Tobold's Blog
Saturday, January 22, 2022
What future for Kickstarter board games?

Over the past decade, board games have been a relatively bright spot on Kickstarter. It is a bit hard to see, as Kickstarter puts both video games and board games in the same "Games" category. That "Games" category has a slightly below average failure rate in the Kickstarter Fulfillment Report, but it seems video games are much more likely to fail on Kickstarter than board games. That probably has to do with "technology risk": A video game or tech gadget project has a risk of simply not working as intended, while a board game is low tech. You are still at risk of getting your board game and it not being as much fun as you had hoped, but there is less likelihood that the project simply doesn't deliver anything.

For several years, a world of low inflation, stable prices, and well-established supply chains made it possible for even very small board game companies anywhere in the world to produce their games in China and get them to customers for a reasonable price. When COVID hit, families were forced to stay inside, and the interest in board games went up, and with that the market size, on top of an already very solid growth rate over the last decade.

But now, 2 years into the pandemic, things are looking a bit less rosy. Supply chains are less stable, shipping costs have gone through the roof, and inflation is on the rise. That is a problem especially for Kickstarter projects, because those easily take 1 or 2 years, and by the time the production and shipping costs have to be paid, they are much higher than originally foreseen. At least the shipping cost are usually not included in the pledge, so it is the customer who is carrying that price increase risk. But that still is going to make the customer somewhat less happy. The current Marvel Zombies Kickstarter posted a very detailed estimate of shipping cost, and if you live for example in Alaska, a $98 to $300 shipping cost is probably a nasty surprise.

The company making the game is carrying the risk of production cost increases. Have a look at Aeon Trespass: Odyssey! That Kickstarter from October 2019 at the time sold you the core game for $129. But if you want to "late pledge" it now, you'd have to pay $249. It very much looks as if the company is losing money on the initial price. The game is still expected to ship in April of this year. But it doesn't take much imagination to see how another project might end up in enough financial difficulties to not be able to deliver.

With many companies selling board games on Kickstarter on a regular basis, there is a problem with companies using this year's Kickstarter cash to finance the production of last year's game. The visible end result is an accumulation of different effects: Companies today are more aware of inflation, and already price it in; plus they raise prices a bit more to make up for past miscalculations.

And then there is basic economics: A higher price tag reduces demand. And people hit by inflation for cost of living all over the world also have less disposable income, further reducing demand for expensive hobby items. I love board games, and I am reasonably well off. But more and more often I see the price tag for the latest board game to be released or Kickstarter project to come out and decide against a purchase. And if I pledge for something, these days it is more often the cheapest core pledge, without expansions and all that jazz.

A currently much discussed example is Marvel Zombies, a Zombicide variant from CMON. The cheapest pledge is $130, if you want the expansion you are already up to $240, and if you also want the 60 cm high Galactus figurine, you'll end up at $410 (or rather $500+ including shipping). This is selling like hot cakes, and 6k of the currently 16k backers chose the most expensive option. But does that look sustainable to you? How many $500 board games is the average fan going to buy per year?

Of course the old question of "is it worth it?" is nearly impossible to answer. An older CMON game, Cthulhu: Death May Die had a $250 pledge level with a giant Cthulhu figurine, and that figurine alone is now on eBay for $300 to $500 (although we don't know whether it is actually selling at that much). But at the most basic level the core Marvel Zombies game including shipping is going to cost you $165; and you can get one of many other Zombicide games with the same gameplay for half that on Amazon, your friendly local games store, or from some online shop. Especially the friendly local games store looks increasingly competitive, as you don't pay any additional shipping cost there.

Outside of Kickstarter, some companies seem to be doing a better job at keeping costs down. I just pre-ordered Familiar Tales, made by Plaid Hat Games, as I loved previous games from them (Aftermath, Forgotten Waters). The game costs $79.95 from their webstore, and should be delivered in February (for some reason I don't understand it is released in Australia first, on January 26). I didn't order it from there, as they are shipping from the USA by USPS Priority Mail for $65 shipping to Europe. But I was able to pre-order the game at a friendly local game store for €70, and I had the choice of either paying €7 for local shipping, or collecting it from the store for no additional cost.

The overall message here is to be mindful of what you buy for what price. Kickstarter projects are frequently a year late. You pay $500 for an all-in pledge now, and in 2 years at some point a giant box arrives on your door step. Will you still be happy with that? Or did you get caught up in the hype, the fear of missing out, and are in for a big disappointment later? How much more stuff would you have gotten if you had spent those $500 in your friendly local games store? Not to mention other cheap options, depending on your particular needs, like digital versions of board games for solo or online play, or second hand board games from eBay.


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