Kickstarter is a fantastic platform. It allows designers with great ideas that couldn’t find traction with an established publisher to realize their creations. Some great companies, like Stonemaier Games, even got started through crowdfunding.
But Kickstarter is not an unblotted panacea of rainbows and puppy dogs. You typically hand money over many months in advance for something sight unseen. That can be risky and poses problems inherent to any preorder system. But the true horror stories involve allegations of theft, mismanagement, and terrible consequences.
This two player card game was beloved by fans, but it was out of print for some time and an English language version was hard to come by. But then up pops a kickstarter promising to republish Odin’s Ravens in a shiny new second edition. Sounds awesome, right?
Unfortunately, after the kickstarter ended and the project creator got his money, he just vanished. No further updates, no communication at all. In fact, some of his social media accounts were also deactivated around that time. It appeared to many backers that they had been scammed. In fact, there were questions about whether the creator even had the rights to publish Odin’s Ravens.
Fortunately, the story has a happy ending. Two years later, a legitimate publisher, Osprey Games, reprinted it. Not only that, they sent a copy to every backer for the cost of shipping, even though they had no affiliation with the campaign.
What to Watch Out For: A major red flag was that an established game, whose rights were owned by an existing entity, was purportedly about to be republished by some random person with no apparent affiliation. Although the designer’s name was mentioned, the rights to the game were not. And this is concerning because even established companies can sometimes get confused over who has the rights to a game (Merchant of Venus, anyone?). Making sure a project creator has the legal rights to the ideas behind the concept is crucial.
The Doom that Came to Atlantic City
Outright theft is, thankfully, rare on Kickstarter. But even unintentional loss of funds has the same consequences for backers. The Doom that Came to Atlantic City is a Cthulhu themed title satirically poking fun at Monopoly. The two designers were enthusiastic and made parts of their game available so backers could try before they buy. The pair also partnered with a third person to handle the business side of things, including running the kickstarter.
After the success of the project, the business guy got right to work doing… something. Kickstarter funds were used to secure office space and draw a salary instead of being used to manufacture the game. After a lengthy period of delays and excuses (some of which later appeared to be fabricated), the creator admitted that the funds had been effectively squandered. No game would be produced. The Federal Trade Commission also got involved, eventually resulting in a settlement saddling the business guy with a six figure fine (though no admission of guilt).
Luckily, this story also has a happy ending. Cryptozoic got in touch with the designer and published the game. Not only that, but they even gave a copy to all of the Kickstarter backers that had paid for one.
What to Watch Out For: There are a lot of people with good, even great designs. But designing a game is a completely different skill than running a company or dealing with the manufacturing process. Be very cautious when the project creator has no prior business experience. And even if they have some, working at a digital game studio rarely translates well to the skills needed for board game publication.
Glory to Rome – Black Box
Glory to Rome is a fantastic game by Carl Chudyk. But it had one major problem. The art was overwhelmingly terrible. In fact, I didn’t try it out for years because the art was such a turnoff. Luckily, the game itself is so fantastic that after playing it, I got past it.
Cambridge Games Factory, who published Glory to Rome, decided to kickstart a new Black Box edition. The game would use clean, minimalist art and provide a beautiful look to a fantastic game. The project creator was the original publisher who obviously had experience in the industry.
Unfortunately, things did not go as planned. Though the project was a success, it had a multitude of production snags. Some boxes were crushed when pallets were put on top of each other. He lost his translator when dealing directly with the Chinese manufacturer. His promise of free shipping really hurt him with international orders. Delays compounded the problems. Ultimately, the creator fulfilled the game to the backers, but in so doing, he came to financial ruin. The company folded and he even lost his house.
What to Watch Out For: To me, this is the scariest story of all. This project was for an established game, with a known company, who had a clear track record of publishing games. Hindsight is 20/20 and you can go back and see the seeds of what came to pass (over-promising on international shipping, for instance). But red flags were few and far between. Glory to Rome stands as a reminder that any project can go sideways.
And this isn’t the only time something like this has happened. Backers of Up Front, a project by Valley Games, were looking forward to another war game from the Canadian company that had already produced D-Day Dice (a highly successful Kickstarter) as well as several traditionally published games. Yet, the project was fraught with controversy including lawsuits against Valley Games over prior and new debts that were allegedly unpaid. In the end, Valley Games announced that no product would be forthcoming to the backers.
In cases like these, red flags might not be immediately apparent. And if you kickstart a project, you’re putting the money up front and bearing that risk. Whether that risk is worth it is ultimately up to you, but you should definitely go in with your eyes open.
Have you experienced any Kickstarter horror stories? Tell us about it in the comments.
Featured Image: Wikimedia Commons