Monday, February 9, 2015

Kickstarters, maybe not so great a thing for gamers

By CaulynDarr

Long story, start reading here,
Last summer when I saw that Battlefront was running a Dust Tactics Kickstarter, I went into immediate nerd rage mode.  I wrote a nice flame post on it, but deleted it before posing.  I was fairly sour mood when it came to Kickstarters at the time.  Robotech Tactics was quickly approaching a BS singularity, and I was getting a bit jaded about the whole concept.

But I figured it was Battlefront.  They'd have their backers backs; the Warstore pre-selling all the SKUs at a better price DURING THE KICKSTARTER thing notwithstanding.  All my bluster would look like another negative hit piece by an angry fan boy who just likes to piss in peoples' Cheerios(it is cathartic).  Well, I guess to paraphrase the great Captain Sparrow; there will be no living with me after this.  Thanks, Battlefront. 

So what did I almost say 8 months ago? 

Pretty much that established companies like BF should stay off of Kickstarter.  It's a common argument that comes up in most KS discussions.  My exact position is a little more nuanced.  If you can release a product traditionally then you should do so.  Crowd funding is a great tool, but it should be reserved for the risky projects that could not happen with traditional investment.

What's the harm in a company like BF using KS as a glorified pre-order system?  It muddies the waters.  KS as a platform has virtually no consumer protections.  You are an investor, but not an investor.  A customer, but not a customer.  You give some yahoo with a slick presentation some money, and hopefully you get something that may or may not look anything like what was presented at some indeterminate point in the future.  And if things go pear shaped, there's not much you can do about it.  It's probably too late to do a charge back on your credit card, and the amount is too small to justify a lawsuit.  Plus the whole concept is so new that the law doesn't know how to handle the situation if you did.  It's the wild west.

wikky wikky

Yeah, there are the Terms of Service, but the only things they really protect are Kickstarter and Amazon(they handle the payments).   They have been recently changed to increase the appearance of accountability.  It's just that, though; an appearance.  They made it explicit that a project must deliver on their promises or give some restitution if the project fails.  Who determines success or failure?  It's still the project owner.  And what restitution can you make when you spent all the funds and nothing is left?  I also find if hilarious that project owner has to give a full accounting of where all the funds went if the project should fail.  I can't wait for the report that finally honestly lists strippers, booze, and a new car(like where Paulson Games claims all the Defiance Games KS money went to).  

And really, I'm cool with that, so long as you know what you're getting into.  You are backing an idea you'd like to see come to life.  If you are willing to take the risk, then good for you.  It's just that sometimes the CIA mind lasers get in the way of your board game getting printed(apparently a creator for a project a coworker backed went off her meds).  

Then a few established companies started to come in and skew the whole system.  Cool Mini, Steve Jackson Games, and a few other all wanted a ride on the money train.  That's probably a bit too mean.  The gaming business isn't the most lucrative, and it's populated by a lot of small companies that don't have huge cash flows, or the ability to risk their entire company on new product lines.  However, any one of those companies is a whole lot more likely to deliver a product than some dude who wants 20k to publish his home brewed board game.  Just by being on KS they gave an much larger impression of backing being a safe bet.   

I think it gave the confidence needed to go all in for some gamers.  Suddenly you had projects collecting 6-7 digit sums.  It seemed like a win-win.  Companies avoid risk and gamers get more games at good prices.  The problem was that you hadn't really bought a game yet.  Just the idea, and the whole Kickstarter business blew up before anybody really got their stuff.  Turns out it's a lot easier to hire some artists off Deviant Art to knock out some quick CG than it is to manage international manufacturing and supply chains. Shocking really.

More and more projects started seeing delays.  Quality showed to be often less than promised.  It's one thing to put $30 bucks down on a video game KS and be disappointed.  It's another to put down $500 on miniatures and feel the sting of crushed hopes and dreams(my worst hit was Relic Knights for $300).

There managed to be just enough successes(Bones, Zombicide, Dwarven Forge, Sentinels of the Multiverse) to keep the momentum going.  Plus the deal was working out pretty well for the companies involved if not for gamers.  While I don't think these companies are consciously trying to screw us over(well some of the most egregious might be), there's a whole different dynamic involved in customer relations when you get all your money up front with practically no strings attached.   While some companies manage it better, other are more than happy to take a 'STFU Peasants!' approach(cough, cough, Palladium, cough).  When thing go bad, they can always bring out the exclusive KS bonus figures the next time around.  We gamers can be such suckers.

As bad as the Robotech Tactics situation continues to be, I don't think it's objectively any worse than whats going on with other long delayed projects such as Kingdom Death and Aliens vs. Predator.  Those guys just have more tact when breaking bad news.  I mean look at what's happened with AvP this last week.  Their IP holder decided at the last minute to not approve some of the final product, then the KS page goes down with an IP dispute as well.  The backers where told it's going to be OK, things will happen soon(SOON! Trust us!), but they're going to leave the KS page down for reasons.  That's epic level BS even for Kickstarter.  The page is supposed to stay up unmodified from project funding as the record of all that was promised.  It's also the only way for all the backers to communicate with each other though the comments page.  It's kind of like that scene in an early season of The Office where the slick guy they picked over Micheal Scott screws the company over.  For all their faults, Palladium never pulled that level of BS.

When you think about it, the Battlefront/Dust Studios dust-up(heh) isn't really that exceptional of a thing either.  Companies small and large get into contract disputes all the time.  There are only two remarkable things going on here.  The first is that one of the parties threw a Facebook tantrum, and the other is that 1475 poor SOBs paid upfront.

So, basically, here's the situation.  Established companies inflate the market by providing consumer confidence.  Which leads to people who probably shouldn't be given large sums of cash receiving large sums of cash.  Then it turns out that the established companies aren't that much better at fulfilling promises than the outright fraudsters and the mind beam lady.


Sorry, not just for the caps, but I've been guilty of boosting for Kickstarters in the past.  I got wrapped up in the offers of 100s of minis for pennies on the dollar too.  But you get what you payed for.  And maybe banks where right all along by not giving these guys money in the first place.

I've seen people get more conservative with backing in these last few months. Gamers are getting smarter at detecting inflated promises.  We know that a cool CG model doesn't equate to a nice physical miniature.  I still feel disheartened though whenever Cool Mini returns to the trough again.  I mean c'mon, CMON put on your big boy britches already and make products like an adult now.  Battlefront last summer was the epitome of that feeling.  They shouldn't have needed it(at least from the outside view of things).  I didn't think anything good could come from it.  I was thinking just of the precedent it set.  What happen was much more delicious and vindicating.

While Kickstarter might be great for game companies, I see it as quickly becoming more apparent that it's not so great for gamers.


  1. Have to agree with a lot of this... I've cut back to almost nothing my ventures into KS myself. I did pick up some REALLY nice things like Eisenkern troops, some random Werewolf type minis, Loka and the Robotech stuff... GREAT stuff, even if the RT did take a long time, but now I have a metric crapton of "Battletech" minis even if I never get around to playing the game as intended. But when I see another Mantic or (insert other somewhat established company here) KS, I have to wonder how much that actually hurts the FLGS with what then are just pre paid preorders for new product coming out that the local store has no chance of selling to those customers now... Were I not living in an area with multiple game stores (some of which I can actually go into, this would not b a problem, but as I REALLY want the Gopher at the least to stick around, I would much prefer to spend my money there... Probably just me though...

    1. Yeah, Mantic. Forgot about them. They do overuse crowd funding, but I also haven't heard people having many major issues with them.

      As for FLGS, I'ts probably good and bad. If a game can get established like Zombicide or Sentinals, then it's another solid item to stock. Like Settlers of Catan, someone is always looking to get a copy On the other hand, Less popular items could saturate the market to where there's no demand later. Kind of like how the Game Preserve had tons of Dread-ball stuff sitting on the shelves forever.

      It's might be no worse for them than online sales competition in general.

    2. I think a common gripe amongst FLGS's is that the people running Kickstarters don't stop and think about exclusives and other things to sell to the retail channel later. Because then the fans just buy from the KS, and there's nothing left to tempt them at the local game store later.

  2. Good points all. I've backed a couple of board/card games on KS, but I don't really like the idea of paying out $100+ for something that I might (or might not) get 6-12 months down the line.

    I'm also very wary now of Kickstarters that roll out dozens of up-sell levels and giveaways (like BF had with Dust). All that really does is add to the complexity of their fulfillment obligations, and lower the likelihood of the final products being either on-time, high-quality, or both.

    What I like to see is one well-defined product, with maybe a couple of add-ons or component improvements that everyone gets if certain funding levels are met. Because then I know that all the creator has to do is increase their manufacturing order and wait for the product to come in. They don’t have to set up a special, complex website to track who bought what, ship in profit-sucking ‘waves’ of 2-3 pieces at a time (as stuff comes in), or anything else that they probably didn’t think too hard about when making those promises.

    1. I would like to see more disciplined Kickstarters too. But the well might already be poisoned. When The Mercs guys came back for their second Kickstarter they where more conservative with the value and stretch goals. Cue the moaning about it being a bad deal.

      I will admit though, experienced creators are much more conservative about stretch goals. But they've also started charging shipping, and you are still at the mercy of the creators when it comes to refunds.

      Going crazy with the stretch goals is only one part of the problem in my opinion. The central problem is that backers are always completely at the mercy of the creators.

    2. Is the well really poisoned? Or are backers just learning valuable lessons about the limits of this business model?

      Everything is the wild west when it's new. With time though, experience brings standards and more realistic expectations. I think KS is here to stay, as there's a lot of cool projects out there (esp. Movies) that would never be happening without something like this to fund them. But in 2-3 years the whole experience will be quite different. Especially once the laws catch up.

    3. If the law decide that a backer is an investor or a consumer, that could have drastic consequences. I think either has the propensity to make the whole thing unworkable.

      Best case, it gets decided that KS has some duty to regulate projects and mediate issues between the backers and creators. Right now they just wash their hands of it and consider themselves just a facilitator. I believe that they should have some responsibility in making sure that creators are living up to their side of the bargain.

  3. I'm pretty much done with KS at this point. As of current I'm waiting on Dust, Robotech (2nd Wave), All Quiet on The Martian Front (3rd wave) and Incursion all of which are overdue. The best one I supported was Rivet Wars. It was well run and although somewhat overdue it was well worth the wait. The Incursion one is set to deliver in the next few months and through out the process Jim has been transparent about the issues he's been having with Panda, getting the miniatures made, possibly due to the limited size of the run. I was very concerned about Robotech and the manner in which it was run, specifically the whole issue with them wanting to take product to Gen-con before supplying all backers. They handled it very poorly and pissed off their customer base. All Quiet on the Martian Front has literally gone all quiet, after delivering wave two. It had been a while and I'm wondering where the rest of my stuff is and what is going on. This debacle with Dust and Battlefront has pretty much put the last nail in the coffin for me and KS. It's not even the money that's at issue. I don't mind shelling out upfront if I can be assured they will follow through with their promised product. There is just no way to make sure they will deliver. I'd like to see established companies not use Kickstarter. They seem to be the biggest risk to the backer.

  4. It's not a new thing. I am extremely lucky and thankful not to hhave gotten to badly burned by Kickstarter. However, after two bad experiences, I won't be going back for a third. My logic? If your product is so good, it'll appear at my FLGS.

  5. There's a case for larger companies to use Kickstarter when it lets them do something different - Mantic, for example, claim that Dreadball figures could be plastic/restic thanks to Kickstarter rather than have to be metal. In the RPG world you see similar premium versions of likely product such as collectors editions of the 20th Anniversary White Wolf RPG books when a "normal" version was going to come out anyway.

    I would agree, however, that when things go wrong there isn't great support and while we can just about excuse a single individual messing up it's particularly galling when a larger company takes our money and seemingly does nothing. Late product is nothing new, but normally one just twiddles ones thumbs waiting for a release rather than wondering when you're going to get the goods for your £250. And then of course there's those instances were kickstarter backers are not the first to get the goods - like pre-order/subscription customers, one expects different treatment when you laid money out up front.


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