Kickstarter Curmudgeon: July

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Oh how time flies! It seems like only last week that I was grouching at a host of Kickstarter campaigns, though to be honest a number of them looked like they could be pretty good games. Still, by and large the Kickstarter pages didn’t do a good job, from my perspective, of actually selling the games. Sure they might have fancy graphics, flashy GIFs, and dozens of stretch goals, but if you want to read the page and come away with an idea of what the game plays like you’re going to be out of luck.

Why is this? Why do most of these campaigns not have compelling sales copy? They seem to invest a lot of effort in other aspects of the campaign. I suspect that those other aspects translate to more sales than simple, compelling copy. If that’s the case this feature is mostly useless. But still I’ll progress with the vain idea that there are other people like me who simply want to read a page and get an idea of what kind of interesting decisions might face me if I play the game. So let’s take a look at some of what’s interesting on Kickstarter.

(All images taken from their respective kickstarter pages)

Trogdor!! The Board Game 

I think this game is referencing something I’m not aware of. I vaguely recall the name Trogdor from somewhere in the recesses of my memory. Regardless, the two exclamation points are bothering me greatly. That might be the point.

I’ve got to say that it’s a pretty funny read. The image captions in particular are greatly amusing. The wooden bits look great, too. But if you want to know what the game is like to play, there’s not a lot here. Most of what we get is a sentence that tells us that it’s a co-op puzzle with unique powers and items. That’s better than some, but I’d like to see something more robust and excitable.

Verdict: Probably slightly amusing.

The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls 

Here’s a prime example of what kind of money you can land with a pre-existing IP. At the time of writing this is sitting at nearly 1.5 million dollars. I’m only vaguely familiar with the video game this is based on. I know it has a somewhat grotesque art style and was a big indie hit a few years ago, but I’ve never played it and don’t quite remember what genre of game it was. So, going in semi-blind, how well does the campaign sell me on the game?

This is one of the most incomprehensible Kickstarter campaigns I’ve ever seen. It seems like it’s packed with legions of in-jokes, but to an outsider it’s near-gibberish. One of the first things you see is this:

That seems to be pretty representative of what this page looks like. There seems to be some kind of IRL challenge system for unlocking stretch goals, and the challenges are mostly juvenile. I don’t understand, but if that’s the brand… I guess they’ve embraced it? For someone like me, after scrolling through a bunch of gibberish images, I get a how to play video and a mocking “Scroll down for more in-depth gameplay”. I continue scrolling.

After my eyes have nearly completely glazed over looking at the (no exaggeration) 13 different versions of the game you can buy, I get to the “Origin Story”. To my surprise it’s genuine and gives a glimpse at early versions of the game. The promised “in-depth gameplay” parts are after the social media links, the game credits, and an inexplicable patch of nothing. It’s no more than an abridged rulebook but at least that’s some information. The game might not be half bad, honestly.

Verdict: I legit have a headache.

Jetpack Joyride 

There’s something innocently fun about a game titled “Jetpack Joyride”. Who hasn’t dreamed as a child (or adult) of having a sweet jetpack and flying around like a mechanical bird? Fortunately Rahdo is here to tell me that Jetpack Joyride is “a BLAST!”. Has anyone ever tried to analyze how much a Rahdo pull-quote is worth to a campaign? I bet it’s many thousands.

Look how happy he is!

This is one of the slickest-looking campaigns I’ve looked at yet, with a consistent visual style (that trusty teal/orange color scheme) and enough whitespace to allow one’s eyes to breathe. Don’t think about that sentence too hard.

Information about the gameplay is after the stretch goals and box inventory, but it’s a very nice GIFified summary that gives me a good idea of what it’s like to play the game. Well done. Granted, this kind of thing is much easier for a game as simple as Jetpack Joyride, but I’ve seen campaigns for more simple games do way worse, so this is to be commended. I’m becoming more and more sold on the GIF thing for simple games. Something more complex needs to rely more on good text, though. There’s a massive amount of information even after the gameplay info, but it doesn’t offend my eyes as I quickly scroll through it.

Verdict: My headache is subsiding.

Manipulate Board Game – are you playing or being played? 

I rolled my eyes a bit when I first clicked on this one. I’ve seen a lot of games that look like this–take that, low effort card games without much understanding of what makes a game fun. Then I started reading, and Manipulate doesn’t look half bad. Let’s see what this campaign does that others don’t.

Most importantly, the idea of the game is front and center. You get a good description of the thematic setting and a decent understanding of what kind of decisions you might make during the course of the game. After that you get a more detailed description of gameplay, and while this genre is very easily hit and miss, this one might actually work. At the very least it’s presented intelligently. It comes across as a labor of love by a couple of first time game designers and something they want to show to the world.

Verdict: Sincere

Escape Plan by Vital Lacerda with artwork by Ian O’Toole 

Here’s a campaign that knows exactly what its audience is. It’s the fifth Lacerda/O’Toole/Eagle-Gryphon collaboration, and it’s just about the most bankable combination in the Eurogame community right now. One thing I want to highlight is the really rad-looking movie poster-style image right at the top of the campaign. At this point it’s not going to take much for Lacerda fans to buy into this game, and I imagine that image was enough to get a good number of people to back the project.

The description of the game is alright–it gives a sense of what you’re doing, but not necessarily what kinds of game decisions you’ll face. Given Lacerda’s other games, that’s a tough pitch to write with any kind of brevity, so I’m not faulting them too much. Gameplay information is before stretch goals and other stuff.

Verdict: I have no doubt it’ll be good. It’s Lacerda.

Game To Pick A Game 

I think it was inevitable that this kind of game would be made. Picking a game to play during a game night can be a pain, so why not gamify it? I actually tried something like this before ad hoc. It did not go over well.

The campaign is alright with an informative, but not exciting explanation of gameplay. Strangely, there are two completely different themes being sold, which reeks of indecision. A meta-narrative on the theme?

Regardless, I simply don’t see how this game will work as an enjoyable experience. The annoying part about picking a game to play is that it takes too long. Unless the Game To Pick A Game is an incredible gameplay experience it’s simply going to exacerbate the frustration. If it is incredible, you’ll just want to keep playing it. There’s a very small window of enjoyment it needs to fit into.

Verdict: Skeptical

ATLANTIS: Island of Gods 

Open up the ATLANTIS page and you’re greeted with this:

What an intriguing and scary concept. I certainly wouldn’t want the internet masses to help finalize my game. That’s a recipe for disaster. But looking through the rest of the campaign I don’t know what they’re talking about. There’s nothing in there about backers being involved in the final look. Are they referencing the broad process of dialog with people who pledge? I have no clue. I also don’t know what kind of game this is. What description is there is extremely vague. I don’t want to read a rulebook to know basic information about your game!

Verdict: Very confused

Nunami 

Nunami has the most intriguing and visually enticing video splash screen of this entire batch of games. I don’t watch videos for this feature because I’m focusing on the written word, but when I opened Nunami I immediately wanted to know more from that image. The first couple paragraphs make some bold claims (“enriching; incredible”) but from them I learn that the game seems to be some sort of area control system where you can’t have too much of your population in any one base.

The visuals are minimalistic and the design of the gameplay space with its triangular pieces on indented hexagon terrain is something I have never seen before.

Verdict: Intrigued

Deus lo Vult – The Board Game of Rampage, Betrayal and Agony 

I praised a consistent visual style earlier in this piece, but consistently bad is still consistent. I completely understand what they were going for with the Deus Io Vult campaign, but they should have realized just how annoying their chosen typeface is. It makes me not want to read anything about their game.

So I didn’t.

From what I can tell from the pictures and GIFs, this is something of an abstract-ish battle game. That’s all I’ve got.

Verdict: Fonts matter.

Thoughts

Again, I’m just a casual observer in the strange land of Kickstarter. I don’t think I’m a marketing authority or anything, but hopefully this might shed some light on what a low-commitment person might experience upon visiting your Kickstarter page. I will say that I have backed one campaign since last month–SPQF. While it does have a really nice campaign page, I mostly heard about it from twitter. It looks to be an interesting take on deckbuilding and civilization games.

I’ll be back next month with more disparate thoughts!

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