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Kicking the Habit: Ares Games blasts through the goalposts

Mere minutes after Ares Games (Wings of Glory, Aztlan, et. al.) launched their Kickstarter campaign ‘Galaxy Defenders – The Earth Strikes Back‘, they had already met their funding goal of $40,000. The project was fully funded in less than five minutes, which means that they pulled in more than $8,000 per minute. Their amazing success shows no sign of stopping there, with the campaign having gathered nearly $200,000 in pledges ( almost five times their original goal) within 48 hours. They’ve had to start making new stretch goals to accommodate the surge of support.

Putting every else to shame since 2011

The campaign backs two expansions to the Galaxy Defenders series, an RPG/board game hybrid in a science fiction setting where humans struggle against a terrible alien invasion. The expansions – ‘Operation Strikeback’ and ‘Extinction Protocol’ – feature a human retaliation against the alien menace as the Earth brings the fight back to the stars. It promises a new play setting, as well as adding some interesting game play dynamics. Read all about it here.

This is a remarkable success. Clearly congratulations are in order for the whole team over at Ares Games, and whatever mystical forces they may or may not have conjured to ensure this launch.

This also gives us a chance to ask an important question:

What does this tremendous success tell us about the tabletop market?

Well, the most obvious thing is that Ares Games knows what it is doing. They know their market, they know their products, and they know how to bring the two together. From PR to production, Ares Games appears to be a well-run company. Ares Games may be a good role model for smaller companies, and aspiring game designers might do well to ask themselves ‘What Would Ares Do?’.

One thing that the new designer won’t have at hand is the name recognition or loyal fanbase of a known company. Kickstarter may do a lot to help the independent designer, but people are still going to go for the known quantity more often than not. If a campaign backs a game by someone we know, there is a better chance of building support. All the better for expansions to games with a sizable fan base. Mysterious newcomers have a harder time than established names, this is a brutal fact that even Kickstarter cannot totally erase. BGA’s new Kicking the Habit spin-off aims to help smaller projects get the attention they deserve, but it seems probable that these designers will always face an uphill battle.

But let’s not pretend that Ares Games is just riding name recognition here. It is not enough to get fans, you have to keep fans – and Ares Games has done just that. The only way you are going to get $40,000 in less than five minutes is if you have fans who are actively anticipating the chance to give you their money. That means making good products out of high quality materials. That means a strong customer service record. That means a well-developed communication network that keeps the fans in the loop of what is coming up next. That means brand loyalty.

Ares shows the importance of a balanced, integrated approach to running a game company. If they had failed at any of these tasks, they would not be as successful as they are today.  A common problem for new companies is a lack of balance – they have a ton of concepts, but no production system. Or they have the production, but not the marketing. They have the marketing, but used poor quality materials. They used good materials, but have no customer service system to deal with complaints.  Ares avoids these problems by ensuring that each part of their company is up to snuff, rather than focusing all their energy on one aspect of game production (e.g., focusing entirely on designing new games), and their success provides a valuable demonstration of the importance of this kind of balance.

Ares Games has a lot to teach us about how to design a game, how to use that game to build a company, and how to use that company to design more games. They are going to be a company to watch, and we at BGA intend to do just that. It may not be long before they join the pantheon of old reliables – companies that we can count on to stick around producing a bunch of high quality games.

Ares might be in another Pantheon, now that I think of it…

But what about those of us who are not interested in designing games? What should we learn from this? Before I get into that, let me add an important caveat – I haven’t had the chance to play through any version of Galaxy Defenders. BGA is on a wait list for a review copy and we hope to have something to say about this game ourselves in the near future.

However, the success of this campaign seems to be saying something about Galaxy Defenders all by itself, and what it is saying is ‘Buy Galaxy Defenders’. We know that the RPG/board game hybrid is a difficult beast to master, something we talked about when we reviewed Myth a few weeks back. So far as I can tell, Galaxy Defenders seems to have mastered it. You don’t get an $8,000 per minute fan base with a bad game, and the strong reviews of the original game on Board Game Geek seem clear – Galaxy Defenders is a game worth playing, and probably a game worth buying.

I’ve seriously considered skipping meals to buy this game. Who needs ‘nutrients’ anyway?

If you are even remotely interested in this kind of game (and let’s be honest, we all are), I suggest that you take a very close look at Galaxy Defenders and their current Kickstarter campaign. I can promise you that I’ll be doing the same.

As always, if you have any questions, comments, or Kickstarter recommendations – kick them to me in the comments. Until next time, ask yourself ‘What Would Ares Do?’ – just make sure you are thinking of the right one.

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