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Crowdfunding for video games was way down in 2016

Fig and Gambitious didn’t cover Kickstarter’s decline, and tabletop is still booming

Kickstarter Gil C/
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Crowdfunding revenues for video game projects appear to have fallen in 2016. The decline is especially large on Kickstarter, where the revenue earned by successful projects was down nearly 60 percent.

This year was the first time since its founding in 2009 that the crowdfunding giant took in less money — roughly 5.8 percent less overall — than the year before. That makes the precipitous decline of the video game category all the more unusual.

So where did the money go? For our analysis, Polygon solicited data from all four of the major video game crowdfunding platforms — Fig, Gambitious, IndieGoGo and Kickstarter — in early December. Only IndieGoGo failed to respond to our request by the end of January. Using that data, we’ve uncovered a picture of an industry in transition, and on the cusp of what promises to be a fascinating New Year.

Kickstarter no longer dominant

The biggest finding was the marked decline in the revenue earned by successful video game projects on Kickstarter.

In 2015, successful video game Kickstarters earned a total of $41.5 million. In 2016 however, successful campaigns earned at most* $17.6 million. That represents a roughly 60 percent decline in revenue for the category.

That 60 percent decline can be applied on a per project basis as well.

There were basically the same number of successful campaigns in 2016 (388) as in 2015 (374). So a successful campaign in 2016 would have averaged $45,360, versus an average of $110,962 in 2015.

While in 2015 tabletop games earned twice as much money as video games, in 2016 they earned nearly six times more. That figure confirms a trend uncovered by ICO partners over the summer.

The tabletop category increased by nearly 20 percent from 2015, growing the amount of revenue raised by successful campaigns from $84.6 million to at most* $101.2 million. The number of successful campaigns was also up by nearly 23 percent.

The growth of equity crowdfunding

Fig was a disruptive force last year, entering the crowdfunding space with a combination of traditional rewards-based options as well as equity investment. But it also pulled several major players out of the Kickstarter ecosystem.

DoubleFine and InXile have both run successful, multi-million dollar campaigns on Kickstarter in years past. In 2016, they took their business to Fig. Even though that company endured an extended period of review by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that dragged on for months, they made an impressive showing. DoubleFine’s campaign for Psychonauts 2 raised over $3.8 million, while InXile’s Wasteland 3 raised over $3.1 million.

Add to that several smaller projects, and we find that Fig raised more than $7.8 million — nearly half of what Kickstarter did — in its first full year.

Also sharing its numbers with Polygon for the first time this year is Gambitious, which describes itself as a “hybrid crowd finance platform and indie publishing label.” Founded in 2012, they are the first gaming crowd finance platform to actually turn a profit for its investors. But, more importantly for our analysis, they also grew their business and collected nearly $2.6 million dollars of investment.

But even when you add together the money earned by Fig and Gambitious, it doesn’t equal the amount of revenue that Kickstarter declined in 2016. Our figures show that crowdfunding for video games was down roughly $13.5 million last year, or around 33 percent.

Again, the large caveat here is that IndieGoGo, which did not share numbers with Polygon, could have had an impressive year.

So where did the money go?

While it’s true that Kickstarter itself finished down overall in 2016, the decline in the video game category was remarkable. But it’s difficult to say where a third of 2015’s video game crowdfunding money went. Three possibilities come to mind.

First, some consumers could have lost their appetite for crowdfunding video games entirely. The long development times inherent to the video game industry, as well as some high-profile projects that have failed to deliver on their promises, could have soured them on crowdfunding in general.

Second, it is now hard to ignore the fact that the incredible growth of tabletop could be stealing away a portion of the revenue consumers previously used to crowdfund video games. Without much more granular data from Kickstarter, it’s hard to provide a good case for this however. Anecdotally, people who enjoy video games also seem to be big fans of board games, and they’re not shy about spending a lot of money on physical products. But there’s no real way to track where they spend their crowdfunding money.

Third, Fig’s months-long delay getting approval from the SEC could have simply pushed a number of large projects into 2017 that would have otherwise been on the books in 2016. Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire is already off to an amazing start with more than $2 million raised in a matter of weeks. A few more campaigns like that, and the $13.5 million deficit might quickly evaporate.

Whatever the case, it’s clear that equity crowdfunding options, like Fig and Gambitious, are here to stay. It will be interesting to see which independent developers warm up to the model.

How things play out in 2017 will be very interesting.

* This year, Kickstarter declined to share exact revenue numbers with Polygon for either the video game or the tabletop category. Instead, they provided a range. They stated that 85-88% of $20 million pledged actually went to the 388 successful video game projects, while 85-88 percent of $115 million pledged actually went to the 1710 successful tabletop projects. We’ve used the higher range of those numbers in our charts.