Tabletop games news: Cheapass Games runs third successful Kickstarter project, “Get Lucky”

"Get Lucky" is the latest Kickstarter project from Cheapass Games. Image from the "Get Lucky" Kickstarter page.
“Get Lucky” is the latest Kickstarter project from Cheapass Games. Image from the “Get Lucky” Kickstarter page.

For the third time in 14 months, tabletop game company Cheapass Games has turned its “try it for free” business model into a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Cheapass Games (not to be confused with Cheap Ass Gamer, an online bulletin board for video game deals) is currently running a campaign for Get Lucky, a card game version of its 1996 board game, Kill Dr. Lucky.

As with its first two campaigns, Unexploded Cow and Deadwood Studios USA, the company is proving proficient at crowdfunding; the Get Lucky campaign has more than doubled its funding goal with 18 days still remaining.

The company originally formed in 1996 and released around 100 games through 2006. To produce and sell games at low prices, it printed only the essential, unique elements of its games, knowing that many players already had things like dice, pawns and play money or could buy them for little money.

The company's games are made on the premise that most people, like me, have dice and other basic game pieces lying around their homes. Image uploaded from my iPhone.
The company’s games are made on the premise that most people, like me, have dice and other basic game pieces lying around their homes. Image uploaded from my iPhone.

After a hiatus, the company reopened in 2011 with a new way of doing business—posting free, downloadable PDFs of its games on its website that players can print and assemble on their own.

The games vary in how difficult they are to assemble. Its most basic games require only PDFs (the instructions say players can go without printing them by putting the PDFs on their mobile devices), while more complex games require players to make cards and/or boards with the tools provided.

Players can donate to the site via PayPal. It even suggests the amount a player should give based on his or her enjoyment of a game and their job (as an estimate of their income).

President and game designer James Ernest has also created YouTube videos instructing players on how to play the company’s games and other tips for assembling the games at home.

In August 2012, Cheapass Games started using Kickstarter to produce “deluxe” (printed in full color and packaged with all necessary pieces) versions of its games.

A significant portion of Cheapass Games’s success is likely due to the generous nature of its business model. Essentially, the company offers its potential customers a trial version of its games, so they may become interested in supporting it with a donation or buying a deluxe version.

The difference between Cheapass Games and most companies is that its trial versions can be enjoyed just the same as their paid counterparts, in contrast to more common models like having a limited free version of a mobile game with a handful of levels.

By giving away the “cheap” editions of its games, the company becomes a brand that gamers genuinely like; not just one that makes products they like.

This sense of personal support and community is a large part of what drives Kickstarter; so naturally, the company has found repeated success through crowdfunding.

The gaming community in general seems likely to get the developers they love. Of the $500 million given to Kickstarter campaigns so far, $100 million have gone to projects in the “games” category (which includes both video and tabletop games).

These numbers show how a creative game developer can build an audience and cater to its enthusiasm. Cheapass Games is an exemplar for any tabletop company thinking about crowdfunding.

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Veteran punks Stiff Little Fingers return with benefits of PledgeMusic

Stiff Little Fingers performing live in March 2013. Image from The Upcoming.
Stiff Little Fingers performing live in March 2013. Image from The Upcoming.

Influential punk band Stiff Little Fingers has turned to an emerging music-funding platform to release their first album in a decade.

The Irish band is using PledgeMusic as a platform to offer fans pre-orders of the album, which is slated for an early 2014 release, along with items and experiences exclusive to PledgeMusic, ranging from a signed copy of the album to the opportunity to perform the band’s debut 1979 single “Suspect Device” with them at a concert.

These Kickstarter-esque rewards are featured on all PledgeMusic projects. PledgeMusic is also like Kickstarter in that it gives supporters of the projects (appropriately called “pledgers”) the chance to follow an album’s production more closely through updates from the artists.

However, the site has several differences from Kickstarter that could have greater benefits for artists and fans.

It only hosts music projects, so artists do not have to worry about their campaigns being lost in the shuffle of Kickstarter’s many projects.

Because PledgeMusic makes projects more visible, viewers can more easily come across projects they might want to support by browsing.

For a relatively obscure band like Stiff Little Fingers, the ease of browsing could be a notable benefit.

Though an important part of the early UK punk scene, the band was not as popular or iconic as contemporaries like The Clash and The Sex Pistols. So while people like me, who read punk news websites regularly, are familiar with their music and influence on later bands, more casual punk fans may be discovering the group for the first time on PledgeMusic.

PledgeMusic also allows many more genre tags than Kickstarter, so users can search specifically for “punk rock,” which is not among the genres listed on Kickstarter.

The "rock" category on PledgeMusic's genres page features many subgenres visitors can use for searches.
The “rock” category on PledgeMusic’s genres page features many subgenres visitors can use for searches. Ben Folds Five used PledgeMusic to help fund their 2012 album, “The Sound of the Life of the Mind.” 

The sites allows artists to set their campaigns up as “direct-to-fan,” which is like a standard crowdfunding campaign, and “preorder,” which is more like a traditional commercial transaction.

Preorder campaigns are for artists who have already been completed an album but want to use the site as a way to market it and offer exclusives to fans. Preorder campaigns can accept pledges up until the release date of the album, while direct-to-fan campaigns have a 90-day limit.

Fans might appreciate the clearly stated difference between project types. It’s always possible that people could dubiously use crowdfunding platforms to sell products that might already be complete, so simply classifying the campaigns differently gives pledgers a degree of transparency.

Fans are even more likely to appreciate another big difference between the two platforms—PledgeMusic has a more clearly defined accountability policy than Kickstarter, which takes a more hands-off approach. Most significantly, PledgeMusic offers refunds to its pledgers when an artist is not able to complete a project.

I don’t think many creators are going to default on their Kickstarter projects, but the fact that PledgeMusic takes more responsibility if one does is a little more reassuring than Kickstarter’s policy.

For all PledgeMusic’s benefits, Kickstarter has two important advantages over it.

First, Kickstarter takes only 5 percent of its projects funds, while PledgeMusic takes 15 percent. For bands with less money or smaller funding goals, Kickstarter may be a better option because it allows them to keep more of the funds necessary for completing their recordings.

Second, Kickstarter is a bigger brand name in crowdfunding, so its greater site traffic could bring more people to its projects than PledgeMusic.

However, the number of pledges has tended to increase with every project, and the number of artists and labels working with PledgeMusic has increased significantly since the site launched in 2009.

As the site grows, its benefits could attract more artists away from Kickstarter, increasing its prominence and strengthening its brand to a point where the title of “best funding site for musicians” is up for grabs.

The state of comiXology part 2: Digital publishing makes new opportunities for readers and creators

This post is the second in a two-part series on comiXology’s impact on the comics industry in light of its 200 millionth digital comic download.

As I discussed yesterday, digital comics seller comiXology has established itself as a major player in comics distribution.

It offers new and old readers opportunities to discover new comics without needing to have access to a comic book store.

Just as importantly, comiXology makes digital reading its own unique experience.

In anticipation of last week’s New York Comic Con, comiXology announced it was releasing a number of new Guided View Native comics that utilized the app’s design for panel-to-panel viewing.

"Batman '66" uses comiXology's Guided View technology in its weekly installments. Art by Michael Allred. Image from Comic Book Resources.
“Batman ’66” uses comiXology’s Guided View technology in its weekly installments. Art by Michael Allred and Laura Allred. Image from Comic Book Resources.

Guided View technology makes comics easier to view on a mobile device. Rather than displaying an entire page of a comic at a time (as comiXology’s standard view does), Guided View mode displays one or a few panels at a time, as though it were following a reader’s eye movement.

Although I prefer the standard page view for reading on a tablet because I want to see the full layout of every page, but in my limited experience with Guided View, I have found it very well designed.

I never thought reading a comic on a phone would be anything less than a chore, but the Guided View mode makes it possible and even enjoyable.

Guided View Native comics use Guided View technology to give comics an animated quality.

For example, DC’s Batman ’66, inspired by the 1960s Batman TV series starring Adam West and Burt Ward, uses Guided View to make the comic feel more like the show by adding movement to its transitions from panel to panel.

The most similar experience I can think of to reading a Guided View Native comic is seeing an animated storyboard for a movie or TV show.

For an explanation of how a Guided View Native comic works, watch this video review of Batman ’66 #1 from Comicbook Time.

Digital issues of Batman ’66 are released every Wednesday. Every four digital issues are released in one print issue.

With Guided View Native issues, comiXology has made digital comics a distinctly different reading experience than print. Rather than being a substitute for print comics, these digital comics are a largely different product.

In addition to creating a new experience for readers, the digital-first comics market has made self-publishing much more accessible for comic creators.

ComiXology CEO David Steinberger and CTO John D. Roberts, along with writer Joshua Hale Fialkov and artist Joe Infurnari, creators of the digital comic series The Bunker, held a panel discussion at New York Comic Con about the company’s comiXology Submit program. Submit, launched in March, allows creators to pitch comics directly to the company to be reviewed for publication and sale on the site.

The Bunker is among the comics published through Submit. The program is non-exclusive, so it allows creators to sell their work through other platforms in addition to comiXology.

"The Bunker" is among the series published through comiXology Submit. In keeping with Submit's non-exclusivity policy, issues of "The Bunker" is also sold on the book's official website. Art by Joe Infurnani. Image from IGN.
“The Bunker” is among the series published through comiXology Submit. In keeping with Submit’s non-exclusivity policy, issues of “The Bunker” is also sold on the book’s official website. Art by Joe Infurnani. Image from IGN.

Submit allows creators to bypass traditional publishing channels and the financial risks that come with self-publishing one’s issues and books.

“While digital-first is somewhat new, the kind of process we’re going through, this is the future,” said Fialkov. “This is how things are going to be. The floppy comic model is becoming unfeasible. It’s really hard to make money. When I ran a small press, I only made money through relationships and knowing publishers. Now you don’t have to worry about that stuff.”

Digital-first publishing also allows creators to spend less time between finishing a work and publishing it because costs of printing and distribution are decreased.

Infurnani said the time frame for comic creation, which can take up to two years, can be shortened to give creators “instant gratification.”

Submit has succeeded in attracting creators. Roberts informed the panel audience that Submit is the 10th largest publisher on comiXology with 330 series and new ones being released every week.

Many writers and artists dream of working in comics, and with the relative ease of digital publishing, many more will be able to than before.

And getting new creative voices into the comics world is every bit as important as getting new readers.

The state of comiXology Part 1: Rapid sales growth shows prominence in comics market

This post is the first in a two-part series on comiXology’s impact on the comics industry in light of its 200 millionth digital comic download.

By now, it’s safe to say comiXology is a big deal in the comics industry.

The digital comics retailer had its 200 millionth comic download in late September—only a year after it hit the 100 million-download mark. The site has had its digital reader since 2009.

"The Walking Dead" comic book series released its 10th anniversary issue, #115, just in time for the season 4 premiere of the popular TV adaptation. Art by Charlie Adlard. Image from IGN.
“The Walking Dead” comic book series released its 10th anniversary issue, #115, just in time for the season 4 premiere of the popular TV adaptation. Art by Charlie Adlard. Image from IGN.

ComiXology benefits from a strong market for new readers, as the wild popularity of DC and (especially) Marvel movies and The Walking Dead TV series has played a role in putting the comics industry on pace for its best year since 2000, according to Comics Alliance.

The site is not just capitalizing on trends, though. It has helped expand the comics audience in its own right.

The rise of digital media has created a larger comics market than was available when print was the only medium for comics.

“It was already a fractured, poorly distributed market,” said comiXology CEO David Steinberger.

While comics may not have been poorly distributed, as single issues and collected editions were available in bookstores and online, digital downloads have made it easier for readers who do not live near comic stores to buy new issues as soon as they are released.

Buying comics, especially in issue format, online is not always cost effective (when factoring in shipping costs) or timely (I used to have subscriptions through Marvel and usually received my issues a week after they came out). Although many sites offer free or discounted shipping for certain amounts spent, those offers might not be inviting for new readers

Someone who is interested in giving comics a try might not want to spend $25 to get free shipping on Amazon, for example.

Spending $9 on a quick download of The Walking Dead Volume 1 could be more appealing for a fan of the show who wants to give the comics a shot.

Digital sales have benefits for longtime readers as well.

Because cloud storage space does not have the same limitations as print, books never go out of print, and books that have gone out of print are easier to publish again.

"Green Arrow" #11 is one of many out-of-print comics published via comiXology. Art by Matt Wagner. Image from iFanboy.
“Green Arrow” #11 is one of many out-of-print comics published via comiXology. Art by Matt Wagner. Image from iFanboy.

For example, DC published filmmaker Kevin Smith’s Green Arrow series, originally published in 2001-2002, on comiXology in 2010 after the collected editions of the series had been out of print for several years.

ComiXology is not the only company to promote digital comics, but it is the market leader. The company had $19 million in sales in 2011 out of the overall sales numbers for digital comics, which totaled $25 million.

Digital comics sales increased to $70 million in 2012.

Digital has some questionable aspects, but it has proved to be a viable market and has made an impact on the comics industry.

“Digital has replaced the spin rack in the convenience store,” said Thor Parker, social marketing director of Midtown Comics, one of America’s biggest comic book retailers.

Parker is right. For the first time ever, comics are available to anyone with an Internet connection. Physical location no longer matters, and the potential for further audience expansion is tremendous.

New Developments: Ouya revises fund-matching rules, solving some issues but raising others

After being at the center of Ouya's Free the Games Fund controversy, "Gridiron Thunder" developer MogoTXT declined to accept matching funds from Ouya. The game will be released on October 30. Image from the "Gridiron Thunder" Kickstarter page.
After being at the center of Ouya’s Free the Games Fund controversy, “Gridiron Thunder” developer MogoTXT declined to accept matching funds from Ouya. The game will be released on October 30. Image from the “Gridiron Thunder” Kickstarter page.

After coming under fire for the questionable funding of some projects, Ouya has revised the rules of its Free the Games Fund.

Under the fund’s original rules, Ouya would match the pledges raised by any developer who raised at least $50,000 for its game project through Kickstarter, as long as the game was sold exclusively on the Ouya console for six months following its release.

Two games, Gridiron Thunder and Elementary, My Dear Holmes!, caused controversy after facing allegations that the creators “pledged” money to themselves to gain funds Ouya would match.

Kickstarter investigated Gridiron Thunder and found its funding legitimate, but suspended the campaign for Elementary.

Ouya decided to go through with funding Gridiron Thunder, but developer MogoTXT declined to accept the matching contribution, saying it had the money it needed to release the game without Ouya matching the funds.

In a video statement, Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman said MogoTXT wanted other developers to have the money since it was able to fund its game on its own.

Lessening the impact of controversy certainly doesn’t hurt either. I don’t want to insinuate that MogoTXT was just trying to save face, but the good public relations aspect of this move is hard to ignore, especially with the game’s release on October 30.

The revised rules contain a few important changes.

First, Ouya will only match the amount of the Kickstarter goal, not any funds raised beyond the goal. This rule helps money go to a greater number of developers.

In the interest of lowering barriers of entry, Ouya has lowered the minimum campaign goal from $50,000 to $10,000.

Ouya also requires campaigns to have at least 100 backers for every $10,000 raised. The purpose of this change is to ensure there is support from a substantial fanbase and not just a handful of people close to the creators.

Finally, developers will be allowed to release their games on Ouya and PC at the same time. In her video statement, Uhrman said this move was made at the request of participating developers, who said PC is where most of their market is.

Under the revisions, Ouya removed one projectDungeons: The Eye of Draconus by developer SuckerFree Games, from the fund.
"Dungeons: The Eye of Draconus" was disqualified from the Free the Games Fund after the rules were revised. Image from Joystiq.
“Dungeons: The Eye of Draconus” was disqualified from the Free the Games Fund after the rules were revised. Image from Joystiq.

Project creator William McDonald disclosed that his father spent a large retirement check to help bring the game above the $50,000 level needed to receive matching funds from Ouya.

In light of its disqualification, SuckerFree Games canceled its Kickstarter campaign one day before it was scheduled to end.

In a statement on the game’s Kickstarter page, McDonald criticized Ouya for deciding to “change the rules on us.”

“OUYA gets their fall guy and Grid Iron keeps their money,” McDonald said. “So while a bunch of ex-EA employees with rich friends can apparently receive $171,000 in match funds for a game they, allegedly, already finished, a person whose father was willing to make a large sacrifice so his son’s team could qualify for the fund and actually develop their game properly is disallowed.”

McDonald explained that without the matching funds from Ouya, the project would have experienced a net loss of $11,000.

McDonald’s argument raises some interesting points. The image of questionably funded games is usually one of crafty developers trying to game the system, but SuckerFree Games appears to be more earnest.

Was it wrong for one person, especially a developer’s immediate family member, to make a large contribution to a loved one’s project? Since Ouya did not say up front that this practice was against the rules, was it unfair for the developer to get a substantial portion of its funds from one backer?

Ultimately, Ouya had to follow the demands of its supporters, most of whom “voted” for changes to the contest rules with criticisms on blogs and social media platforms.

The threat of developers leaving the platform in the wake of the controversy could have easily become a reality, and developers are going to drive the progress of the console, so it was in Ouya’s best interest to go with the majority rule.

Many developers will benefit from the Free the Games Fund. Ouya should remember, though, that those who are negatively affected by the rule changes might not be unethical. After all, some were playing by the rules Ouya set out, but the rules were destined to fail.

RoboCop statue, other pop culture-based art finds patrons on Kickstarter

The completely assembled version of the Kickstarter-funded RoboCop statue. Image from the Onion A.V. Club.
The completely assembled model of the Kickstarter-funded RoboCop statue. Image from  The A.V. Club.

A 10-foot model of the Kickstarter-funded RoboCop statue has been assembled in its future home of Detroit.

The statue was funded through a Kickstarter campaign in 2011 that made over $67,000 on a $50,000 goal. Campaign creator Imagination Station Detroit wanted to erect a life-size statue of the character after fans expressed interest through social media posts.

Released in 1987, RoboCop tells the story of dead-police-officer-turned-cyborg-justice-machine Alex Murphy, as he battles a crime boss in a dystopian Detroit virtually ruled by a corporation. The film was both a critical and commercial success and maintains a large fanbase today.

Were I not trying to keep this blog “SFW,” I would definitely post a clip or two from the movie so others could revel in its awesomeness.

Imagination Station constructed the model out of foam and plaster. The final statue will be bronze.

Though most Kickstarter campaigns involve pledges in exchange for copies of the final product (especially on high-dollar campaigns), the RoboCop statue demonstrates how like-minded individuals can get behind a project together without any quid pro quo returns.

“This isn’t ours. This was created by over 2,700 people around the world,” said project manager Brandon Walley.

Backers were willing to support this campaign even if they received nothing in return. They simply liked the fact that someone was going to build a RoboCop statue in Detroit.

RoboCop is the most famous example, but other pop culture figures have been commemorated in sculpture because of Kickstarter.

The following map shows the locations of the RoboCop campaign and four other examples.

New York City sculptor Derrick Cruz used Kickstarter to fund a porcelain cast of the late Joy Division singer Ian Curtis.

In Salem, Mass., figure artist Chad O’Connell funded life-size wax models of characters from the 1992 dark comedy film Death Becomes Her.

Using a more unusual medium, Las Vegas-based artist Michael Davis funded his goal of building a wall-sized reproduction of the title screen of the cult favorite PC game The Secret of Monkey Island out of Lego bricks.

Clockwork Couture, a steampunk-themed clothing retailer based in Burbank, Calif., used Kickstarter to fund expansions of its brick-and-mortar location. The additions were to include sculptures of a zeppelin and a Tardis (of Doctor Who fame), as well as a rotating art gallery, a classroom for teaching unemployed people how to start their own businesses, a public gaming room and a pet adoption area.

All these projects show Kickstarter’s potential for old-fashioned art patronage. Only the Ian Curtis campaign sold reproductions of the artwork, and they were limited.

By and large, people funded these projects because they cared about the works and wanted to see them be made.

The title screen of "The Secret of Monkey Island." Image from the Lego campaign Kickstarter page.
The title screen of “The Secret of Monkey Island.” Image from the Lego campaign Kickstarter page.

The projects also show Kickstarter’s ability to find the niche audiences needed to fund them. In any given person’s personal social network or geographic area, there are probably not a great number of The Secret of Monkey Island enthusiasts. Online, however, Davis could more successfully find people who loved the game and were interested in the project.

The RoboCop statue experienced the same effect on a larger scale. Imagination Station might have had trouble raising funds for the statue if it limited its reach to a city that was two years away from economic disaster.

However, by reaching out to fans all over the world, it achieved its funding goal and increased interest in its campaign.

I have never been to Detroit. It’s possible I may never go there. But I’m still excited about the fact that the city will have a cool movie character statue in it.

That sentiment is what got the campaign funded. Despite Kickstarter’s store-like tendencies, it can still be used to gather a crowd of avid fans more interested in seeing their favorite things in a new medium than with receiving a new product and some pre-order goods.

The final RoboCop statue is expected to be unveiled in summer 2014.

New Developments: NYC Opera Kickstarter fails, company folds

In September, the New York City Opera held a Kickstarter campaign in attempt to partially fund its 2013-14 season with a funding goal of $1 million. The opera is filing for bankruptcy after not meeting is Kickstarter goal or securing the rest of the funding it needed.

The Kickstarter campaign made more than $300,000—a considerable amount for a place-specific campaign, but not enough to gain adequate funding.

City Opera’s performance of Anna Nicole, a recent opera based on the life of Anna Nicole Smith, ended its run on September 28, and it will likely be the opera’s final show.

Sarah Joy Miller portrayed the title character in "Anna Nicole." Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich of The New York Times.
Sarah Joy Miller portrayed the title character in “Anna Nicole.” Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich of The New York Times.

In addition to the difficulty of promoting a campaign for one particular geographic area on a website with international reach, the campaign likely faced other problems inherent in using Kickstarter to fund an organization.

As Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic discusses, Kickstarter has tended to prove more successful for company’s selling tangible products than organizations seeking funding for their operation.

The 50 most successful Kickstarter campaigns (all of which have raised more than $1 million) have all been product-oriented. In these campaigns, backers were given products that could be shipped around the world, rather than admission to an event (some backer levels for the City Opera campaign included admission to performances) or general support for the campaign creators.

The "Veronica Mars" movie project is the overall third-largest Kickstarter campaign and largest outside of the technology, product design and video game categories, raising $5.7 million. Image from The "Veronica Mars" movie project Kickstarter page.
The “Veronica Mars” movie project is the largest campaign outside of the technology, product design and video game categories, and the third-largest overall, raising $5.7 million. Image from The “Veronica Mars” movie project Kickstarter page.

Although Kickstarter has reiterated that it is not a store, the funds-in-return-for-an-eventual-copy nature of its most successful campaigns suggests users are looking at it that way, at least to some extent.

For Kickstarter users outside of New York City, the things offered in return for contributions simply did not have enough appeal to get people to pledge their money to the opera campaign instead of something else.

Desktop wallpapers and downloads of recordings from City Opera ($5 and $15 rewards, respectively) are fine rewards, but they could not bring in donations on their own, the way a final product could.

Another important piece of information is most of the million-dollar campaigns were in the technology, product design or video games categories.

This information suggests the audience for high-dollar Kickstarter campaigns skews toward the crowd of technology enthusiasts.

The problem for an opera company (or other fine arts association) is not that people who like technology do not also like the arts, but that the people most interested in using Kickstarter are not the people who love opera enough to back a campaign for it.

Meyer mentions that Kickstarter might bring a certain hip appeal to a demographic affluent young people—an audience City Opera has had trouble reaching. If an organization could not reach the audience most interested in using Kickstarter, then it would be faced with the difficult task of promoting a crowdfunding campaign to an audience unfamiliar with the concept.

A final important note is that Kickstarter might not be a viable platform for organizations needing improvements. Several commenters on the The Atlantic article said nonprofit campaigns had a harder time promoting a message of needing support or stability than a message of wanting to carry out a program.

More bluntly, people are coming to Kickstarter to fund the development of an upstart and buy what it is selling, not to make pledges that will sustain an organization.

Kickstarter is not a store, but it’s not a charity drive either.