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Kickstarter, Sandwiches, and the Feeling of Exclusivity

This past week, there was an update on the Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition Kickstarter page. Essentially, this boiled down to the fact that Target would be launching an exclusive edition of the Ares Expedition board game prior to the Kickstarter backers getting their copies.

Terraforming Mars Ares Expedition board game comparison between the Kickstarter version and the retail version at Target.

To preface this article further, the entire global supply chain has been absolutely wracked with delays due to demand spikes and throughput constraints over the past year. As you can imagine, the board game industry is not immune to that volatility, and we’ve seen countless delays regarding upcoming projects.

Prices have double, tripled, or even quadrupled when it comes to shipping and production, which leaves publishers in a sticky situation if they’re utilizing crowdfunding platforms. Suddenly the $50 that was provided by the backer needs to cover $70. This means that publishers are soaking up costs and losing profit that they were banking on.

When the news of the Ares Expedition update came out, there was something of an uproar. Review bombs hit the Ares Expedition page on BoardGameGeek, plummeting the rating into the mid-5 range. There’s a whole separate discussion that needs to be had about BGG ratings, but I’ll save that for another time.

So, if everyone is aware that the global supply chain is turned upside down – it’s not a secret – why is Stronghold games getting such backlash about their update? There are a couple reasons why people are upset: exclusivity and communication.

Kickstarter Exclusivity

The original premise of Kickstarter was for people to get projects off the ground and provide funding, leaving a lot of uncertainty and faith in the system that they would see a return on their pledge. Nowadays, Kickstarter is much more akin to a preorder platform in the board gaming space. There are several successful companies that still fund the majority of their games through Kickstarter. From a planning perspective, preorders give a better idea of demand, and don’t leave publishers on the hook for ordering print runs that are too large.

But there’s another draw to Kickstarter from the consumer side, and that is the feeling of Exclusivity. When you back a project on Kickstarter, you’re generally helping to unlock stretch goals and rewards that set you apart from someone who ends up purchasing the game in retail. And, you’re also generally one of the first people to get the game in your hands.

With this Target deal, people feel like they don’t get to have this shiny new game before everyone else. People haven’t even gotten shipping notifications yet while other people browsing the shelves at Target can pick up a slightly different copy of the game on a whim.

Nerds like that feeling of being able to wow others with something that they discovered. Heading over to game night and pulling out a copy of Ares Expedition is sure to lead to excitement. Especially since you get to ride that wave of excitement and be a part of a the zeitgeist discussion while the game is still hot.


Another reason why people feel slighted, and this is the more important one in my opinion, is due to the way the news was communicated. Stronghold Games is a company, which means that their goal is to make money. Making games and sharing in the hobby is a vessel that takes them to that end-goal.

Reading the update, however, they make it seem like there was no way of knowing that Target would get the game before the backers. Plus, they communicated the news in the 11th hour of the 11th hour, literally the day before the launch onto Target shelves.

I don’t mind that Stronghold cut a deal with Target. It gets the game in front of infinitely-more people and helps to expand the hobby as a whole, which is awesome. But people are left with a sour taste in their mouth because ‘suddenly’ it seems Target is able to subvert the global supply issues while the average consumer takes a hit on the chin.

The key to a good Kickstarter campaign, at least from a backer perspective, is effective and timely communication with the backers. We want to be kept in-the-know! I’m sure people are generally understanding of delays, especially in the current market. But when you keep something big like this under wraps until the last possible moment, it gives backers the impression that they were deceived. A deal of this magnitude doesn’t happen overnight.

Plus, it’s sort of like a snatch ‘n grab operation where people may not have backed if they had known about the Retail version of the game. Yes, the quality is different and not everything is included, but people could have saved some money knowing that the retail version would be trimmed down. Basically, you would save the cost of shipping to get the game in your hands a bit earlier if you didn’t back the Kickstarter campaign.


All this being said, should people be upset? Totally. They were led to believe that they would be getting their copies of Ares Expedition before retail. Except that for the majority of the time, behind the scenes, the date for the Target launch was known, along with the differences between the copies.

This whole thing could have been a non-issue. As I mentioned above, so many campaigns have been delayed due to cost and shipping constraints, so Ares Expedition isn’t unique in that sense.

But with effective, proactive communication you can appease backers. Some things are out of the publisher’s control, and we totally get that. I’d rather have someone tell me that they’re going to miss a deadline earlier so that I can adjust my expectations, instead of believing everything is sunshine and roses until the last possible second.

Pandasaurus Games is REALLY good about their updates and communications, and they should serve as a shining example for other companies. Take a look at the latest update for the Dinosaur World and Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write campaign. Within the update, we get a lot of information, but it’s the way it’s presented that allows people to have a positive reaction. ‘Quotes’ are summarized paraphrases:

  • “Hey, there’s a problem with the scoreboard component, but we’re shipping replacement scoreboards that’ll get shipped alongside your copy.” This communicates a problem and immediately gives a perfect solution that means the problem will ultimately have no impact on backers.
  • “It’s been a rough year and we know that it never feels good for non-backers to get a game before backers, but please let us know how you feel about us selling copies at GenCon to help us capture sales from our target audience.” Again, this illustrates a situation that will come up in over a month, along with action the publisher would like to take. It includes reasoning of why they want to take the action and comments on how they understand backers will react. Lastly, they give a poll to accurately gauge how people feel about this, so backers know their voice is being heard.
  • “Oh, by the way, we’re including an extra promo card that we didn’t mention during the campaign.” This is just a positive inclusion, because everybody likes extra stuff, especially when it’s free!

This is the way to do communication, using the compliment sandwich method of putting ‘bad’ news in between two sets of good news. It is proactive in the sense that GenCon isn’t starting tomorrow. Also, Pandasaurus is capturing the voice of the customer, which gives backers peace of mind.

And you know what? The response to this update has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s practically the same base situation: non-backers can get copies before backers. At yet, people are totally okay with it because the communication is fantastic and allows them to voice their response. It’s that simple.

Good, effective communication goes a long way in maintaining trust and building lasting relationships.

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