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What I Wish I Knew Before Buying Games via Kickstarter

In the good old times, if you needed a new shiny box, either be it a new wargame starter set or a board game, you would go to your favourite shop, browse around, ask the friendly shop assistants and buy a game.

Now, while brick-and-mortar shops are still present and an ideal place to socialise and discuss about your favourite hobby, we are inundated of material via the Internet and many more games are able to advertise themselves through different medias.

The purpose of this guide is to walk you through the different ways to purchase your favourite game but also some of the risks associated with it, focusing mainly on wargames and board games. In short it is what you need to know before buying games via Kickstarter.

Before we dive into the aspects of Kickstarter, first lets go over buying retail and via preorder, as it will show the differences much better.

Games Workshop logo on our buying games via kickstarer

Buying Boardgames or Wargames via Retail

The definition of retail from the dictionary is “the sale of goods to the public in relatively small quantities for use or consumption rather than for resale” but beyond this, we mean any purchase of a readily available product either via a physical or an online shop.

There are different type of businesses in this category. Some, like Games Workshop, sell their own products directly to the consumers. Some, like the affiliate links you can find in our website, purchase from companies like Games Workshop and are able to sell the same product at a discounted price.

Independently from where you buy the product, it is already designed, manufactured and you will receive it immediately or depending on the shipping time. This is the most effective way to purchase a game as you are guaranteed to receive it. However, not all products are available through this mean.

Pre-ordering games

Pre-orders work a similar way: the product is at a certain stage of development and is usually guaranteed. It provides some companies an idea of the initial interest on the product so that they can gauge how many to manufacture, but most of the time is used to obtain money before the product is available on the market.

Sometimes you are guaranteed to receive it before anyone else. However, if you don’t pre-order, you may end up in a out of stock situation, i.e. when the product distributed in your region is currently unavailable because the manufacturing company has terminated the stock available.

These situations may be global, if there is a single central distribution centre, or be region-dependent if there’s multiple. For example, Warhammer miniatures shortages in US, do not necessarily impact the same product in Europe.

Most pre-orders have a specific deadline, but it does not mean it cannot change. If you have pre-ordered videogames in the recent times, you may have noticed many shift few weeks or months. As physical products like wargame miniatures and board games involve manufacturing (mostly from China) and shipping in the various distribution centres, anything can happen and delays are not unusual.

Games Workshop has a constant one week pre-order window, i.e. the products advertised on a Saturday are released/shipped the following Saturday but you can pre-order them in that week. Other companies have different policies, so always double check when the delivery is expected.

Pre-ordering a product has some risks, but usually they are quite contained. You will most likely get your product. When you get the product or if the product is as advertised, that is something you do not completely know when doing the preorder.

Buying Games via Kickstarter: Crowdfunding campaigns for games

In recent times there has been a new model of business growing exponentially. You may know it as kick-starting a project or Kickstarter, but that is just one of a number of companies in the sector, although the most influential.

What is a Kickstarter?

As we said, Kickstarter is a platform for crowdfunding artistic projects. The origin of this concept derives from subscription models of arts patronage where artists would seek funding directly within their audience.

Basically, if you have a creative idea but not the funds to produce it, you can then set up a project and ask for contributions. In exchange you provide some form of reward. Normally you’ll set up a monetary goal to achieve (how much developing and producing the project will cost) and a deadline to reach that target. If you don’t reach your goal, the project is not successful and no funds are collected.

Crowdfunding campaigns are a great tool to get in touch with more people before the product is released, gauge the interest and then manufacture the amount required to satisfy that interest.

It does come with huge risks for you: a product is not guaranteed to be delivered successfully!

The authors may encounter any sort of unpredicted difficulty, for example all those projects that estimated the production costs in 2019 before the Covid pandemic affected price of materials and shipping, ended up short on cash.

Kickstarter is not the only company doing crowdfunding campaigns. If you are interested in board games and wargames, you may have also heard of companies like Gamefound and Backerkit. All those platforms enable creators to find an audience, in exchange they keep a portion of the revenues as fees. In addition, the payment processors apply an extra fee.

The people participating in these campaigns are called backers.

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What are the advantages of a crowdfunding campaign?

First of all, most crowdfunded projects would never see the light of the day if the fund collection campaign is unsuccessful. So the first advantage is right there: if you like that product, that may be the only way for that product to ever exist.

Many projects guarantee that the backers would be the first one to receive the product, before it is distributed to the retailers, but sometimes retailers are involved in the crowdfunding and will receive the goods at the same time.

Many projects present incentives, like exclusive components only available to those participating in the campaign. Those same components may never be available to the general public, therefore adding a value to the product that you are purchasing that is established by the second-hand market.

CMON is infamous in having many components produced only for backers. Some other companies may release these components at a premium price after general release or distribute them only in conventions and other venues they attend to.

In certain campaigns, backers are involved in the design phase, sometimes to comment on community based content, sometimes to revisit some rules, sometimes to determine which direction to go next. The involvement of the community is usually an important component for crowdfunded projects but different companies have different approaches with their backers. Independently, one of the things to verify when backing a project is their level of communication. In particular from past projects.

Some projects are exclusive to the crowdfunding venue. So either you are onboard from day 1, or you’ll need to scour the second-hand market, or wait for a reprint.

Some projects advertise the product as saving on the MSRP. MSRP stands for manufacturer’s suggested retail price, basically the price on the shelf of most stores. Be careful however! MSRP depends on many things that we are going to discuss in the next section. Generally speaking, some campaigns offer an immediate discount on the product, be it by reducing the price, or by offering extra gadgets that are sold later at a premium or not available at all.

Disadvantages and risks of crowdfunding campaigns

The first risk is clear. This is not a pre-order: the product may still fail to deliver, for example if the creator underestimated the costs. So you could pay to obtain nothing in exchange.

The product final components, quality and rules, may change considerably since the campaign is completed. You may agree or not, and a transparent company will keep informed their backers through post-campaign regular communication.

As the product does not exist yet, you will then need to make a decision based on other people impressions, often on a prototype. Some of them will be paid to review that product.

Delays in crowdfunding campaigns are extremely common. Most products that were not manufactured yet by the beginning of 2020, were delayed by several months, sometimes years. This is common and should not worry you. Especially in social games like board games or wargames, there is a need to gather groups of testers to feel the game with the physical components. While today it can be partially alleviated by online software, eventually the physical testing is part of the process and lockdowns really hindered it.

Much of the attractiveness of some campaigns is a reduced price compared to the MSRP discussed above. Please consider that most games will have a generic value called pledge for all backers independently from where they live. Different laws and taxation systems affect different people around the world.

This is when VAT is considered, usually at the end of a campaign. In some countries, this can increase the price of the product up to 25%. We are not going into details, but VAT or “value-added tax” is a tax on products like games, that the company selling the product has to pay to the government where they sold it, and therefore are going to charge to the buyer. What you paid in your kickstarter might get much higher later.

Another cost that you need to add is the shipping cost, also charged at the end of the campaign. When you consider this, you need to think that you are paying the entire price from the manufacturing site (usually in China) to the distribution hub and from there to your house. It normally takes 2 months from a Chinese port to your home in Europe. And don’t forget that you pay VAT also on the shipping costs.

Some companies subsidise the VAT in the final price, playing with the shipping cost to make it fair to everyone including those “lucky” enough to live in countries with no VAT. But let’s use some numbers to understand exactly what we are discussing.

Example of John backing a Kickstarter

John is a backer that sees a product advertised on Kickstarter as 100£. Its MSRP could be 130£, so John thinks it’s a 30% discount and he is happy. John lives in UK, so when the campaign ends at the completion of his pledge he is charged another 20£ of VAT for the product (20% in UK), 40£ of shipping costs and another 8£ of VAT on shipping. That makes the total product 168£.

Some months later, Jack goes in the shop next to his house and purchases the same product for 140£ (higher than MSRP because the shop wants a higher margin), but he does not pay VAT (it’s already included in the price) and shipping costs (the product is already in the shop, does not need to arrive from China).

Now, this is not always the case:

some companies subsidise shipping expenses at the cost of their margin, some MSRP are much higher than the example provided, backed products may contain some exclusive items that makes their value higher than that on retail, but the point here is, you will not know exactly the final price on the shop after the campaign, and while most companies try to be accurate with shipping estimates, the real price may be much different by the time they charge you. As an example, shipping right now has risen very much in price.

The final topic is about refunds. If you are not happy of a product, you will be subject to the law in your country and be able to exchange the product in some way. If you change your mind during a pre-order, normally you get back the entire money invested. If you change your mind on a crowdfunded project, not all companies accept refunds.

Many have a deadline up to which they will accept refunds, and in the best case scenario you are given back everything except 10% of what you paid. This 10% is detracted to cover the platform fees (Kickstarter for example charges the creators 5%) and the payment processor fees. In some cases you can lose up to 20% without ever receiving anything. All of this is clearly detailed in the last notes of the campaign, so be sure to scroll all the way down and read everything.

Pledge manager and final notes

So, you have assessed all your risks, responsibly verified you have the funds to pay the product and the extra costs and you back the project. Can you now sit down and wait?

Yes and no. Many companies will try to keep your attention high by having regular updates where they present the development or production status. Sometimes they will ask for feedback like reviewing the draft of their rulebook, etc. This part is also extremely important because you have a chance to influence the project that you would not have in a retail product. But it is entirely optional.

The one step is not optional is confirming your shipping address that is also the moment you pay for all extra costs, and you may be able to include some add-ons you were not interested earlier or have been recently added. This operation is usually performed in what is called Pledge Manager.

While Kickstarter is a great platform for crowdfunding campaigns, other companies like Gamefound, Backerkit and Crowdox, are used for the pledge management portion. This is where all tax and shipping details are entered so every backer is charged the right amount, but also one last occasion for you to participate in the game if you lost the original campaign.

This is called Late Pledge option. Prices may be the same or higher, and not all projects accept Late Pledges. The usual timeline for a project is a 2 to 3 weeks crowdfunding campaign, then pledge manager opens 4 to 8 weeks after the completion of the campaign and closes just before they are ready to go to production. Of course, this is a high level guideline, and projects may differ vastly.

A quick recap

So let’s recap. A Kickstarter is just a name for a crowdfunded project that comes with many risks for the people backing it (backers). However, it may be the only way for that project to ever exist. In exchange, authors will add incentives for you to participate in the campaign.

It is different from pre-order in the meaning that it can take years before the goods are delivered as delays are much more common. The product may be at the early stages of development, meaning that the final components may be different from what originally advertised, while in pre-orders this is much rarer.

It is not possible to predict accurately if something would eventually be cheaper in retail or not, but the core box, if sold on retail and without all optional add-ons, will be available discounted at a retail shop near you… eventually.

And we conclude with a list of things to check when assessing a crowdfunded campaign:

  1. If that is not the first crowdfunded campaign for that company, verify their previous campaigns, their rate of completion and their level of communication. Having multiple open projects is usually a bad sign, unless they are CMON and have an army of developers.
  2. Read the comments, many people will do their homework and inform others about the project, but do not be dragged by the toxicity of certain conversations. Ponder properly all information received.
  3. When checking the price, scroll all the way to the section where it mentions if VAT is included or charged at a later stage. Check the shipping prices as well and expect them to increase at least by 20%, just in case. Then add up and verify if it still in your budget.
  4. Do not believe timelines, those are an indication. If you need to give a present to someone for Christmas or any other celebration, do not rely on a crowdfunded campaign.
  5. Be prepared to lose your money. For how much you love that concept, delivery is not guaranteed. Do not spend money you will regret.
  6. Do not be dragged in by the Kickstarter exclusive items. While they look good at the beginning, your hype for the game will go down with the passing of months, and what you think was a cool new miniature on day 1, after 12 months will be another piece of grey plastic in a box never to be used. If you need to go “all-in”, do it consciously and only for projects you really love. Especially campaign games, usually have enough content in the core box that you may never be able to finish before even looking at expansions.
  7. When assessing reviews online, always double check if it sponsored or not. By law they have to advertise if they received payment by the company and you need to assess what this means for you. A game with only sponsored reviews should make you think a bit longer.
  8. While crowdfunding is a good venue for board games, wargames have an aspect that requires constant innovation (new armies, new miniatures, new rules) and the crowdfunding scene is not the best media to fund these initiatives, so read carefully what are their post-campaign plans.

Other great resources:

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