Insights on Board Game Kickstarter from Head of Games, Jon Ritter-Roderick

27 March 2024
Kickstarter has long been synonymous with crowdfunding, especially when it comes to board games. Despite recent years and numerous other platforms, it remains the biggest source of tabletop games, and indeed, tabletop games provide a big chunk of the Kickstarter income. Before Jon Ritter-Roderick leaves his role as Head of Games at Kickstarter, we caught up with him on all things Kickstarter.

Interview by Charlie Pettit

What is Head of Games at Kickstarter?

“My daily role varies a lot” he says, when we ask what being a Head of Games at Kickstarter actually means. “It can be anything from someone freaking out because they missed a page in a book that they're printing, and they don't know what to do…I use that as an example because I've done that before, and I went to the Head of Games at the time and they helped me. So now I do that for other people. But then also internally making sure that creators' voices are heard, feedback is passed internally to the company. And then, that the company understands what the tabletop industry is about. Because you can't expect a hundred-plus people to know every single industry that's on Kickstarter. That's where myself and the games team come in, to kind of help educate people internally and then educate people externally about Kickstarter.”

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Ritter-Roderick History

Ritter-Roderick isn’t just the Head of Games, but a previous user of Kickstarter himself, through his company Lay Waste Games. From his first game in 2013 with Dragoon, on Kickstarter in 2015, he quickly realised it was “a real thing”. Quitting his job, he opted to enter the games industry.

“I made mistakes because I was a first time creator. It allowed me to then help educate other people  – Oh, I did that, don't do that, do this. I felt that like, that was really needed in the industry at the time. A lot of people needed that firsthand experience of “I'm a creator, I've done this type of stuff”. I did that for four years, and that's when I ended up getting hired at Kickstarter.”

Not just a title, Ritter-Roderick says he’s there for anyone at any point in the process.

“A misconception is that our job ends when the campaign ends,” He says early on. “I've had people call me at midnight, two years after their campaign ended. ‘I don't know what to do. Please help me!’ Or, ‘I'm trying to choose between these two consultants or providers or whatever it is. Do you have any advice?’ So my dedication is really to the industry. So if anybody needs something at any point, I encourage people, to email me anytime. Because ultimately a rising tide lifts all ships. So if someone is doing well and they need a little bit of help, I'm down to do that, because people did that for me early on, and I wouldn't be where I am without them.”

Related Article: How Board Games Conquered Kickstarter

Contacting Kickstarter

Whilst it sounds wonderful, communication is a criticism levied at Kickstarter quite frequently – whether it’s support mid-campaign, or in advance of it, many creators raise difficulty in speaking to Kickstarter directly, and their response if they do. We’re struck that Ritter-Roderick is just one person, and comment on this difference – is help available but just not being found, or is it a capacity issue?

“A little bit of column A, a little bit of column B.” He says of it. “At any given time, the site has around 700 live game projects. So we're a team of varying size. We have three full-time people, and then we have a few contractors that help out. We kind of set up the team in a way that we can do as much as we possibly can, but we're a smaller team. No matter what, we're always going to be fighting upstream because there are just so many creators on Kickstarter and so many backers where it gets hard to manage that.”

The best way to get in touch [about projects] with Kickstarter for anyone is to email, he explains. “We kind of started it, I think like a year and a half or two years ago. So it's still getting out there. But if anyone needs help, email is a great way to get in touch with our entire team.”

“It's not just a job for us.” He adds. “It's like a feeling underneath everything. It's like a little passion that we've loved this industry for so long. And that's why we're in this position. So we put our full effort forward.”

Related Article: How to Run A RPG Kickstarter

Why Kickstarter for Board Games?

“I like to look at it as crowdfunding needs two things. It needs a crowd and it needs funds. We have the biggest crowd and our games make the most money. You know, we've raised the most money. It's our 15th year anniversary. And, you know, there are companies alone that have raised over $100 million just on Kickstarter, CMON being one of them”

And of the competition?

“You know, I want honestly everyone to succeed because the more people to succeed, the better crowdfunding is, rising tide, like I said, at the beginning, rising tide lifts all ships. But as a creator myself, when I had that choice, I looked at it and went, where's the biggest crowd? Where can I get the most money? I'm going to go where the crowd is. I'm going to go where the funds are regardless of where I'm working.”

“Then also there's a lot of things we're doing with the increase in competition, which again, healthy for all, uh, we're adding more features to the site, so there's going to be a lot of things in 2024, that we haven't had historically that we will have.” Whilst Ritter-Roderick declines to be able to share what those changes might be, but speaks later about being adaptive to a new landscape in gaming, from Blockchain to AI policies.


Kickstarter Criticisms

One criticism sometimes raised, though not at Kickstarter directly, is big companies’ use of it when in theory, it’s designed to raise funds for those not able to front the cost of the start of their game. CMON, designers of the likes of Zombicide in all its forms, often receive the brunt of this - before more recently choosing to leave the platform for Gamefound– and we ask Ritter-Roderick his opinion on the debate.

“I totally recognise that opinion. There's two things going on. One, I think people don't recognize the value that CMON brings to other creators. The amount of backers that CMON has brought into the platform that have then gone on to back non-CMON campaigns is massive. They are a huge driver bringing new people to the site.

People look at any large campaign, and go, Oh, I don't want to be on at the same time as them. [But] unless you have the exact same campaign, you definitely want to be on at the same time as them because they're bringing traffic to the site. If you have a little dexterity card game, and CMON has a massive Marvel United campaign going on, very few people in the world are gonna go, do get the Marvel United game or do I get a little dexterity game?

You get like the little dexterity game because you think it's adorable because it has like cats and pancakes or something. And then you go and you get the CMON campaign because you're like, no, I want a huge, crunchy, whatever dudes on a map, whatever type game you're looking for. You know, you find that balance.”


Best Moments at Kickstarter

Finally, we ask Ritter-Roderick for his highlights in his time at Kickstarter, and it’s a recent campaign that springs immediately to mind.

“The most recent one that really inspired me was this couple who made a game called Botany. It was an unbelievable looking game. It looks like something that would be published from a creator that has been on Kickstarter for many years. And it was just a husband wife couple.They said,we like games, let's make a game. They wanted $30,000, they got a million dollars. And now their entire life is changed. Like their kids went, so can we get a pool now? That was very inspiring just to hear, the same thing can happen to creators in 2023”

Related Article: How Botany Designers Paint a Story of Bonkers Victorian Antics


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