If you are into modern board games, it's likely you've at least heard about Kickstarter. The multi-billion dollar company plays a critical role in the funding of both large and small tabletop game projects, with some sources even estimating that Tabletop Games contribute to more than a third of the company's total annual revenue. In 2021 alone, more than 30 projects in the Tabletop Games category raised over $1 million in funding.
Last week, CMON finished funding their 50th project on the platform, Marvel Zombies: A Zombicide Game. It raised just over $9 million to become the 4th most funded tabletop game project ever on the platform. It's a remarkable achievement.
Despite not backing the project myself, I still found myself drawn to following along with the project and its updates. There's a reason CMON consistently raises millions and millions of dollars with each new project they launch on the site, and it's not just because they have the rights to publish Marvel games. CMON has turned successful Kickstarter projects into a science. Regular updates to keep backers engaged, new expansion add-ons released at regular intervals to continue driving the funding up anytime it hits a lull, stretch goals constantly being unlocked and revealed to throw the comments section into a tizzy... You may not think dropping $300, $400, $500+ on a game is worthwhile or exciting, but almost 30,000 people disagree with you.
There are several recurring complaints that come up any time CMON runs a big project and today I want to address each of them.
(Note: I'm not going to be talking about Kickstarter's transition to blockchain in this post. That is a very complicated subject to discuss that isn't really relevant to talking about large companies using crowdfunding.)
Complaint #1: They Use FOMO
Any time CMON launches a new project, I find myself at a crossroads. From the standpoint of game design, I tend to not like the way they approach expansions. I've always been a bit averse to expansions that are just "more of the same", which is often what CMON expansions are. They're boxes upon boxes of more asymmetric characters (and plastic) to play with. That being said, I spent $300+ going all-in on Marvel United: X-Men last year, so I can't really talk...
Therein lies my own dilemma. A lot of people criticize CMON projects for being so excessive when it comes to expansions and add-ons and using FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) to drive up your pledge to seemingly ridiculous amounts of money. But, when they consistently raise millions and millions of dollars from tens of thousands of backers, it's hard to fault CMON for doing it.
It makes me question if I'm just being a bit self-righteous and pompous for my ideas of what an expansion "should be". People love the projects they run and the games they put out and they make a lot of money from doing them, so why should they stop?
A lot of people like getting excited about getting everything they can and don't have a problem with getting drawn in by "FOMO". You may not like those kinds of expansions, but nobody is forcing you to buy them. If you don't think they are worthwhile, then don't get them. Don't get mad at CMON for making them.
Complaint #2: They Don't "Need" to Use Kickstarter
"Kickstarter is not a store". You might be familiar with this phrase. It's been Kickstarter's motto from their inception and despite how much their platform has changed over the years, they still maintain that it is their core principle. "Kickstarter is not a store, it's a place to bring creative projects to life." You are making an investment when you back a Kickstarter project. If the creator is able to bring it to life, then they'll share it with you, but you aren't "buying" a product, at least not in the traditional sense.
But when you have a huge publisher like CMON on the platform, you'll see a lot of complaints about "CMON doesn't need Kickstarter to fund a project. They use it as a pre-order system, so they shouldn't even be on the platform."
I'll admit, I was one of those people for a long time until I asked myself "Who cares?"
Honestly, it's all fine and dandy for Kickstarter to claim that they aren't a pre-order system or a store, but that's not really true when it comes to projects from larger creators like CMON. And who cares if that's not true? Who does it hurt?
CMON benefits in being able to drum up a lot of attention for their game, they get as good of an idea as they can get about how many copies of a game they need to manufacture, and they get the funds they need to manufacture all those copies. They don't have to risk millions of dollars manufacturing a product and then end up with way too many extra copies or not enough copies to fulfill demand.
Likewise, from a backer perspective, you get to be involved in the excitement of the project and stretch goals and interact with thousands of other people that are excited about the game. You may have to wait upwards of year to receive your game, but that would happen if CMON ran pre-orders off of Kickstarter as well.
Who cares if they "need" Kickstarter, it works for them and there are a lot of benefits for everyone involved. Leaving Kickstarter would mean that they would have to take on a lot more financial risk and/or have a smaller audience involved in whatever sort of pre-order they would be using.
Complaint #3: It Hurts Small Creators
As the quality and size of projects on Kickstarter has grown, it's become harder and harder for small creators to launch and successfully fund projects. Across all categories, only 40% of projects successfully reach their funding goal. I should know how hard it is, I funded my first project last year.
Gone are the days where you can easily launch a board game without having lots of artwork done already, a well-designed page, lots of review copies sent out, a polished project video. Bigger creators have more money to market their games, more money to spend on artwork and graphic design, more money to spend on project videos, more money to spend of pre-production samples, etc...
If you look at Kickstarter's core mission of being a place to help creators bring their ideas to life, you could definitely argue that the platform has evolved into a more competitive place, and that large companies using it hurts that core mission.
On the flip-side, I would argue that it is that very competition that leads to less projects that fail to fulfill. You really have to know what you are doing to survive and thrive on Kickstarter. You can't throw together a project haphazardly, do nothing before you launch to raise awareness, and then expect it to go very well. Those are the kinds of projects are the ones that are hurt the most by the way Kickstarter has evolved, and I don't think that's a bad thing.
While I would agree that large creators using Kickstarter doesn't really fit in with their core philosophy, I personally don't think it matters. Kickstarter has evolved and that's okay. Business is business. Competition leads to better products. Small creators can still thrive on Kickstarter if they put in the necessary research and work to do so.
What do you think about larger companies like CMON using Kickstarter? Let's talk in the comments below!
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