Kickstarter has risen on a tide of popularity and has, in my humble view, changed the landscape of the boardgaming industry. Crowd-funding has provided many with the opportunity to leave the traditional publishing model behind, and make a break for themselves. As the last couple of years have progressed, a culture of expectation and a pattern of successes has led to some would be kickstarter campaigns to suffer the penalty of seemingly swimming against this tide.
More and more I hear and read people making cynical observations about campaigns only succeeding with lucrative extras, bonuses, stretch goals and miniatures. Or that any stretch goals are usually things that should come in the box already (if not simple associated merchandise). Of course, the world is not as simplistic as all that - 8-Minute Empire is a small game with few pieces that plays quickly - and yet managed to get all it’s funding despite a relative paucity of stretch goals (at least when compared to poster children of such things - such as Zombicide). An interesting juxtaposition is Formula E - a game by established and well known game designers, plenty of beautiful art on show, lots of advertising, no real stretch goals, and yet a campaign that only just managed to scrape over the line and at the last minute.
The real reason I came to think about this is because of the game Thunder Alley. A game that didn’t succeed on Kickstarter, despite the probability that it is as good if not better game than any of those I’ve mentioned so far. Thunder Alley, by GMT and Jeff & Carla Horger, strikes me as a wonderful opportunity for GMT to produce a game for a broader market than their usual stable. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love many of the GMT games I have played, and understand they make wonderful and high quality wargames. However, with a game like Thunder Alley (and some of the more euro style games they are seeking to produce) they seem to have an opportunity to break new ground as a company. These are, after all, games the equal of any other games that hit the market.
When Thunder Alley was announced as a kickstarter project, I was extremely interested to see what GMT would do, would they use this as a platform to reach out to a different market? To step beyond their normal P500 audience and take a shot at hitting the people who follow the Nurnberg announcements and the Essen and GenCon releases? To go beyond that and try for a more family orientated market? They certainly have the industry knowledge, game ‘nous’ and potential to do it.
However, I was disappointed to see that it was business as usual. I wasn’t disappointed because I wanted plastic miniatures, a hundred extra tracks and a t-shirt that would announce to the world that I backed Thunder Alley. I was disappointed because of what I thought it could have been, what I had hoped it would be, and what it was.
Now - harsh as these words might read, I mean no disrespect to Chris or Jeff - both seem, from my interactions with them, to be stand out people, people, what’s more, who make great games. GMT, in their description of the Thunder Alley game, talked about their hope of reaching out to a new audience through Kickstarter. But I don’t believe they can do that with GMT business as usual. I am still a staunch believer in GMT and Thunder Alley - but not like that...
Now, I say all of this with my history of having zero experience putting a game through the kickstarter mill. With that caveat now aired, as GMT look to re-launch Thunder Alley through kickstarter, I think they need to be thorough in their planning, and make sure they have more to sell than the mechanisms of game play. As good as they (the mechanisms) sound, I think they need to make an effort to generate a feel, a look, a style, a product that people want, not just because it’s got some solid game play, but also because it’s high quality, because it looks great, because it bleeds the theme.
Of course, the other elements that people have come to recognise as part of a Kickstarter are important - yes even stretch goals are important. If I kickstart a game I’m spending (in some cases) significantly more than what I would if I waited for it to arrive in a shop near me, stretch goals are a method of binding a community and building a motivation to pull in backers - these people are the investors providing the money that companies use to produce the game. Prices for backers, distributors, stores and consumers all need to be carefully weighted.
I also wonder whether running it both as a kickstarter and a P500 (and I understand why) diluted the market - would more people have leapt aboard if the funding had risen more quickly (we are herd animals after all), and would this have occurred if the P500 was closed down in favour of the Kickstarter? We shall never know - but I do think running both concurrently had an impact on the success of the kickstarter.
I think GMT had some reasonable stretch goals and backing levels for their campaign, but they also shot themselves in the foot. The lack of art meant people had to guess what it would all look like, and as superficial as this is, it’s important. For a racing game that’s going to sit on my shelf next to Formula D and Rallyman, it needs to look the part in order for people to want to pull it off the shelf over those other two.
|Want to play an exciting race game? Which one? This, or...|
All in all I’d rather see GMT knock out a Thunder Alley that people would confuse for an Asmodee production, or Fantasy Flight or Days of Wonder - it’s no good going after a new market with the same strategy and tactics they have used previously - those people have already signed up to GMTs style (or haven’t).
Perhaps what I’m advocating isn’t what GMT want - they are successful, produce plenty of high-quality games, and have loyal followers and many fans. If that’s the case - then carry on. However, I can easily imagine a branch of GMT that has the potential to rival some of the great board game companies out there - like Z-Man, FFG, DoW, Asmodee, RGG and the like. They have some great games...
And of course - I’d still love a copy of Thunder Alley - after all, I comment only because I like the sound of the game so much! If it hits kickstarter again, I'll back it again - best of luck to GMT, to Chris, to Jeff and Carla - with whatever path you want to tread.