What do Exploding Kittens and Shadowrun teach us about Kickstarter?
A banner week for crowdfunded games has highlighted some important takeaways for developers
A card game about exploding cats has become arguably the most lucrative Kickstarter games project every conceived, and in the same week that Harebrained Schemes found success for the third time in a row.
Exploding Kittens primacy in the world of Kickstarted games is only arguable if one considers the Pebble E-Watch to be a gaming platform, and many would not. The Pebble raised $10.26 million back in 2012, but Exploding Kittens finished its astonishing run yesterday with $8.78 million raised despite only asking for $10,000. That's more than even the Ouya console, which only managed $8.59 million.
Indeed, the scale of what has been achieved by Exploding Kittens - co-created by game designer Elan Lee, former Xbox exec Shane Small and online cartoonist The Oatmeal - may leave frustrated developers scratching their heads. A great many projects fail to reach their targets on Kickstarter, projects that could more obviously make use of millions of dollars in additional resources.
"Exploding Kittens is an example of what can be achieved on Kickstarter by an idea with genuinely broad appeal"
They key takeaway here is the number of backers. Exploding Kittens was the most popular Kickstarter game ever when it had 110,000 backers. It finished with just short of 220,000, which is an average donation of below $40. Among the most valuable Kickstarter campaigns, that's low: Ouya's average donation was $136, Obsidian's Project Eternity was $55. Exploding Kittens is an example of what can be achieved on Kickstarter by an idea with genuinely broad appeal - like it or not, most of the games that have found Kickstarter are about as niche as it gets.
In addition, the relative simplicity of the concept may have played a part. The stories about Kickstarter failures and disappointments are starting to pile up, very often due to overweening ambition on the part of the creator. Take Godus, for example, or the Neal Stephenson-backed swordfighting game, Clang!.
In this instance, however, the path from putting your money down to the product being in your hands was relatively free of potential pitfalls. That breeds confidence, particularly among those who aren't accustomed to the specifics of crowdfunding, and likely stumbled upon the project through the gathering buzz or the bafflingly widespread love of cat-based comedy.
That reassuring sense of being in safe hands may also have helped the week's other Kickstarter success story: Harebrained Schemes' Shadowrun: Hong Kong, which closed with $1.2 million raised on a target of $100,000 a few days ago. That takes the total Harebrained has raised through Kickstarter past $3.5 million, spread across three consecutive victorious campaigns. It's worth noting that Shadowrun: Hong Kong's total was 1200 per cent of its target, higher than any of its previous attempts, indicating a great deal of trust from a community that feels well served as backers of its games.