Do You Need to Fund Your Board Game on Kickstarter?

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A lot of board game creators ask the same question: “how do you fund your board game on Kickstarter?”

It’s a great question. Kickstarter is complicated, but the potential to earn thousands of dollars from dozens, hundreds, or thousands of backers is worth investigating.

But there’s a fallacy in this thinking. The way this oft-asked question is framed from the get-go can lead you astray.

I’ve written about how you have to bankroll your own board game projects long before they reach Kickstarter. That means you have to find an alternate form of funding. This is true whether or not you go to Kickstarter.

 

 

If you already have to raise funds before Kickstarter, that raises a big question. “Do you need to fund your board game on Kickstarter?”

The answer to that is no. Four alternatives readily come to mind. Let’s talk about them.

 

Note: I am not endorsing any of the four ways below. What’s good and what’s bad depends entirely on your situation, your business plan, and your pitch. The purpose of this exercise is to clearly delineate alternatives to Kickstarter, however attractive or unattractive they may be.

 

1. Self-fund.

A lot of times, people act as if Kickstarter were the only way to raise funding. It’s easy to forget that Kickstarter is only ten years old as of the time this article is being written. People have been starting businesses since ancient history.

Let that sink in. People have been raising funds for their projects since before angel investors, crowdfunding, or even the modern banking system. You don’t necessarily have to go with the newest, prettiest, trendiest funding method.

Self-funding is the grandfather of all fundraising. That means dipping into your personal funds, be it your checking account, savings account, 401(k), or using credit cards. You can even try asking friends and family for money.

Obviously, you don’t want to bet the family farm to try to fund your board game. Tapping into your retirement accounts can be a bad idea. Even drawing from your savings isn’t always the best option.

There is, nevertheless, one massive benefit to doing it this way – you don’t have to answer to anybody. You don’t have to try to chase Kickstarter trends. No bank, small business association, or angel investor can override your decisions when you self-fund. You are truly the master of your own destiny.

 

2. Get a loan from the bank.

“I’m not made of money, Brandon.” Most people aren’t. In a world in which people cannot come up with a few hundred dollars for an emergency, asking you to pull thousands from your own personal accounts to fund a board game project would be absurd.

To many people, the logical answer is to go to Kickstarter. After all, if you fund your board game on Kickstarter, you can build your business with sales before the product is even finalized!

Of course, this is built on some faulty assumptions in the first place. The most obvious is that you have to raise funds to create a game ready for Kickstarter in the first place. Kickstarter is a noisy medium where there are a lot of phenomenal options available for roughly the same price. Why would somebody back the concept of an awesome game when a print-ready awesome game is one more click away? In short, they wouldn’t.

If you are unable to self-fund and you need extra money to be ready for a Kickstarter, you can always ask the bank for a business loan. Granted, I’m not recommending this option, nor am I saying it’s a bad idea. It is merely an option that is available to you, and indeed, was the way that many businesses in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries came to be.

(Just be careful with debt.)

 

3. Get an SBA loan.

Naturally, though, banks may show some hesitation to lend you money for one reason or another. Or perhaps you hesitate to take a loan from a bank. There is another place you can go, provided you live in the US: the Small Business Administration.

Much like a bank would, the SBA can provide loans. Fortunately, they often provide loans for smaller amounts with different loan terms and more attractive interest rates.

There are some hurdles, though, and many of them are not easy to clear. According to Fundera, the customers most likely to be approved had over $180,000 in annual revenue, a credit score of 680, and have been in business for four years or longer.

Clearly, this is not the right option for “I’m a college student and I want to make a board game.” It may be a good option for “I’m 41, have been in business for a while, and want to try something new.”

 

4. Find angel investors.

Last but not least, you can always seek out funding from an angel investor. Some people have lots of money and they seek ways to use it. One of the ways affluent individuals like to spend their money is by providing capital for a business start-up, sometimes for equity and sometimes for kicks.

This can seem like an extremely loopy answer. “Why would anybody give me tens of thousands to make a board game?” It’s a legitimate question to ask. The simple truth is that there are people out there who want to be involved in projects they like and for whom money is not an object. If you can’t self-fund or get a loan, finding a person like that becomes, by default, your next best bet.

Is it a long shot? Oh, absolutely. But it’s something to keep in mind.

 

Do You Really Need to Fund Your Board Game on Kickstarter?

Forget about Kickstarter for just a second. It is just a new venue for an old idea – selling attractive products to customers. Whether you crowdfund, take a loan, self-fund, or find an angel investor, you will have to face one simple question. Is my business meeting a real market need?

If the answer is “yes” and you can demonstrate with real evidence that the answer is “yes,” then don’t limit yourself to Kickstarter. Spending your time obsessing over the right way to raise funds is not nearly as important as making something worth raising funds to create.

Consider all the options.

6 Reasons Why Board Game Development is So Iterative

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Board game development is notorious for its trial-and-error approach. Experienced designers and developers will tell you that it’s all about iteration. You may create dozens of versions of the same game until you finally find one you’re satisfied with. Everything can be scrapped at a moment’s notice – mechanics, rules, art, and even basic core concepts.

 

6 Reason Board Game Development is So Iterative

 

So what’s going on? Are game creators bad at defining project requirements? Do publishers need to training in project management?

I say no. In fact, iteration is the at the root of board game development. Today, I talk about six specific reasons why this is an unavoidable part of the process.

 

1. Play-testing is chaos.

In the abstract, making a board game is fairly simple. You come up with basic ideas, find physical pieces to represent those ideas, and come up with game mechanics. Then you regulate the expression of those mechanics through rules.

Board game development requires the creation of an elegant system, much like programming in software development. Much like in software development, though, the tiniest changes can have outsized impacts on how the system as a whole functions.

Even simple abstract games like Chess and Go are so complex that the smartest computers in the world have just figured out how to beat people at them. It takes all that processing power to be able to understand the possible ramifications of each individual move. These games, by the way, and hundreds or thousands of years old. Most games in development are less than a year old.

What I’m saying is that play-testing a brand new game is chaos. You cannot possibly understand the nature of your creation until you spend a lot of time testing it. As your understanding grows, you will have to make design changes based around happenings that you could have never anticipated.

 

2. Form follows function.

Board games are physical products. Their form follows their function and their function follows gameplay. Just above, I’d mentioned how board game development was chaotic at its core because of the myriad variables that you have to slowly discover through play-testing.

Imagine what that implies from a materials standpoint. Every time your game changes, there is a possibility that you will have to swap out parts. The board might need to be bigger or smaller. You may need more or fewer pieces. Pieces may need to change in size. Each time the gameplay evolves, there is a risk that the physical form of the game has to change as well.

Early on, while board games are still being developed on pen and paper or in Tabletop Simulator, changing materials is easy. Once you get late in the game, though, such as with art, custom plastic pieces, or miniatures, it can be very complicated. Sometimes you’ll find that physical limitations or the costs associated with materials force you to make gameplay changes.

 

3. Art direction is complicated.

Similar to the above point, art needs to first and foremost suit the needs of the game. Because gameplay changes, art and graphic design will often have to change as well.

Yet there is even more to it than just that. Art direction, plain and simple, is complicated. You have to describe exactly how to create a specific piece of art to invoke a certain emotion and meet certain technical requirements. Communication is key when doing this, and often clients – myself included sometimes – can only say “make it pop.” We give vague requirements to artists because we don’t know how to give clearer ones.

What does this result in? Exactly what you would expect – revisions, rework, and sometimes additional costs. More clearly describing what you are looking for helps, but it’s not always possible and it’s not always a solution even when it is.

My recommendation is that you start with sketches or speedpaints when gathering art. If you need to revise artwork, this gives you a chance to do so before the majority of the work is completed.

 

4. Reviews can catch you off-guard.

Once you finally create your game, you’re not out of the woods yet. After all the board game development is complete, you still need independent reviewers to convince potential customers that your game is a good one. While board game reviews tend to skew positive, this is by no means something you can take for granted.

When you send a game out for review, prepare for the possibility that it will be panned. If the game goes over poorly, you will want to make more revisions before releasing the game. (Or you may even want to scrap the game entirely.)

 

5. The market can catch you off-guard.

I’ve talked about how important it is to vet your ideas before launching a product. Researching the market, studying people’s behavior, and using data to figure out what people want goes a long way.

But can we be honest for a second? Nobody is a soothsayer. Trends change fast. The market is fickle.

It is possible to work for a year on a game, play-test successfully, and create the entire product. At the end, you may find that you were slightly too late to launch. The market moved on. It doesn’t happen all the time, but if it does, you can often rework parts of the game you’ve already made and create something fresh.

 

6. Distributors have different rule book than Kickstarter.

One thing that bothers me: board game creators overrate Kickstarter and underrate traditional distribution. Having your game in Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, or even Target is a safer bet than Kickstarter. Even small, local gaming stores, in my opinion, can bring you more sales and steadier cash flow.

But here’s the tricky thing. What succeeds on Kickstarter, which many board game creators use for funding, does not necessarily succeed in traditional distribution. With Kickstarter, shipping cost is a major driver of success. With traditional distribution, it’s shelf space or art style (looking buyable). The misalignment of incentives can force you into making revisions you didn’t expect.

If your endgame is to get into traditional stores, you will likely have to modify your game as a product. You might have to change materials, packaging, or even gameplay. This is easy to forget!

 

Embrace Iteration in Board Game Development

Board game development is rooted in trial-and-error. To succeed, you must accept this as a fact. Embrace the winding path of board game development and allow your product to slowly take shape. Creative work is often like this – meandering, unpredictable, and complex.

It’s not you. It’s the nature of the game!

Do It Anyway: Make the Board Game You Want

Posted on 19 CommentsPosted in Behind the Scenes

Lately, I’ve been talking about the hard truths of the board game business. You can’t just make the board game you want. You have to make the board game other people want. Product-market fit is essential and without it, financial success much harder to obtain. Just look at some of these posts I’ve been publishing lately.

Well, guess what: I’m about to contradict all of that. I didn’t get into the board game business by being a human calculator. It wasn’t all about costs and benefits, supply chain management and marketability. I was 22 years old, chasing a childhood dream with blind passion.

 

Take a Leap of Faith

 

The great Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard came up with the phrase “leap of faith.” At least, that’s halfway true since he never used those exact words. What he did exactly say is that “[t]hinking can turn toward itself in order to think about itself and skepticism can emerge. But this thinking about itself never accomplishes anything.”

Reason may set the human apart from the beast, but action still beats reason. It is by taking action that you can learn lessons that are emotionally real. You will experience things that will actually change you. If you create a board game, attempt a Kickstarter, and fall flat on your face, you will still generally be better off for it.

 

When Doors Slam Shut, Other Doors Open

In April 2018, I faceplanted. A game I had been working on for over a year and had spent $8,000 on had failed on Kickstarter. The reasons that led directly to that failure could not be readily corrected. The gap between the money I raised and the money I needed to raise was so great that I determined my best option was to ditch the game and move on.

Thank goodness I did. In a depressed fog, I somehow had the lucidity to make the right call on that. What’s more, the autopsy post I did on Highways & Byways led to a traffic spike that permanently increased the readership of this blog. I like to think of it as failing up.

A whole bunch of things came from that project that I didn’t even realize until now. For one, I’m in love and I’m engaged. One of the first things that made me stand out to my fiancee was that I was working on a board game about travel. It gave us something to talk about and bond over. The game didn’t launch, but the relationship sure did.

There isn’t a person on earth who could have predicted that. Nor could they have predicted that the increased traffic from the autopsy blog post made it possible for me to push the Discord server or the Facebook group. The clean slate gave me the chance to work on new projects – Tasty Humans and Yesterday’s War – with a team instead of alone.

Finally, the time wasted on the campaign gave this blog time to really take off. This blog has since become a major source of traffic for a marketing company that I run, which has superseded Pangea Games in revenue, profit, and personnel. If that campaign had made $50,000 or something, I would actually be worse off in business.

I’m not saying failure’s fun. It completely sucks. But it’s not the end of the world. The act of doing something you love can open branching pathways for you in life that you could never have otherwise anticipated.

 

Make the Board Game & Learn the Skills

I’m a big fan of the School of Hard Knocks. Whether you succeed on a project or not, the act of seeing something through to completion will teach you a ton. I have written a lot of posts on what goes into the act of designing a board game before. There are a lot of moving parts, and it takes a long time to create a board game.

Even the simple act of creating a game – not marketing it, packaging it, manufacturing it – simply creating game mechanics…my goodness. You have to play-test the thing dozens or hundreds of times. It takes seemingly endless hours of reiteration, re-versioning, and reimplementation. It can feel an awful lot like being Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

If you want a board game to succeed financially, you have to learn project management, cost management, and supply chain management. This is true whether you go through Kickstarter or not. It’s brutal. So let me ask you this…

If you fail, do you instantly lose all the skills you gained?

No. You get to keep them. That’s a hell of a consolation prize.

 

Certainty & Order are Lies, but Beauty & Passion are Real

Life is chaotic and bizarre and nothing is guaranteed. More than that, life is absurd and we are all actively trying to seek out meaning in it. There are so many variables involved in starting a business or making a creative work that no one can say for certain what will and won’t workIt is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life.

Beauty and passion are real. As real as anything can be, anyway. When you make something you are truly proud of, no one can take that away from you. Creating something that you think should exist gives you something you can always look at and say “I created that because I wanted it to exist.” Passion leads us to take illogical, irrational leaps that sometimes work despite the odds. The long arc of human progress is full of leaps like this.

In pursuing passion, you’ll find yourself with all kinds of stories. Beauty and passion open doors when you share with others. You can ace job interviews and score free drinks in bars. You can make friends on airplanes and close deals with big clients.

 

Final Thoughts

This is not my usual how-to post. Nor is this a post about business strategy. This is a post for anyone sitting on the sidelines, intimidated by the possibility of creating something big.

Jump in. Do something you love! Maybe it will work. Maybe it won’t. You won’t know until you try, and failure is not that bad. Experience is a fantastic teacher and sometimes you have to take a leap of faith.

Good luck 🙂