Retailers and the Kickstarter Conundrum

Sometimes the world changes, and as the world changes we must all change with it. In academia they practice this forced relevancy referred to as "publish or perish" and in retail we call it "embrace new shit or go the way of the dodo bird." I totally just made that up right now, but stick with me. I am approaching, I believe, six complete years in this segment of the game industry. I am not one of the old guard by any stretch of the imagination, but I developed some old guard entrenchment early in my days as a retailer, and fell into the trap of calling Kickstarter a whole slew of colorful and impolite things. My anger over Kickstarter kept products like Zombicide out of my store for a long period of time. I mean, how dare CMON make money without giving me my cut! My, how times have changed. Two years ago we, as a retailer, had backed one Kickstarter, Reaper's original Bones Kickstarter. Personally, I'd only backed one Kickstarter, but darn it, I really wanted that movie!

These days, you can find hot Kickstarter properties (like Massive Darkness) all over my store, because Kickstarter isn't grabbing every dollar. Some consumers are finally tired of failed KS campaigns where their money disappears. Some consumers are finally tired of year-long waits where a company has their money and they never know when they'll get product. Some consumers just love their FLGS and want to see a KS game succeed at retail so they can find people to play with. There's also that minor issue for consumers where, at any given time, there are approximately 900 game-related Kickstarters live, so it can be tough to find all the good ones. Oh, and for me, there was this whole little issue where companies who use Kickstarter began to understand the long-term value proposition of their game being supported at retail. I am not on an expert on Kickstarter, but something happened over the last two years, or maybe I just finally noticed it in the last two years, where KS backing makes sense for my store. You know what the best selling board game by dollar value in my store is this calendar year? A little thing called Dark Souls: The Board Game.

Two years ago I would have skipped it as another Kickstarter campaign that didn't care about retail, but that would have been wrong. Steamforged is one of two companies absolutely leading the way on Kickstarter projects that I'm ecstatic about carrying in my store, and backing. I paid Steamforged only a small deposit for my backing, and paid them the rest of it when they shipped my base games. This meant that instead of sending Steamforged thousands of dollars and waiting, I got to keep that money working for my store. When Dark Souls arrived I sold it all instantly, and then began hunting for more of it, because I advertised that the store was a backer and that you could get it from me. I took that a step farther this year with two really important Kickstarter campaigns, one from Steamforged, and the second from a company I have fallen more and more in love with over the last year; CMON. When CMON announced that the KS campaign for A Song of Ice & Fire was live the only thing that kept me from signing up instantly was that I was driving between Greeley and Broomfield that day. I certainly signed up the moment I arrived.

Not only did I sign up, I made a Facebook post that we were taking preorders, and even though the campaign is long closed I continue to take preorders, because CMON hasn't even asked me for finalized numbers yet. They took a deposit that will amount to less than 10% of my final order number, and are still letting me gather orders from customers. SoI&F will launch in my store with a player base, and with excitement, and will continue to be stocked and supported because it didn't end up on the kitchen table of a couple alpha gamers who now don't have a community to play with. This was just downright genius. Steamforged is back at it again with Resident Evil 2: The Board Game, and we were again excited to tell our Steamforged sales rep on day one that "Damn skippy, we'll back that!" because it rolled out with retailer pledge levels that make sense. Which is what we're going to talk about right now.

 

What Makes A Retail Pledge?

 

- Scalability Make your retail pledge friendly to as many store sizes as possible, and then allow the big boys to scale it up. I'm not one of the big boys, I won't need 24 copies of your $120.00 game, so don't try to make me buy that. Depending on the price of your game, make that number three or six. - Payment Options Don't ask me to pay you for something that I won't see for nine months. Every week money leaves my business so that I can make that money work for me. If you charge me $500 for product that I don't see for nine months, that's $500 I didn't get to spend on other product over and over for that time period. - Margin I will not back your Kickstarter if you want me to buy copies at $40.00 and sell them at $50.00. That doesn't keep my lights on and my employees fed. If you want retailers to play on your Kickstarter, maintain our regular margins. - Exclusives The Dark Souls KS was the first, to my knowledge, to launch with retailer exclusives in it. As more retailers backed the project we got more exclusive content, in this case some cool mega-boss expansions that Dark Souls players will have to visit retail to find. This showed, for me, the intent to truly partner with retail on this product. - Value Protection If your Kickstarter price is $35.00 and you try to tell me retail is $50.00, you're wrong. Perception is reality, and the perception is that it was $35.00 before, how can it be $50.00 now? Build value in your Kickstarter without devaluing the product, discounts are the yellow-brick road on the way to being irrelevant.

If you don't want me to back your Kickstarter, cool. I sincerely do respect your decision to go it without brick & mortar retailers. I think if you're putting out anything that you hope to support with OP you're making a mistake if you skip retail, and if you're putting out a role-playing game and skipping retail you might as well just pile up paper pulp and set it on fire, because it's going to be difficult for players to find groups if the books aren't available. As a retailer, I've changed my mind on Kickstarter. I now firmly believe in a right way and a wrong way to do Kickstarter, and am willing to admit that in the past I was wrong to just ignore everything that was ever a Kickstarter campaign. Now, when my publishing friends give me a Kickstarter campaign that makes sense for my store, I'll help them spread the word to other stores. I firmly believe that it's not possible to have "too much" good product, I can always find money and space for something that sells, so if publishing gives me a Kickstarter worth backing I'll whip other retailer backers as well, because good product is good product, no matter it's manufacturing origins.

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