On February 19, 2015 the Kickstarter campaign for the card game Exploding Kittensbecame the most backed project of all time with 219,382 backers, more than doubling the previous record held by Reading Rainbow at 105,857. It was also the most funded project in the "Games" category, raising $8,782,571. One comment by user "fractalsauce" on Kickstarter's official article about the accomplishment read, "This is the first Kickstarter I've ever backed and I'm proud to be a part of the 219,372! Congratulations!" To many backers, Exploding Kittens was not just table top game they were giving money to fund, but a community, a team, and the "KittenCorps."
In 2018, three years after Exploding Kittens was released, the "Games" section reached an all-time high of over $200 million with a total of 3,301 successful projects. As a whole, this category reached $1 billion on April 16, 2019, marking almost 17,000 funded project under the category. Successful campaigns under the subcategory of tabletop games were up 19.6% in 2018 compared to 2017, translating to $27.23 million in funding.
However, in contrast video game campaigns on Kickstarter declined by 8% in 2018 compared to the previous year, hinting that tabletop games are becoming the prominent contributors of the gaming category. But what has caused this massive boom in interest surrounding board games, which can also be seen in the dramatic recent growth of the subreddit r/boardgames (which reached 2 million Reddit subscribers on June 25, 2019), and how has Kickstarter affected the board game medium?
Get your popcorn. Get your soda. Let's explore a few in detail.
What is Kickstarter
Kickstarter is a global crowdfunding platform focused on creativity and merchandising that launched on April 28, 2009 by Perry Chen, Yancey Strickler, and Charles Adler. Creators on the platform create campaigns for projects ranging from films, art, technology, music, public benefit, games, and almost anything you can think of, which users called "backers" can give money towards projects being fully funded. Kickstarter offers a way for anyone with an idea to raise money in order to make it a reality, applying a 5% fee on the total amount of funds raised on successful projects and charging no one if projects to not reach their goal by the deadline.
The platform was named by Time Magazine as one of the "Best Inventions of 2010" and "Best Websites of 2011," expanding to over 20 countries around the world since its launch. On March 3, 2014 the total pledges projects received through the website passed $1 billion, in 2018, over 154,000 successful projects collectively received $4 billion from over 15 million backers. Products that have been funded on Kickstarter include the Pebble, a early smartwatch that was bought by Fitbit in 2017, the Fidget Cube, which has been described as "an unusually addicting, high-quality desk toy designed to help you focus," and board games such as Exploding Kittens, Zombicide, and Dark Souls - The Board Game.
Power to the Little Guys
One of the most apparent effects of Kickstarter is that it offers the opportunity for the game ideas of individual designers or small companies to become a reality, which might have been impossible previously. Before Kickstarter, board game designers would either have to pitch their ideas to existing game publishers and hope that one would like them enough to fund and publish, or they would have to fund their game on their own, which is extremely expensive. The platform now brings mass market access to creators where they can present games and instantly see if they are something consumers are interested in or not.
The board game industry has shifted from being based in retail or game stores, dominated by publishers such as Hasbro, Parker Brothers, and Mattel, to the online marketplace where consumers are offered an overwhelming number of games created by countless designers and artists. Large established companies can now also be found on Kickstarter and their presence bring more and more traffic, offering more opportunities for smaller creators to be noticed.
Game designers who do get noticed and are able to run successful campaigns develop a "celebrity designer" persona in the eyes of their backers, explored by Stefan Werning, a professor at the Department of Media and Culture Studies at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, in his article titled, "Conceptualizing Game Distribution: Kickstarter and the Board Game 'Renaissance.'" Werning also attributes the cultivation of this persona to multiple platforms, such as Twitter, where designers are able to obtain a spotlight through large followings. Examples of these "celebrity designers" are the companies who created the aforementionedExploding Kittens, who ran another successful Kickstarter campaign for their card game Bears vs Babies, and Zombicide, named CMON who have released 5 other versions of Zombicide from successful campaigns since the original's release.
Kickstarter has effectively lowered the entry level for table top game industry, allowing small companies and even individual designers to rise to fame through the successful campaigns of new and creative game ideas.
A Stream of Innovation
In an age where information is being transferred at blinding speeds and a billion different advertisers are fighting for a priceless second of our time, it is easy to be swept away and overwhelmed by the seemingly infinite amount of entertainment at our disposal. From books, movies, TV shows, YouTube channels, online articles (hi), video games, music, smartphone apps (Fate/Grand Order give me my life back), and the endless scrolling of social media, sometimes it feels like it will take a lifetime to finish that one show your friend recommended to you (I mean, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure is at 152 episodes and counting, I don't have THAT much time on my hands...JoJo fans please don't hurt me).
Board games are no exception. We all know games like Monopoly and Risk, but when taking a look at the tabletop games section of Kickstarter with more than 20,000 project to explore, it is hard know where to start. But this "problem," which is result of Kickstarter lowering the entry level of the industry as mentioned before, has lead to an overall elevation in the quality and innovation of board games.
If we take a look at the number of board game releases per year provided by Board Game Geek user Doccabet in a his analysis of What was the Best Year for Board Games, we can see a huge jump from around 2008 to 2017. Though not solely responsible, a large contributing factor of this exponential growth may be the launch of Kickstarter in on April 28, 2009, as Kickstarter does not only provide games with funding, but publicity before release. Without Kickstarter, a vast majority of board games in recent years would not have been funded, let alone released, and this graph would probably look much different.
As developers fight to be noticed in the sea of others, it drives them to think out of the preexisting categories and explore new creative game mechanics. The new cost effectiveness of 3D printing has led to boom in elaborate miniatures being utilized, pledge tiers and stretch goals have led to a larger variety of material quality such as wood or metal, and an increasing focus on the aesthetic appearance of games has stemmed from the need to grab the attention of potential backers. As a consumer, this results in wider variety of genres, better looking games, and more creative rules and concepts.
154,000 (Temporary) Communities
Kickstarter campaigns do not only offer a product for users to fund, but a sense of community among backers of each individual project. This sense of community allows both game designers and backers to interact with one another through Kickstarter's comment section, giving consumers a say in what the final product looks like and designers insight in what is received well or not. The community becomes part of a narrative in which they and the developers are struggling together against time to reach their funding deadline and stretch goals.
One example comes again from the legendary campaign of Exploding Kittens. During the campaign's lifetime the sense of community among backers became so strong that enthusiastic backers named themselves the "KittenCorps." This fan base did not only have a name, but went on to develop a website, a Latin motto that reads "Catulus, Crepitus, Communitas" (translating to "Kittens, Explosions, Community"), an official meal (Tacocat with guacatmole and refried kitteans), a 21-line cadence, and much more. With such a strong community, the game developers were able to send out surveys and decks to be play-tested to make their game something that was not only funded by fans, but also influenced by them. Without Kickstarter, the creation and activity of this fan base would have been impossible. Although not all campaigns may be as intense as the "KittenCorps," users and developers across the platform are influenced by each other which allows for final products to be seen as collaborations that backers can be proud of rather than something they would just pick up off a shelf of a game store.
These temporary campaign communities go on to become permanent fan bases for their respective game, which in turn encourages the cultivation of an overarching board game community that can be seen on other social media platforms, such as the subreddit r/boardgames. Board games are no longer limited to the number of people you have around the table, but allow fans and content creators to share their experiences with countless others who share the same enthusiasm for the games.
In reality, these are only a few of the biggest ways Kickstarter has shaped the current board game industry, as it would be almost impossible to explore every single effect in detail. From providing a way for creative ideas to be noticed and made reality, pushing innovation through a platform of competition, and helped cultivate a community where fans of board games can interact, Kickstarter has taken a marketplace previously based in local and retail stores and expanded it to a global audience. Who knows, if it wasn't created maybe we wouldn't have to worry about kittens exploding out of nowhere.