I’ll never support another Kickstarter in my life, I swear! There, I’ve said it. I’ve shown myself to be a heathen, an anti-developmentalist and probably an internet-hater as well.
Or I might have come to some conclusions about myself.
See, I’m bad at recognizing games. Some people are great at it. I know several of them. D. can look at a new game and go “oh, it’s a cross between Candyland and World in Flames”. He doesn’t even need to skim the rules. A. reads the rules and has a perfect image of not only how the game plays but also of the winning strategies. S. watches a gameplay video and can tell you if the game is broken. Me, I’m a chump.
I look at a Kickstarter campaign and I’m taken in by the theme, the gimmicks, the great value. Unfortunately when I play I don’t much care for production value, gimmicks or even theme. I want the game, the rules and mechanics, to be smooth a silk and cool as a non-gamer and desirable as let’s hope my wife doesn’t read this.
And I can’t recognize that from the Kickstarter. I can read the rules but I don’t get a feeling for the flow of the game. Yes, I understand the rules, I’m the type of guy that skims the rules and knows how to play immediately without ever reading the examples. But that doesn’t tell me anything about how the game feels.
That’s where most Kickstarters fall short. There’s a definite lack of transparency when it comes to game feeling. They’re designed that way.
See, gameplay as an imagined is much more powerful than gameplay as an actual. The reality of how to play the game, the downtime, the mechanics that breach the theme, those are eliminated from the sales pitch.
And a Kickstarter campaign is a sales pitch. You don’t use a review that says your game is so-so on your Kickstarter. You use the reviews that say your game rocks hard. And if that means that you’re omitting reviews (previews really) that you’ve paid for then so be it.
And that’s fine. If I’d run a Kickstarter I’d do it the same way.
Because designing, or rather selling games, is a “sell once, use many”-model. You sell the game once, then your players can play it as many times as they want without you earning another cent. From a business standpoint that’s a total disaster.
You don’t want your players to play the game many times. You want your players to play the game enough times to convince others that it’s good so that they’ll buy it, but then put the game on the shelf and buy your next design. Which they’ll play a couple of times.
There was a recent survey made on BoardGameGeek where, if I remember correctly, the outcome was that people played their games on average 5 times per game. Which is somewhere in the vicinity of spreading the game without cannibalizing future sales.
Now, some games don’t have this problem. Magic the Gathering, for example, works on the “buy once, use once”-model or close to you. If you don’t keep buying boosters you won’t be able to keep pace with your friends and they’ll beat you hands down with their new, more powerful combos. The Game of Thrones card game works in a similar way, even though it’s a Living Card Game and not a collectible one.
In the board game corner you’ve got Monopoly, which releases endless themed copies and is bought by parents and grandparents remembering their own fond moments with it and wishing to recreate them with their children.
But for standalone games there’s little incentive to keep the game eminently playable. Except for one: to build the designer’s and/or company’s reputation.
Reiner Knizia is a prime example of this, a designer that’s become a brand. It doesn’t matter what Knizia game you like, there’s a clear upgrade path to other Knizia games. Which brings us back to the original Kickstarter rant:
For most Kickstarted games there is no upgrade path. They’re sold on their own, and will probably not get an expansion (wildly popular games are an exception, like Zombicide). Thus there’s no point in making them replayable a thousand times. Twenty times is fine. Or if you’re cold hearted and considering only the short term gains: focus on sales and hope that enough of those sold games land in the hands of people who’ll enjoy them, and then let those who don’t enjoy the game try to dump it on someone else after a single play.