FunForge LLC’s Kickstarter campaign for ZNA, which was billed as “The next generation of cooperative survival boardgame…” came to an abrupt halt yesterday when Funforge pulled the plug on the project. Even though the campaign was on its way to doubling the initial funding goal of $80,000, an aura of negativity had built up around the campaign and some backers had started cancelling their pledges. FunForge blamed three factors for the campaign’s cancellation in their cancellation update: first, that Kickstarter has become a website for pre-orders rather than funding innovative ideas, that they revealed stretch goals too early, and that they had mishandled the campaign. I completely agree with the latter, and while pre-order Kickstarter campaigns are certainly becoming more common, I think it’s shortsighted of FunForge to assign any amount of blame to Kickstarter and the people who frequent it.
I’ll start by saying I have a great deal of respect for FunForge, which makes the failure of this campaign so surprising. They have some great games on the shelf, including Tokaido, Phantom, and most recently Samurai Spirit. This is a company not unfamiliar with marketing, and that is no stranger to Kickstarter. Heck, I found their Tokaido collectors edition campaign phenomenal, and am anxiously awaiting my fully painted set. So, what went wrong?
In short, ZNA was simply a disingenuous campaign, and that led to its demise. The campaign itself looked like it was to fund a high quality, cooperative survival boardgame set in a post-apocalyptic world that included lots of great tiles and miniature, which would be produced if funding hit $80,000. The stretch goal content included some great added minis, tiles, etc., and if it hit $600,000 was going to include a growing iOS application that would enhance the experience of the game and add some really unique and cool interactive features. For almost $130,000 total, that’s exactly what people funded, and what they expected. In reality, as is now clear from FunForge’s cancellation update, the campaign was to fund the board game AND the application; the two were a package deal even though the campaign itself approached the application as a stretch goal that wouldn’t make an appearance until funding surpassed over 6 times the original amount asked for.
I’ll be the first to say the application is a sweet idea, and I could see it adding a lot to the game experience. I disagree that, as a stretch goal, people shouldn’t have known about it; if anything it gave the campaign some unique possibilities up against the multitude of Zombie games we’ve seen over the last year. I also realize that the development of said app is going to cost a lot of money, and I don’t blame FunForge for setting its inclusion at the $600,000 mark. The problem I have, however, is that FunForge wasn’t honest about what they were trying to accomplish in the first place. If you’ve got a board game that you don’t want to produce on its own even if you can afford to do it without the app, and instead want to fund the two together, THEN MAKE THAT THE CAMPAIGN GOAL. Don’t mislead people into thinking they’re getting a new game after the $80,000 mark is hit with the application shown as a question mark somewhere down the funding line, only to cancel the entire thing after your REAL goal of $600,000 isn’t in sight.
I know some campaigns will calculate their costs of production, and then set their campaign goal a bit lower in the hopes that hitting the funding goal sooner in the campaign will generate more interest since people are more willing to back something that looks like it’s already a sure thing. The difference is that those campaigns don’t undersell by $520,000, and they’re ready to eat the difference if the campaign doesn’t generate enough buzz to get them to the actual cost mark.
In my opinion, FunForge’s big mistake was aiming too high without being up-front about what they were trying to accomplish. It’s not that Kickstarter is simply an arena now for pre-orders, it’s that campaigns for innovative products should identify themselves as such in order to attract the people who want to back that kind of product. Who knows if the campaign would have funded anyway if FunForge had just come out and said they needed $600,000 for the development of a game that was truly next-gen in its integration of iOS with tabletop, but I firmly believe everyone and the project would have been better served by doing so.