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Kickstarter Exclusives


Kickstarter Exclusives

Unless you are very new to our hobby, chances are you’ve at least browsed a tabletop game on Kickstarter at some point. In my opinion, Kickstarter has helped ignite the “golden age of board gaming” that we are currently enjoying. There are many new games coming to the market that would have never seen the light of day in the past. So hurray for Kickstarter, I’m a fan.

With that being said, I want to talk about Kickstarter exclusives. If you don’t know what these are, Kickstarter exclusives are something that is only given to people who backed a game during the campaign. These might come in the form of upgraded components, extra miniature, or gameplay expansions. So you helped make the game happen, you get rewarded. Sounds great right? Well in a perfect world this makes sense.

Unfortunately the world we live in is not that black and white.

As a backer, I’ve been on both sides of the Kickstarter exclusive world. I’ve gotten some great deals on a fun game with all kinds of special add-ons. It can be pretty exciting to see a huge chart detailing all of the freebies I’m getting.

But I’ve also gotten shut out on games where I’ve come late to the party. I’ll pick up a game at my FLGS, only to hop online and see everything that I’m not only missing out on, but have no real way of getting. And let me tell you, as a gamer and also a new customer of that publisher, that’s INCREDIBLY frustrating.

Kickstarter ExclusiveThis recently came to light when I tried out a copy of Ghostbusters. It was a fairly light game, but I ended up liking it better than I expected. After giving it a go, I noticed I had some extra tokens in the box. Curious as to why, I checked out the game online. I quickly figured out that there was a lot of extra content produced for the game. Unfortunately, that content is locked behind the wall of “Kickstarter Exclusive”. <Insert ominous music here>

After discovering all the extra options I was essentially blocked from, I was more than a little disheartened. If I want the extra content for the game my options are to:
A) go to eBay and spend a stupid amount of money to get them, or B) hope for a trade on BGG. That’s about it. Neither was a particularly attractive option. Simply because I didn’t back the campaign during its 30 or so day run, I’m locked out of content for the game I own.

To be fair, I’m fine with component upgrades. You want to reward a kickstarter backer by giving them a foil stamped box or coins made out of metal instead of cardboard, more power to you. Your game may look prettier, but we still can play the same game.

But when you start locking actual game play up, I feel like I’m getting an inferior product. Be it missions, monsters, or characters to control; it all can have a real and tangible effect on the game play.

Kickstarter Exclusive PollThe worst part is that this all feels wholly unnecessary. While I’ll wager some people won’t back a campaign unless there are exclusive stuff, I’d also bet that they are in the minority.

In fact, Stonemaier Games recently ran a poll of their readers on why they back Kickstarter campaigns. Kickstarter exclusives came in outside the top 5 with only about 7% of the votes (see the poll to the right).

Sure, you want to give people a reason to back you now. But that can be accomplished through a variety of ways. The obvious is cheaper cost vs retail, give people a discount for trusting you now. You can also go with the aforementioned component upgrades, make things prettier. Or even non-exclusive promos. I’d be fine if the extras for Ghostbusters were given to backers for free and I had to pay a reasonable cost to get them. I just shouldn’t be limited to the insane prices on the secondary market.

But in all honesty, if you’ve done a good job marketing your game ahead of time by building excitement, testing it out, communicating with our small community, then you shouldn’t need a gimmick to get backers.

Publishers, you might be luring in a few extra backers now, but you might also be doing it at the expense of your future customers. Not only that, why would you pass up on the opportunity to sell or give away the promos to your new customers at a later date.

More than once I’ve had a friend tell me he’s not buying a game because he saw all the exclusive content he missed from the Kickstarter campaign. We have TONS of games to choose from. Do you really want to give people an extra reason to pass over yours?

As a backer, do you really need things to be exclusive? Is your enjoyment of the game going to be diminished because someone, somewhere, paid for the game at a later date and has the same components you do?

There are some companies who go completely bananas with the exclusives: Cool Mini Games I’m looking at you. It’s gotten to the point where I will back a Cool Mini Game on Kickstarter or just never buy it. There is that much of a difference between the retail and the Kickstarter version.

Despite how some people may feel I really do believe that the wall of exclusiveness isn’t even necessary. I’m not even sure how we ended up down this road to begin with.

Scythe KickstarterThere are countless campaigns of publishers rewarding their backers without locking down content for future buyers. The upcoming game Scythe from Stonemaier Games raised over $1,800,000 in their recent campaign, and that’s all without a single pieces of Kickstarter exclusive content.

Here’s another example. The game Pairs  from Cheapass Games raised over $300,000 for a game that cost $16 to back. The only kickstarter exclusive thing they had? A sticker which had zero effect on the game play (and I’m pretty sure I lost mine in about 30 seconds). So yes it can be done. I could go on.

You don’t need Kickstarter exclusives. If you feel you do, at the very least don’t have them affect the game play. People can stomach not getting better components they will be a lot less forgiving if you lock them out a new or exciting way to play your game.

So let’s stop this stretch goal arms race. If you’re game isn’t good enough to bring in backers based on its game play and aesthetics, then maybe it’s not ready for Kickstarter yet.


  1. I won’t Kickstart a game without exclusive components or promos being included. I’m not saying that the exclusive content should enhance the game or completely change it but, in the end, I’m looking for a reason to pay a premium now, before we even know if the game is going to be published, then when it goes to retail. There have been many instances where games get funded and you wait years before you start receiving anything and when you do receive it, it’s so disappointing. Why should I pay the same price as retail to try a new game that many people have not played? Too many times I will find a Kickstarter game on MM SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper than the Kickstarter. It may mean I wait a year or two before it’s available but there are so many games on the market that I can easily play others while waiting for that one. In that time, the game has been played many times and vetted out, rules are updated, etc. You want me to Kickstart your game? You better offer me something in return. We scratch your back by giving you a zero percent/no fee loan and you scratch ours by giving us something that others are not getting.

    • I agree with you that backers should get something for funding the project and basically pre-ordering. But I think that can be achieved in the form of a discount off retail and free promo items. I’m fine if you throw a boat load of extras at me for free, and then make other people buy them later.

      What I don’t like is locking future gamers out of content for a game. Kickstarter has a very small window to back a campaign, usually 30 days. If you either don’t see the campaign or don’t immediately have the funds to do it, there is no reason you should be punished for that later.

      • I definitely agree with your statement. Items more like promos or expansions if it’s enhancing the game play. However, I’m always skeptic on Kickstarters offering expansions. To me, at the release of a game, you already have an expansion thought out, thoroughly tested, and ready to release throws a flag up to me that are core components being left out of the game to be offered as stretch goals.

        Tony, I do agree with your underlying thought to not lock people out of content that enhances or completes game play.

  2. Queen Games are good in this regard – the offer Kickstarter rewards, but also offer them to other people later on. I’ve picked up all the promos released for Escape! The Curse of the Temple from the BoardGameGeek store.

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic, Tony. I think you said it extremely well, particularly here:

    “More than once I’ve had a friend tell me he’s not buying a game because he saw all the exclusive content he missed from the Kickstarter campaign. We have TONS of games to choose from. Do you really want to give people an extra reason to pass over yours?”

    I think it’s important to distinguish the difference between promos and exclusives. Promos are great, because they give something backers special (usually at no extra cost), but they can be sold or given away after Kickstarter as well. Exclusives, strictly speaking, may only be sold or given away during the terms of exclusivity (usually the Kickstarter campaign itself).

    Unfortunately, more publishers seem to be confusing those two terms, which can confuse and mislead backers. I see publishers using the term “exclusive” in the reward description–presumably to lure in backers–but hidden on the project page is a more in-depth description that redefines the word as a promo. Have you noticed that? Does it bother you?

    • Personally it doesn’t bother me, as I don’t think anything should be “exclusive”. That being said, I’m sure it will bother others and can be considered misleading. I’m not sure if they are doing it because they are trying to trick people or they just think they are using the proper kickstarter term.

  4. I dislike the exclusives model for game features so much that I won’t back a single one no matter how good I think the game is likely to be. If I can’t play the same game as everyone else, I don’t want to buy the game.

    I missed the Nemo’s War Kickstarter by a few hours today. I looked and the only exclusive they had was a pin. All of their stretch goals improved the game for everybody. So I’ll still get a chance to get the game when it comes out without being punished. That makes me have a great deal of respect for Victory Point Games. Foxtrot Games is another company that offers no-nonsene Kickstarters. And of course Stonemaier Games is professional, courteous, and on the ball, every time. Scythe is an incredible game but it wouldn’t have raised what it did if Jamey hadn’t been so consistently solid on his Kickstarters.

  5. Thought i”ll comment in this one since it is showcasing my dilemma near perfectly. Since i’m quite new to the hobby haven’t been backing games to often. But when i researched what games to buy next and came accross Arcadia Quest in the process i had exactly this dilemma. I noticed that it was kickstarted and that CMON is doing a lot of exclusive Minis for their games. Although those are not necessary to play the game i still decided not to buy AQ since i know that i would feel like i missed out on too much wich the retail version.
    Come middle of 2015 and there is an Kickstarter for Arcadia Quest Inferno. So now i either get inferno and do not feel like I’m missing something or skip AQ once and for all. Adding to that all is that i’m German and therfore most of my gaming friend are too. So now i have to grab the English Version because the German Version would mean missing out again. Although i backed AQ:I this time i will probably skip future games entirely if they offer content relevant exclusives.

    As Gary mentioned there are other companies that do it right. I backed Victory Point Games’ Nemos’s War because it will probably never be translated and therefore this is by far the cheapest option for me to get my hands on it. Seeing that they include all the content relevant stretch goals in the retail version is great. And i will most likely back future project of them.

    td;lr: I can live with Kickstarter exclusives as long as they are not gameplay relevent (Pins, bags, nice looking tokens etc.) otherwise i will skip the games completely.

    • Exactly Felix. Locking people out of game play for no other reason then they missed the 30 day window of your Kickstarter campaign is both unfair, unnecessary and can potentially affect future sales.

      • No worries, the first time I tried it didn’t take, but I copied it before I had hit Post so I tried copy/paste a few times too. Guessing the copy/paste gets picked up as spam. Thanks Tony!

  6. I’ll begin this with saying I am not all that passionate one way or the other on the topic, so nothing I am saying is meant as an attack on anyone’s opinions on the subject.

    Some of the points in this post are pretty valid, but some I think need to be scrutinized a bit more. For instance, the use of a poll from Stonemaier games is most likely biased towards people who don’t like exclusives to begin with. Jamey is a vocal opponent of KS Exclusives, and as such I bet a majority of his followers have the same opinion. I applaud his approach, and his very analytical process for designing his campaigns, but his model is not the only path to success.

    And to that point, the current king of KS (IMO) is CMoN based on total funding over a long run of campaigns, and they always include exclusives in their campaigns. The KS Exclusive discussion comes up in the comments of all of their projects, and ultimately I don’t see them dropping exclusives until they prove to have a negative effect on their funding. As of now they continually hit gaudy funding totals, and I have to believe they base some of that success on the exclusives. Showing other successful (but less successful than CMoN) examples does not give CMoN proof that their campaigns would benefit from eliminating exclusives. And from a business perspective that is what you would need to prove to make them change, not just that it wouldn’t hurt them but that it would increase their funding even further.

    So at the end of the day, my feeling is KS campaigns are a business and the market will respond to how campaigns are run. If the tide turns and CMoN starts to see decreases in funding, then perhaps they will explore the option of dropping exclusives. Until then I accept them as a piece of the current model of how a successful campaign is run.

  7. Blood Rage could be backed with a $75 pledge that got you numerous expansions and miniatures. The base game costs around $60-$70 currently without anything extra. Notn only am I being asked to pay the same price for 60% of the content, I’m being punished for discovering board games later than others fortunate enough to back their product early. I don’t like this approach as it makes me reluctant to play the KS version at game group for fear that I’ll no longer be completely satisfied with my own purchase lol. Perplext just ran a successful campaign on their Pack O Games. They raised approx. $50k on their first campaign. I missed this so I bought 5 of the games for $27 on amazon. I backed their 2nd campaign twice for $44 and will receive 2 sets of 10 games! Granted, 2 of these games won’t be available via retail, this still doesn’t change my experience with each game individually.

  8. One aspect that I haven’t read so far, but which is important for non-english boardgamers as I: I don’t want to pledge on a game that is not offert with my native language (it’s not that I’m not able to handle english games, but my collection is made up only of german games and my friends don’t want to play english titles). Often times these KS games will be localized for germany afterwards, which of course can not localize KS exclusive stuff 🙁 So the choice is to get a game in a foreign language with the exclusive stuff or to get a inferior product in native language.
    So, that problematic for non-english backer. But its also a problem for localizing well selling games to other markets as the games will be inferior products.

  9. Late to the party, but I have only this to say:

    Before I buy a game I will ALWAYS check to see if the game was a Kickstarter project. If the game has ANY exclusive content related to gameplay I will not buy it, not ever. I will also discourage others from purchasing the game if I happen to come across someone considering the aformentioned game.

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