Kickstarters and Playtests

Kickstarter BadgeIt is not ground breaking to say that Kickstarters and Open Playtests are changing the RPG Industry.  They have been going on for years and have helped get books published that might not have otherwise.  It is interesting to see the discussions on these topics though.  I have backed only a handful of Kickstarters but I know people that have backed hundreds.  I do tend to back at larger amounts though, so when I see something to invest in I go in with gusto.  But they have also allowed more transparency into what goes on in RPG publishing and I am not sure the companies are better for it.

The biggest thing with Kickstarter is the misperception people and companies have for it.  I know many people look at it like a preorder system but it is an investment.  It is clever that companies are instead offering product instead of a gain on the capital investment.  It amazes me how popular these things are because it seems that helping a Kickstarter get funded doesn’t really save much money for the investor.  It would cost about the same to get the book once it comes out or even save quite a bit of money by getting it through Amazon.  I know not everything on Kickstarter will end up on Amazon but it at least a company can save the investor some money by making it a better deal than buying it through a store.

The most frustrating thing with Kickstarters though is how late these companies are in getting out what was promised to their investors.  I’ve not participated in many but only one has had the product shipped on time.  I’m waiting on two, To Slay a Dragon and the 20th Anniversary of Werewolf.  Both of those are over six months late and are ready to be printed or something like that but we are in limbo.  I don’t work in publishing but I do know if any of my projects ran this late I’d be fired unless I had a fantastic reason.  The companies though are not held accountable.  The fans will keep buying the books and allow them to be disorganized and late with no consequence.  Both of the companies even started new Kickstarters before the other is compete which I won’t back.  The Werewolf people at least mentioned it in one of their updates and I give them credit for that.  In the end when seeing the money I spent and the time between a stated return and the actual return has made these bad investments.  I might not lose my shirt in the end as I do believe the books will eventually be printed and delivered.  But anyone that knows investing knows that there are many ways to lose besides losing everything.

D&D NextOpen Playtests are also something new to the industry.  Some smaller companies have done them from time to time but I think when Paizo and now Wizards of the Coast doing one it really shows how beneficial they can be.  I hate them.  I have no interest in playing an incomplete game.  It’s hard enough to get people together for once a week gaming and I’d hate to waste that on a system that’s every changing.  I don’t feel the feedback really does much good.  There is just too much of it and there will be feedback that contradicts other feedback.  The designers are going to do what they have planned.  It just seems like the Open Playtest is a marketing ploy to keep people aware of the new game that is coming out.

When the game comes out I’ll try it but until then I’ll devote my time to finished games.  Even worse is the preview copies of games that get sold by the companies.  Paizo did it with Pathfinder, though at least they had a PDF copy for free.  Last year at Gen Con there was the new Star Wars game and this year I think the same is going to be done for Firefly.  These are all games I am interested in and will probably buy.  But I think it is a rip off to sell an incomplete preview version to fans.  The preview version will be worthless and obsolete once the game comes out.  It is just taking advantage of a company’s fans to get more money out of them.

In the end though the fans will come with money and not care about how the company treats them.  Many fans are probably unaware on how bad companies treat them.  This is not a problem unique to gaming by any means.  But it would be nice to see companies treat their fans a little better at times.

Chris Gath.  I’ve been gaming since 1980 playing all kinds of games since then.  In the past year I’ve run Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classic, Paranoia, and Mini d6.  My current campaign is mini d6 and we are using that for a modern supernatural conspiracy investigative game.  On some forums I’m known as Crothian and I’ve written a few hundred reviews though I took a sabbatical from reviewing for a few years as it burnt me out.  I was also an judge for the Gen Con awards (ENnies) six times.  Jeff, the owner of this blog, is one of my players and a good friend.

5 thoughts on “Kickstarters and Playtests

  1. Nice post about interesting topics.

    RE Kickstarter: I’m actually of two minds of this as well. I’ve backed a couple of kickstarters, but have not used it myself to fund projects and here’s why: like you, I’m frustrated when something’s late. If I’d used Kickstarter for either of my last two adventures there would be people out there right now saying, “What the hell, dude? Larvik was supposed to be out in March!” Now that said, had I used Kickstarter, would I have been able to afford more art? Who can say. My current strategy is the sales of whatever my n-1 adventure is (in this case “frawgs” will typically fund the art for whatever the next adventure is. As for backing projects: I do this only if I’m so excited about a project that I want the person to feel incentive to finish early.

    RE Beta Testing: I think beta work well IF there’s a strong product owner who will consider the feedback. The DCC RPG beta was open for a while and I think Joseph Goodman made some tweaks to both the Thief and the Cleric based on feedback. Designing by committee, however, is never a good thing. I personally playtest my own adventures (effectively a beta) prior to release. That said, as a product owner you need to make sure you’re doing your beta/playtest with people who are “friendlies”; those who are aware of the limits on quality based on where it is in the production cycle. The appetite to be a beta-tester is not everyone’s cup of tea.

  2. A couple personal, anecdotal responses:

    First, as someone actively playtesting D&D Next, I have to say that I *do* feel like my input matters. I have seen changes in the rules based on my group’s feedback. I have seen the designers reconsider things based on feedback looped through twitter (most recently: Ravenloft & the Shadowfell). I believe the surveys carry a lot of weight.

    4E was essentially rammed through and WotC took a lot of heat for that. I believe D&D Next is a dramatic 180 from that approach, and I appreciate having some say in the game.

    It may seem like a marketing ploy, but it’s also a way of catering to your core customers and keeping fans interested and engaged during a 2-year development cycle when essentially NO new product is getting put on the shelf.

    On the KS front: I’ve backed 27 Kickstarters. 1 campaign is still going, 10 have deliverables pending but appear to mostly be on schedule, 14 have delivered my rewards, and 2 are late.

    One or two of the ones that delivered were behind schedule, but gave me regular updates that helped me maintain faith that I would get my rewards.

    Of the two that are late, I’m not happy about that. However, they are both single-person outfits that apparently underestimated the time, effort, and possible complications of the delivery phase. I’m always leery of backing projects by people with no track record or seemingly pie-in-the-sky promises about the delivery date.

    I personally have gotten a lot of consumer value out of the KS projects I’ve backed and received goods that would likely never make it to market. (i.e. Dice Rings, a set of d14/18s, and some fun games).

    Do you need to beware? Sure. However, I feel that as a backer my voice carries more weight than some guy who purchased on Amazon where my only recourse is to give the product a crappy review.

    I prefer to directly back the people who make the product and give them the freedom and incentive to experiment and innovate. In my opinion, Kickstarter is giving us more product, more value, and more innovation than I have seen since the 3E boom/bust.

  3. Both the Commentary and the Replies have been enlightening and insightful. They have provided food for thought and each has made a “fair point.”

    I have not contributed to any Kickstarters as these have been “hard times” for me, personally, but I can appreciate that the system provides a means of fruition for those talented people who are lacking personal funds for the development of product. This alone has always made me wish I could do more to help.

    I appreciate that contributions to these endeavors are a type of “investment,” but I wouldn’t really view it that way. I would consider myself as more of a “helping hand.” Certainly, I would appreciate product in response to my contribution, but, in all honesty, I’d probably prefer “stock” in the fledgling company. LOL

    Still, it is an interesting subject and one worthy of consideration and contemplation. Thanks for sharing this information and your personal views on the subject. It really is “food for thought.”

  4. RE: Kickstarters

    Rather than replying specifically to the comments so far, I will just tack on to the comment thread with general KS thoughts.

    I have had pretty good luck with Kickstarter so far. I am also very careful choosing who I back, though my criteria seem almost whimisical! Looking at the list of ones I have backed I have received all product, save for the ones that have not reached their expected ship date.

    Several have been late, but in most cases I have been okay with that. My Reaper Bones just arrived yesterday, but I thought Reaper did a good job of letting people know where they were at.

    Some of the Kickstarters feel more like a pre-order system and others feel like I am actually helping get the product produced. I am okay with that. It is up to me to decide who to fund and who not too, so I think Kickstarter should be self-policing in that regards.

    Overall I am satisfied with Kickstarter and what it has done for the RPG hobby. I still look closely at each one I back and apply my subjective criteria to it, but for me it has worked.

  5. RE: Open Playtests

    On the subject of open playtests… I think playtests are good, I am not sure playtests that go one for over a year are so good.

    I started out pretty excited for the D&D Next playtest. Downloaded the materials, even had an online game scheduled until that was canceled for unrelated circumstances just before it. But the playtest made me realize something. What I liked was the simpleness of the rules in that early playtest. Once they started layering in more and more I quickly lost interest.

    So for me, the D&D Next playtest resulted in me taking another, closer look at OSR systems. I ended up trying out Dungeon Crawl Classics and never looked back. In the interim I continue to be a big DCC RPG fan and have since also settled in with Swords & Wizardry as the default ruleset for my family campaign at home. I am likely to use S&W for the basis of future games I run – it gives me what I need and is a stable ruleset, ripe for house ruling should I see fit.

    I think the D&D Next playtest also wore me out by trying to keep track of the community response on various forums. It just felt way too much like design by community. And I think the community wants different things making it very difficult to result in an acceptable and playable system by all D&D fans. I don’t buy into the modularity WotC talks about as I don’t see that as solving the issue.

    All of those things really burned me out on the D&D Next playtest specifically.

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