Published on September 30th, 2013 | by Luke Turpeinen
The New Indy Revolution
How Cards Against Humanity and Kickstarter are changing the board game world.
Imagine, if you can, dear reader, that it is the grim year of 2003. In this time, not far removed from our own, the way people purchased and played games was very different than it is today. The internet was still a new and exciting frontier, even with the recently burst Dot Com bubble, and it wasn’t quite the hub of communication that it is today. There were no large scale social networks at that point, crowd funding was an obscure and oft derided mode of publishing, and for most people the only way to get news on upcoming games was to buy a copy of Previews Magazine and hope that your local game store could get the game you wanted via their distributors. Recently, everything has changed. From company Twitter accounts to Kickstarter and a myriad of smaller blogs, the board game industry is now the most transparent and accessible that it’s ever been and it’s changing the industry forever.
What if I told you in 2003 that fairly soon you would not only be able to buy board games easily from publishers anywhere in the world, but that knowing about those foreign games would be simple and part of your everyday news influx? Also, that the quality of the games you could get would rival those of the largest publishers, both in design and in quality of components. I’m sure even the average board gamer would be pretty excited about that prospect! The industries we love are changing and evolving, in all the best ways.
Crowd Sourcing and You
Kickstarter is a large part of the recent paradigm shift in the board game industry. Ten years ago if you were looking for an affordable independently published board game there weren’t a lot of options. One of the more prolific indy publishers was called Cheap Ass Games, who made very cheap board games with very cheap components. These were essentially printed on to normal US letter paper from a normal printer, “boxed” in a large envelope and sold for one or two dollars. There was no art, no colors, just black toner on white paper. While these games were often fun and engaging, there wasn’t a lot of profit margins to add things like pictures of dragons or even colored ink. At the time it was possible to crowd fund games, but mostly those were obscure RPGs being funded by people on message boards where the creators posted and even then there was a lot of backlash to the method. Crowd sourcing at the time was better known as “the Ransom Model”, which tells you how well received it was then.
The crowd sourcing model was seen initially seen as regressive, mostly because you’re theoretically purchasing something before you can hold it and look at it (I say theoretically because more accurately you’re investing with the promise of future reward). There were also concerns with accountability and trust. This was more of a concern then because there was nothing resembling a centralized community of crowd sourcers where people would at the very least be ostracized if somehow they somehow failed to deliver the product they promised. Anymore both of these problems have been mitigated by having several large, high-profile crowd sourced projects in a centralized community. Even though those projects weren’t board games, seeing thousands of people willing to hand over $50 for a video game or a TV show that isn’t even in production yet has really opened the floodgates to those wanting to buy or sell board games.
Kickstarter hasn’t just changed the industry business model either, it’s changed the way we talk with creators and the types of games that are made. Any one who is willing to put in the time and relatively low cost of initial investment can design a board game and publish it. This means that many new games coming out are for-fans-by-fans. While currently this is expressing itself as the market being flooded with a certain game type for months at a time, it also means that the most popular games are the ones getting made the most, which is win/win for people who like playing new board games. Instead of relying on publishers to be innovative or to catch trends and ride that wave, we as fans can just makes games that we want to play. Then, through the magic of crowd sourcing, those games that others would also like to play get funded and then published.
Board game trends at the moment seem to be glutting the market with a couple different types of games. The success and popularity of Dominion has hugely increased the amount of Deck Builders on the market, as any stroll through a decent sized game store will show you. Even looking on Kickstarter, the amount of deck builders (originally known as “Dominion clones” before they gained legitimacy) is astounding, but they keep on getting funded because that is what the market wants. The coolest thing about this business model is that there is little chance of there being a “bubble” to burst. Because the investment money is also the purchase money, there is never a risk of ordering a bunch of games from publishers that will never get sold and projects that no one is interested in will just never get funded. Also, for most people making Kickstarter funded board games is not their primary means of income which means that in the event that people just get sick of crowd sourcing games, not many people would be out of a job. It’s the perfect low risk industry model!
Trending, Faddy, Low Investment Games
Despite what one might think of the game itself, Cards Against Humanity also deserves a lot of credit for recent shifts in board game culture. Board games essentially have three main types: children’s games, games for nerds, and party games. Party games have long been maligned; board gamers tend to consider party games simplistic and beneath them, while non-nerdy adults have tended to see them as juvenile. Cards Against Humanity has really helped to change that by being a party game with “adult” humor that is sometimes witty and not too raunchy. By being accessible and gaining in popularity during the up-swing of “nerdy” becoming mainstream it has launched a huge amount of people into the beginnings of their board game nerd experience. Cards Against Humanity is the gateway drug of board games and it and the dozens of variants of it on Kickstarter are doing some of the best recruiting possible for new game communities.
So what does this all mean? Ultimately this means that the board game industry is growing. It’s still not mainstream like video games are mainstream, but it’s getting more attention every day. Indy games are now widespread: encouraging innovation as well as proliferance of well-liked game types. Cards Against Humanity is out there bridging gaps between non-board gamers and existing game communities in a way that we haven’t seen since Settlers of Catan. It’s a good time to like board games.