Kickstarter and Character Creation

Money is like emotional barium – it can show what people are actually interested in and how they respond, which is why I’ve been watching some of the recent Kickstarters with interest. I’ve a personal stake in Graham Walmsley’s Stealing Cthulhu, I’m interested in John Snead’s Eldritch Skies, and of course there’s the astounding success of Daniel Solis’ Do. (There’s an interesting round-up at Purple Pawn).

There are similarities between kickstarting and rolling up characters for a new game. Four lessons I’d draw from watching kickstarter

  • Buy-In: I keep banging this drum over and over, but the single most important thing in any game is player enthusiasm. System, GMing talent, plot, everything flows from buy-in. Do‘s got 400+ evangelists who will make that game even more popular. Two enthusiastic players can drive a whole campaign.
  • Ownership: Players like to have a stake in the game beyond their character sheet. Characters should have connections to the setting; kickstarter supports buy up to rewards that let them have input. The whole gaming patronage model is based around letting the supporters say what they want and using that to guide development.
  • Novel Constraints: Kickstarters that work on a ‘pay anything you want’ basis don’t work. If you don’t give players targets to aim for, most will default to a minimum effort. Players need constraints to work with, especially interesting ones. A game where you can create anything you want leads to characters that are simultaneously ‘wacky’ and dull as hell. The game needs to stake out an interesting playfield for the players to inhabit. 
  • Community: Enthusiasm is infectious. Kickstarters are public events; people can see the enthusiasm and the groundswell of support and want to get involved. Character creation should be primarily done as a group, so that the players push each other. I suspect private patronage projects get considerably less cash.
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