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  • Essays
  • All Tomorrow's Parties - Keeping Kickstarter Indie

All Tomorrow's Parties - Keeping Kickstarter Indie

AL Updated
All Tomorrow's Parties - Keeping Kickstarter Indie
There Will Be Games

Despite what I or anyone else thinks of it, Kickstarter has been a pretty amazing development in the democratisation of the creative commons. The crowdfunding model has empowered both individuals and small groups to realise their visions on a larger scale than previously thought possible, providing them with a platform and an audience hungry for the unique, the niche and the passionate. It’s wild success has seen it embraced by both independent operators and established businesses to the point where it has become near ubiquitous, towering over the hobby scene like a pulsating colossus and acting as the almost de-facto promotional and pre-order portal for all your shameful carboard and plastic fetish needs.

But of late I’ve started to notice a disturbing trend in not only who is utilising the platform, but how we as consumers react to and engage with it. And this shift bodes poorly for the potential of the site and system to continue to deliver on its core promise.

On numerous forums, websites and discussions I have seen the same discourse played out more times than I care to countenance. ‘Enthusiast A’ highlights a project they are interested in because it rings their individual bell. They espouse the personal appeal this project brings, and the fire it has lit within them, eager as they are to see their particular slice of culture codified, curated, sprued and sculpted.

In short order after this initial bout of enthusiasm we spy the swaggering entrance of ‘Pragmatist B’.

Pragmatist B has been around the block. He scolds Enthusiast A for risking their money on an unproven entity, citing their lack of track record, unrealistic expectations, amateurish campaign assets or a sweet and sour combination of all three. Enthusiast A counters with the assertion that the project looks really cool and is right up their alley but is swiftly chastened as Pragmatist B hammers them with a succession of statistics and horror stories about failed projects, money pits, dashed expectations, shipping manifestos, economic downturns, and general bum vibes.

Far better, he says, to hedge your bets. Put your money behind a proven performer with a track record of successfully fulfilled projects, established manufacturing and distribution partners. Or better yet, wait til it's a proven entity at retail, assuming it crosses the cavernous divide to get that far.

Enthusiast A, suitably chastened and now filled with dread at the prospect of his money disappearing into some mysterious Eastern European bank account, hesitates and perhaps instead of supporting their passion project instead invests in ‘Big Box of Zombies 7’ by Conglomocorp.

…and nobody wins.


Full disclosure though, I’m not as aghast as I may seem when it comes to the prospect of big box bling. I’m as big a sucker as anyone for a glossy campaign stacked teetering with minis, cards and enough tokens to bamboozle enough the most stoic cynic. Neither am I suggesting you should blindly back a passion project without performing a modicum of due diligence on the creator and his/her ambitions. But as these types of established efforts encroach ever further into Kickstarter’s public square, they’re casting a shadow so opaque as to be suffocating for the very projects this platform was conceived to create.

While the behemoths are raking in money hand over curling claw and hitting more stretch goals than Goatse, there are any number of projects that, given sufficient oxygen, could become the next Gloomhaven, Kingdom Death Monster, or, just as validly, the perfect experience for a small gathering of the faithful.

You can’t tell me that the likes of CMON need Kickstarter in the same way that ‘QUMF- The Game of Bicycle Seat Sniffing’, ‘Papercuts- The Baffling Print and Play Adventure’, or ‘Goblin Groomer- An Interactive Fantastical Salon Experience’ do. Yeah Ankh looks cool, but don’t you already have Blood Rage?

Perhaps even scarier and of more consequence than the dreams denied of hardworking grognards are the looming perils of conformity and what it means for the hobby and its evolution, for when we submit to the mainstream, slowly but surely homogeny becomes our primary reward.

The beautiful thing about crowd funding is the opportunity it promises for variety. Variety in theme, variety in aesthetics, variety in playstyles, scope, ambition and imagination.

A laboriously constructed, hand drawn manifesto with oblique mechanics and tables outlining the wind direction’s effect on a dragonfly as it recites poetry for the council of mermen is never going to get the big box treatment, but I kind of want to play it, don’t you?

San Quentin Kings

One corner of the hobby in which this DIY spirit still burns bright on Kickstarter is the tabletop RPG space, particularly within the flowering climes of the Old School Renaissance. The reduced barrier to entry enabled by virtue of the theatre of the mind being less logistically fraught than the three-dimensional boardgame space has meant a continued wellspring of fan produced content, created in small print runs for small audiences. These endeavours not only satiate a hungry cabal of believers with their niche bounty, but act as an excellent learning and development experience for creators. By supporting these projects, we not only engender variety but we invest in the future of the hobby itself. We provide creators with a slim corridor of leeway to perfect their craft with some of the financial burden and bio-survival anxiety eased as they draw, plot and proliferate into the wee small hours, straddling a day job that still sits leering come sunrise.

There are any number of these projects live on Kickstarter right now. From the sublime to the ridiculous they sit there, smiling coquettishly and awaiting your gaze. And if you give, so surely you shall receive. A smaller scope means more capacity to engage, and you’ll be surprised at the connections, conversations and even friendships that emerge as you circle these worlds. You may even be drawn in yourself, beckoned by belief.  No longer a consumer, but a participant.

So by all means, back that next big shelf-shattering monolith, with it’s thirteen expansions, cloth bag and oooh real metal coins! I probably will too. But perhaps while you’re waiting for it to be assembled and distributed by the calloused hands of sweatshop labour, take the time to dig a little deeper. Skirt the fringes. Follow some campaigns. Maybe check out a print n play. Take a risk. Try something different. Support somebody’s dream. You and the scene will be richer for it, both in pocket, play and prospects for all tomorrow’s parties.

You already have enough minis.

There Will Be Games
Andi Lennon (He/Him)
Associate Writer

Andi Lennon is Sydney based writer, musician and soap dodger. He graduated from Wizbang University with full honours and no teeth. When he isn't feeling conflicted about Morrissey he likes to play indie games with a dubious 80's aesthetic.

You can read more of his work by visiting Mongol Cult

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Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #309498 22 Apr 2020 01:54
OSR really marked a shift for me in regard to Kickstarter. I went from backing one project (Glory to Rome) to over 25 in the space of about 3 months. I just put in for the new Deep Carbon Observatory, the Mork Borg zine, and I have a flood of Zinequest 2 material already showing up. I’ll back just about anything for Mothership. I went all in for Free League’s Forbidden Lands campaign and I’m glad I did.

Giving an independent female creator $10 for a 30 page punk AF self published RPG zine with a title like You Got a Job on the Garbage Barge makes a hell of a lot more fucking sense than giving a Kickstarter mill like CMON one single god damned penny for Marvel United. Or paying whoever it is doing Wolfenstein $100 extra to assemble the miniatures. Or watching Cephalofair rake in millions and millions of dollars during a fucking world health crisis.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #309504 22 Apr 2020 08:53
Amen Michael.

That Mork Borg zine looks rad and it's so cool that they're embracing and empowering the community contributors like that. I'm on board with that one. I recently grabbed the hardback and even on first skim it left me swimming with campaign and character ideas. Those zany swedes and their HM2 pedals!

Other recent efforts I've scattered pennies for include Kingdoms: a Zine of Generational Proportions, Dungeon Breakout, Trust Me, I'm a Doctor - A Game of Medical Malpractice, The Ratcatcher, Storymasters Tales and Cryptic Explorers. There's seriously no shortage of good shit out there without having to drink from the well of Cosmosodomistic Enterprises.

PS- Have you checked out 'Lurker Zine'? Issue one was cool as hell, and issue two which i have on the way features the new Nate Hayden solitaire game which I hope to do a write up on here shortly. It has that degenerate vibe that calls me.
Msample's Avatar
Msample replied the topic: #309547 22 Apr 2020 15:56
"You can’t tell me that the likes of CMON need Kickstarter"

Actually, they and many other companies I suspect NEED KS to keep kiting checks to fund their poorly planned overhead expenditures. I was surprised to learn that KS only accounts for approx 30% of CMON's revenues - the rest are done via retail. But the recent delisting of their stock shows and audit flags mentioning concern over future viability are a potential canary in the coal mine IMO. In some ways I think the smaller outfits are smaller risks in that they haven't over expanded, yet in times of financial uncertainty people are going to gravitate towards known entities - the CMONs, Awaken Realms etc. I think its gonna be a combo of some consolidation as well as even the bigger guys seeing lower levels of funding from what they used to see. The 35% drop in overall KS revenue is gonna be a best case scenario for the next 6-12 months I think; I could see it dropping even further.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #309552 22 Apr 2020 17:02
Good point. Do you think perhaps it has the faint whiff of a Ponzi scheme about it?
It is interesting to see what kind of monstrosities success begets sometimes. What starts out as indie and well intentioned inevitably seems to lurch towards the sinister after companies reach a certain threshold. At a certain point they need to hire 'experts' to assist with the sheer logistical burdens, who, unshackled from any real passion for the hobby seem to go about instigating the worst tenets of predatory capitalism.
Msample's Avatar
Msample replied the topic: #309553 22 Apr 2020 17:54

Andi Lennon wrote: Good point. Do you think perhaps it has the faint whiff of a Ponzi scheme about it?
It is interesting to see what kind of monstrosities success begets sometimes. What starts out as indie and well intentioned inevitably seems to lurch towards the sinister after companies reach a certain threshold. At a certain point they need to hire 'experts' to assist with the sheer logistical burdens, who, unshackled from any real passion for the hobby seem to go about instigating the worst tenets of predatory capitalism.

CMON spent $2 MILLION on consultants regarding changing stock exchanges last fall. Is that expert enough for you? Fuck yeah it’s a Ponzi scheme. Might not have started that way but it sure appears that way now.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #309554 22 Apr 2020 18:00
Well there you have it. Another feather in capitalism's cap.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #309555 22 Apr 2020 18:16
"CMON" sounds exactly like somebody loudly nagging you to do something stupid so they can laugh at you.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #309558 22 Apr 2020 20:23
This message contains confidential information
True facts.
C'mon man, put these spices up your dick hole. CMON!
Vysetron's Avatar
Vysetron replied the topic: #309611 24 Apr 2020 11:19
I remember when Monolith released their financial info on a FB post. It outlined how they lost money on Conan and were using Batman, among other at-the-time unannounced campaigns, to pay for it. CMON's likely doing similar.

There's basically two possibilities regarding the ponzi-ness of it. Either they're incompetent and willing to keep digging into the plastic mines in an attempt to get out of financial ruin, or it's a lie to drum up sympathy for their multi-million dollar 0% interest loan racket. It's unclear as to which is true. What we do know is that this business model is extremely volatile, or supremely scummy, or both.
drewcula's Avatar
drewcula replied the topic: #309699 27 Apr 2020 14:24
And for something completely different...
I just launched a very small and very peculiar Kickstarter myself:
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #309720 27 Apr 2020 23:31
Pimp away. Perhaps if i could still drink...