Exploding Kickstarter Busters

In recent days, and only 8 days apart, there have been two Kickstarter campaigns in the Tabletop Game category that have absolutely exploded. Thanks to a convenient list on ICv2 (Top 10 Tabletop Kickstarters) the following is easy to report. On Feb. 11, 2015, Conan funded with the second highest total $ raised in the tabletop category. Just over a week later it was bumped down to third when Exploding Kittens took over the top spot, beating out the previous leader Dark Heaven: Bones by over 250%.

These projects have obviously received much attention from the gamer community in the Twitterverse and Podcastdom. Since I am regularly commenting on the game publishing industry in addition to game design, it only makes sense that I should comment on these as well. However, I think my opinion is not shared by many, at least that I have heard. As always I am commenting to voice an opinion not to offend, though in this case I will also comment on the commentary which necessarily puts my opinion at odds with what has been voiced by some. I took about 2 weeks to post this article after completing it because I thought it might be too negative, which is not my intent. Enough excuses, on with the program.

Let’s take a closer look at the projects and what they mean for game designers aspiring for their first/next Kickstarter and tabletop gaming in general. In order of funding:


By: Monolith Board Games

Funding Goal: $80,000

Funding Raised: $3,327,757

Backers: 16,038

Funded Date: Feb. 11, 2015

Exploding Kittens

By: Elan Lee (Matthew Inman: The Oatmeal and Shane Small)

Funding Goal: $10,000

Funding Raised: $8,782,571

Backers: 219,382

Funded Date: Feb. 19, 2015

Ghostbusters: The Board Game

By: Cryptozoic Entertainment

Funding Goal: $250,000

Funding Raised: $1,546,269

Backers: 8,396

Funded Date: Mar. 11, 2015

For the factors that I am considering in this article, Ghostbusters: The Board Game lands squarely in the Conan camp – a popular (especially among geekdom), retro IP-based game with lots of minis. It is interesting to note, though, that ICv2 cited kicktraq.com showing the Ghostbusters Kickstarter was trending toward $1.5 million on Feb. 24 (10 days into the project). When I looked at the Kicktraq information on Mar. 5 (when I started this article) the project was trending toward $1.14 million (down about 25% in 9 days). There are mathematical reasons for the estimate to change that have nothing to do with the game itself (more data, funding patterns, etc.), but at 10 days into a project, Kicktraq tends to be pretty accurate on its estimates.

I waited for this Kickstarter to complete to get the full story. Ghostbusters finished a little higher than the earlier estimate and much higher than the diminished mid-project estimate I saw. This puts the tally to 3 new games in the top 10 in exactly 1 month.

What do these projects mean for indie tabletop games on Kickstarter?

Conan and Ghostbusters are obviously premium IP licenses. However, the Ghostbusters movie license must be even better than the same for animated series, which is what the board game has. Add to that a box full of miniatures and you have a million-dollar Kickstarter. Additionally, Conan appears to have an innovative GM console, so it was certain to explode. I have not seen much about Ghostbusters; what little I did see and hear caused me to stop digging and take a wait and see approach. In any case, it is not likely that a fledgling designer or small publisher is going to land a license like these, so there isn’t much to take away.

Now how about Exploding Kittens? A small, new card game from unknown designers? Surely there is a lesson for indie table top designers and publishers in this project. Amass a huge following on the Internet and then give them a chance to pay you – to show their appreciation for content you’ve been providing them free for a long time. Then put together the slickest marketing package Kickstarter has ever seen for a board game. Easy peasy.

Kidding aside, there is a lesson there that others like Richard Bliss and Jamey Stegmaier have been teaching for a long while. Assemble the crowd before you expect to fund anything. Beyond that, though, I don’t think there is much of a lesson for the indie project creator. Anything instructive is lost in the din of the crowd rushing to throw their money at Oatmeal. Once again, the money and backers comes from a valuable, existing IP.

What does reaction to the Exploding Kittens project say about hobby games commentary?

Before I go further, I want to say that I am not jealous or resentful of the success of these projects for their creators. Sincerely, this is awesome for them. My intent is to point out how much/little the success of these projects relates to a project that a small indie game publisher will bring to Kickstarter. I start with this sentiment because I think that fear of being labeled as jealous or something like that has driven some commentators to avoid any critical review of the Exploding Kittens project.

As the Exploding Kittens project blew up, commentary from tabletop game aficionados and podcasters also exploded. There were skeptics and critics saying what a travesty that a crap-game could make so much money and there were apologists saying that it is good for the hobby for a game to make so much money, get so much attention, and we don’t know if it is a crap-game and therefore should not criticize.

I have not played the game, but from what I could tell of it at the time the project was active, the game itself was certainly nothing special and the project profited from style over substance. Additionally, the backer levels were $20 for the 56 card deck, $35 for the deck with the NSFW expansion (20 more cards). The basic backer level is not unreasonable for hobby card games, but the extra $15 for 20 more cards in the same package seems to be trading on the titillation factor, not the value equation.

Although based on claims on twitter and in podcastdom, at least some hobby game fans backed the project (I was not one of them), based on the sheer number of backers (219,382), there must be a significant community interested in this project outside the hobby. From what I can tell of the game itself, I can make some comparisons to other games available in the mass market for about $5-$10. Note: This comment is to put the game into context, not the backer levels. Again $20 for a Kickstarted card game seems standard.

So I have a few open (and admittedly, leading) questions for the apologists who often trade on their Kickstarter criticism as watchdogs for the hobby. What would be your commentary and support be:

  • For a no-name game designer who posted a substantively similar Kickstarter project, but lacked the pro glitz?
  • For a mid-to-large game company that posted a substantively similar Kickstarter project with their typical promotional gloss?
  • For a no-name game designer who Kickstarted a substantively similar game?
  • For a mid-to-large game company that Kickstarted a substantively similar game?
  • For 220,000 copies of Uno in distribution as a measure of the hobby games industry?

I certainly have heard and read plenty of hate on these scenarios. Again, I am not hating on Exploding Kittens, but am asking for greater objectivity in Kickstarter commentary related to the hobby game industry. There are easy targets that take all the arrows and there are sacred cows kittens that explode without even a pin poke.

Is there anything else to learn from exploding crowd funding projects?

For argument’s sake, let’s take a look at another recent project that is exploding on Indie GoGo that has apparently nothing to do with tabletop gaming.

Flow Hive

By: Byron Bay

Funding Goal: $70,000

Funding Raised: $4,703,918 (32 days remaining), $5,965,998 (23 days remaining), $7,446,265 (10 days remaining)

Backers: 10,945 (32 days remaining), 13,567 (23 days remaining), 19,341 (10 days remaining)

Funded Date: Apr. 5, 2015

Not to be confused with the Kickstarter project for the wonderful board game Waggle Dance.

What lesson does this project provide the indie tabletop games seeking crowd funding?

I started this article a while back and thought that surely only I would make a connection to this project. Since then there was actually an off-hand comment about this project on a gaming podcast. I didn’t write this to dispute that comment, but as it turns out my assessment seems to be in contrast to the dismissive statement made.

What could a beehive offered on Indie GoGo say about tabletop games on Kickstarter? More than the other projects mentioned in this article. Let’s consider what has made this such a successful project for its creators:

  • The creators:
    • Are passionate about their business; knowledgeable in their hobby/business, but not experts in producing the product they are pitching.
    • Did extensive prototyping and testing (3 years) before pitching the product.
  • The product:
    • Is the result of the vision of its creators to produce something they would like to use.
    • Is innovative.
  • The project page:
    • Is extensive; fully describing their product and their plan for executing on their vision.
    • Includes testimonials of others who have reviewed the product.
    • Includes links to reference articles.

If your indie tabletop game project has these same characteristics, you may still not have the explosive funding and public attention that Flow Hive has received, but you will at least have a chance at success.

Your Turn

What do these projects tell you about tabletop games and the tabletop gaming category on Kickstarter? Do I have it all wrong?