Tabletop Gaming: Is Kickstarter stealing your customer base? Most likely, so what can retail do?

We take a look at the rise of the Kickstarter exclusive and ask the crowdfunding platform just what is the deal...
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The route to retail for any toy or game designer has never been a simplistic one.

Amid today’s retail scene, even some of the weightier names in toy manufacturing struggle to get that face to face time with the nation’s vendors, and when they do, there’s no guarantee they have clinched that precious and much coveted shelf space.

It is certainly true that while the likes of Toys R Us falls into collapse, the out put of the toy industry doesn’t cease – or ease up – and the same can be said of the independent games publishing sector, too.

Time was that Kickstarter was heralded as the means with which designers could facilitate their route to the retailer’s shelf, presenting a fully-fledged product proposal, tied-up with the bow of a ready made audience and customer base garnered through weeks and weeks and months and months of campaigning.

But those times may be at an end thanks to the shift of one simple paradigm: that Kickstarter could turn retailer.

Looking specifically at one of Kickstarter’s most prolific project categories – board games (a sector that still outpaces the platform’s videogames output, by the way) – and notice that increasingly campaign founders and project leaders have turned to the notion of the Kickstarter exclusive.

It’s a means of skipping retail altogether and selling direct to consumer via the Kickstarter platform. And these are not insignificant consumer bases, either.

The latest to adopt the model Jasco Games and its Street Fighter: Miniatures Board Game. It joins the likes of Kingdom Death: Monster (a title that secured over $12m from an audience of 20,000 backers) and The 7 Continent ($7m from 44,000 backers). That’s 64,000 combined customers that the high street will not see in this instance.

When every last penny (or cent) counts towards making or breaking business for so many of these start-ups to emerge through the crowdfunding scene, they can hardly be blamed or chastised for turning to the Kickstarter Exclusive, trimming costs and risks along the way.

But what’s the greater appeal? Why has the physical retail scene become such a turn-off for many of these new and emerging businesses?

Luke Crane, head of games at Kickstarter, says: “My view of Kickstarter exclusives is that there is no one right way to use the platform. There are myriad use-cases, and for big box miniatures games, distribution and retail is a difficult path.

“The margins and mark-ups are such that publishers would have to charge four to five times in retail over what they’re charging on Kickstarter.”

To Crane, this is firstly not a feasible model, and secondly, a sure-fire way to turn that audience so hard fought for in the first place completely off of your product.

“The alternative,” he says, “is to offer less or lower quality in order to fit a reasonable retail price point. This is becoming increasingly unappetizing as games like these big box types, grow in quality and grandeur.”

What would the answer be, then? How can retailers reasonably expect to bring these audiences into their own stores without compromising the product itself, or their own coveted shelf space?

“Exclusives and the relationship to retail is part of a larger conversation,” continues Crane.

“It wasn’t always this way and it won’t always be. Publishers, distributors and retailers will continue to find their footing to be able to release the best games possible for their fans.

“To that end, look at Stonemaier and Ninja Division games who have both publicly announced that they will no longer release games through Kickstarter and will work with distribution exclusively.”

For Crane, the only resolve may be to sit tight and wait for the wheel to come full circle once again, it is after all, “all part of the cycle,” he concludes.

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