionally for role-playing games, including writing and creating Night's Edge an Alternate Reality Universe for Cyberpunk 2020. He went on to write eight more adventures and sourcebooks in the Night's Edge line, adding vampires and other supernatural perils to the already dangerous world of Cyberpunk. As a freelance writer, he wrote The Bermuda Triangle for Call of Cthulhu, Shadows of the Mind, and Psi Wars for Conspiracy X and contributed to Last Unicorn's Star Trek RPG, as well as to Cybergeneration sourcebooks, and many other games. When he's not creating imaginary worlds for his daughter, he's running games for his friends and writing new adventures or designing new game systems. He currently lives in Vancouver, B.C., Canada.

  2 Responses to “Kickstarter Review from a Tabletop Gamer’s Perspective”

  1. I just locked in my pledge for Reaper Bones 3. I’ve spent so much on Reaper Kickstarters, that I may need an intervention!

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