I wanted to take some time today to highlight a Gamefound campaign that I was interested that has somewhat catastrophically collapsed. I thought it was an interesting look at the current state of crowdfunded board games and some of the issues current crowdfunding culture. The Gamfound campaign in question is Euthia.
I’ve been keeping an eye on Gamefound and Kickstarter for some time. It’s been a while since I’ve invested in a project so I was looking for something special. Euthia looked like it ticked a lot of my boxes and I didn’t have an open world style board game in my collection so I thought this could potentially be a good fit. Not willing to invest quite yet I followed the project waiting to see what the final form of the game would look like (another issue with the current crowd funding culture that I’ll address another day)
Despite the project initially seeming like a huge success having raised €100 000 in les than half an hour and then an additional €400 000 in subsequent days, the creators pulled the pin on the project. Their reason; we would require at least 6000 backers in order to make the project possible.
And here is where the current state of crowdfunding culture has failed not only us but the creators of these projects. In order to gain publicity and momentum a “token” figure is used to create an initial buzz. The claim of reaching a funding goal in x minutes is more important that actually reaching a funding goal that will carry your project to completion. At time of cancelling the project Diea Games had just over 2000 backers, only a third of what they claim they would need for the project to be a success. If 6000 users had backed at the minimum €85 pledge level the goal should have realistically been €510 000.
So what are the problems here and how do we fix them going forward? I see two issues:
- Crowdfunding platforms only use money for determining success and not number of backers.
- Consumers are only likely to back a project that looks “healthy” i.e. a project that hits it’s goal quickly, is likely to be delivered and usually is delivering extra value through promised rewards.
The first issue could easily be addressed by having companies set both a monetary goal AND a backer number goal. If a product is only viable at a quoted cost if it is produced in a certain volume then that information should be public to the people you are trying to get to invest. I know this becomes difficult for reasons I will discuss in addressing the second point but, overall it would make for healthier crowdfunding culture. Too often these platforms are treated like a pre-order site for dreams, the consumer can easily forget that these products are only viable with their support and by investing they might not even get the return they are hoping for. Making this aspect of crowdfunding clearer will lead to consumers making smarter choices and possibly force game publishers to establish a stronger business plan before product launch.
The second issue is trickier to address as it requires consumer culture to change. The expectation from the typical consumer when backing a project is that the project will fund quickly and grow throughout the campaign. The initial momentum is sustained by promising “stretch goals”: additional rewards when funding milestones are reached. While these used to be an incentive to expand a project beyond the original scope, now they are baked into projects at conception with the aim of maintaining intrest and gaining further investment as value “increases”. As this is now the norm, any project not performing in this way is seen as “failing” or “not good value”. This in turn leads to a death spiral for these projects, backers leave making goal further unobtainable and creating less percieved value causing more backers to leave.
Trudvang Legends, a campaign that I backed (and still have not received), began to spiral in a similar way mid way through the campaign. Having raised over US$1 000 000 the project began to stall and the path to US$1 100 000 took impossibly long. Backers left in droves claiming that the campaign was dead and the value was no longer there. The tides only began to turn once the monetary stretch goals became daily unlocks, a new reward added each day for “nothing”. Suddenly the value returned as an entire expansion of content was added for free (these probably would have been “free” anyway, just added as stretch goals further down the track had the project not stalled). Trudvang publisher CMON took the lessons learned from Trudvang and began to implement daily unlocks into future campaigns. This practice keeps engagement high, provides the illusion of a steady increase in value and helps to keep backers talking.
With this structure of constantly increasing value how can smaller, more niche publishers compete? I think that honesty becomes the best policy here. Being clear about your game and having all your content available up front might not be exciting, but it tells your backers exactly what their money buys. With the cost of living constantly increasing, I think people would value that above all else. Veterans of crowdfunding are tired of the same old dance each time and would appreciate the honesty. Newcomers to crowdfunding won’t feel confused and frustrated that content isn’t being “unlocked”. Most of all, smaller publishers have a chance to take a chance on a unique product and test the demand in an enthusiastic marketplace.