Monday, 21 March 2016

Kickstarter and rules development

Just recently, GCT games released the revised rules for their Ninja-themed boardgame Rise of the Kage to Kickstarter backers. Personally, I didn't think the first version was that bad, though it was very poorly explained. But the reaction suggests that a lot of people were deeply unhappy with the first version and this was a very welcome move.

One of the more obnoxious features of modern computer and video games is the tendency of some companies to release what are quite obviously an unfinished product, secure in the knowledge that they can later release a patch online to fix problems.* With the revised Rise of the Kage rules, we may be seeing wargames and boardgames going down the same path.

This highlights one of the problems with Kickstarters, the tendency to fixate on deadlines. GCT hit their deadline, more or less, and managed to get most copies of the game out to backers during August and September 2015, the deadline had been August 2015. But it looks like they achieved this at the cost of less than fully play-tested rules.

Mantic games seem to have adopted a variation on this strategy. Having been a backing of their original Kings of War Kickstarter, I was more than slightly irritated when, less than two years later, they launched a Kickstarter for the second edition. They are now planning a new edition of Deadzone. With so little time between Kickstarters, this suggests that Mantic are releasing less than fully tested rules and fixing them in subsequent Kickstarters.

Part of the problem is that different companies use Kickstarter in different ways. Some have an almost fully developed product and use Kickstarter as a glorified pre-order system, while others use it in a much more speculative fashion, asking pledgers to risk funds without a guaranteed return. The problem is that the first use has come to dominate the thinking of pledgers and the media. I remember an article a while back on the subject of successful and unsuccessful Kickstarters, with success defined almost entirely on whether the product was delivered on time.

In the case of GCT, there seems to be a second problem. One of the original concepts for Rise of the Kage was that all models would have two states. Ninja would either be detected or undetected and guards would be alert or unalert. The new rules have completely dropped the concept of alert and unalert guards because they couldn't find a way to make the two states work without the rules becoming too complicated. When such a fundamental element of the game can be dropped because it doesn't work, it suggests that the rules were never very well developed in the first place. I wonder if the problem was that the companies focus was entirely on production, the possibility of producing models in different coloured plastic, with game mechanics being left as an afterthought.

I have sworn off Kickstarter, having come to the conclusion that I didn't get much more value out of my pledges than I would have done by waiting for the official release. But it looks like Kickstarter may also be a bad way to develop good rules.

*Or at least in most cases, the PC version of Batman Arkham Knight was ultimately abandoned because the problems couldn't be fixed.

1 comment:

  1. Been burned on Kickstarter with Imbrian Arts. Once is enough for me :(