Tabletop Features
How One Project Shaped Gaming's Use of Crowdfunding

Matt Morgan | 16 Jul 2014 13:15
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Those familiar with Alien Frontiers may know another name attached to the project: Game Salute. Having just debuted as a service company to assist crowdfunded game creators with fulfillment, Game Salute quickly stepped in to help Clever Mojo meet overwhelming demand. The 3,000-copy second printing of Alien Frontiers sold out before it even arrived, and while shipping 1,000 games out of your garage is one thing, 3,000 qualifies as a logistical nightmare. David MacKenzie knew that he needed help, and Game Salute was a natural fit.

Following the success of Alien Frontiers, Tory Niemann was hard at work designing expansions such as Alien Frontiers: Factions, and over on the business side, the new Clever Mojo Games/Game Salute partnership continued to push the crowdfunding envelope. Clever Mojo signed Sunrise City as its sophomore effort, and funded both it and Alien Frontiers: Factions with simultaneous Kickstarter campaigns.

Kickstarter's key to success: The fear of missing out

"Some of my publishing friends said I was insane to try that," confessed David, but the bold move paid off. Both campaigns funded well above their goals, raking in over $100,000. Clever Mojo Games had first made history, then proved that their success was not a fluke. Tough times loomed ahead though, as the publisher would continue to take risks, but fail to follow some of the original crowdfunding blueprints laid down by Alien Frontiers.

Sunrise City was a Kickstarter success story on the surface, but Clever Mojo was preparing for even greater long-term sales by producing additional copies. Unfortunately, the young publisher's inexperience led to a misread of future demand based on backer activity, and a significant overproduction ensued. According to David MacKenzie, "it hasn't sold that well. It's a game that everyone likes once they play it, but getting everyone to pick it up and try it is not an easy sell." Clever Mojo had not throttled back, though, and now found its resources stretched thin while juggling an ambitious total of ten different projects spanning various stages of development. The Sunrise City miscalculation had left the publisher in a lurch.

This stumble ultimately led to Game Salute absorbing Clever Mojo Games, with Game Salute CEO Dan Yarrington buying out David MacKenzie, who then stepped away from business operations to focus on producing games. Although their roles had changed, Dan and David continued in their attempts to innovate, first by creating their own game-specific crowdfunding site, Springboard. That experiment did not make it past the beta stage, though, as its inaugural project Leprechaun's Castle was unsuccessful. Still, Game Salute continued to act as an early adopter for new crowdfunding ventures, attempting to publish Monsters & Maidens through Jumpstart City. Although this new venue had a unique take on crowdfunding, pioneering early-bird discounts and focusing on pre-project hype, Game Salute's gamble was again unsuccessful.

Game Salute continued to veer from Alien Frontiers' winning formula by amassing a long series of delayed projects, testing its customer's faith in the crowdfunding process. One key detail from the original Alien Frontiers was that it was Kickstarted well into the production of its artwork, enabling a quick turnaround of the finished product. For the game's 4th edition, it received an artistic overhaul, but this time around the funding came first. The added complications of artwork caused significant delays, and fans were vocal in their disappointment.

The crowdfunding landscape was filled with new challenges that did not exist when Alien Frontiers first launched. Back in mid-2010, stretch goals were unheard of, and Kickstarter did not even track due dates for rewards. A promo pack for Alien Frontiers' 4th printing turned into a case study for stretch goals run amok, where the original plan for a six-card product ballooned include sixty cards, three mini-expansions, and a dice set. With zero flexibility to change the due dates set at the campaign's start, the promo pack became yet another delayed Game Salute product.

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