Getting a toy to retail is a difficult path only a few projects complete successfully. Billy Langsworthy talks to those successful with crowdfunding.
Getting a toy from design to toy shops is a difficult process and for every one that makes the journey, hundreds more never leave the mind of the inventor.
Just as crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo have been utilised by the worlds of film, technology, design and fashion, toy makers have increasingly turned to these sites to help launch products at retail.
Tabletop game specialist Mantic Games took Mars Attacks! The Game to Kickstarter back in September 2013 and raised $50,000 in 13 minutes. Last year, Mantic headed to Kickstarter for its board game Dreadball Xtreme, where it raised its $100,000 target in 37 minutes.
While the firm doesn’t believe Kickstarter is the only way to get games out there, it has enjoyed benefits by taking this route.
“It gives us advantages in so many ways that we still feel it’s a great platform to develop a new range or system,” says Andrew Whelan, national accounts manager at Mantic Games.
Mantic also maintains that the coverage built through a campaign helps get stores interested in the product well in advance of it arriving to shelves. “It means that when a game is released to trade, there is a player base out there in the hobby stores that will be already engaged with the game.
“For the local gaming store it means there is already an audience for this game, so stocking it is not so much a risk.”
US tabletop firm CoolMiniOrNot also enjoyed success on Kickstarter with Arcadia Quest, a game that raised $70,000 in under an hour, smashing its $50,000 goal. The game went on to raise over $400,000.
The firm’s marketing executive Spencer Reeve tells ToyNews that in his experience, unless you know established people within the industry, going through crowdfunding is the best bet.
“There’s always going to be a bit of ‘who you know’, involved,” says Reeve.
“If you know established designers, developers, or producers, it’s going to be an easier door to open.
“If you’re outside the industry, my recommendation would be to find out if there is a local game company near you, see if they do play test nights, and get involved. It will hone your skills for design and development, and shows the company you have an active interest in the industry.
“If you’re trying to go fully indie, then Kickstarter might be your best bet, but a successful Kickstater campaign doesn’t necessarily mean your game is going into stores.”
Reeve has found that although being no certainity of success, bringing a game to a crowdfunding platform allows the inventor to gauge everything from retail price to demand.
Reeve continues: “In many cases, getting fully funded on Kickstarter allows a company to set a more favorable MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail price). This is due to the offset of materials cost thanks to the backers. Kickstarter (hopefully) foreshadows your retail sales.
“If you have a hugely successful Kickstarter you may consider increasing the quantity of your first
“However, if you barely fund, you may want to make a small first production run and see how well the product does once on stores’ shelves.”
Candylab Toys utilised Kickstarter to help launch its range of MO-TO: Modern Vintage Toy Cars.
Founder Vlad Dragusin found the site helpful in launching the wooden toys as it opens up the product to pre-orders.
“With pre-paid orders, it’s hugely beneficial, as you have a no strings attached cash infusion,” Dragusin says.
“But expect a year of hard work. Lots of unknowns and many hours to be put in. And after speaking with other
creators, it's a sink or swim proposition after being launched - one must carefully manage cash among other things.”
GoldieBlox founder Debbie Sterling turned to Kickstarter in September 2012 after facing hostility to the idea of construction toys for girls from the industry professionals she initially went to for help.
“One of the first things I did was bring the idea and prototypes to toy industry professionals to get their feedback,” GoldieBlox founder and CEO Sterling tells ToyNews.
“I was met with immediate pushback on the idea, telling me: "construction toys for girls don't sell. You can't fight nature." I was fairly discouraged at first hearing these opinions, but I was convinced that if I had something like GoldieBlox growing up, maybe I would have considered engineering at a much younger age. I decided to crowdfund my idea to prove the market demand for this kind of toy.”
The idea proved a hit on the site, raising $285,881 from a $150,000 goal, but Sterling still had to pour her own savings and find additional resources from elsewhere to help make GoldieBlox a reality.
“Kickstarter did fund us into production, and we are thankful everyday for the overwhelming amount of support we received from our Kickstarter backers in such a short period of time,” Sterling adds.
“The beauty of Kickstarter is getting your story out there and having an opportunity to present yourself to a large community in a really organic and truthful way. Additionally, our Kickstarter campaign was a great confidence boost that our mission and product was valid and desired.”
While GoldieBlox has distribution, and Mantic Games and CoolMiniOrNot are moving onto the next stage of production, there are hundreds of inventors pitching toys to supporters on Kickstarter right now.
One such game is Robots on the Line from toy designer Phil Hunter. Hunter has found that being an unknown seriously hinders your chances of having a chance with a well-established toy firm.
“It’s really hard to get noticed by a big-name publisher if you’re not a known toy designer,” Hunter tells ToyNews.
“If by chance you do get noticed, profits are extremely low because it’s a risk for them to publish an unknown game by an unknown designer.
“For me, I’ve done all of the work on the game so it’s been a bit of a labour of love and I wanted to own the look and feel the way it is. I was approached by a couple of small publishers but they both wanted to change the look of the game and I wasn’t willing to do that. There’s a lot more to this than money for me.”
Hunter has also found that choosing the Kickstarter path has given him a relationship to his prospective audience that would’ve otherwise been far more difficult to achieve if launching via a larger firm.
“There is a real community that you’re able to tap into,” said Hunter.
“I’m blown away by the support and generosity of people, most of whom I don’t know. It’s an honest community and they’ll tell you if your product isn’t good but supportive enough to give you ideas on how to improve. I feel connected to them.
“I don’t think that would be the case had I used a traditional publishing model.”