What has Kickstarter Become? or… How White Wizard Dropped the Ball.

This morning the Kickstarter campaign for Hero Realms went live. As of this moment it has about $49,000 worth of backers, and none of that is my money.

“Why not? I thought you loved Star Realms?!?”

This is true. I do love Star Realms, and I have purchased every expansion that has come out for it, both in card and digital form, and I will continue to do so. When Hero Realms was announced I was incredibly excited and expected that I would be auto-backing the game. So when the Kickstarter went live this morning, I clicked the link, assuming that I would soon be clicking the “Back this Project” button as well. As I read through the backer levels, I became less and less enamored with it, eventually deciding that I would not be clicking the “Back this Project” button after all.

Kickstarter is a lot of things for a lot of different game companies. For non-established companies it is a way to get the game paid for and get their company’s name out there. As long as they deliver the game in a relatively reasonable time-frame (and it helps if the game is good as well), then they tend to earn the trust of those backing them, enough so that people will say “I auto-back everything that … does!” For me this was White Wizard Games, and still is both Gamelyn Games and Roxley Game Laboratory. I didn’t know about Star Realms when it was on Kickstarter, but I auto-backed Epic due to my love of Star Realms, and I was disappointed in the game (not the KS or their completion of the project), or even their pricing.

For established game companies Kickstarter is simply a way to gauge interest and then pay for their game. It is great because instead of buying a print run of 10,000 copies and then hoping they sell, they can buy a print run of whatever number they pre-sell through the campaign, plus enough extra to get the game into retail, depending on how well received the KS campaign is. Typically they draw attention to the KS by having a price-point at under retail, at least for the earliest backers. Since the KS games are direct to consumer, the company still makes profit on it, and the early backers save some money over retail, and typically have some amount of exclusive reward as well. In this way the entire print run is paid for, including at least the first wave or retail, and the company has profit on the game, even before finishing the complete design of the game!

So what mistake did White Wizard make with Hero Realms that soured me on the project? There are a few. 1) There is nothing exclusive to the Kickstarter to entice me to back it. Yes, every tier at and above the $25 tier has 12 “Year-One” promo cards, but these are cards that will be released at conventions, tournaments, etc… within the first year of the game’s release. In other words, I don’t need Kickstarter to get them. 2) There is no discount to the retail price of the game. In a reply to my post on Facebook, White Wizard responded “We wouldn’t want to step on our retailers’ toes by undercutting our own MSRP.” However, since the Kickstarter is direct to consumer, they don’t have any middle-men. They are already undercutting both the distributor and retail by even having a Kickstarter. Since their KS is direct, then they make MUCH more profit on it than the copies that go to retail. Even free shipping would have gone a long way to alleviating this in my opinion. It just feels like a cash-grab. Also, I can wait until the game is in retail, and likely get the whole batch at 20-30% below MSRP. Finally, 3) this isn’t Star Realms or Epic, and therefore the model that worked for them shouldn’t be used here.

The draw of Epic was that it was a fantasy game using some of the Star Realms mechanics. Sadly, while the Kickstarter was successful, the game just didn’t deliver. As my friend put it after reading the rules, “so it’s just a simplified Magic: the Gathering?”. After a couple of plays I couldn’t help but agree with him, and I haven’t played the game since. So, I have Star Realms for deck-building and I have Magic for everything that Epic offers, and then White Wizard announced a true fantasy-themed Star Realms called Hero Realms, stating that you have bosses and characters that you can level up through scenarios and such, and I was very excited. But as I read through the campaign I was saddened. At the base level Hero Realms is just the same deck-builder that Star Realms was. The promised characters, bosses, and scenarios are add-ons to the base game and cost more money. This is the model that they followed for Star Realms, releasing expansion packs over time, changing the game up with new ships and bases, even adding new mechanics like events and heros. I have no need for another deck-builder game based around synergy within factions. Sure, mechanics vary from game to game, but the core concept is the same with both Star Realms and Hero Realms. Hero Realms in my opinion was exciting at the point where all of these extra things were included, but when you add it all up you have a grand total of 346 cards, at an “MSRP” of $72 plus $10 shipping!!! Compare that to a game like Dominion which has over 500 cards and retails for $50. Hero Realms should have been a single big-box game like Dominion in my opinion. This would have cut down on superfluous packaging and would have brought the over-all production cost down considerably, allowing for the lower price-point. Instead White Wizard either blindly follows their previous models, or intentionally chooses the cash grab in more than one way, first by making the game piece-meal forcing the consumer to spend more to obtain the “complete” game, and second by charging full MSRP when they don’t have the added cost of distributors and retailers, thereby increasing their profit on each copy considerably.

You will notice that I didn’t link to anything regarding White Wizard in this post. I will however, point you to other options that offer new unique games as opposed to re-hashing old ones, and provide more content for your money.

Santorini by Roxley Game Laboratory – 2-3 player abstract with added Greek mythology theme and player powers.

Tiny Epic Western by Gamelyn Games – Western themed game with poker-style game play and bullet-shaped dice

Masmorra: Dungeons of Arcadia by Cool Mini or Not – Dungeon crawler with tiles, dice and miniatures, all for $65

Note that everything I’ve written is my own personal opinion. I understand that your opinions will differ. Those that are White Wizard super-fans will likely disagree with me. I still love Star Realms and will likely purchase any new expansions that are released for it, but sadly, I’ve been disappointed by their other games, either in the game itself (Epic) or the campaign approach (Hero Realms).

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4 thoughts on “What has Kickstarter Become? or… How White Wizard Dropped the Ball.

  1. 1. The fact that it doesn’t have exclusives is actually a BONUS for me, and I’m happy to see it, and to see that they’ve made over $100K without resorting to using them. I really feel like they’re an archaic remnant that CMON is keeping alive. Stonemaier doesn’t crutch on them either, and they’re doing fine.

    2. Remember, the point of Kickstarter is to get the game made. There’s never any promise of a discount, nor, I think, should there be.

    3. Well, this is your opinion based on the game, not the project itself. I’m not a humongous fan of Star Realms anymore, but it’s decent enough, and this one does look different in some significant ways. I don’t believe they bothered with a campaign before, and the hero classes here feel more significant then the add-on expansions from Star Realms, which I thought were very useless and forgettable.

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    • Your comment did not get eaten, I just took a while to approve it. 1. I don’t typically care about exclusives either, but it is one of the ways to incentivize backing early. 2. Regarding the cost, once again, a way to incentivize backing now vs. buying at retail. 3. This is all opinion, but you also strengthen part of my point. The campaign and hero classes are what make the game unique, yet they require you to pay the top tier to get all of it.

      Here is my thought: give two of the hero classes instead of the base starting decks, and include one boss deck and one of the three campaigns, and charge $35 for it. I would have gladly backed it at that level. Then they could have offered the remaining three hero classes, the remaining boss deck, and the remaining two campaigns as add-ons. They would still be offering the same content at the same cost per card, just in a way more that in my opinion is more appealing.

      By announcing the game as having these things and then not including them in the base game, they are quite literally stating that we can’t have the full mechanics of the game unless we back at the top tiers. And that, to me, is unacceptable.

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  2. I want to clarify my position a little bit. First, I have no problem with any game company attempting to make as much profit as they can. I worded my article in a way that says “you shouldn’t make as much money” and that isn’t really what I meant… I’ll get to that a little more in a bit.

    My primary issue with this release is not in how they ran their campaign, nor in how much they are charging for how they ran their campaign, but rather how they decided to package their game. I first heard about Hero Realms in the Gamma Trade Show interviews from The Dice Tower. In those interviews they (White Wizard, not The Dice Tower) stated that Hero Realms would be a fantasy-themed deck building game like Star Realms, and that it would have heroes, bosses and campaigns, and that you could level up characters, etc…

    Yesterday morning they launched the Kickstarter and I was excited for the game that they announced. But what I saw was not that. It was instead simply a fantasy themed Star Realms. Then I saw that if you wanted to, you could buy the characters, bosses, and campaigns by backing higher tiers. 

    So they give you “A” game at the base level, a game that most of us already have and have already played some insanely high number of times. Then they offer the “complete” game at a ridiculously high price. Once again, I know that I have spent roughly the same amount on Star Realms, but that was a “game”, followed by “expansions” spread out over a period of time. In this case they give you “part of a game” (in my opinion) and ask you to spend more money to get the “complete game”. On top of that, they offer these things as items that you can add to the game, but they cram them all into two tiers of backers. What if I wanted just two of the characters and the campaigns? What if I wanted just the campaigns? I can’t have that. I have to buy EVERYTHING to get the campaigns. A simple system of “base game” plus “add-ons” would have been so much better in my opinion. 

    I just don’t understand why they didn’t package it in a way that the base game was the complete game. All they really needed to do was use two of the five character decks instead of the generic starting decks, and then one of the three campaigns and it would have been “complete” in my opinion. That’s only around 20 cards in addition to what they already include in the base game, and I would have paid $25-30 for that, and I would have backed now, even at MSRP. Then offer the remaining characters, the two bosses, and the remaining campaigns as add-ons for those that want everything.

    My other issues are based on how they chose to package and sell the game. On top of making you pay a lot for the complete game, they only offer one incentive to back vs. buy, and that is the 12 promo cards. Now they’ve released two additional promos as stretch goals. However, you still have to pay an extra $5 above the base game to get the incentive. I don’t personally care one way or the other about “Kickstarter Exclusives” but I see where they can add something like that in to give people a reason to back it now vs. buying it at retail. The way I see it is there are a few options to incentivize people to back vs. buy. One is that the backers get the game earlier than those that have to wait for retail, another is to provide additional content to backers (exclusive or not), and another still is to drop the price to below MSRP. This brings us back to the profit issue. Again, I’m all for them making as much profit as they can. They do have distribution/retail relationships that they need to worry about. I honestly don’t know everything that went into their campaign choices, and that’s fine. I’m no economist either. I do know that there is a cost/benefit ratio “magic number” where if they drop their price to that number they increase their total profit while decreasing their margins. Once they hit that number they no longer get enough additional sales to cover the cost of dropping the price. Due to their distribution/retail relationships, maybe MSRP is that magic number. I kind of doubt it though.

    So, to recap, the incentives that they give to back the game now vs. buying the game later include some number of promo cards (not exclusive to KS) will be included… for an additional $5, and the game will be received earlier than it will be available in retail. For me, that just isn’t enough.

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  3. Just in case you didn’t notice it, the Adventurer Tier of the Kickstarter only ships the Character Tier items in October. The remaining items (campaigns and bosses) don’t ship until January. It was listed in the Tier as a note, but I hadn’t noticed it before. Also, White Wizard, you had an opportunity to get my money. You missed it because rather than include “all stretch goals” as listed in the Game Tier, you decided that the Star Realms promo card stretch goal would only be given to Adventurer Tier backers. I would have backed the $25 level just to get the Star Realms promos… cards you ship and give away for free anyway. But I certainly won’t spend $72 to get them.

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