Yes, you are reading that correctly. I am giving the “Best of Show” for the GAMA Trade Show 2013 to Kickstarter.com. Kickstarter was the talk of the show. If you had a booth there was a solid 50/50 chance that a Kickstarter was in your future. It really was everywhere at the show. Before you cry foul, hear me out. My criteria for the Best of Show pick is a game that is groundbreaking, well-designed or a paradigm shift from what came before. Though the award originated as a way to identify exciting new games, Kickstarter forced it to evolve. For this simple reason;
Kickstarter is the most disruptive force to hit tabletop gaming in the 21st century.
I say disruptive because Kickstarter is not a universal good. Change, no evolution is a violent process and some will suffer. I hope at the end of this article you can understand why I made my decision and perhaps have some thoughts to ponder about the gaming industry.
In 2012, Kickstarter generated about $20,000,000 in pledges for various game projects. (My number came from the Kickstarter seminar at GTS). In an industry where publishers often exist only on kitchen tables and shipping takes place from suburban garages this number is beyond comprehension. One of the major obstacles to a new game designer/publisher is a lack of start-up capital. Many failed games left their designers in debt or investors with a large tax write-off. Sane people wisely fear putting a life-savings into a game that might not sell. Kickstarter lessens the financial risk and more creative, niche or outright odd games will appear. This is clearly a good thing for the industry.
Conversely, poorly designed games do not fund and disappear down the black hole of history.
That said, Kickstarter is an exercise in marketing and social media and much less in game design. I have no doubt that some great games simply did not fund because their video presentation or pitch lacked polish. Kickstarter requires serious commitment and maintenance to nurture a successful project and more than a little marketing skill. To be clear, Kickstarter is NOT a magic bullet.
In the pre-Kickstarter era game designers either went into debt, found investors or sold the rights to an existing company to publish a new game. Large publishers will lose this source of new games as anyone with the Internet tries Kickstarter first, before selling the game to a large publisher. Large publishers need a constant influx of new games and new ideas and that may well dry up. Competition will increase. Good for consumers, bad for companies.
As a personal aside, this thrills me because large companies tend to rest on their laurels. Time to start innovating.
Local game stores also suffer. Yes, most Kickstarter projects at least pay lip service to “working with retailers” and more than one seminar at GTS 2013 talked about all the ancillary benefits Kickstarters generate. “They will come to your retail store to buy paint for all those Reaper Bones miniatures they got on Kickstarter.” I am skeptical. In an age of niche social networks ( miniature players, RPG players, CCG players) all but the most ignorant will hear about an exciting Kickstarter. News of the Reaper Bones miniature Kickstarter spread like Ebola through the miniature community. Reaper stated it will take 4-6 weeks to ship all the orders. Not manufacture, ship. I doubt there is much demand left for this product in the retail market after that level of saturation. More than a few retailers at GTS felt the same and grumbling about Kickstarters haunted the convention.
While I doubt Kickstarter will kill local game stores they will suffer and FLGS are incubators for future gamers. Loss of a large percentage may cost the gaming hobby many new players in the long-term.
As with all change, there are both risks and rewards. I believe there are more rewards than risk with Kickstarter. Regardless, the impact of Kickstarter on the hobby gaming industry cannot be overstated. This year there was no competition for “Best of Show.” Kickstarter is an integral part of the hobby gaming industry and will be so for the foreseeable future.
Trask, The Last Tyromancer