Archive exploding kittens

Published on January 30th, 2015 | by Luke Turpeinen


Why Your Kickstarter Didn’t Fund In 20 Minutes

Like Matt Inman’s did this week

Earlier this week a new Kickstarter card game called Exploding Kittens launched. Designed by first time board game makers Elan Lee and Shane Small, they apparently later connected with Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal to do art and bring his fan base to bear. As they mention on the Kickstarter page, “if Matthew Inman ever asks you if he can join your team, the answer is “HELL YES!”

Exploding Kittens completed its $10k starting goal in the first 20 minutes of the campaign, and as of writing this has over $4 million from over 100k backers. This has got people on forums and social media all abuzz, mostly arguing whether the hit really deserves to be as successful as it has been so far. “Surely,” the critics say, “this means marketing has won over design.”

Munchkin, Cards Against Humanity and now Exploding Kittens have all been subjected to this train of thought and it happens every time a casual card game gets really popular or a lot of attention. When games such as these pop up there is an inevitable outcry that the designers have sold out- given into some mythical consumer desire for sub-quality goods in order to get rich. As if being “in it for the money” explains all of their success.

There seems to be a misunderstanding here that the funds for this campaign came out of thin air, like magic and fairy dust. You don’t just summon $4 million by performing the proper incantations at the witching hour- this project doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it’s the result of hard work and years of reputation and trust building.

exploding kittens

While it may be Elan and Shane’s first card game, it’s not Matt’s first crowdfunded project. It also helps that Matt has been cultivating a fan base of millions over 6 years and is a well known internet persona with a distinct art style. His juvenile humor and grotesque caricatures have grown quite a following, and he’s proven to that following in the past that he is responsible with his funds and is capable of delivering.

The other implication is that Exploding Kittens has cheated or tricked people out of their money. As if somehow buying a casual card game at a reasonable price is being suckered into a scam and we’ve all been played. “Not just anyone could make a simple game and earn millions,” the reasoning goes, “so there must be foul play.” At the very least you hear people complaining that “it’s not fair.”

Is the part that isn’t fair, the part where Inman spent over half a decade working up a fan base? It could be the part where two designers pitched their idea to an associate so well that he attached his brand to their game. Or the part where a ton of people liked their project. Which part is it? I have a feeling it’s resentment towards Inman’s fan base, jealousy of The Oatmeal’s reach.

exploding kittens

This is because the only response I’ve gotten so far is “I could design a better game and no one would care.” Not to get all Glengarry Glen Ross or anything, but that is some Grade A bullshit. So you have a game you made that you think is better- so light a fire under your ass and get it made! Go to UnPub events in your area, if there aren’t any or enough then organize your own. Start a Game Jam group or a playtesting circle, teach yourself InDesign on Skillshare, network with local artists and entrepreneurs, start your own webcomic or blog. Be the kind of content creator others will complain about instead of adding your howling to the crowd that are out right now.

And if your only comment about the Exploding Kittens is “Oh, but the game is simple, and I don’t like the art, and the graphic design is basic, and the theme is juvenile!” Then it’s not for you, is it? It’s for people who like the Oatmeal, who may or may not like games already. Just because you or I might be bored with the mechanics after a couple of plays doesn’t mean that our experience is universal- people still buy Uno and Monopoly! And they have fun while playing them.

Also, whether the designers knew it or not (and I’m assuming they did), this game comes riding in perfectly on the coat tails of Cards Against Humanity. Just as the shine on the current irreverent game starts fading, a new one arises to take its place.

So there you have it. We finally have seen the CAH-killer on the Kickstarter scene. What finally brought it about? Using straight forward mechanics and a humorous theme, separating the kid/family content from the adult/NSFW content, and tying an existing franchise to it.

exploding kittens

For some I guess that will still read as “marketing winning over design” but at this point isn’t that just the same thing? Even if the designers sat down and said, “Okay, how do we make a ton more money than CAH with a card game on Kickstarter?” Wouldn’t you agree that that question completely shaped their design goals, which they apparently blew right out of the water?

Please don’t be a game snob. Will Exploding Kittens hold my interest long? Most likely not. That doesn’t mean that it’s a bad game, that just means that it’s not for me. It also doesn’t mean I should go around complaining about a successful game that people are enjoying. Don’t complain just because people like a thing you’re not into. Don’t be that person.

Please don’t be a design elitist either. Different people play different games for different reasons. What interests you may not interest another. There are a ton of ways to say it, and its true. While there is such a thing as bad design, nothing we have seen so far indicates that Exploding Kittens is a badly designed game. So try not to take any sour grapes feelings out on content creators that are helping to expand the reach of our hobby.

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About the Author

Luke Turpeinen

was raised by lava wolves deep in the Vesuvian sulfur jungles. He played board games with his family often. The discovery of games like Risk led him to the 1993 TSR classic Dragon Strike which fueled a life long love of games. Luke tends to like games that have high production values, quick-to-learn rules and hard-to-master strategies. Current Favorite Game: Argent: the Consortium.

7 Responses to Why Your Kickstarter Didn’t Fund In 20 Minutes

  1. I really enjoyed this article. Just because your idea doesn’t make a million dollars doesn’t mean it isn’t a million dollar idea. Marketing isn’t a dirty word. Whenever money is involved, selling an idea is all about its execution as a product and your ability to reach a lot of people who are interested in buying your product.

    I never liked the ‘build it and they will come’ approach. It is our job to sell our idea. Building a large fan base takes many years. A few people get lucky and it doesn’t take that long to start seeing progress; but for most of us it won’t be that easy.

    I want designers, artists and new game companies to know that just because no one is throwing money at your idea right now does not mean no one wants it or that it is a bad idea or not needed in the community. It could be an issue of marketing and being able to reach your customers. Matt Inman is an example of a person/brand having a lot of reach.

  2. Could you describe a GameJam? Also people are just the worst right? When I heard this story I took it as a good sign, that simpler games done well make good money. This means the game I want to make might not have to be the next Dominion or Twilight Imperium to be successful.

    • A Game Jam is usually an organized event where designers and artists get together and create a game over 48 hour period. The idea of these events is to challenge creators by having them collaborate with together usually with strangers an produce a game that fits a certain theme. A Game Jam is also an event where creators get to network with others in their field and local community.

      Exactly! When I see a highly successful game I want to know why it was successful and see how I might be able to apply what worked for that campaign to my own. Also I’m sure we all know that a bigger box and a mountain of game pieces doesn’t necessarily equate to a high quality gaming experience. Some people enjoy cheap, card games. Some people enjoy games about cats or sheep or wood. We all enjoy different games for different reasons.

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  4. Joe Pilkus says:

    Great article! I happened to link to this site from Jamey Stegmaier’s blog. You’re absolutely spot-on with your comments. I’m a developer and designer…I also have a day job, because for the 99.99% of us who enjoy play-testing, designing, developing, and publishing board games…it’s a great hobby which captures your attention and allows you (possibly) more creativity than the aforementioned day job.

    I backed this one immediately…not necessarily for the game mechanics, but for the fun factor!


    • Thanks for your thoughts Joe! I’m sure anyone who has gone through the process of making a game knows how much work it is, even if the game itself is simple. That’s one of my main reasons for not bashing on the marketing side of things- that stuff is HARD! Getting a game made is a rough process and I wish anyone trying to get their idea out there the best.

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