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The Kickstarter Underdog is better than ever

B. G. Kubacki
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The recent developments in the Kickstarter campaign from CMON’s Death May Die have left the crowdfunding division of community in a state of uproar. The company that has been bringing us plastic zombies, Vikings and extra-terrestrial invaders has caught a lot of flak – some probably well-deserved.

A side effect of the lively discussion that ensued was also the rekindling of a certain sentiment, namely that big publishers should leave Kickstarter for good. I’m here to tell why this would be a major disservice to Kickstarter backers – and to small creators as well.

We all know what crowdfunding is for. Dream a project, find people ready to back you, and make it a reality. It’s a romantic notion, one that feeds off an almost universal desire to see the underdog succeed. However, when established publishers start throwing their hats into the ring, it seemingly becomes almost impossible for the little guy (or gal) to really break through.

Well, not necessarily.

I believe we can safely say that board games truly made it to Kickstarter for the first time in 2010. It was then, during a 60-day period between April and June that the first edition of Alien Frontiers was funded. It was a game that – for a time – took our imagination by storm.

Almost everybody was surprised that someone was able to put a board game on Kickstarter, receive almost triple the funds needed to print and deliver copies to backers, and then put it on store shelves, albeit for a blink of an eye, before players hungry for some dice-based innovation and retro sci-fi atmosphere gobbled up the first printing.

Now, stop for a moment and tell me if you remember how much Alien Frontiers made on Kickstarter? If you don’t (and chances are, you probably don’t), do me a favour and don’t check yet. Just try to recall what the perception of its initial success was – and hold on to that though for just a while more. We’ll get to it in a few short paragraphs.

I’m a project creator myself, so – using the default Kickstarter tool that tracks backer activity of a live project from within – I can vouch for a certain negative influence the biggest projects have on the smaller ones. If you ever ran your own campaign while a new CMON monster landed on Kickstarter, or when a game like Batman: Gotham City Chronicles launched, you definitely felt the ripples.

Some of your backers had to make some hard choices and left you for a bigger, more shiny box. At that moment it’s easy to state that the larger project sucked some life out of a number of smaller ones – and that statement would even be - in essence - true. Good projects of smaller size survive this short turmoil with but a few scratches. Projects fighting for their life usually suffer a mortal wound and go down forever.

Regardless of how many big projects are there on Kickstarter at any given moment, success still breeds success, and repeated failures almost uniformly push projects into a death spiral. The presence of bigger, louder and bolder games only enhances what is already a part of our nature: to change our mind and pursue things we perceive as better.

Still, when you compare a project like Death May Die – one that was actually pretty troubled when compared to the smoothness of other CMON’s vehicles – to a game of a small creator making their first steps in the world of board game crowdfunding, it’s easy to think that they stand no chance. After all, they will never get even a half of the money made by a big publisher. They will often make less than one tenth. Yet, with your help, that will be enough.

Remember when I asked you to hold on to your perception of how much money Alien Frontiers originally made on Kickstarter? It's time to tell you exactly how much: $14,885.

It may come as a bit of shocker. Even if you take into account that it was over 8 years ago (and adjust accordingly), you still end up with an amount that pales in comparison to what many projects today reach. And yet, it was enough to (pardon the pun) kickstart the game, which has since proven a commercial and critical success.

With Kickstarter being as popular as it is today, receiving double the backing Alien Frontiers had received back in the day is probably easier than it was in 2010. Competing with the likes of CMON is a whole different issue, but becoming a successful project creator is simply a matter of a lot of work, and a bit of knowledge.

The knowledge is suprisingly easy to obtain. You can ask around, and many project creators will share their experiences, allowing you to better prepare for the exprience of crowdfunding a game - and often avoiding their mistakes.

Kickstarters are now built for a more active audience, and one that is also a bit more "trained" in spotting their weaknesses. In fact, it's more difficult to make it with a good idea, and little actual preparation, which - in the end - works out well for both creators and backers. The latter are not left with a sub-par product (or a complete no-show) for their trouble, and the unready creators - when they inevitably fail - are left with a learning opportunity for the future.

The big companies often set the bar. They draw in more audience. They make Kickstarter more professional. And as much as we like to believe in the crowdfunding dreams, we're all better off sticking to current realities.
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