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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

I’d Buy That for a Dollar! – The Ups and Downs of the $1 Kickstarter Pledge

by | published Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Anunnaki: Dawn of the Gods had quite possibly one of the most bizarre Kickstarter campaigns I’ve ever seen. I mean, in many ways it was the prototypical campaign: an impossibly large list of Stretch Goals to read through that included everything from features of most modern board games (solo modes, 5th player components) to unnecessarily separated out additional content (wow, thank you for 4 extra cards!); add-ons and upgrades for a game that is both already too tricked out, and leaving out really obvious upgrades from the pledges so you feel like a numbskull for not purchasing just two more upgrades, thus hiding how much the game will actually cost you; and, of course, a game design that seems too large and unfocused for it to possibly even be a good game.

(Is anyone surprised by this anymore?)

And for better or worse, this is a Kickstarter ran by Cranio Creations. While their original publishing has led to some of my favorite games being released, including Barrage and Lorenzo il Magnifico, their Kickstarters have often been riddled with problems.

Their biggest campaign was for Barrage, which was plagued with so, so many issues, ranging from component quality control issues, components not being even close to what was advertised, and Cranio employees allegedly flat lying on the Kickstarter page and other forums.

But I do not bring this up to drag Cranio down. Matter of fact, I think Cranio handled their fiasco gracefully. They sent out replacements for most, if not all, of the components of that campaign to backers that complained, and Barrage has been able to maintain its reputation and people can now focus on it being the amazing game that it is.

No, I bring all of this up to say that, in my opinion, the Anunnaki: Dawn of the Gods campaign was somehow worse than the Barrage campaign.

And it’s all because of those pesky $1 pledges.

The campaign launched on April 26th, 2022. It launched with three main tiers: the base pledge for $94, the Mythic Pledge for $184, and $1 to access the pledge manager to either order the game later, or to buy access to the Cranio Creations add-on shop for some of their previous games, like Barrage or Golem. Then, one day later on April 27th, it was cancelled. The final figures for the cancelled campaign was 1,889 backers raising $126,890 at an average pledge rate of roughly $67.17 per backer. For those playing along at home, this means that a large majority of these backers were backing at $1, and not even at the $94 for the base pledge.

(Must be nice to log into Kickstarter as a Backer and see… this.)

In the update announcing the cancellation, Cranio Creations stated “The campaign wasn’t performing as we expected for many reasons…” It appears Cranio also noticed that too many backers were supporting the campaign at the $1 level.  On May 3rd, Cranio announced they were going to relaunch the campaign, this time separating out the $184 pledge into three different “micro levels”, thus creating three different expansions for the game. Not only did this make digesting the price easier for most, but makes it easier for everyone to see what will be in the final product.

On May 16th, Cranio relaunched Anunnaki: Dawn of the Gods. They held true to their word: they broke down the largest pledge into smaller levels, and better clarified the content of the game. But here’s the absolute most fascinating part to me: remember the add-ons pledge manager access for $1? Well, here’s how this pledge level reads now on the new campaign page: “IMPORTANT: Please add the add-ons amount to your pledge.”

(This mysterious text was not there in the first campaign.)

Before a prospective backer even sees what they can buy in the pledge manager, they are greeted with a message that says “please don’t back at $1. Please. We beg of you.” On top of that text, the description of the add-ons pledge manager access was moved way, way down to almost the bottom of the campaign page, as if to deter people from buying access in the first place.

Did this verbiage and moving of the add-ons help the campaign average move up? I mean, technically. The final figures for the real campaign was 3,510 backers raising $239,840 at an average pledge rate of roughly $68.33 per backer. That means the average backer rate went up by $1.16. Woohoo! But obviously, a large amount of those pledges were those pesky $1 ones. But, why? Why do so many people, in every Kickstarter campaign, pledge for $1?

  1. Inflation is causing the cost of games to go up, and wages are not being raised to outfight inflation.

In case you’re not a member of the Proletariat, this should be quite obvious. Everything is more expensive, so we all have to make cuts somewhere. Those of us that can afford the $184 pledge may not be able to in a few months. Plain & simple.

  1. Shipping is ever-changing in cost.

Outside of the cost inflation of the games themselves, shipping costs have skyrocketed, and sadly, I think it will become more and more part of the conversations we all have around the table together. Seeing $200 – $400 shipping for All-In Pledges is not uncommon anymore, and that spike will not be going down anytime soon. It’s hard to swallow paying as much (or more!) for shipping than for the pledge itself.

(The Marvel Zombies campaign infamously got hit hard by a sudden spike in shipping costs)

  1. Some people like to follow the game (and complain about it) on Kickstarter.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, people will pay $1 to read the updates for a game they did not purchase. What’s even more bizarre to me is that people will pay the $1 so they can complain about the game / the publisher / the designer / etc. in the exclusive Kickstarter Backer comment area. Why? Because people can’t help themselves. If people think that the newest CMON campaign looks ridiculous and overpriced, then people will want to tell them, over and over again, for… reasons, I guess? Regardless of where this entitlement comes from, it certainly drives people to back the game at $1.

  1. People aren’t sure what game they’re going to get.

This should be obvious, right? The whole point of Kickstarter is to support board games that are still being designed and developed. At least, that’s what we’ve been told, right?

For better or worse, though, we’ve seen a dramatic shift in what Kickstarter is actually used for. What used to be a way for any prospective board game designer to have their dreams come true has now shifted into a pre-ordering system for some of the largest board game companies out there.

So when we get presented with real development projects, real games that are not finished as soon as they are put up on Kickstarter, people become, lightly put, irate.

And I can’t act like I’m innocent in this matter. I followed Oath (Leder Games, designed by Cole Wehrle) from its first Designer Diary on BoardGameGeek. I was within the first 100 backers on Kickstarter. I did the first Print and Play Kit that Leder put out on the Kickstarter page. And when the game started to get iterated on, and finer points started to change, I started to have buyer’s remorse. Not because I dislike the final product (though, maybe more thoughts on Oath some other time, because, OH BOY) but because I did not receive the product that was advertised to me.

(Is Oath good? I’ll certainly never know.)

And this is where things can get really weird to think about: should we want the “best” games for our money, or the games completely as marketed, even if it is “worse”? Should the money that we commit to projects on Kickstarter go the game exactly as advertised, or are we committing to the loose idea of the game? Every campaign says that things are always subject to change during the design process, but is that ok with how our brains accept advertising?

Long story long, the $1 pledge flat sucks. Having to spend $1 for the opportunity to buy a game just feels gross. In an economy like this, people not being able to have a more flexible option for purchasing is weird. And having to pre-order (not crowdfund, regardless of what anyone tells you) a board game that will change in large, public ways after you’ve paid for it, sucks too. And for the final nail in the coffin, board games being sold off piecemeal with large components integral to their design are being separated for pricing, it’s hard to figure out who really wins here.

As for Cranio Creations and Anunnaki: Dawn of the Gods, I wish them the best. After seeing their first campaign for the game get cancelled, I was worried that the game wouldn’t do well during their relaunch, and I was elated to see that it did. In fact, I was so happy, I backed at $1.


  • Bailey D

    Bailey is a long-time board gamer, short-time writer. She’s been playing board games all her life, “hobby” board games for a decade, and “crusty grognard cardboard war simulators” for the last two or three years. When she’s not obsessing over the next indie 18xx release, she can often be found refreshing online games stores and publishers’ sites for new releases. Her top games include Age of Steam, Power Grid, the COIN Series, and Camel Up.

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2 thoughts on “I’d Buy That for a Dollar! – The Ups and Downs of the $1 Kickstarter Pledge

  1. Alice Connor says:

    Fascinating commentary, Bailey, but I expected nothing less!

    I’ve never backed at $1 and have always been perplexed about that as an option. Is it required by KS? What is the intended purpose—I know, support because it’s a good idea, but what further? I’ve done $5 or $20 backs for a convention in Nigeria I think and to support a Black-owned yoga studio across the country, where I truly didn’t need a physical reward, but the (somewhat) larger back seemed more functional than $1.

    • says:

      Thanks for the kind words, AC! And I have no idea who thought of the $1 pledge but many small publishers I know see it as the bane of their existence because of the effort it takes to monitor and deal with uncivil behaviour and KS gives them no mod tools. You’d have to ask them 🙂

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