Kickstarter & Tabletop Games: A Love Story

On Kickstarter, games are serious business…and a match made in crowdfunding heaven.

The game category, which includes videogames, tabletop games, and puzzles, accounted for 34 percent of Kickstarter’s backer revenue in 2019, with $192.6 million being pledged to successful campaigns. Given the abundant media attention to video game development, it may be surprising that the vast majority of that figure — $176.3 million — went to tabletop game campaigns, with only $16.3 million going to video games. (Tabletop games include any game played on a flat surface, including board games, card games, dice games, etc.)

Photo by Christopher Paul High on Unsplash

The number of Kickstarter projects in the game category has risen steadily since 2012, with a whopping 3,734 campaigns in 2019.

And that’s before Covid-19 hit.

The pandemic, along with sparking a huge increase in sales of outdoor recreation equipment — including bikes, kayaks, and camping gear — has also been responsible for a massive uptick in various means of indoor recreation. The amount pledged to successful Kickstarter tabletop game campaigns in 2020? $233.8 million. That’s an increase of $57.5 million from 2019. I guess you could say it’s been a banner year for tabletop games on Kickstarter.

A significant chunk of the funds backing tabletop games in 2020 went to the campaign for Frosthaven, the sequel to the hit dungeon crawler Gloomhaven. Raising nearly $13 million, it is the most-funded board game on Kickstarter ever, and the third-most successful campaign across all categories.

But while the success of tabletop games on Kickstarter in 2020 was extraordinary, it was not entirely new. What accounts for the continual growth in the category over the past several years?

For one thing, the community of tabletop creators and fans is vast, loyal, and passionate in real life, and that community has found an online home as well, including on Kickstarter. Creators and game designers actively support each other, offering input and testimonials as well as backing each other’s campaigns. That tight-knit community offers creators a unique opportunity to also get fans involved in the design of the game itself, which makes for a devoted fan base right from the launch of the campaign.

An ardent community of fans for one game benefits all games in a setting like Kickstarter, with die-hards checking the site frequently not just for a new offering from a favorite maker, but any interesting new games. They don’t want to miss out on the hot new game, and when they do back a campaign, they experience pure exhilaration. In the NPR story “A Look into the Wild Economy of Tabletop Board Game Funding,” Ash Mehra, a 27-year-old board game fan, describes a “‘visceral thrill, an endorphin rush’ to watching games she has pledged money to not only reach early fundraising targets but then stretch them due to momentum on the site.”

Once a game creator has had a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, the road to future success is that much smoother, with a built-in audience awaiting the next big release. And while the upper limits of a Kickstarter audience are relatively small compared to mass-market games, it is an outstanding place to start and leads to exponential growth in the world beyond Kickstarter. Isaac Childres, the CEO of Cephalofair Games and creator of the hugely successful Gloomhaven and Frosthaven, explains to NPR, “When GloomHaven was published and all those people on Kickstarter got their copy [and started] raving about it, that’s when it…was able to reach a wider audience outside of Kickstarter.”

That’s not to say that developing a hit game, or creating a successful Kickstarter campaign for a new game, is easy. It takes a great idea and tons of hard work to get there. But in the game-friendly Kickstarter universe, creators unquestionably have a head start.