Crowdfunding has been instrumental in the rise of tabletop gaming over the past five years, and toy and game giant Hasbro is taking notice. It's teaming up with Indiegogo for the Next Great Game Challenge, a contest that aims to pluck an indie tabletop game out of obscurity and elevate it to mainstream success.
It's not the first time Hasbro and Indiegogo have partnered. Last year's Challenge attracted 500 entries from the U.S. alone. This time, the challenge is being opened up to British, Canadian, French and German creators as well. All will compete to be among the five finalists, who will each receive a $2,000 cash prize and help — from both Hasbro and Indiegogo — in polishing the game and a creating a crowdfunding campaign.
Judges will choose the winner based on gameplay mechanics, theme, potential for "fun-ness" and viability Hasbro said. Winners will receive an additional $25,000 and a trip to meet members of the Hasbro team as well as the opportunity to discuss making their game a commercial reality.
Polygon recently spoke with executives at both Hasbro and Indiegogo to find out more about the contest, and how crowdfunding is being leveraged by major corporations to support new and exciting products.
From 2009 to 2014 Indiegogo's competitor Kickstarter, known for being open with its fundraising numbers, raised more than $196 million for tabletop games. In 2015 it added on another $84.6 million, more than twice as much money as it raised for video game projects. Indiegogo has likewise benefitted from tabletop's growth in the crowdfunding space, including a $1.4 million campaign for the third season of Wil Wheaton's Tabletop series.
While most crowdfunding campaigns are for games created by lone developers or produced by small publishers, Jerry Needel says that crowdfunding can also be useful for larger corporations as well. Indiegogo's senior vice president of corporate partnerships described three scenarios recently explored by his team, examples of what he calls "enterprise crowdfunding," where he sees potential for growth.
The first example is something that Needel calls "validating innovation." The first big success in this category was a series of Indiegogo campaigns done on behalf of General Electric. The second campaign, for the Opal Nugget Ice machine, raised nearly $2.8 million dollars for a concept that had basically been sitting on the shelf for several years.
"For bigger companies," Needel said, "crowdfunding is a really interesting way to do market research. For the most part they don’t need the money, but what they do need is real-world data to show that there’s demand in order to move forward and actually build a product that people want.
"GE was able to go from, historically, a four year product development cycle to four months. And they were able to create the first product ever, in the history of GE, that was cash-flow positive before it launched. They would have never built it otherwise."
The second example, Needel said, is something he calls "sponsored innovation," where larger companies give cash awards to crowdfunding campaigns that it feels align well with its brand or its corporate mission. Prime examples include Shock Top beer, which awarded several Indiegogo campaigns focused on water conservation, and the Triscuit Maker Fund, which has so far funded 55 "artisanal food makers" on Indiegogo.
Say hello to enterprise crowdfunding for games.
"Triscuit started in 1902 as a small business run by an entrepreneur," Needel said. "We created what we called a 'flash funding event' where we identified 55 food maker campaigns — food trucks, people working on sustainable food products, restaurant owners. They woke up one morning to an email from Triscuit and Indiegogo saying that their campaigns had been fully funded. That their donations were doubled, or tripled in some cases.
"I got a little teary myself looking at the emails we received that next morning."
Hasbro's Next Great Game Challenge is the final enterprise category, something that Needel calls "sourcing innovation." Great games are being thought up every day, he said, so why not get them in front of a company like Hasbro, a company able to shepherd them onto the open market?
Brian Chapman leads Hasbro's design and development organization. It's his team's responsibility, he said, to "come up with the world’s greatest play experiences."
"Gaming is a big part of those play experiences," Chapman told Polygon, "and to actually nurture those ideas all the way to production. What’s interesting about our partnership with Indiegogo is we realize those great ideas are all over the world and anybody can have them. And Indiegogo is a great place where people can nurture ideas to the point that they can be shaped, and we can bring them to the consumers so that it’s a great marriage between Hasbro and Indiegogo."
Chapman says that Hasbro's core tabletop brands — games like Monopoly, Risk and Clue — are household names. But his team is just as interested in publishing the next version of Scrabble as it is in discovering the next Magic: The Gathering. Perhaps even more so.
"We’re trying to change the perception," Chapman said. "We’re more known for those big powerhouse titles, but the team today is incubating lesser-known titles as well and looking for those new titles more than we ever have in the past, because we realize that a big part of our audience wants to play those types of games."
Last year's winner of the Challenge, Dan Goodsell, turned heads on Indiegogo and at Hasbro corporate with his unique brand of art and humor. The Mr. Toast Game only raised a bit more than $10,000, but as a result of the contest it has the potential to join other Hasbro products in retail stores.
Indie tabletop developer Dan Goodsell at Hasbro's home office in Rhode Island.
"We’re looking at things like some of our competitors that are coming into the space," Chapman said. "Games like Cards Against Humanity, but also our own titles like Pie Face which is a totally different, humor-based play pattern. They’re not only fun to play, they’re fun to watch.
"We want people to gather, sit across from each other, enjoy gaming and have a lot of fun doing it and even watching it."
Hasbro and Indiegogo both assured us that creators maintain full control of their intellectual property should they choose to submit to the contest. Polygon has run the previous Great Game Challenge paperwork past our own legal team and can confirm that it appears to treat creators very favorably.
Of course, crowdfunding success is not a guarantee that physical games will make it into the hands of consumers. Needel was quick to mention that with so much attention being paid to successful crowdfunding campaigns that fail to deliver, there's a certain amount of confidence that consumers can have when a larger corporation is involved.
"What Indiegogo is doing," Needel said, "is moving beyond just funding to helping entrepreneurs and creators bring their concepts from idea to market. So that means asking how we can help them with manufacturing, how can we help them with distribution.
"That is exactly why this Hasbro partnership is such an amazing thing. Hasbro is going to deliver. You’re able to tap into the best ideas from the public, but then put the manufacturing and delivery strength of a leader behind it."
Submissions for the Hasbro Gaming Lab Spring 2016 Next Great Game Challenge begin today and run through May 15.
Correction: An earlier version of this article said that the winner of the Challenge would be chosen based on overall dollars earned on Indiegogo. That's not the case. The winner will be chosen by Hasbro based on gameplay mechanics, theme, potential for ‘fun-ness’ and viability.