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