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Review: Max Playing Cards and Kardify on 2013 Crowd-Funding Part I



Max Playing Cards and Kardify is proud to present part one (of three) in our first annual insight into crowd-funding as a platform for funding playing card projects. We hope this will enlighten designers, creators, backers and collectors on crowd-funding projects in general.

In part one, we will go through our choice for the best and the worst Kickstarter campaigns in 2013 and in part two we will cover some details on how crowdfunding, particularly what works and what doesn't on Kickstarter.

There’s no doubt that crowdfunding has had an impact on the playing cards industry. As of December 2013, 257 projects were created and a total of $4.0m were pledged. For those unfamailiar with crowdfunding, in a nutshell, is the collective effort of individuals who network and pool their money (backers) to support projects initiated by other people or companies. The pool is used as capital for products and/or services offered as rewards to backers- only if the funding goal is achieved. Each projects have a variety of different pledge options (reward tiers) where larger pledge are rewarded with increasing incentives. 

KickStarter has been the most popular platform for crowdfunding a variety playing card projects. With Kickstarter, designers and artist can use this crowd-funding platform as a means of by-passing the typical distribution process of a major company. This is especially rewarding for talented creators with good ideas and design giving them control of their creation. For collectors and card enthusiast,  this platform enables them to interact with designers directly and playing card decks can be purchased at a reasonable price. Also, backers get more choices such as limited edition add-ons for early backers. Having said that, here are some of our thoughts on 2013 playing card campaigns on Kickstarter:


Best Kickstarter Campaign 


Max: I would say one of my favorite campaign is the Venexiana deck by Lotrek. I have chosen this campaign not only because the deck is cool. I have to admit there have been fantastic decks in KS. The reason for this opinion is due to the way the artist, Lotrek, has handled the campaign and the honesty he has demonstrated with his backers. 



Let me give you just an example of this honesty. He had the chance to take advantage of the campaign's success and get more money offering stretch goals but he preferred not to do it just because he wasn't sure if he would get the goal or not and he didn't want people go further their economical possibilities and not to be able to cope with their expectations due to insufficient funding; so he decided not to do it. Furthermore, the artist showed all the time a complete availability to answer every question and to clarify anything regarding the project. He also showed a deep respect for people like me or other bloggers that work to spread the voice about the art and the artist. 

Ivan: I agree, Lotrek's Venexiana project along with Lee McKenzie's Empire and Joanne Lin's Emperor project are amongst my 2013 favourites: excellent design, good communication during and after the project and smooth delivery. For me, Jackson Robinson's Federal 52 Part 2 campaign gets my vote for 2013. I absolutely love the original Federal 52! It is by far the most elegant deck of playing cards I've ever seen BUT trying to get my pledge amount right was confusing! Too many choice...! Branded, unbranded, gold cert, unbranded gold cert, shipping cost for multiple decks, international shipping... oh.. and new add-ons keep coming up! It was quite daunting! Imagine being a first-time backer.

Then came Federal 52 Part 2 where Jackson introduced the alphanumeric system for different reward tiers. With this system, backers can easily identify the various combinations for different reward tiers and calculate any add-ons they want from the provided pricing matrix. Clean and simple. 



The other thing I liked about the campaign was how Jackson brought backers on a journey with the project updates- giving insights to the design process, design inspiration, production process and even a vote for sicker design. This gave a sense of involvement and also a piece of mind to backers that things are actually moving along in the background.

Finally, I like how Jackson utilises crews in the comment section to answer any backer queries. This kept backers up-to-date with the project on a daily basis. Excellent strategy. I reckon Federal 52 Part 2 is the first, if not one of the first to utilise crew as spokesperson for the creator. Today, there are many playing card projects that emulate the crew strategy to stay on top of communications.

Having said that, what do you think are some of things a successful creator can improve on in 2014?

Max: I think the ambition is one of the worst things a talented creator can fall into and unfortunately some creators with a huge success have changed the spirit of the crowdfunding, developing fantastic and successful campaigns but with indecent prices creating not only unbalanced products but also an unscrupulous secondary market that has made many modest collectors cannot access them. I think that wouldn't have to be the spirit of a playing cards creator. Sometimes, this ambition makes the artist unavailable and even amnesic about his/her beginnings and origin. That's terrible.

I cannot consent to talk only about one creator and one project because I have been really lucky to build fantastic relationships with many of them and many have demonstrated that respect for backers and supporters I was talking before. Some of them (please, don't get mad at me if I forget someone.. I am too old to have a good memory) are Alex Willis, Bill Colins, Brian Denham, Caleb Gates, Chris Ovdiyenko, Dann Kriss, Elite PC staff, Jean Labelle, Juan Solorzano, Nat Iwata, Sean Whelan, Uusi and, as said before, many other firends and talented creators that make my writer life slightly easier and happier...


Worst Kickstarter Campaign 


Ivan: Let's move on to the other side of the coin. The worst Kickstart campaign for 2013 would be the Founders Playing Cards. The whole campaign was so well executed: sleek video, beautiful design, finished design prototypes and periodic progress updates. Even after the campaign ended, the creator was still giving 'progress' update. Little did backers know... It was an outright scam!  



Three months after reaching it's funding goal, communication just stopped! No one saw it coming. Disappointing! The creator actually launched the campaign with intention to scam as much money as he can. This was the first Kickstarter deck that I featured on Kardify. I am embarrassed by it. 

What's your's Max?

Max: Unfortunately, I cannot choose just one for the worst one. There are many campaigns that have been a disaster, badly handled and terribly delayed. In fact I am still waiting for decks that would have had to be delivered more than six months ago, and I have seen those decks available in online shops while many backers have not even received their rewards. But the very worst are those that are never fulfilled.

I have to say some of these projects have lead me to a kind of bankruptcy that has not allowed me to make bigger pledges in later projects. I have lost a lot of money in projects such as Asylum, Bicycle Core, Founders or Ultraviolet although this list is not at all the only projects I have not received anything yet... I think Kickstarter doesn't show any sensibility about this situation and they even get money from those projects that are never fulfilled, something I cannot understand from an ethical point of view as they become, in some way, accessory to scam backers. 

Ivan: Yes unfortunately this scenario is not uncommon on Kickstarter and there is nothing much any backer can do about it. I guess as backers, we can do our own due diligence by asking questions and doing some research. Sites like the Discourse, UnitedCardist and even Max Playing Cards and Kardify would be a good resource as well. ;)

It's your money. If you are not satisfied or not comfortable, cancel your pledge.


Most Engaging Kickstarter Campaign 


Max: I won't talk about a campaign, but about two themes: Lovecraft and Steampunk. I am not a fan of any of both, but I have been really surprised about the huge community around Lovecraft and all his work and also around the cultural movement of Steampunk. There have been this year more than a dozen decks dedicated to both themes, some of them even to both at the same time, and although not all have been finally funded most of them have been great successful projects. 



I think the most recent Steampunk Pirates by Nat Iwata, and both Cthulhu projects by Dan Criss and Shane Tyree are the ones I would say more engaging.

Ivan: Too many Cthulhu and Steampunk projects in 2013 I reckon!! Haha.. I almost expected to see purple Cthulhu or a white limited edition steampunk Cthulhu deck. Having said that, I have to say Call of Cthulhu: The Writhing Dark takes the cake. 



I love how Shane interacts with backers both on the campaign website and social media. Also a first on Kickstarter, the campaign has an Alternate Reality game that was run in parallel. Backers can unlock extra reward 'freebies' by completing investigations on a weekly basis. Very creative! It kept fans and backers involved while having fun at the same time. Finally, Shane organised several Google hangout sessions to answer questions, do some anthology reading and demonstrated how card design works. Brilliant!

Join us next month for Part II of our 2013 crowd-funding review.


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