In our current world which is surrounded in a whirlwind of brand new shiny Kickstarter games, with everyone and their cousin seemingly getting into the small publisher game by asking gamers to give them money for unproven, untested ideas, something wild happened the other day.
A new Sentinels of the Multiverse expansion was announced and pushed out for preorder. Without using Kickstarter
Lately it seems like Kickstarter has been the obvious, go-to solution even for established (if still small) publishers not to mention Any Random Gamer who has decided to try their hand at game design. A significant chunk of Kickstarter projects have allowed amateurish, incomplete designs to make it to market, while the actual top-quality games are few and far between. For every Alien Frontiers or Flash Point there are dozens of sloppy titles.
I think Kickstarter sort of lends itself to this kind of thing, but that point is for another article, another time.
While my overall view of Kickstarter has changed over time, I have felt and still do feel that it is the obligation of any publisher to try and build up their resources to the point of not using Kickstarter anymore. I think Kickstarter can confuse the market, it can result in bad business decisions, and it can be used as a shortcut to bypass many things a publisher needs to do to make sure they’re creating a great product.
But I can’t think of any publisher so far that has actually worked to get OFF of kickstarter. That’s why Greater Than Game’s move is so surprising. So, I went ahead and contacted Christopher Badell of GtG to get some of his thoughts.
The GtG approach to this preorder actually functions much like a Kickstarter campaign – there are “stretch goals” so to speak to unlock new bonuses for those who preorder. But, according to Christopher, Sentinels of the Multiverse is a self-sustaining product line. “If no one preorders the game,” he told me, “we’re still going to make it.”
The fact that this can be done – and GtG has received over 1,800 preorders already – shows that publishers can get the benefits that Kickstarter provides, outside of the system. A preorder can still gauge interest, and exciting rewards can be offered based on the number of preorders, but without placing the burden and risk on the gamers themselves. Christopher also claims that the risk of this system is actually much lower, both for themselves and for their fans. Those who preorder don’t have to worry whether or not the expansion is coming – it’s already in the works, and clearly GtG has a track record of delivering on their promises. But Badell says with this preorder system, “we’re going to be losing a lot less money, as we can have the webstore calculate shipping for each person individually, rather than offering a flat rate that invariable is too low.” He says that on their last Kickstarter campaign they lost over $30,000 in shipping costs. Given the experience GtG has had with kickstarter and successfully delivering on their projects in the past, I’m sure they’re not the only publisher who has taken a big hit in that manner. Now, imagine if each of those publishers had that 30 grand in their bank account instead of down the drain.
This is not an argument that publishers should skip Kickstarter altogether. Kickstarter is a great way to independently get something going when you have no startup cash. It takes a bit of work and reputation building, but once you’ve succeeded at a Kickstarter or two, and once you’ve built a reputation that you can deliver, you (referring to Publishers here) need to seriously consider moving your campaigns off of Kickstarter.
Badell still looks at Kickstarter as a valuable tool – and for now, only the Sentinels of the Multiverse line is going off the Kickstarter rails. Other GtG products will still be launched with a KS campaign, but I for one hope that eventually GtG can support itself as a company without using Kickstarter at all. Still, according to Christopher, “As a publisher, Kickstarter is a great way for us to let our customer base know about a product we’re interested in making. It helps us gauge interest, market the product, and conduct a preorder of sorts all in one! If we run and Kickstarter and it doesn’t succeed, well, we probably shouldn’t make that game!”
Christopher also says that they didn’t intentionally take steps in previous campaigns to make Sentinels self-sustaining, although the company learned plenty of things from running Kickstarter campaigns – what works, and what people want.
Perhaps, though, publishers should think about this kind of thing in order to create a long-term self sustaining business model. Although some may disagree with me, I think if a publisher can think about what comes after their current product, maybe they can build in a little padding to their campaign to make future products easier to fund and get off of Kickstarter more quickly.
Even though Christopher doesn’t feel that publishers have any obligation to get their business off of Kickstarter, the current success of the Sentinels of the Multiverse preorder may set a precedent for future GtG preorder campaigns, and perhaps even other small publishers.
Greater than Games does have a big advantage in growing their business – the Sentinels of the Multiverse line is a well-designed and very popular game. The difficulty of building a sustainable business from scratch becomes much more difficult when your products are shoddy and incomplete – which, unfortunately, is often my experience with kickstarter-produced games.
I suppose we’ll see how things go as time goes on. If things keep going as they do, I suspect within a few years that the KS bubble will burst and it will become much more difficult for campaigns to succeed. In the meantime, Greater than Games is still going strong. The latest expansion, Wrath of the Cosmos, brings in some space-themed heroes and villains and feature significant cosmic events. Watch the story unfold and preorder your copy of the game here – http://greaterthangames.com/content/welcome-to-the-wrath-of-the-cosmos-preorder
As for the future of Greater than Games itself, nothing is ever certain. Christopher doesn’t know if they’ll ever be completely free of Kickstarter. He did tell me that Sentinels of the Multiverse is not infinite – the story (and the resulting expansions) has been planned since the beginning and is drawing closer to a finishing point. I can’t wait to find out what happens. Christopher also mentioned new storage solutions, which is great, because my box is full and I haven’t even fit Vengeance in there.
Christopher also hinted at a new franchise, unrelated to Sentinels, which he remained tight-lipped about but offered to demonstrate at Gencon, so you’ll just have to wait along with me. In the meantime, GtG is doing great things for independent game publishing and they are certainly a company to watch.