Detailed analysis of successfully funded games KickStarters in 2015 [SO MANY CHARTS]

Lately, I’ve been working on a series looking at the gender distribution of crowdfunding, starting first with Patreon – which is a crowdfunding model that enables serial content. So far in the series, I’ve done a gender breakdown of a representative sample of Patreon creators with games-related Patreons, a look at the barriers that keep women from becoming creators on Patreon, and an aside with advice for women who want to get into having a Patreon anyway. And unfortunately, the statistics of Patreon creators are pretty dismal; only 24% of Patreons had female contributors, with only 13% of creators surveyed being solo women.

However, only looking at Patreon would be ignoring the elephant in the room. Patreon has changed the landscape of creativity in that artists who want to do projects that wouldn’t traditionally be commercially viable now have a venue for doing work that they want to do instead of having to focus on projects that they are not as interested in but they know will be an easier sell. But Patreon’s funding model doesn’t really do much to address the economic realities of game development: it’s expensive. In order to produce a polished, finished game there are a lot of expenses – writing, editing, artwork, layout, printing, fulfillment, and they’re all vitally important.

Tabletop RPGs are procedural documents – ensuring that your text is clearly written and conveys what it needs to is vital. Layout is just as critical, because the best writing and editing in the world won’t keep your customers from being frustrated if they can’t find the rules they need to reference at the table. Art is important to draw people in to the world you are creating, and to convey the feel of the game. And as with any creative work, you get what you pay for. You can save money by finding people who are willing to work on the cheap, but generally the people doing the best work know that they’re doing the best work and will insist on being fairly compensated for their time.

Lastly, while I’ve heard increasing grumbling from publisher friends that “next time” they’re going to do a KickStarter with digital-only distribution, we have yet to reach a point where that wouldn’t be cutting off your own nose to spite your face. But face it, shipping physical product suuuuuuckkkkksssss. Production and shipping the physical product is a huge chunk of any KickStarter budget, and costs are non-negotiable. If you want the thing, you pay what the supplier demands. Those costs add up quickly, and even for small projects with only modest aspirations, budgets for a typical RPG tend to be thousands of dollars. So for most small to medium-sized publishers, KickStarter (or other platforms like IndieGoGo) is the only way that indie publishers can afford to produce polished, professional quality game products.

So with all of that said, I felt that I would be I would remiss were I to not do examine the demographics of KickStarter, just as I have already done with Patreon.

Methodology and Sources

In determining which data I wanted to examine, I decided that I would look at all successfully funded RPG KickStarters from 2015 – excluding campaigns that were either canceled or failed to meet their goal. Unfortunately, assigning gender to a KickStarter is a much trickier prospect than with Patreon; very few Patreons had more than two creators, and only one that I surveyed had a creator team with more than four people. However, since KickStarter projects can be much larger, teams for RPG products can get pretty damn huge. For example, I was one of twenty or so writers on V20 Dark Ages. Then there were lead developers, an editor, and I don’t even know how many artists. So figuring out how to determine the “gender” of a project becomes a much trickier prospect.

In the end, what I settled for was looking at who it was that fronted the project – so either who was it that created the campaign, or if that was inconclusive was there a name attached to the title of the campaign itself? (Frex) I then assigned each result to one of the following categories:

  • solo male (a single man working alone)
  • solo female (a single woman working alone)
  • all male (a group of at least 2 men working together)
  • all female (a group of at least 2 women working together)
  • mixed gender (a group with at least one woman and one man working together)
  • studio (a medium to large sized games company or publisher that is not a sole proprietorship)
  • unknown (aliases or names for which gender could not be determined)

I also broke down the types of campaigns, since “roleplaying games” is a pretty broad category, into the following sub-categories: campaign settings, adventures, events, multimedia, dice, accessories, supplements, and games. Lastly, for each campaign I recorded the total amount raised and what percent of their goal was raised. (Logically, since I only looked at successful campaigns, all results for percent of goal raised were over 100%)

Sadly, KickStarter’s interface is pretty terrible for collecting this sort of data. So I wound up turning to RPGGeek, where RPGGeek users maintain an ongoing list of games KickStarters by year. I’ll admit that I have no way of verifying if their data collection is 100% comprehensive, but it is definitely exhaustive. In collecting the data that I needed, I had to go through twenty four pages of forum results. Given that I counted a total of 388 successfully funded campaigns, I feel that my results are definitely statistically rigorous.

That said, I did filter my raw results slightly. In putting together “final” numbers for the charts that I was preparing, I chose to omit 18 campaigns from the results because of sketchy practices surrounding artificially low funding goals. For instance, there was one guy who by himself had 8 successfully funded campaigns in 2015 – which sounds impressive! Until you realize that he was funding basic adventure modules and his goal for each campaign was only $30. So despite that each campaign was only making around $800-$1500 or so, he was seeing THOUSANDS of percent on his campaigns in terms of percent of goals raised. Since I was very interested in percent of goal raised to see if gender was a factor, I wanted to get rid of the extreme results so that my conclusions would actually be meaningful. So it should be noted that while I recorded 388 successful campaigns, results below were tabulated based on the filtered total of 370.

The Results

Overall-gender

As someone who has been observing KickStarter as a publishing platform for several years, I wasn’t too surprised that the gender breakdown even less egalitarian than Patreon. What did surprise me was how much lower the percent of female participation was. Patreon’s 13% representation of female-only creators is pretty dismal, but 13% is at least mostly in line with the current representation of women in the industry as a whole.

KickStarter, however, had slightly less than half those numbers in terms of solo female representation, with only 6% of all successfully funded games projects in 2015 being fronted by solo women. And widening the focus to include all campaigns that include at least one female front person actually makes the numbers worse, which may be due to the fact that out of 370 KickStarters, not a one of them was fronted by a group of just women. As it turns out, solo female campaigns together with mixed gender campaigns made up 9% of overall KickStarter campaigns, as opposed to 24% of the Patreons that I examined having female creator participation (or only 3/8 of Patreon’s numbers).

Pretty bleak, right? Well strap in, because it gets worse.

Overall-funds-pie

Holy shit! Solo female campaigns make up 6% of the total number of KickStarters, but account for only 3% of 2015’s total funds raised! Mixed-gender campaigns also suffer a penalty, although not quite as bad – they received only 2% of total funds raised despite making up 3% of overall campaigns. By contrast, all-male campaigns accounted for 10% of total funds raised while only making up 4% of overall campaigns.

Granted, it is true that solo male campaigns “underperformed”, at 41% of total funds raised for 65% of total campaigns. However, I think that probably has a lot to do with the fact that there were an awwwwful lot of sketchy solo-male campaigns that I saw that had super-low (ie sub-$1000) goals, so it makes a lot of sense that the studio campaigns would overperform so dramatically while solo-male campaigns would suffer.

So what happens when you start looking at averages by gender category? Well, things get interesting, and a bit less clear.

Overall-amt-raised

Studios had the highest average funds-raised-per-campaign, which makes sense. A company like Onyx Path or Green Ronin is going to have a larger audience and has the logistics in place to fund a campaign with a much larger scope than the smaller operators, which lets them rake in the big money. What I didn’t expect was how comparatively small the gap between studios and all-male campaigns would be, and how large the gap between all-male campaigns and everything else would be.

The fact that mixed-gender campaigns outperformed solo gender campaigns is interesting, although it may be another reflection of the preponderance of low-goal “sketchy” campaigns by solo male creators. Still, it is undeniable that solo female creators have the lowest average funds raised by far, with solo female campaigns averaging a mere quarter of all-male campaigns, and just under 90% of the average solo male campaign.

Of course, something that is undoubtedly a factor is that if you look at the average requested funding level, the gender category that asks for the least money is, of course, women:

Overall-avg-goal

Again, studios come out on top – although again that’s not terribly surprising given the scope of many studio-fronted products. The results after that get a little muddled; for instance why are mixed-gender campaigns averaging the second-highest requested goal?

Still, women again come in last, asking for only only 73% of what solo male campaigns requested, and only 39% of what all-male campaigns requested. I was hoping against hope that perhaps that would be mitigated if I looked at the percent of goal raised. If the lower goals were perhaps offset by solo female campaigns doing better in terms of percent of goal raised…? But no. They weren’t, mostly:

Overall-PCT-goal

So yeah, there’s a weird blip with mixed gender campaigns having the second-highest requested goals and yet having the lowest percent raised. I honestly couldn’t begin to untangle what’s going on there. But solo female campaigns still come in second last, at only half of the percentages that all-male campaigns have managed. So, you know, that’s a thing that’s depressing.

I could have stopped there, but I got curious about what would happen if I looked at each campaign type by gender, which actually turned out pretty interesting. So just for shits and giggles, I present for your further edification the gender breakdown of each category examined:

Bar-settings

What the actual fuck. In ALL of 2015, EVERY SINGLE GODDAMN SETTING KickStarter was either by a studio or a lone dude? (For a second I was like, WHAT THE SHIT WHAT ABOUT RUINED EMPIRE, I KNOW THAT WAS BY A LADY LIKE PRETTY CONCLUSIVELY. And then I remembered that was in 2014 and felt stupid.)

So. Yeah. NO settings fronted by women, or even partially by women in 2015. Wow.

bar-adventure

Jeez. Adventures have some female representation, but honestly the numbers don’t look all that much better. Around 8ish percent of all adventure KickStarters had female participation, but they only received 2% of total funds raised for their category? I mean, sure it’s great that they over-represented in terms of goal and percent of goal, but still. Oof. Feels.

Bar-events

Events represented the smallest category, so it’s hard to make any conclusive statements other than even with a large relative proportion of campaigns by people of unknown gender, it’s still pretty damn male-dominated. Which was surprising, because all of the best, most competent, most hard-working event organizers I know are women! So I didn’t expect that at all.

Bar-multimedia

The lack of any mixed-gender teams in this category makes the numbers really straight forward. Yes it’s great that when you look at average funding, solo female campaigns over-performed relative to their overall participation in the category. But that doesn’t change the fact that only ONE out of ten multimedia KickStarters in 2015 was by a woman, which is a shitty ratio no matter how you look at it.

Bar-dice

I seriously was not expecting such a large number of KickStarters making DICE of all things, nor was I expecting them to be so lucrative. Still, not really sure what else to say that won’t sound repetitive here. I mean, whee! Yet another category totally dominated by men. Shocker.Bar-accessories

Cool. So with no mixed-gender participation, once again we have ONE campaign with female contribution out of an entire category that makes up a pretty sizeable chunk of the total number of successful campaigns. Still, one out of 44 is still 2.2%, so that doesn’t really explain the fact that that singular campaign only raised 0.3% of total revenue. Seriously? What the hell.
Bar-supplements

Yup. Looks like women making supplements have a shitty time of it too. MY SURPRISED FACE. LET ME SHOW IT TO YOU.

bar-games

Well. Kickstarters for games at least manage to do (sliiiightly) better than average in that 8% of total campaigns were fronted by solo women, as opposed to 6% of the overall total. Still, as with every other category, they did not receive a proportionate level of funding. YAY. EVERYTHING IS DEPRESSING.

And that’s all for today

I’ve got more to say, but that’ll have to wait for next time because this post got super long and I AM FINALLY DONE.

10 thoughts on “Detailed analysis of successfully funded games KickStarters in 2015 [SO MANY CHARTS]

  1. I wanted to see what the first two graphs with studio removed looked like (since Studio is not clearly gendered, and is so significant in % of dollars raised)

    Funds Raised: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1I7KM7cT9dKXr9MQTd4iFwgauEIQ30dk_W6dVqjJ7DiY/pubchart?oid=1900696527&format=interactive

    Number of Projects: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1I7KM7cT9dKXr9MQTd4iFwgauEIQ30dk_W6dVqjJ7DiY/pubchart?oid=1135225196&format=interactive

    What that shows is the “all male” group out performing both solo male and female in fundraising ability — that a group can outperform an individual isn’t surprising — but when combined with the lack of “all female” and the relative percentages of solo male to solo female, well …. that’s the whole point of the article.

  2. I wish there was a chart that showed donation by gender…are there women donating to kick starters creating by women? Are men and women donating dollars to kickstarter in the same amounts? Where’s the money that IS coming in coming from?

    I’ve never participated in a “kickstarter,” myself; neither as a person with a project, nor as a donor. But I read about various projects often enough on gaming blogs that I read. Most of these blogs are written by men, and they write about projects that they’re supporting, or that they’re excited about, or that they want to hip people to. And if I was to judge the readership of these blogs from the comments I see, most of the people that see this “free advertising” are also males.

    Males writing to other males about (mainly) projects being created by other males.

    It’s the same with me…I’m a guy who writes a blog and uses it to market my own products (like I said, I don’t do the kickstarter). I must have SOME female readers, because I get the occasional female response, comment, or feedback. But the vast majority of books I sell, judging by the names I’m writing on the envelopes, are going to males.

    The stats you’ve got here ARE depressing. But are they self-perpetuating?

    [ugh…sorry. I’m not really wanting to pour water on an already soggy parade]

    • Hi! Here is my completely personal experience, so useless for statiscs, but I just want to share: when I first stumbled upoin Kickstarter, I would donate to any campaign that seemed interesting (I can’t afford big donations, but I made a lot of small one).
      Now I’ve become really selective and I only donate to projects by women or by studios that have more than one woman in the team.
      This is because I have decided to use Kickstarted exclusively as a platform to help content creators that might not have a way of publishing their work otherwise.

    • Sounds like more women should get in the dice-making business.

      Also, something interesting to look into would be the differences between the percentage of Male vs. Female gaming kickstarter fraudsters who take the money and run. While Sarkeesian gets a lot of crap for not meeting her deadlines and fulfilling backer rewards, I can’t think of any women who’ve had high-profile kickstarter collapses, failures to deliver or, in some cases, outright fraud, that has taken place in the gaming community. Off the top of my head, there was the disaster with Dwimmermount, the Doom that Came to Atlantic City, Far West, the d20 Entertainment debacles with both Traveller and Knights of the Dinner Table, and everything Mike Nystul has put his name on. And that’s just off the top of my head!

  3. I found that to be very interesting, and I’d like to see a lot of other numbers. Like JB, I wonder what the input to this looks like.

    Also, I’d love to see this breakdown including all unfunded and canceled projects (excluding fraudulent ones). Do the failure rates differ by gender? I feel that one might be more positive, but I can’t identify any rational basis for the expectation that projects with female participation will have higher success rates, and therefor mistrust it explicitly.

    Also, very, very sorry to have to kick you in the feels some more, but you said in the multimedia breakdown:
    “Yes it’s great that when you look at average funding, solo female campaigns over-performed relative to their overall participation in the category.”
    They don’t. They underperform there, too. With a relative comparison (percentage), every category represented should have exactly equal part in this, shouldn’t it? So, as they have less than 1/5th of the graph, they under-performed there as well.

    (Really don’t want to get you down, but… better to face the ugly reality? I hope.)

  4. Perhaps this is just my own experience, but I don’t typically look at who is fronting the project (unless I happen to see that the name is a big name). I usually look at what is being presented, whether I think it has a chance of being successful and whether I want to try it out.

    Also, I’m confused by the sentence “…that the gender breakdown even less egalitarian than Patreon.” I’m confused because that usage of the word “egalitarian” doesn’t fit with any definition

    • Hi there! So I have been sort-of-kind-of watching this KickStarter (I mean, it’s not really my thing but it’s doing really well), and I do have thoughts about diversity on KickStarter projects like this one that I intend to write about! I just got interrupted by Dreamation.🙂

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