Games broke funding records on Kickstarter in 2020, despite the pandemic

Graphic: James Bareham/Polygon

Games continued to flourish on Kickstarter this year, with tabletop games — including board games, role-playing games, and gaming accessories — leading the way on the crowdfunding platform. Video games were also up, with two Japanese games earning more than any other in that category.

Successful campaigns for tabletop games and accessories earned more than $233 million in 2020, up from $176.3 million in 2019 — an increase of more than 32%. Despite the ongoing global pandemic, fans of hobby gaming showed up for Frosthaven, the sequel to the hit dungeon crawler Gloomhaven. Isaac Childres bested 2016’s reprint of Kingdom Death: Monster by earning just shy of $12.97 million in his campaign. The final product is expected to ship in March 2021.

Copy: Dollars pledged to successful tabletop versus video games through 2020 Infogram

Massachusetts-based Wyrmwood Gaming surprised many by breathing life into the high-end gaming furniture market left vacant by Geek Chic, which went out of business in 2017. Its Kickstarter campaign for a modular gaming table was the second-most funded tabletop campaign of the year, earning more than $8.8 million. Tables are already in production, with the majority expected to begin shipping in 2021, despite CEO Doug Costello stepping down after employee complaints.

Most-funded Tabletop Kickstarters, 2020

Name Creator Funds raised Backers
Name Creator Funds raised Backers
Frosthaven Isaac Childres $12,969,608 83,193
Wyrmwood Modular Table Wyrmwood Gaming $8,808,136 7,713
Nemesis Lockdown Awaken Realms £5,174,153 (approx. $6.9 million) 41,907
Darkest Dungeon the Board Game Mythic Games $5,657,479 28,842
Return to Dark Tower Restoration Games $4,054,744 23,661
Wildlands by Dwarven Forge Dwarven Forge $4,005,183 3,526
The 7th Citadel Serious Poulp €3,289,904 (approx. $4 million) 33,353
Massive Darkness 2: Hellscape CMON $3,813,274 21,763
Ankh: Gods of Egypt CMON $3,320,196 23,386
Full Color Custom Miniatures with Hero Forge 2.0 Hero Forge $3,106,660 39,167

Meanwhile, video games sprung back to life after years of anemic growth. Kickstarter’s vice president of community Luke Crane attributes that to continued outreach to Japanese creators.

“We’re committed to continuing to develop Japan,” Crane told Polygon in an interview. “The culture of asking for money in Japan [...] for a creative project is very different than it is here. We’ve been working with the communities there and trying to understand what it is they need to be comfortable to launch, and also building up partnerships [in that country].”

Most-funded Video Game Kickstarters, 2020

Name Creator Funds raised Backers
Name Creator Funds raised Backers
Eiyuden Chronicles: Hundred Heroes Rabbit & Bear Studios ¥481,621,841 (approx. $4.6 million) 46,307
The Wonderful 101: Remastered Platinum Games ¥235,320,528 (approx. $2.3 million) 33,199
Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous Owlcat Games $2,054,339 35,092
Sea of Stars Sabotage CA$ 1,628,126 (approx. $1.26 million) 25,589
Kindred Fates Skymill Studios $685,769 10,876
My Time At Sandrock Pathea Games $524,770 9.915
Venus Blood Hollow Ninetail ¥37,663,844 (approx. $363,000) 1,537
Anstoss 2022 2tainment €246,496 (approx. $300,000) 3,888
Curse of the Sea Rats Petoons Studio €242,395 (approx. $295,000) 5,958
The Last Faith Kumi Souls Games £210,075 (approx. $280,000) 4,053

Two high-profile campaigns from Japan finished first and second overall in the video game category. The first, Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes, aims to deliver a classic Japanese-style RPG in late 2022. That campaign, a spiritual successor to Konami’s Suikoden series, earned the equivalent of $4.6 million in August. The Wonderful 101: Remastered — which received praise here at Polygon and at other publications — was also funded and released this year with the help of nearly $2.3 million from Kickstarter backers.

For 2021, Crane said his organization is looking once again to Europe as another growth market. He cited the recent launch of Kickstarter in Poland as a something for fans of tabletop games and video games alike to keep an eye on. He hopes that the financial success of CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 could inspire more Polish creatives to bring their work to the Kickstarter platform.

Comments

I don’t get why people back these big-medium budget games.

If there’s a market for the games, then they would get published and sold.

Kickstarter is ripe for pre-order abuse.
Games like Wonderful 101 Remaster/Shenmue 3, who eventually got the full retail treatment anyways, feel like scams to me.

People who backed Wonderful101 also got their copies of the game much much later than people who just went and brought them at the store.

That’s what Steam Early Access is technically for no? Actually having a (incomplete) product for people to play and see it’s progress.

If there’s a market for the games, then they would get published and sold.

This is backwards. You don’t really find out if there’s a market for your game until it gets published and sold (or, at the very earliest, well after you’ve spent enough money on development/marketing to reach a point of no return). Crowdfunding removes that layer of opacity by becoming a testing ground for figuring out if there’s a market in the first place. If it fails, there’s no market, and publishers spend way less money running the campaign compared to releasing a full product that doesn’t sell.

I agree. To add to this, I would definitely argue that the board/tabletop campaigns carry MUCH less risk than the video games do, even though the complexity of B/TT games is increasing (see: Return to Dark Tower).

The primary reason for this, in my experience, is that many board games are mostly done before the Kickstarter page even goes up. They still have some design, and a lot of play testing to do, but the core systems are usually finished. As such, most board games are using Kickstarter to raise the funds to print the game.

Video games are the opposite usually. Much of the on paper design is done and they are going to Kickstarter to actually program the game, which is a way riskier proposition than just manufacturing a board game.

Also they carry way more risk for the publisher to just print up front. Most games only sell 1,000 copies or so – often 3K copies are a big hit. So if you know you can presell 500-1000 copies to fund a print run, you are doing pretty well. But if you go ahead and print 3,000 and then only sell 500, your company might be bankrupt.

CMON and AR and other big mini heavy publishers probably don’t have the same risk, but the way kickstarter is set up, you can do this and just never have to risk your own money.

God, this bullshit needs to stop Mediocre boardgames pumped up to the wazoo with plastic miniatures to make them look good. Especially the CMON stuff is way, way style over substance (in that old CP2020 lingo).

At one point, I kinda thought that KS is really good for boardgames, as traditionally, the amounts you print and how much effort you put into the components is a massive balancing act, even for bigger publishers. But to my surprise, over the years, a lot of these big hits have been really average as boardgames (and I quantify that with the amount of plays a game gets – good game for me needs to be able to hit hundred+ plays – ie. the mechanics need to be interesting enough for it to carry for a long time and the players should be able to discover new things every time – but that’s just me!).

Now of course, one way to figure this out is to simply print the rules of these games out and give it a play with cardboard tokens and such (and this has averted a few near-misses for me, like Cthulhu: Dead May Die, which turned out to be an incredibly simplistic boardgame with massive production values – which kind of epitomizes my argument above, if I’d need to pick one boardgame for it).

That said, it’s been good for the tried and true games. The re-print of Brass and the tweaks done to it is probably the most culturally significant bit of boardgaming that has come out of Kickstarter and essentially, it’s a match made in heaven. You have a game that is really, really good and plays really well for a loong time. But it just looks tad crappy, so here comes KS and allows the fans of the game to really kick it up a notch!

And yea, to the above thread – video games in KS is still not a good proposition IMO. Most of the time, it’s inexperienced folks in action. The rest of the time, you might have the experience, but there’s always hick-ups in video game dev and that’s already difficult enough as it is. I wouldn’t want to spend my time answering for the 100th time why this or that is going to be late or why this or that feature needs to be killed off. Video game development is a moving target.

I feel like Kickstarter games are like anything else—there’s some good, some bad, and a lot of mediocre. That’s not an issue with KS, it’s an issue with anything created and produced. I backed Frosthaven and 7th Continent, which are great (well, I’m giving Frosthaven the benefit of the doubt based on Gloomhaven), backed the video game Scorn and am patiently awaiting for them to finish to see if it was worth my money, and there are plenty of games I looked at but haven’t backed because I wasn’t sold on them.

Point being, sometimes stuff gets released directly, sometimes it gets Kickstartered, and I treat it the same either way—does it look like something I want to play? I’m a bit more in need of convincing with KS, so I’ve backed only a few games, but I don’t feel like the percentage of mediocre games is significantly higher on KS than, say, via Steam.

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