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Gamefound wants to beat Kickstarter at its own game

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Not a blockchain in sight

A crew of a starship explores the surface of an icy planet while their craft orbits overhead. A book breaks apart in the distance.
Cover art for ISS Vanguard, the first board game to make use of Gamefound’s crowdfunding tools.
Image: Dominik Mayer/Awaken Realms

Serial entrepreneur Marcin Świerkot, founder of board game publisher Awaken Realms, has a hot hand. Not only is his ISS Vanguard among the most anticipated new board games arriving this year, but his newfangled crowdfunding platform Gamefound is poised to become a serious competitor to Kickstarter. He tells Polygon that it will exit beta in the next several months, opening its doors to more tabletop creators the world over.

Kickstarter launched in 2009 with the goal to revolutionize how creative projects get funded. While consumer electronics like the Coolest Cooler and the Pebble Smart Watch garnered headlines, tabletop gaming has grown to become the tech company’s largest single source of crowdfunding revenue. But the platform was not originally built to be a platform to pre-order miniatures-heavy board games and tabletop role-playing games (TTRPGs).

Gamefound absolutely was, and Świerkot says he’s ready to compete with the Brooklyn-based crowdfunding platform toe-to-toe. His ambitious goal is to match the tech company’s tabletop crowdfunding revenue by 25% in 2022. Kickstarter brought in more than $270 million for tabletop games last year. That means Świerkot’s goal is a non-trivial $67.5 million.

Based on his 2021 results, he definitely seems to have some momentum behind him.

Gamefound’s highest earning campaigns

Game Creator Funds raised Backers
Game Creator Funds raised Backers
ISS Vanguard (2020) Awaken Realms $4,912,097 28,962
Too Many Bones Chip Theory Games $3,392,804 11,823
Robinson Crusoe Collector's Edition Portal Games €2,277,000 17,313
Chronicles of Drunagor: Age of Darkness Apocalypse Creative Games Studio $1,954,908 6,495
Lords of Ragnarok Awaken Realms €1,673,875 10,368
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim The Board Game Modiphius Entertainment £1,250,117 7,247
Masters of the Universe: Fields of Eternia Archon Studio €912,028 5,317
Kingdom Rush: Elemental Uprising Lucky Duck Games $865,673 7,676
Wild Assent - Lavon Rising Lazy Squire Games $809,560 2,840
HEXPlore It: The Domain Of Mirza Noctis Hexplore It $507,179 2947

Gamefound has been around for a while, serving as a BackerKit-style, post-campaign platform for taking late pledges, coordinating global fulfillment, and handling payments. But its new crowdfunding features include lots of bells and whistles. Stretch goals are fully integrated, as are add-ons and upgrades — popular features on just about every tabletop crowdfunding campaign these days. It allows creators to run their campaigns from many different countries and in several different currencies. It even boasts a brand-new system to seamlessly manage Europe’s increasingly complex VAT tax structure — just the sort of thing that tabletop creators have been asking for.

Most importantly, it centers a given game’s community around a single destination, rather than what has become the sprawling, ad hoc set of platforms (standalone websites, Board Game Geek pages, YouTube channels, crowdfunding pages, and post-crowdfunding pages) required to create and maintain a community while also bringing a new product to market.

Gamefound began its push into crowdfunding in 2021 with a modest rollout, setting a curated selection of campaigns live throughout the year. Świerkot tells Polygon that his company ended the year with a little over $22 million earned for creators — and that doesn’t include post-campaign purchases. A total of 31 projects were successful, which is a far cry from Kickstarter’s 3,520. But what the Polish company lacked in volume it made up for in cash money. A total of six campaigns cleared the million-dollar mark last year.

Despite that success, and the robust feature set of his platform, Świerkot gives all the credit to the creators.

“I’m 100% convinced this [success is due to] the games and the publishers behind them,” he told Polygon in an interview. “The [intuitive design of the] platform might help a little bit, [...] but I’m sure that on Kickstarter they would have also been very successful .”

With the platform itself in the final phases of a full rollout, he says that the challenge now is to prove the value of Gamefound to creators who have never used it before. At the same time, Kickstarter has come out with some very confusing messaging, telegraphing a move to blockchain technology that has angered and alienated creators and backers alike. Kickstarter says that the move will be to an open-source protocol that claims to be environmentally friendly. Many remain skeptical, or downright adversarial, about the change.

“You have Kickstarter saying, ‘Guys, our vision is blockchain!’ And you have like a zillion people saying, ‘Guys, this is not a good direction. Don’t do it,’” Świerkot said. “If Kickstarter would believe in the spirit of crowdfunding, they would say, ‘Yeah, we get it. OK. You’re right.’ Or, ‘We will adjust it because you offer this feedback,’ or whatever. [Instead], they just double down.”

It appears that, in the short term at least, Gamefound’s biggest appeal isn’t the robust set of features that it has, but the one confusing feature — blockchain technology — that it lacks. Rather than pouring energy into web 3.0, Świerkot says instead he’s focusing on the nuts and bolts of making a traditional website. He’s looking to become for the tabletop industry what Steam is for the PC gaming industry — a global platform where developers of every shape and size can bring their products to market, a virtual storefront where things like credit card payments and taxation are handled seamlessly behind the scenes, and a portal for community engagement.

“If I am a creator and suddenly I have to adjust to 100 different tax jurisdictions, it’s impossible,” Świerkot said. “The digital game market would not be where it is if Steam would not come in and say, ‘Listen, guys, you make awesome games. We will take care of the global tax thing for you. We’ll take our share of the profit, for sure.’ But right now, look how much of indie games is thriving because of it. You can be a single guy, and your only task is just create a game, and then Steam will take care of the rest.”

Once it exits beta, Gamefound will still be in a sort of slow-rolling launch. Creators will be vetted based on their past projects and the size of their organization, so micro or individual creators won’t be able to hop in right away. But Świerkot sees his creation as a lifeboat for mid-sized tabletop developers and publishers to break away from Kickstarter.

“As a platform, we are appealing to the big publisher that wants to treat [crowdfunding] professionally,” he said, “People’s [livelihoods] depend on the results you have from the platform, and whether the platform works or not. You expect professionality out of the platform.

“How much people trust you is the most important,” Świerkot said, “regardless of the platform.”

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