When Kickstarters Cancel

Champions of Nexum

A significant percentage of Kickstarters fail to reach their funding goal. Based on past campaigns, which tend to follow a fairly typical funding cycle, sites like Kicktraq are able to predict whether or not a campaign is likely to reach its funding goal.

So creators can see after a couple of weeks of the campaign, how likely they are to fund by the end. If it looks like they’re not going to make it, many of them will cancel gracefully instead of fighting a losing battle.

However, occasionally you get a project that cancels, even though it has reached its funding goal. Why would they do that? Let me introduce you to the murky world of Kickstarter funding…

I was very interested in a Kickstarter project called Champions of Nexum recently. It’s a MOBA-style, tower-defence game. I love these games on the computer and I’ve really enjoyed the odd attempt companies have made at replicating this in a boardgame.

One of the successful ones

It’s a difficult genre to capture in a boardgame, but companies have been building on successes like Guards of Atlantis and the genre seems to be growing steadily. Cloudspire, one of the most successful games of this type on Kickstarter, funded to the tune of half a million dollars last year.

So Champions of Nexum caught my eye and looked promising. The funding goal was a significant £55,000. They surpassed this comfortably, but before I got a chance to do my due diligence, I discovered that it had been cancelled by the creators. They had received over £100,000 in funding, and they cancelled!

What’s going on here? Well, there are a number of issues, but I’d like to chat a little bit about funding first. You see, funding a Kickstarter is a tricky business. You want lots of people to be excited about your game, tell all their friends and then all these people pledging allow you to blast through stretch goals and get everyone even more excited. Nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd. Especially in crowdfunding.

Nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd

The difficulty is, to attract people initially, you need to invest quite a lot of money. You need a decent amount of artwork, quality prototypes that you send to reviewers and ideally a big pile of fancy miniatures!

The other issue is that manufacturers have minimum print runs of at least 1000 copies (often more). So if you commit to making a game, you’re committing to pay for 1000 copies. Now you don’t need to sell all these during the Kickstarter. Extras can be sold at conventions or at retail, but holding large amounts of stock is a big money sink.

So even if a project “funds”, that may not be enough money for the creators to actually make the game. Why don’t they just set a higher funding goal then? The trouble with this is that it doesn’t generate momentum. People want to see stretch goals falling. So creators often set their goal artificially low.

As long as people get excited and the funding keeps ramping up, it’s all good. The problem comes if the project stalls for any reason. If you’ve promised lots of extra miniatures with stretch goals and you need £150,000 to manufacture and deliver all of it, £100,000 isn’t going to cut it. Not by a long shot.

The other big factor that many companies underestimate is delivery costs. If you’re adding stretch goals, this adds to the size and weight of the final product and this can cause the delivery costs to skyrocket.

Champions of Nexum ran into some other problems. Some of the miniatures turned out to be standees in the core box (pending later stretch goals to convert them to miniatures) and they had issues with localisation (providing the game in multiple languages). The main one being, it’s expensive!

Champions of Nexum Kicktraq
Kicktraq shows you the funding throughout the campaign

Despite a tremendous first 48 hours, after a few days, as these issues became apparent, funding actually started to decrease! The creators made the wise decision to cancel, re-evaluate the project and re-launch having properly planned out all of the finances.

I do feel for them. They have clearly learnt a great deal from the experience – a trial by fire! – and should come back far more prepared. Good luck to them. They are obviously passionate about their game.

What do you think about the practice of setting artificially low funding goals? Is it a necessary evil, or do you think there is a way around it?

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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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