By: Eli Hill,

In recent years, the board gaming industry has experienced an economic renaissance.  One factor fueling this revival is the crowdsourcing marketspace made available through Kickstarter.[1]  To date, the ‘games’ category has earned the most dollars on the site, outpacing both the design and technology categories.[2]  Within the games category, board games pull in substantially larger earnings than video games.[3]  In just the last year, the public pledged over $135 million towards Kickstarter board game campaigns alone.[4]

For the most popular games on Kickstarter, campaign creators often offer ‘group pledge’ options for their backers.[5]  By purchasing a game in bulk, the backer is able to save significant expense, particularly on shipping.[6]  While this method of purchase is typical for the seasoned retailer, online forums now enable individual hobbyists to pool their funds and benefit from the group pledge savings much more easily.[7]

Board game enthusiasts living outside the western commercial markets often lack access to modern board game retailers.[8]  Because the crowdsourcing campaigns are often run by smaller, less experienced publishers, options for delivery outside the U.S. and U.K. are minimal or otherwise beleaguered by absurdly expensive shipping costs.[9]

To address this obstacle within the Southeast Asian markets, a company named Boarders Tabletop Game Studio (“Boarders”) became the premier distributor of the area for the most highly sought after Kickstarter board games.[10]  Several years ago, Boarders began to coordinate group pledges on behalf of its customer base as a way to increase access to Kickstarter exclusive board games for its isolated clientele.[11]

Backers of all Kickstarter campaigns are used to rolling the dice.[12]  Most understand the projects that their financial pledges go towards may not pan out according to the timeline and quality projections originally advertised.[13]  Kickstarter is not a store and has no obligation to deliver the products funded via its marketplace, but such an obligation does fall on the creators of each campaign.[14]

Regarding those indebted to Boarders group pledges, the majority of customer contributions never went towards any Kickstarter campaign.[15]  Suspicions first arose after publisher shipping information and delivery timelines didn’t align with customer expectation.[16]  Attempts to contact Boarders directly about the problems went unanswered.[17]  Some dedicated hobbyists had put thousands of dollars into the numerous campaigns Boarders claimed to be backing.[18]  Most publishers never received any money from Boarders, and for those few that did, still lost money refunding payments on cargo that Boarders had picked up, but never distributed.[19] Collectively, those harmed are now exploring what legal action may be brought against Boarders.[20]

Undoubtedly, the pairing of the board game industry with Kickstarter crowdsourcing has produced more success stories than scams.[21]  However, as the events in Southeast Asia show, digital crowdsourcing is still hampered by the business limitations in distribution.[22]  Kickstarter may provide a valuable international market for the board game industry, but for the publishers operating with limited market presence, the threat of fraud still looms large.[23]

 

[1] See Charlie Hall, Tabletop Games are Exploding on Kickstarter, Video Games are Flat, Polygon (Jan. 2, 2018, 4:06PM), https://www.polygon.com/2018/1/2/16842204/tabletop-games-are-exploding-on-kickstarter-video-games-are-flat (detailing annual growth of Kickstarter board games).

[2] Kickstarter, https://www.kickstarter.com/help/stats (click on ‘categories’ breakdown from main menu).

[3] See Hall, supra note 1.

[4] See id.

[5] Calvin Wong, Boarders Tabletop Game Studio defrauds thousands in Kickstarter scandal, Board Game Prices (Apr. 10, 2018), https://www.boardgameprices.com/articles/boarders-tabletop-game-studio-defrauds-thousands-in-kickstarter-scandal.

[6] See Jay H. Ganatra, When a Kickstarter Stops: Exploring Failures and Regulatory Frameworks for the Rewards-Based Crowdfunding Industry, 68 Rutgers L. Rev. 1425, 1459 (Spring 2016) (describing the cost savings of a bulk order on Kickstarter).

[7]  See id.

[8] See Wong, supra note 5.

[9] See Ganatra, supra note 6 (referencing the higher international shipping costs).

[10] See Wong, supra note 5.

[11] See id.

[12] See Ganatra, supra note 6 at 1465 (describing investor risk on Kickstarter).

[13] See id.

[14] See Michael M. Epstein & Nazgole Hashemi, Crowdfunding in Wonderland: Issues and Investor Risk in Non-Fraudulent Creative Arts Campaigns Under the Jobs Act, 6 Am. U. Bus. L. Rev. 1, 8 (detailing cases where fraudulent Kickstarter campaigns were obligated to defrauded customers).

[15] See Calvin Wong, Boarders Tabletop Game Studio defrauds thousands in Kickstarter scandal, Board Game Prices (Apr. 10, 2018), https://www.boardgameprices.com/articles/boarders-tabletop-game-studio-defrauds-thousands-in-kickstarter-scandal.

[16] See id.

[17] See id.

[18] See id.

[19] See id.

[20] See Calvin Wong, Boarders Tabletop Game Studio defrauds thousands in Kickstarter scandal, Board Game Prices (Apr. 10, 2018), https://www.boardgameprices.com/articles/boarders-tabletop-game-studio-defrauds-thousands-in-kickstarter-scandal.

[21] See generally, Kickstarter, https://www.kickstarter.com/help/stats (showing the data for successfully funded projects).

[22] See Wong, supra note 19.

[23] See Christopher Moores, Kickstart My Lawsuit: Fraud and Justice in Rewards-Based Crowdfunding, 49 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 383, 390 (Nov. 2015) (describing vulnerabilities to fraud that are exposed by Kickstarter campaigns).

Image Source: http://monopoly.wikia.com/wiki/Go_to_Jail_(card).

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