During the first day of The Entrepreneurial Manager (TEM) last year we learned about Bob Reiss, an HBS graduate who made a small fortune on a board game he published in the early 1980’s. I vividly remember getting Cold Called in this class and being asked “Is it good or bad to be in the board game industry?” Without hesitation I answered, “Bad.” As an avid board game player, follower and enthusiast, I explained that the modern board game industry is a brutally competitive, low-margin business where only the strong survive.
Shortly thereafter, I completely ignored my own advice and convinced my FIELD 3 team to develop, manufacture, and sell our very own strategy board game.
I’ve been a huge fan of board games for my entire life and I’ve always dreamed of having the opportunity to publish my own. We came up with the game Stack & Attack, a Stone Age-themed card game in which players throw stones and build rock towers in an effort to appease the ancient gods. By the end of FIELD 3, we had printed 100 Beta copies of our game. We sold the majority to local hobby stores and sent the rest to game bloggers for review.
As FIELD 3 came to a close, my teammate Chris Finlayson and I decided to make a real business out of Stack & Attack. Before we could approach major distributors we needed hundreds, if not thousands, of copies of our game available for purchase. But how do first-time game designers finance a 1000-unit board game print run?
This is where Kickstarter comes in. Kickstarter is a popular crowd-funding website where individuals post creative ideas that need funding to become a reality. If you go to Kickstarter right now you’ll find artists, authors, inventors, game designers, and musicians, all trying to share their creative products with the world. On this site there’s no equity at stake – backers offer financial support to a project because they want to see it get made, or because they want a copy of the end of the product. It’s a part charity, part pre-sale channel.
Chris and I spent the entire summer learning about how to run a Kickstarter campaign and spreading the word about our game. Kickstarter campaigns have a finite duration – usually around 30 days – and a predetermined financial goal. If the goal is not reached by the end of the campaign, all of the money raised is returned to the backers. If the goal is reached, the project is funded and the backers are rewarded based on their pledge levels – for example, a $25 pledge in our campaign gets you a copy of the game. In the last few years, Kickstarter has become an incredibly popular channel for financing independent board game development. Each month, between 100 and 150 retail-quality games are put up on Kickstarter; of those, only 50% reach their goal. We knew that a solid marketing strategy would be necessary for us to reach our goal and produce our game.
Our Kickstarter campaign launched on Tuesday, September 10th at 10:00 AM. Prior to launch, Stack & Attack had been reviewed by a dozen influential board game critics, with a half-dozen more reviews popping up during the first week of our campaign. At the end of that week, we attended a local board game convention, the Boston Festival of Indie Games, where we demonstrated our game to hundreds of attendees. We used social media to spread the word to other board game enthusiasts across the globe. And, of course, we reached out to friends, family, and classmates, who were tremendously supportive of our efforts. The going wasn’t easy, but we continue to push onward and upward each and every day. Our campaign is building momentum and we hope to be able to turn our dream into reality.
If you get a chance you should check us out!
You can find more information about Stack & Attack (and kick in some funding) at: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/egragames/stack-and-attack-a-rockin-card-stacking-game
Caption: Chris (standing – left) and Jeremy (sitting – right), playing Stack & Attack at the Boston Festival of Indie Games