Many of you who read this blog know that I am self-publishing board game designer who uses Kickstarter as my platform of choice for funding the bulk of my projects. Certainly no surprise if you’ve read some of my articles like A Crash Course on Kickstarter for Board Games. Yet I want to make it absolutely clear that Kickstarter is not the only, or even necessarily the best, way for indie board game developers to self-publish their work. It just happens to be the flashiest way to make your dreams come true.
Let’s explore some alternatives to Kickstarter.
Alternative 1: Go through a Publisher
Self-publishing is attractive. Well, at least it looks that way at a distance, and that’s enough to get naive game designers in the door. As I discussed in Choose Your Own Adventure: Self-Publish or Not, sometimes its best to give up creative control and call in the cavalry. It is hard work to develop a board game and a lot of this hard work has to do with marketing, promotion, bookkeeping, manufacturing, and sales. A publishing company would take care of some or all of that for you, freeing up a lot of your bandwidth and allowing you to focus on other games.
On top of freeing up your time, you might very well end up making more money in the long run. If the publisher sells 10 times what you would have sold and you walk away with a fifth of the profit per game that you would have going solo, you’re twice as well off when it’s all said and done. As far as the expenses that come with getting a game started, namely art and prototyping, there is a good chance the publisher will take care of that for you. In fact, going through a publisher might even be more friendly to new designers. Don’t write it off as an option.
Alternative 2: Traditional Online Product Launch
Let’s suppose you’ve written off going through a publisher as an option. You’re striking it out on your own and you’re going to self-publish. Instead of going to Kickstarter for funds, you get the art, manufacturing, and other setup bills paid by your own equity and/or a traditional bank loan. Though this is expensive, risky, and out-of-reach for many people, it gives you the certainty that your game will exist as a printed, published game.
During the development of the game, you can follow many of the same ideas I’ve expressed in A Crash Course in Board Game Marketing & Promotion. Namely, you can build up a great email list with thousands of people on it. If you do this, you can sell directly to your list through a traditional online product launch. This is how web-based businesses sold products and services prior to the advent of crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter.
Alternative 3: Focus on Local Distribution
The vast majority of business is done offline. It doesn’t feel that way, but it’s the truth. Turns out those friendly local gaming stores are not simply cool places to hang out, drink coffee, and play board games. They also sell a lot of board games. An entrepreneur could create a board game and sell a few dozen copies to all the gaming stores within a 200 mile radius.
(Can you tell I wrote that paragraph before COVID? The vast majority of business is still done offline, but obviously, follow the safety guidelines!)
From where I live in Chattanooga, there are a number of metropolitan and micropolitan regions that almost certainly have one or more game stores or comic shops. Chattanooga itself, Nashville, Atlanta, Knoxville, plus a bunch of other smaller towns and cities of regional importance that have around 100,000 residents. My region of the country is fairly sparse, too. Try mapping this out with your town. You might be surprised.
When you’ve got a list of local gaming stores, you can walk in or make a call. Talk to people around the store and get to know people. Eventually you may have the pleasure of speaking to the manager about the game that you’re making. They may be very happy to support you in your endeavors if they believe they can sell your game and take a handsome markup.
Alternative 4: Fund on Indiegogo Instead
If you’re really set on crowdfunding your board game project, Kickstarter is not the only crowdfunding platform. Indiegogo also has a pretty healthy tabletop gaming community. While it doesn’t have the powerful name that Kickstarter has, Indiegogo has the distinct advantage of offering creators to take or leave partial funding.
Famously, Kickstarter is all-or-nothing. If you don’t meet your goal, nobody’s cards get charged. This is great because it keeps creators for being on the hook to deliver with insufficient funds and backers don’t end up paying for a hopeless project. On the other hand, though, if you’re okay with receiving partial funding, Indiegogo may be the better option. It’s a very personal choice to make, but it’s one that not enough creators consider.
There is more than one way to see your board game project through to completion. Game development is a long, winding journey, so you want to make sure you consider your alternatives before committing to any one course of action. By taking a long look at the different paths you can take, you’ll be better equipped to make a conscious choice about which direction to travel.
5. Fund on Gamefound Instead
When I first wrote this post back in 2017, Gamefound didn’t exist. There didn’t seem to be a market for a platform like it either.
To fill you in on the news, here’s the idea. Gamefound is a Kickstarter-like platform that specializes in board games. In particular, they make it easier to handle add-ons, stretch goals, and pledge management.
Gamefound has already started seeing some big-ticket campaigns, some of which are raising hundreds of thousands of dollars. There is a very real possibility that Gamefound will continue to compete with Kickstarter in the board game crowdfunding space for years to come.
You might be able to make a good business case for being an early adopter as well! The same crowdfunding principles will apply, but this time, to a platform which caters exclusively to board gamers.