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Let’s put it on record: I’m no fan of Kickstarter.
I’ve used it a few times in the past to support a handful of indie video games, but I’ve regretted it each and every time. As it turns out, the risks are real: when someone asks you to front an investment and promises something in return, there are plenty of things that can go wrong between the moment you pledge and the expected receipt of promised rewards.
And from what I’ve seen on Kickstarter and heard from people around the board gaming community, board games appear riskier to participate in than other kinds of crowdfunded projects. Here are five core reasons why I will never back a board game on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or elsewhere.
1. Game Quality Is Unknown
A lot of Kickstarter projects are independently published—that is, after all, one of the main draws to using Kickstarter in the first place—but this means that these projects (and the resulting products) don’t go through the same rigorous testing that established publishers demand before they approve something for retail distribution.
Kickstarter has lowered the barrier to entry so much that many projects, if they actually ship at all, end up being subpar in quality—whether that quality is in gameplay, component pieces, customer service, or whatever else. Are there occasional homeruns? Sure, I won’t deny that. But most Kickstarters are Kickstarters for a reason, and there’s a lot of crap to sift through, which makes pledging to any particular campaign a huge gamble.
Once pledged, you never know what you’re going to get. The gameplay may not actually be what was described in the campaign description. The component pieces might be sourced from bottom-shelf manufacturers. The rulebook might be impossible to parse. The game might even go through several revisions after you pledge, so what you chose to back isn’t what you receive in the end.
Because Kickstarter games aren’t available to the public, reviews may be sparse or non-existent—and if there are any reviews, they could be highly suspect since reviewers who don’t buy the games they review with their own money often have a vested interest in not burning bridges with the creators who send them free stuff. This is the same reason why I don’t pre-order games or buy Early Access games, mind you. User reviews are extremely important in this day and age.
2. Kickstarter Strategies Are Anti-Consumer
There’s something about the Kickstarter experience that tempts creators to milk their supporters for as much cash as possible. It’s not uniquely a Kickstarter phenomenon—just look at video game microtransactions—but due to the design of Kickstarter’s tiered rewards system, can you blame creators for going down this route?
I’m talking about Kickstarter exclusives. If you pledge X amount, you only get the base game; if you pledge X+Y amount, you get the base game and some cool swag; if you pledge X+Y+Z amount, you get exclusive Kickstarter-only components that will never be available again, and these components may or may not affect actual gameplay. (For example, special cards.)
I’m mainly talking about Kickstarter exclusives that affect gameplay, which is supremely predatory. These limited-time “offers” prey on the FOMO of board gamers and the compulsory need for board game whales to collect everything to maximize gameplay value, and we all know how much overlap there is between avid board gamers and collectors. It’s manipulative in a “Buy now before it’s too late!” sense, and it’s all due to artificial scarcity. It’s not like the creator is no longer able to print more cards or manufacture more pieces, is it?
There’s more to it than the manipulative aspect, too. Anyone who enters the board gaming hobby at a later time, namely long after the Kickstarter has ended, misses out on those exclusives through no fault of their own. They’re left with a lesser game that’s missing gameplay components, and for what?
Note: Kickstarter exclusives that don’t affect gameplay are fine.
3. Risks of Delay or Non-Delivery
It’s not uncommon for Kickstarter projects to have slated release dates that get pushed back, and pushed back, and pushed back some more. You may have made a pledge with the expectation that you’d have the game by next month as promised, but suddenly a year passes and you still have nothing.
Or worse, the game never gets finished. Or it does reach completion but the creator runs into manufacturing issues or distribution issues. Or sometimes the creator almost completes a project but asks for more money so they can reach the finish line. Out of all the frustrating aspects of Kickstarter, this one might just be the worst.
4. Kickstarter Doesn’t Refund Money
Kickstarter’s role is facilitator. When you pledge to a campaign, you’re making an agreement with the creator of that campaign, not Kickstarter. Which means if your pledge is processed and something goes wrong and you want your money back, the creator is the one who has to issue the refund. Kickstarter explicitly states they don’t do refunds:
Kickstarter does not issue refunds. Transactions are between backers and creators directly. To request a refund for a pledge, please contact the project creator.Kickstarter Support
What happens if the creator doesn’t want to honor your refund request? Or you can’t even get a hold of the creator to request a refund? Or they spent all of the pledge money and physically can’t refund you?
Credit card chargebacks are an option, but should only be used sparingly. Too many chargebacks can get you banned on Kickstarter, or flagged by your credit card company for suspicious behavior. Personally, I’d rather just stay away from Kickstarter than deal with chargebacks at all.
5. There Are Plenty of Retail Games to Explore
As of this writing, there are over 108,000 board games in BoardGameGeek’s database, and the vast majority of them—at least the ones that are still in production—are sold online via retailers like Amazon or via brick-and-mortar board game cafes and shops.
With so many high-quality games out there, there’s no reason to bother with Kickstarter games. In most cases, if the Kickstarter game is any good, it’ll eventually move to retail and can be bought risk-free then. If it never makes it to retail, perhaps it wasn’t any good and you dodged a bullet by not pledging.
Sure, you might save a little bit of money if you pledge via Kickstarter instead of waiting for retail release, but I don’t think the risk is worth a minor savings in price. And yeah, you have to wait a while for it to hit retail, but I’m patient and there are lots of awesome games to keep me busy in the meantime. The peace of mind is worth waiting for.
How do you feel about board games on Kickstarter? Do you back them? If so, what’s your criteria for choosing which ones to take that risk on? Am I being overly cautious? Share with me in the comments!