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Board Game Diary: The Success of Kickstarter

Dear Board Game Diary,

Love is the only word I can use to describe that feeling of Kickstarter. From start to finish, each Kickstarter project has an ever churning level of excitement and anticipation. I’m not the only one, as many games have found massive success through this platform: Scythe, Blood Rage, Rising Sun, Exploding Kittens, and Gloomhaven are among the most elite of Kickstarters. In fact, the top 10 most funded board games on Kickstarter have raised over 61 million dollars with many games nipping at their heels. Last year, 2337 games were successfully funded through Kickstarter. The amount of money this community can muster through its passion is staggering!

This drives my question of why. Why do these Kickstarter projects find so much success? What elements of the human psyche are coming into play here? There must be some reason for these seemingly endless supplies of cash.

I would like to start by giving a bit of insight into what Kickstarter is. Kickstarter is a global crowd funding website that has a focus on creative projects and merchandise. It’s intentionally vague as this can include a plethora of different mediums, such as films, music, stage shows, comics, journalism, video games, technology, start-ups, and, of course, tabletop games. Typically, the participants of Kickstarter projects will be offered rewards in exchange for their monetary pledges. Rewards vary in range but, as an example, a board game Kickstarter project will often offer you a copy of the game they are trying to develop. The developers will use the attained money from their campaign to help fund their projects development, minus a 5% fee from Kickstarter themselves.

This brings about a few points that I would like to further elaborate, but yet another side tangent is coming before I get into these points.

In a previous Board Game Diary entry, I wrote of the concept of F.O.M.O or the fear of missing out. This is generalized feeling one gets upon learning of an event, opportunity, or product that arrives that they would not want to miss. I often feel this on a daily basis when it comes to board games. They will pop up in a retail setting and, over time, can sell out which will require the manufacturer to produce more copies. It is then that the manufacturer will make the decision if a second print run is worth the money to invest. This is experience is far different from the Kickstarter model is many ways.

Kickstarter is not retail and does not pretend to be as such. It is a limited time, crowd funding initiative. This limited amount of time, often short, is a dead line set by the developers of the project to hit their funding goal. These goals are also set by the developers and, if this number is not reached, then all pledges are returned to their backers. In the world of board games, these goals are often reached and surpassed by sometimes 1000% of what they desired. Backers that come into the Kickstarter after they have surpassed the goal can still jump on board to the project and receive the game. These projects often will have stretch goals attached to the project which contain upgraded components, expansions, and promotions that will come with the game if the reach these higher goals. It is here in this “limited time” offer that F.O.M.O. lives and breathes.

The fear of missing out (F.O.M.O) is pervasive; everyone feels it and no one is above such feelings. It’s strength can vary depending on the person feeling it or the circumstances they are feeling them in.
In regards to Kickstarter, these feelings can become quite intrusive. The timetable of these projects have quite a narrow window and jumping on the bandwagon can be very alluring. These projects will have several Kickstarter exclusives that will not be available elsewhere even if it does come to retail, which is not always true. As the project develops, the rewards will bolster as more funding pours in from other contributors. There is also an app that you can download so you can continue to remind yourself of the sweet loot that you will miss out on if you don’t join. This also doesn’t help as you are able to click a notification button at the top which will remind you 48 hours before the deadline for backing. I cannot clarify what this feeling is like anymore than this as this is the embodiment of F.O.M.O.

In a recent study by scientists at Carleton and McGill University and published by Motivation and Emotion, the effects of F.O.M.O. were noted to have a greater effect on one’s psyche if their behaviors felt more like personal obligations. These behaviors including work or studying. As one might imagine, these practices lack the amount of immediate gratification as something liking backing a sweet, new Kickstarter project. These effects of F.O.M.O. manifested with symptoms of fatigue, stress, trouble sleeping, and psychosomatic symptoms. This study also determined that personal temperment toward neuroticism or extraversion have little to no effect on the results of F.O.M.O.

Obviously, this study doesn’t pertain specifically to board games but that doesn’t mean I can’t try. It’s rather obvious, given the structure, that Kickstarter has effects on it’s users similar to that of F.O.M.O. The study itself was based on time rather than money, but I argue that they could be one in the same. Both are finite resources that we decide where to spend. I would even venture to say that even in the retail setting that these effects can be felt to some degree. I don’t think it to be as evident as there are always reprints that come down the line so the anxiousness that is Kickstarter is not as tangible. Throughout the community of board games, it’s easy to find media that talks exclusively about Kickstarter board games and what is being offered. They are feeding into the fervor as they have fallen victim to the fear as well. It is an easy connection.

It’s rather easy to be wrapped up in the whirlwind that is Kickstarter. It’s success cannot be denied as it has a direct line to our own psyche. Social media, Youtube, podcasts, forums, Boardgamegeek.com have all fed into the platform giving it proverbial teeth that bury into our very souls and our wallets. Groceries or Board Games? You decide. I choose games and I think there is something left in the fridge: Leftover ketchup or something.

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