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Is Kickstarter good for designers?

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jeffinberlin
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Joined: 07/29/2008

There is an interesting roundtable discussion today on OpinionatedGamers.com. The question posed is, "Is Crowdsourcing (Kickstarter, etc.) good for the hobby?"

As a designer, there are several things to consider, and after much thought, I wrote the following as part of my contribution:

Is Kickstarter good for designers?
Yes and no. I have never signed a contract with a publisher who planned to do this, and so it is difficult for me to know what that would look like. Important stipulations would include:

1) A maximum amount of time (say, 1 year) from the date of the contract before the Kickstarter campaign ends, and a maximum amount of time to produce the game, if successfully backed.

2) The production minimum—and thus, the minimum royalties—should be clarified (current industry standards guarantee a minimum of $1,000 and 5% royalties on net earnings).

3) The designer receives his/her royalties within 30 days of the publisher receiving the Kickstarter funding

4) The rights to the game revert back to the designer immediately if the Kickstarter project fails, or if any of the other contract stipulations are not met within the time specified.

A contract that includes these points could be good for a designer, especially if the publisher has greater net earnings through Kickstarter (direct sales without needing a distributor), which would also mean a larger royalty. Unfortunately, my experience with most of the smaller, start-up publishers has not been a positive experience. I’ve contacted many as soon as I heard that they were looking for submissions, and most were unwilling to offer anything remotely resembling a standard industry contract. With Kickstarter lowering their risk, however, I would hope that they would be able to offer more to designers.

As for designers wishing to self-publish, Kickstarter has obvious benefits as well. I have heard countless stories of over-eager self-publishers left with a basement full of unsold games because they misjudged their game and/or the market (fortunately, that has not yet happened to my friend, Bernd). Kickstarter could be a good testing ground in order to avoid wasting money, materials, and space for those designers.

Personally, I have never been interested in self-publishing. Pitching to publishers is not an easy process, but I have found that, even when a prototype is rejected, the feedback from a publisher can be very beneficial to the game’s development. Two of my future game releases, for example, were improved by feedback from publishers who ultimately turned them down. I would not want to bypass this process, and would personally only use Kickstarter if I had already gone through those channels. Even then, I would need enough positive feedback from those publishers and others outside my normal circle of friends.

And I do think that there is still a substantial barrier to self-publishing through Kickstarter, and that will only increase the more people use it. Illustrations need to be commissioned for sample prototypes, promotional material needs to be made (including demonstration videos), and copies of the prototype need to be tested by influential groups within the game’s target audience.

Willi B
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Joined: 07/28/2008
Thanks for the post!

I am REALLY curious to see what Kickstarters are offering in their contracts vs. industry standards. On the one hand, they have to pay additional moneys in taxes and KS's percentage. However, they are selling many of the copies directly and avoiding distributors and have that guarantee of prepaid money.

I don't know what the money situation is at all of the small start ups using KS, but I am hoping that they are trying to keep designers on the same level as industry standard. There are slightly higher risks when placing a game with a company that doesn't have that established track record or is in a situation with the cash flow problems of most new businesses.

I think what Game Salute is doing in bypassing the distribution channel will be one of the biggest impacts of KS games. I know it's a big wish, but I would love if this made it easier for publishers to deal with distributors... which is probably one of the greater arguments for using KS over traditional models. The fact that some games on going to be EXCLUSIVELY available through Game Salute puts me firmly in the mind of thinking that Dan Yarrington is one of the sharper minds in the business.

The Springboard concept is really smart and will find many designers that do not want much responsibility outside of the design and service them. It could be a personal 'Treefrog' or '2F-Spiele' for designers without the hassles of everything that comes with it... granted, there is a vetting process and I don't know what percentage will be left for the designer, but it will most likely favor those that are good designers that are fed up with the painful/slow process of rejection/submission.

sedjtroll
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Joined: 07/21/2008
Jeff, do you see a difference

Jeff, do you see a difference between a publisher who says "we'll publish this only if it is successful on Kickstarter" and one who makes a publishing contract, and then decides to utilize Kickstarter for the game?

I'd like to hear your thoughts on each of those cases. For example, do you think a publisher needs to indicate that they intend to utilize Kickstarter when making a publishing contract with a designer?

Your important stipulations are things that seem like they would be in any publishing contract, irrespective of whether or not Kickstarter is utilized...

Quote:
1) A maximum amount of time (say, 1 year) from the date of the contract before the Kickstarter campaign ends, and a maximum amount of time to produce the game, if successfully backed.
Contracts I've seen often indicate that the contract becomes null and void if the game is not published after a certain amount of time. How do you think Kickstarter changes this?

Quote:
2) The production minimum—and thus, the minimum royalties—should be clarified (current industry standards guarantee a minimum of $1,000 and 5% royalties on net earnings).
This is true irrespective of funding method, isn't it?

Quote:
3) The designer receives his/her royalties within 30 days of the publisher receiving the Kickstarter funding
Money for Kickstarter orders comes in on a certain date. Wouldn't the royalties on that money be paid according to the normal payment schedule, like any other copies sold in that quarter?

Quote:
4) The rights to the game revert back to the designer immediately if the Kickstarter project fails, or if any of the other contract stipulations are not met within the time specified.
Many contracts I've seen contain a clause under which the rights to the game revert to the designer if some condition is not met. If the publisher's only method of funding the game were through Kickstarter, then I'm sure a clause like you suggest would be fine for them, as they wouldn't want to be on the hook to publish a game they cannot afford to publish. However, if a publisher has access to other funds and still desires to publish a game whose Kickstarter project failed (or if they thought they did a bad job with the project and wanted to try again - I've seen some KS projects succeed on their 2nd attempt) - then this would not apply. I suppose it's a case by case basis, and every situation may be different.

I guess my point is that as a designer, there may be a better way to go about dealing with the phenomenon of Kickstarter. My advice to designers is to go ahead and ask if the prospective publisher intends to use Kickstarter - but realize that it's really a business decision that's up to them. In case they know that they do intend to utilize kickstarter, come armed with interesting ideas for the project which can help them make your game a success!

I do agree with Jeff that designers ought to be aware of the contract they are making, and that's true whether or not the publisher intends to use Kickstarter. Good questions to ask include:

  • Do you intend to use Kickstarter?
  • If so, what happens in the event the project fails to fund?
  • What reward levels and overfunding incentives do you plan to offer? This may not be helpful, and/or they may not share this, but it can't hurt to ask.
  • What do you expect of me with regard to the Kickstarter project and publication process? This might be a good question to ask even if they are not using Kickstarter.

Going into the agreement with some ideas for Kickstarter strategies can't hurt, and neither can telling the publisher that you've put some thought into it in case they are interested in what you've come up with.

As a designer, if you plan to ask for a larger royalty on the basis of "I could just kickstart this game and publish it myself" - that could be a reasonable request, especially if you are being asked to participate in the Kickstarter campaign. But realize as well that the publisher might say "no," and actually running a successful Kickstarter project and self publishing a game is a LOT of work.

Willi B
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Joined: 07/28/2008
Surely, there is a difference...

And I would say that Tasty Minstrel is established at this point. I cannot speak to Jeff, but I feel like he is addressing unknown entities on KS.

If a new publisher is setting up things on KS solely, then the failure of a game to get Kickstated (assuming the game is great and the rules are posted) would be an indicator of that company not being ready for prime time (unwilling to get art, produce a video or advertise at least through Twitter and Facebook). While I am generally a more forgiving guy than that, I can see that being a deal-breaker for some people.

rpghost
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Joined: 03/03/2009
I'd just like to state that I

I'd just like to state that I completely agree with sedjtroll on this one.

Also that I'm not aware of many small or startup publishers willing to pay $1000 advances on a design. We don't. But the 5% or so I think most of them come close too in one way or another.

As a designer, I only see KS as a way for more games to get published then would otherwise have been - that can only be a good thing for a designer either going it alone or seeking a publisher.

James
http://www.MinionGames.com

PauloAugusto
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Joined: 12/04/2011
I think that what

I think that what jeffinberlin was saying was that there is a standard set of benefits for a game designer, that Kickstarter reduces the risks associated with publishing a game and that, regardless of the reduced risks, KSing companies would offer contracts even worse benefits than what is standard, raising the question: is KS really being helpfull to the game designers?

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