How to Vet a Kickstarter Project – Part 2

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Last week we looked at the importance of checking the start and end dates of the project, the funding goal, the number of backers and the history of the project creator.  Today we consider the contents of the Kickstarter page itself.

Assuming everything else checks out, what should you look at next?  In an ideal world, you would carefully read through the entire page, watch all the videos and then make your decision.  However, in practice very few people have the time to do that (I certainly don’t!).  So which bits should you focus on?  The project video?  The what’s-in-the-box photo?  The rules?  Let’s have a look…

  1. Does the theme/artwork grab you?

This is more important for some people than others, but it is always important for me so I’m going to talk about this first.  If the theme/artwork puts me off, I’m highly unlikely to back the game.  Now you may think that watching the project video (at the top of the page) is a good way to ascertain this, but I almost never watch the project video.

You should be able to work out what the theme is by reading the tagline under the project title at the top.  For example, the tagline for Laruna (I game I recently backed) reads, “A thematic high-fantasy 4X with high levels of social interaction brought to you by the creators of The Shared Dream.”

That actually tells me a lot.  I like fantasy and I like 4X games (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate).  If you dislike either of those things, then you want to know that straight away!  I’m also familiar with The Shared Dream, so that helps too.

The artwork is really easy to see.  Just scroll down until you see some pictures.  Why don’t I watch the project video?  Well, invariably, it tells you nothing useful about the game.  It usually involves a montage of artwork set to inspiring music, which will let you see some of the artwork, but they often last several minutes and I can see the artwork for myself by scrolling, which takes a few seconds.

I have very rarely seen a project video that tells you how the game plays or what people think of it, which are the next things I always want to know.

  1. How does the game play?

Groves – The project page has an excellent how-to-play section

This is remarkably difficult to work out sometimes.  Ideally, there should be a ‘gameplay’ section of the page that explains, briefly, how to play.  It shouldn’t be a blow-by-blow explanation of the rules; it should just give you an overview.  A good example of this can be seen on the project page for Groves, which I backed last year.

Failing that, I would look for a how-to-play video.  The creators may have produced one themselves, although I find creators frequently do a bad job of this.  Video creation and teaching appear to be skills that boardgame designers and publishers rarely have.  If they do good job of this though, it says a lot.

Some creators will have sent their game to popular reviewers and will rely on them to give an overview of the game as part of their review.  This is usually a much safer bet, particularly if it is a reviewer you are familiar with (who doesn’t take too long!).

  1. Is the game any good?

Ah, now this is what really counts.  Everything else about the game might look very promising, but you can never really tell how good a game will be until people sit down and actually play it.  And the only way to figure that out is by watching impartial, third-party reviews.  You need to hear the opinions of people who have played the game.

Dark Souls

Dark Souls – Style over substance?

Some people will say that they can tell whether or not they will like a game from a description of the components and how to play.  While those things are certainly important, I’ve seen too many games that look or sound good, but when you actually play them, they’re not fun.

I would be very wary of any project page that doesn’t have third-party reviews on it (Dark Souls is a prominent example that springs to mind from a couple of  years ago).  You also need to be wary of ‘reviewers’ who show you the game and talk about all the things going on in the game, but never actually tell you what they think of the game.

Any review should discuss the positives and the negatives of the game (and virtually every game will have some negatives) so that you can make an informed decision.  The difficulty is that reviewers may be keen to be sent copies of games to review and so won’t want to criticise a game for fear of putting off publishers.

Watching review videos is easily the most time-consuming part of vetting a potential Kickstarter, but I consider it the most important.  For this reason, though, I particularly like reviewers who can give an overview of the game along with their opinion in a short period of time!

  1. How much stuff do you get for your pledge?

I always like to know this, although my head tells me this is less important.  I’d rather play a good game with less stuff than a mediocre game that’s overflowing with miniatures and other goodies.  That being said, the goodies can have a hypnotic effect sometimes that can be hard to ignore!

Assuming you’re happy that you will enjoy the game, value for money is an important consideration and is one reason why you might back a game on Kickstarter rather than waiting for it to be available in retail.  Some games do give you an awful lot of stuff.  It can be very cost-effective to back some Kickstarter projects if you know it’s the kind of game you would buy anyway.

Just make sure all the extra stuff actually enhances your experience of the game.  It’s all very well having 3 expansions that add 10 missions each for over 300 hours of play time, but if you don’t have 300 free hours to spend playing the game, the value for money is not as high as it seems.

Figuring out what you get is much easier these days than it used to be.  Nearly every Kickstarter will have a what’s-in-the-box photo that will make it clear exactly how much stuff you’re getting at the different pledge levels.

  1. How much is shipping?

Finally then, depending on where you live, you should just check how much shipping will be, which is usually listed near the bottom of the project page.  Shipping is often charged after the project is complete nowadays so you need to pay that in addition to the cost of the pledge.  Don’t be caught out.  This can dramatically affect the value-for-money of the whole package.

Well, I hope that helps you make an informed decision about any Kickstarter projects you are considering.  Do you have any tips for helping people vet Kickstarter projects?

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

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