Recently I have enjoyed several games that began their life as Kickstarter projects. I have also failed to enjoy a number of these games. The idea of bypassing the publishing arm of an industry and going straight to the people is seductive, but not without its costs.
In an industry with a few monolithic publishers the ability to work around them can bring a large benefit – it will likely invigorate the industry as creators who want something new bypass the publishers who like the status quo. The game industry isn’t really like that however, there are many publishers; small and large – and many of them are willing to take chances on something new.
So why do I blame these poor experiences I have had on a lack of publisher? A publisher often provides a sanity check for the games quality. It is notoriously hard to tell if a game is fun – if the group that is testing it is playing a particular way and they are enjoying each others company they will have fun, while a group that hasn’t been told how to play can find themselves having an ‘unfun’ experience with the exact same game. The games from Kickstarter that work feel fresh and new, untainted by a standards that don’t fit the creator’s vision. The ones that don’t work look fine (they have to look fine to pull funding from Kickstarter), but while they feel technically solid they are missing a fun factor. They feel like they have been tested by too few people with too narrow a perspective, like the creator’s friends or perhaps a hardcore playtest group centered around board game geek.
So for designers, I advise you to go the extra mile and really get a diverse set of independent playtesters. Be aware that even feedback from people you don’t view as being in the target market can positively influence your game. Consider submitting to a publisher if only to hear their feedback and consider it. The publishers feedback is more often valid than not – even though their solutions are often not as informed as solutions the designer can come up with.
For people backing Kickstarter encourage projects that strike your fancy to broaden their playtesting where possible. I would be wary of games without broad diverse playtesting, and incredulous if the game hadn’t been designed yet.
I will say the best exception to this rule might be a designer like James Ernest, who IS a publisher. His Kickstarter project is sure to offer what it promises if it interests you: