“I spent way too much on the deluxe version.”

Have you ever heard someone say this? Or perhaps said it yourself? Sometimes it’s followed with, “And it’s worth every penny,” but not always, and there’s some level of guilt/remorse implied by the first phrase.

Super deluxe games costing $150 or more have become commonplace on crowdfunding platforms. Last week I had the opportunity to chat with Jason Perez at Shelf Stories about the impact of these budget-breaking games, and it was really interesting to hear his thoughts (see the full video at the end of this article).

Some of the projects we discussed in the video were as follows:

Tsuro Luxury Limited Edition: currently 566 backers for the $350 reward
Castles of Burgundy Special Edition: currently 2069 backers for the $279 reward
Marvel Zombicide: 6205 backers for the $615 reward
Scythe metal mechs: $200 for a full set (4 boxes); we’ve sold around 1750 full sets

Today I’m going to focus on one specific thread from the video, the topic of responsibility. That is, if a publisher announces an expensive deluxe version of a game, is the sole responsibility on customers to decide if it’s a good idea? Or is the publisher responsible to look out for the best interests of their fans?

As game publishers, we’re in the business of joy, yet sometimes the things we do result in feelings that are in direct conflict to joy:

Guilt: I mentioned this in the introduction. Sometimes it’s a passing feeling, but other times it has a harsher impact, like if you go into credit card debt to buy something you can’t afford.
Fear: FOMO stands for “fear of missing out.” In the tabletop crowdfunding space, this is the direct result of exclusive content–it’s literally a marketing tactic designed to generate fear.
Doubt: Whenever we buy something, there’s the uncertainty of whether or not we’ll like it. This is magnified for new products that we’ve never had the chance to try (opposed to new editions of older products).
Remorse: In contrast to doubt, people can feel remorse when a deluxe edition is announced for a game they already own.
Despair: Jason shared with me a quote from the National Library of Medicine that says, “Our systematic review included 26 studies, mostly from high‐income countries. Nearly two‐thirds of all studies and five out of six longitudinal studies reported a statistically significant positive relationship between income inequality and risk of depression.” Basically, it doesn’t feel good when you’re constantly bombarded with reminders that other people have more money than you.

I’m listing these negative emotions to hopefully compel you to question the notion that the consumer is solely responsible. Yes, the customer ultimately either presses the button to buy or not buy. But the publisher put them in that position in the first place. Simply the act of putting a customer in that position can result in guilt, fear, doubt, remorse, and despair.

Knowing this, how does a publisher decide whether or not to make an expensive deluxe product? For each of the product examples I mentioned above, to me there’s definitely the sense of, “It would be cool if we made this.” On some level, these are passion projects, and the geeks at these companies–Stonemaier Games included–do stuff because we’re excited about it and because we think others will be excited too.

Also, fans ask for us to create things all the time. It was through a combination of fan requests and “it would be cool” that we made the Scythe metal mechs in the first place. I still doubted the decision, though, as they’re very expensive to make–I absolutely felt responsible for the impact their existence would have on Scythe fans. I’ve said no to other requests, but I said yes that time.

Overall, I think this is the key: When a creator has the opportunity to make something awesome that customers are actively requesting, it’s the creator’s responsibility to weigh the negative impact against with the positive. The ensuing context matters: What’s the price? Are there exclusives or are you not using fear as a motivator? Have all of your last few products been $150+? Do customers have a lower-cost option?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments below, and I’d recommend checking out the full video for a more comprehensive discussion.

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Also, feel free to join me for this week’s live book club session for A Crowdfunder’s Strategy Guide; it’ll be on the Stonemaier Games Facebook page at 3:00 Central on Thursday.

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