Leaving Kickstarter wasn’t a hard decision for Cyanide & Happiness, the webcomic-turned-multimedia outfit on the cusp of announcing a third party game combining their signature humour and card-based mechanics. Instead, it chose punchy competitor Gamefound to host a crowdfunding campaign planned to go live on April 5th.
After two prior projects that both raised more than $3 million dollars, co-founder Rob DenBleyker told Dicebreaker that Kickstarter’s plans to invest in blockchain technology immediately convinced him and the rest of the Cyanide & Happiness team - which is mostly composed of artists - to raise stakes and look for another home. He said the decision to adopt something rife with excessive fraud, environmentally disastrous and bearing a history of outright theft from people in his industry was “extremely disappointing."
DenBleyker said the internal discussions went quickly. “Ultimately, all of us are against the pivot to crypto, all of us are pro-environment and none of us would have felt good supporting a company that does stuff like this,” he said. “The anxiety is real - anyone who leaves a successful platform for something more unknown is going to feel that. But it was a pretty easy decision because we have to stick to what we believe.”
By the time Cyanide & Happiness launched the campaign for its first game, Joking Hazard, in February 2016, Kickstarter had already cornered the crowdfunding market, and the consistent success of tabletop games such as Joking Hazard and the 2019 follow-up Trial by Trolley helped cement its near-monolithic position. Without that ostensibly democratized funding model available, DenBleyker isn’t sure he and his coworkers would be creating the kind of art they do today.
“If not for Kickstarter and the idea of crowdfunding, we would have had to go to a publisher who would have changed everything, censored it, and given us 3%,” he said. “That said, I think the ultimate equation in crowdfunding is an independent creator who has an idea that they really believe in and an audience who wants to make that idea happen. It's ultimately a way to bring products to life with the direct help of your supporters. From that perspective, it's amazing that competitors are finally emerging, and I want to see more of that because Kickstarter is not perfect.”
A dedicated pledge manager, along with a host of back-end tools for updating the page and handling stretch goals, is one of the main features of Gamefound that gives it a leg up over Kickstsarter in DeBleyker’s estimation. Third-party companies such as Backerkit and PledgeManager gradually rose to fill in those gaps, and Kickstarter has largely accepted their existence as a matter of course. But it still leaves project managers with the onerous task of individually handling order errors, address changes and other inquiries.
Gamefound itself began life as one of these services before pivoting into a fully fledged crowdfunding platform, and DeBleyker said the difference is a huge relief for Cyanide & Happiness’ small and terminally busy team. Gamefound employees have worked with the team to develop new tools specifically for their project, a smart move given that they recently announced an open-door policy for tabletop RPG creators of all sizes.
“It's not so much of a breakup for us. If Kickstarter reversed course tomorrow, then I could see us doing a project there two years from now,” he said. “We're not trying to punish them or take our toys and leave. For this project, on this timeline, we can't in good conscience fund on Kickstarter. I've only seen one person who was outraged that we were leaving Kickstarter, but everyone else has been so supportive that it gives me a lot of faith.”
A lingering issue facing many creators leaving the platform for Indiegogo, Gamefound or even self-publishing options is how to redefine success beyond the name recognition inherent to Kickstarter. It likely means taking a haircut to expected funding figures or scaling back creative ambitions. DenBleyker expressed more positivity about their as-yet unnamed third game because it will be considerably more affordable and approachable than the “monster board game and tabletop RPGs” normally hosted on Gamefound, but also because their audience has been surprisingly platform-independent.
“The majority of our backers on previous projects have come from off-platform. The majority of them - at least half on Joking Hazard - had never backed a Kickstarter before they saw ours, and we brought them over,” DenBleyker said. “That gives us a lot of faith that it's the product, not the platform. I think people will see the game, and it won't matter what banner or what URL the game is available under. What matters is they can back it, and it arrives at their house a few months later.”