Old-fashioned board games, not tech, are attracting the most money on Kickstarter

Resting those weary, screen-crazed eyes.
Resting those weary, screen-crazed eyes.
Image: Gamesforchange on Flickr/CC-BY-2.0
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Kickstarter has become less about Oculus Rift and more about Cards Against Humanity. The ”games” category on the crowd-funding platform has attracted $495 million since Kickstarter’s inception in 2009, making it the richest segment of the site. The runners up are technology and design.

The games category on Kickstarter does include video games, but these account for a minority of the amount pledged. In 2015, video games attracted about a quarter of all pledges in the category. It’s also worth noting that pledges don’t equate to actual money changing hands for projects, since some efforts never get off the ground. In 2015, there was a gap of about $10 million between the pledged amount for games and the amount that was deployed to successfully funded projects.

The rise of boardgames on Kickstarter coincides with a boom in tabletop gaming generally. The size of the board game market has risen for seven consecutive years to become a billion dollar industry, according to estimates by market research firm ICv2.

Milton Griepp, who runs ICv2, says tabletop games have surged as players have grown jaded with the digital screens they toil over during the work day. “When they get home, they may be less interested in an online game and more interested in face-to-face interaction,” he says. “There’s an underlying change in leisure-time activities driving that.”

Kickstarter is helping to drive the board game boom. The amount of money pledged last year, for example, represents almost a fifth of the total hobby games market by retail sales in North America, according to Griepp’s estimates, which currently don’t include Kickstarter projects. In other categories, like technology, the amounts raised on Kickstarter are tiny compared to the size of the market. ”For board games, there was a big need for [Kickstarter],” says Thomas Bidaux, who runs video-game market research firm ICO Partners. “The industry was kind of dying.”

Games funded on Kickstarter tend to be for the sophisticated player. Cards Against Humanity, the “party game for horrible people,” got its start by raising $15,000 in 2011. A few days ago, the complex strategy game Dark Souls (itself an adaptation of a hit video-game) raised £3.7 million ($5.4 million). One veteran of the board game scene, Adrien Martinot of the game-maker Days of Wonder, likens the platform to an edgy film festival: “While regular game companies are like Hollywood, you could call Kickstarter the Sundance of board games.”

Board games may be especially well-suited to crowdfunding. Unlike digital gadgets with disastrously complex supply chains, or video-games with unpredictable development schedules, board games have well-defined components and costs. When game-makers pitch the crowd on Kickstarter, they can lay out exactly how the game works. They just need the money to pay for the tokens, boards, and boxes. ”You’re funding the production of the game, not the conception,” says Bidaux.