Projects I expected to fund that didn't
Happy Mitten Games did a yeoman's job of establishing a social network presence prior to the Kickstarter campaign to fund what was to be their first publication, "Aether Magic" (designer Matt Worden). They'd also secured artist Jacqui Davis, a proven talent in previous successful games whose style seemed tailor-made to Matt Worden's re-themed design. By all indications, the game tested well and represented a solid, innovative entry into the fantasy set-collection game catalog. Yet despite securing 13% of their goal on the first day of the campaign, its funding lost all momentum, and Happy Mitten was forced to cancel in the final hours after achieving only 37% pledged of their $25,000 target. Their own reflection on the reasons for not funding seemed to go no further than to recognize that demand did not suffice for taking the game to production. In the absence of identifying underlying, correctable causes for the low Kickstarter response, they opted to relinquish the design back to Matt Worden and investigate a different focus for HMG. The company has since re-directed its efforts to its strong suit - its social media presence - and just completed a successful Kickstarter campaign that funded over twice its $1200 goal to underwrite the third season of its podcast.
A project whose cancellation came as a surprise just $1800 shy of its $15,000 goal was another underworld-themed game, Snitch (Karl Fenner, Common Man Games). Now, despite an understated kick-off and a slow start, there seemed to be a lot of buzz during its campaign in the spring of last year. When the project was cancelled, backers voiced considerable interest in a re-launch. Common Man Games recently updated their "Snitch Relaunch" web page as well as a bgg thread, which indicate that the publisher is committed to the future of the game, though he is unable to establish when that campaign will be. Based on various updates, Snitch! appears to have been out-prioritized by all the work associated with the second edition of Police Precinct as well as other commitments. So the future of Snitch is distant, but still promising.
Projects that other people expected to fund that didn't
Go Halves on Games suggested I look at Sicilia, designed by Adam Morgan for Pixid Games. A 2014 ION Award nominee, its campaign last March lost momentum after the first week and topped out at 30% funding after 30 days. Its website shows some fairly astounding graphic design and art by Lance Oscarson; there is no doubting its tabletop visual appeal. The comments on the Kickstarter page suggest that this project turned into a learning exercise for its creator, judging by the litany of recommendations to improve the campaign (and relatively few comments on the game itself, which earned critical praise). Despite optimistic resolutions to re-launch, there has been no sign that the publisher is gearing up for another funding campaign.
Backers withdrawing pledges
I've noticed an occasional phenomenon of backers withdrawing pledges in rather alarming numbers. In a few cases, the lost support has motivated cancellation of projects. Cases include
- Rivals: Masters of the Deep, which lost $5800 in pledges in a six-day period, starting ten days prior to the end of the campaign, before the author, Chase Layman, cancelled the project. He attributed the withdrawn support to the impending GenCon (which would have been underway during the last three days of the campaign) as well as competition with other large Kickstarter projects. (I was able to identify two projects in the same timeframe that might have attracted attention away from the ironically-named Rivals - Sierra Madre's third edition of High Frontier and Flying Buffalo's 50th Anniversary Edition of Nuclear War, each funding over $120,000.)
Strangely, Rivals was more than fully funded, at 129% of its goal, at the time of its cancellation. Layman offered as a reason for terminating the campaign that he and his brother "want to create more than just a minimum order quantity that wouldn't even be able to get out to [retail distribution]." I'm still not sure what that means, except perhaps that ambition got the better of their success. They currently plan to relaunch the campaign in October.
- Alchemical Crystal Quest displayed one of the most unusual funding profiles I've ever seen on a project. After achieving its funding goal just nine days into the campaign, the project lost $4900 in pledge support over the subsequent 11-day period before the creator canceled the project. Similar to the reasons cited for Rivals, commenters speculated that the retracted pledges were a consequence of other major concurrent projects (one cited Reaper Miniatures Bones III, which attracted $2.7M in funding over the same timeframe) as well as the run-up to GenCon.
Salvation Road (designers Peter Gousis and Michael Kelley, publisher Van Ryder Games) wasn't going to fund. I thought we were seeing a trend of missed opportunities on Kickstarter and that SR was going to be the next victim. But it didn't happen that way, thankfully. The project picked up over $13,000 of funding - 36% of the total pledge value - in the last four days of the campaign. While it's not unusual to have a late surge in the last 48 hours, SR had followers on the edges of their seats until the final two days.
Golem Arcana (Johnson, Mulvilhill, Poel, Weisman - Harebrained Schemes) struck me as the kind of gaming innovation for which Kickstarter is tailor-made - an imaginative, high-risk project that a major publisher would not typically underwrite. The prospect, though, of achieving half a million dollars in backing seemed Olympian in scope. The final week of the campaign was truly tense, but a surge of $128,000 in pledges over the last three days pushed the project over the top and allowed this imaginative concept to become a reality.
I'd heard of Swinging Jivecat Voodoo Lounge (Seth Roback, Game Designers Clubhouse) on several podcasts and at UnPub, and by all accounts, this imaginative, wildly themed project (complete with martini glasses and monkeys) deserved to be funded. Its $33,000 goal, however, appeared to recede out of reach about halfway through the campaign. But the daily backing remained respectable, and a strong showing in the last four days allowed the project to hit its goal in the last 29 hours.
It's difficult to generalize the reasons for the narrow success or inexplicable failure of a quality game to hit its funding goal. Although Jamey Stegmaier has written volumes about the factors that go into a successful campaign, I suppose that ultimately the fate of a project depends as much on the behavior of hundreds or thousands of backers as it does on the preparation and management by the project's author. The phenomenon is baffling in many ways. It's interesting and illuminating, though, to look back over these case studies and surmise why things went the way they did.