Kickstarter vs. Publisher

Instead of submitting their game to a board game company, many board game designers go to Kickstarter, seeking funding from the gaming public.

If enough money is raised, the designer spends that money to produce the game, and send a copy to everyone who contributed money.

Are you designing for enjoyment, or success?

What was your answer to that question?

It doesn't actually matter.

Kickstarter is neither success nor fun.

Personally, I like designing games. If you'd prefer to spend your time on promotion, logistics, shipping, manufacturing, and dealing with customers, that's fine. Just know that at the end of it all, there's no recognition, no ongoing money, and no kudos. You just spent so long designing your game that you had to do something with it, right?

The Kickstarter process will cost you many months, and you'll need to pay for a lot of game art, and for promotional copies for reviewers. You don't get that back if the game fails to fund.

You will probably lose money on your game, even if it funds, and you value your time at zero. If that's something you think you might enjoy, that's great.

Note that 50% of funded Kickstarter board games lose money. 

So, what's the alternative?

The alternative is to be published by a proper company. You are guaranteed at least a small profit. You don't have to do anything. You can just spend time doing the fun bit: designing games, and the rest of your time doing something that isn't fun, but actually makes money: your job.


When I meet an author, I'm intrigued, and my first question is "how many books do you have published?" I'm trying to work out if this person is a real author or not. Having a published book is an impressive and rare feat. If they give me any kind of "complex explanation", or other cock-and-bull story, I just mentally lump them in with the other 50% of the population who have written unpublished works. Then, I'm interested to know what their job is.

When you have a published game, you can say "I'm a board game designer." People will respect this achievement, and be impressed and interested. That's my personal experience. Until you have a published game, you're just a nobody in this respect, with a slightly weird hobby. No normal person in society recognises your Kickstarter escapades as a real achievement, unless you raise a lot of money. You can certainly lie or exaggerate, but that's another matter. The typical follow-up questions will unearth your Kickstarter project as being a hobby, and not an achievement. People don't tend to know much about board games, but they are satisfied once I tell them that my game is on the shelves in board game shops all around the world.

Kickstarting a game is not success. Anyone can do it. There is no kudos in such an endeavour — maybe just some personal satisfaction that the final customers have got their game, and it's all over.

Personal and professional esteem might mean nothing to you. That's completely fine. As for me, I'll be putting "published board game designer" on my biography and résumé until the end of time.

But, what if publishers aren't interested in my game?

Then, it's either Kickstarter or nothing, right?

No. The answer is that you need to make better games. The publisher is not ignorant of your game's brilliance. Your game is simply not good enough.

In actual fact, your game is obviously not good enough. The publisher doesn't even need to analyse your boringly-themed, derivative game that's covered in text and numbers, to decide they're not interested.

Make better games, and make more games. Once you have one published game, you can very easily get all your misunderstood gems published afterwards. This was my approach, but now I can see that my gems were actually very flawed. Only my later games are publishable.


You don't just launch on Kickstarter, and watch the customers roll in. You'll need to acquire these from one of two places: paid advertising, or social media community-building.

Paid advertising is expensive. You can also get customers by paying a "game preview" person/group to make a video of your upcoming game. That's not cheap either. No proper reviewer is going to talk about your unreleased game for free.

Social media community building is extraordinarily laborious. Fostering a community, and providing resources, can be far more work than designing a game. I've seen individual people do all of: write regular articles, create online groups, run contests, write a newsletter, attend conventions and groups, and host real-life demos of their game. And, I've seen their projects fail to fund after all that.


About 40% of tabletop games on Kickstarter fail to fund.

Great, so a 60% chance of success, then?

No. That 60% is composed of a very high success rate for experienced Kickstarterers, and a low success rate for novices. Even if you do things well, your game will more than likely not fund. You might not have generated enough customers, or people might not like the game or its price point.

You can try your game again, with a whole lot of extra work, but there's a good chance it will fail again.

A failed Kickstarter is something, at least. The game has had its big finale, and people at least got to see it. After this, a designer's interest tends to subside from its peak. They intend to try again, but it's a chore, and they've already done it once. Life priorities start to pile on top of the game, and it never resurfaces. Most people don't try a second time. I've seen the data.

Once a game fails on Kickstarter, don't even think of taking it to a publisher. It's going to be difficult for them to create buzz about a game that has already failed. Also, a designer who's had complete control over their game is unlikely to be open to drastic changes (or any changes) anyway, after they've had artwork done, and the game has been polished. The game is completely dead.

Even worse...

Kickstarters can go really bad. For economic, personal, interpersonal, or other reasons, the whole thing goes off the rails, and the campaign spirals into a nightmare. People lose far more time, money and/or reputation than the whole project was ever worth. When you take on a complex task like this, don't forget the unknown unknowns.

I will add that many typical publishers also use Kickstarter. That's completely fine. They know what to do, and they're doing all the work, as well as the rest of the production of the game. Roxley does amazing Kickstarters, like the one they did for Radlands.

Even worse than Kickstartering, is starting an entire company as a vehicle for your game, and then trying to connect up to manufacturers and distributors. This is not just a big project, but a massive life commitment. This is obviously madness, but I've seen it more than once. Prolific board game reviewer Tom Vasel says that when he sees that the game designer and publisher are the same person, there's about a 1% chance the game will be good. The people who succeed at publishing do so by focussing on the business, and not doing game design any more.

Good luck with your Kickstarter slog/business. I'll just stick to designing games.

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