RPGs and Crowdfunding


Have many of you gotten involved in crowd funding games on sites such as KickStarter or Indiegogo?

I’ve been late to the game, I think.  I’ve only recently started looking at this (last 6 month or so), but I see that more and more small press and indie games are being funded this way.

From 20th (or 10th, or Xth) anniversary copies of older games, to expansions of more recent games, to variations of the latest indie darling – there is a variety of things being put up for crowd funding.  Given the contraction and consolidation of the game market through the latest recession it seems more and more individuals and companies are using sites such as Kickstarter to not only judge the interest in their product, and fund it, but also to solicit feedback and playtest comments that are then incorporated into the final product.


A few years back the trend seemed to start (from my perspective) with a few projects here and there (such as the Delta Green expansions) that were using donations sites to essentially ‘pre-sell’ a minimum number of copies of a given book or game to insure that it’s initial costs were covered.  This seemed like a win-win, since it was primarily established authors and their small press companies putting these up, asking for a little faith from their fans to enable these books, some of which had been languishing in complete-except for printing for years, to finally go to press and be sent to those who sought them out and supported them.

Though the initial barrier to entry was lower for the current crop of crowd sourcing sites, it appears that like the D20 boom of the early 2000s, this may eventually give way to a smaller group of established names using these sites as a safety net in an era where printing games without a significant pre-sale is risky.  Which is not to say new players can’t have a good success, with a good idea and a fun, professional approach (such as the recent Ehdrighohr Kickstarter).

But many of these projects aren’t simply pre-orders – they allow you access to documents in development, and call for input not only in the main game, but in the size and contents of supplementary products.  For example, the current Fate Core Kickstarter, within 15k of it’s final stretch go with about a day to go.  For $1 they give you full access to the development docs for their general purpose version of the FATE system – which is the system behind the pulp game Spirit of the Century (which I’ve run for a pulp game a few years ago) and the Dresden Files RPG.  And not just the main document – they’ve been soliciting as part of their stretch goals ‘world building’ examples on how to use those rules, and toolbox rules expansions, playtest versions of which have been available to donors at $1 and up.  From $10 and up you get not only the initial drafts, but the final pdfs for everything they end up funding, incorporating any playtesting gathered throughout the process.  The $10 price point seems fairly consistent with pdf reward levels of other kickstarts, with physical books starting around $30-$40.  The Fate Core Kickstarter has been adding additional products, and even promised to add things to their production schedule for the next few years, if the funding met certain levels.  The final goal being a simplified version of the Dresden Files game (in a single book, as opposed to the 2 huge tomes the original version) in 2014 based on a streamlined version of Fate Core that has already been put on the schedule by an earlier stretch goal!

Now, that project is an extreme example, being a bit of an indie darling, not to mention being extremely well run, with many updates and incentives added as the numbers soared.

Something a little more typical might be another Kickstarter I’ve been following.  With just over 10 days left to go, the Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide  is approaching it’s second stretch goal.  The core of the book is a series of articles written by a variety of authors on how to modify, or ‘hack’ the game systems driving the latest batch of Margaret Weiss Production’s licensed games – Smallville using a variant sometimes called Cortex Plus Drama, Leverage using a variant for Action, and Marvel Heroic Roleplay, which uses a variant for Heroic Action.  Now, as the kickstarter text points out, the initial essays were solicited some time ago, and completed, and the kickstarter is to get the book in layout, some art work (more because of the first stretch goal) funded, and the book finally printed.  This is something those of us who have played and enjoyed these games (I’ve run a Smallville demo for the EAGLES group on Thursday nights, and I’ve run a couple Marvel Heroic demos for the Gaming Goat and am currently running it for the EAGLES group) has been waiting for, since each variant of the Cortex Plus game is tweaked to fit the particular genre it is trying to emulate – which means in the three games the system is different for each and there isn’t such a thing a a ‘generic’ Cortex Plus game.  So this book presents multiple ways to modify these systems, developed and presented in licensed games, to fit other styles and situations.

As such, the base book still requires one to have a copy of Smallville, or Leverage to get the base rules which are ‘hacked’.  But one of the nice things about the crowd funding model, is that it doesn’t have to stay that way.  If it reaches the next stretch goal, the books adds a fantasy take on the Marvel Heroic system, which allows one to do a D&D-style game with the same sort of Dice Pool considerations as I’m currently enjoying with my Thursday night supers game.  And a few more goals and thousands down the line, if enough folks support the project, we might just get that generic version of the Cortex Plus Drama system that doesn’t currently exist.  I hope it makes it that far, as I know a few folks who have passed on the system simply because of the Smallville name.  I’ve thought the crop of Cortex Plus games to be heavily influenced by some of the indie game ideas that have proven successful over the last decade, but wedded to a more conventional dice pool system.  And as a GM who likes a lot of those systems, but has trouble keeping players interested in them, that’s a very exciting prospect.  One that might not have been produced if not for the crowd sourcing option.

Of course, this has been focused on the pros of crowd sourcing of games.  There are cons.  I am new enough to sponsoring games that I haven’t had a funded project flake out on me and have the creator disappear or go non-responsive for long periods while missing deadlines.  But I know it’s happened (and probably will happen again).  This is one of the reasons that I think crowd funding will probably start t be skewed towards existing companies and proven authors – those who have shown they can meet deadlines and fulfill their promises.  Just as the same things have happened with small press publishers.  Hopefully there will still be room for those who put out good work, but may take more time or effort to get there, with crowd funders taking some of the financial pressure off, while allowing them to take the necessary time (within reason – frequent substantive updates appear to be key).

So there is my current take and overview.  I’ve supported about a dozen campaigns, and will probably continue – at least at the lower ends.  You can often get some pretty good deals (the Fate Kickstarter nets you around $100 in pdf product for that $10 pledge), but regardless, you can help projects that otherwise couldn’t be produced to see the light of day.  For some people, that might be worth even a little surcharge to see that it gets made.

Is anyone else involved in gaming-producing kickstarting?   What are your views on the trends?

And for those of you who are open to it, I’d suggest checking out the two I mentioned (Fate Core and Cortex Plus) while you can.  Some good stuff being solicited there.


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