Kickstarter’s new director on the future of the crowdfunding platform

Kickstarter announced Tuesday that it would elevate board game designer and publisher Jon Ritter-Roderick to be its new director of games. Ritter-Roderick has been with the company since 2020, serving as the senior outreach lead for tabletop. He’s best known for Dragon, the beautifully appointed strategy game. He’ll be joined by Nicole Amato, who will take on the role of games outreach lead in his place.

“Back in 2015 we ran our first game [on Kickstarter],” Ritter-Roderick said in an interview with Polygon. “I said, ‘What the hell, why not do this game thing and see what happens?’ And I made plenty of mistakes, advised people, and then slowly over the years my advice became better. And then a job opportunity happened at Kickstarter. It was the one place where I would probably accept a full time job, and I was like, this seems like the right fit. So let’s do it.”

Ritter-Roderick said he sees his role at Kickstarter as an ambassador, and throughout our conversation he reinforced that his most important duty is to open and direct communication with creators hoping to bring their projects to life.

“My goal at Kickstarter is to pass off the knowledge that I have and, if I don’t have the knowledge, get people in touch with those who do,” he said. “My hope is to kind of make sure that people are as informed as humanly possible, and that will turn help them be as successful as possible.”

Left, Jon Ritter-Roderick. Right, Nicole Amato.
Picture: Kickstarter

Ritter-Roderick enters the position during a turbulent time for the crowdfunding giant. Kickstarter brooked controversy in 2021 when former CEO Aziz Hasan signaled that the company would be moving toward blockchain technology. The company has slowed but not stopped that transition, leading to numerous high-profile departures from the platform — including Cephalophair Games, publishers of hit board game Gloomhaven. We asked Ritter-Roderick if he was interested in taking a stab at convincing tabletop creators that the controversial web3 technology will be of benefit to them. He declined.

“I don’t think anything is my role to convince the industry [about blockchain],” he said. “I think I’m here to be an advocate for the industry. So I know that myself and Kickstarter are just dedicated to making the platform better so creators [can] bring their projects to life. Precisely how that’s going to happen I don’t know, because that’s very far out. But I think the communication just needs to be clear and concise from Kickstarter when it happens.”

Before any transition to blockchain, Ritter-Roderick said it’s more important that the Kickstarter platform is meeting the needs of creators. Its most important value add, he said, is simply the audience that it is capable of reaching. Creators are free to engage with that audience in whatever way they see fit — even it that means offering pre-orders on Kickstarter and handling fulfillment through another platform. That’s the strategy recently employed by Wyrmwood. Its Modular Gaming Table earned nearly $9 million through Kickstarter in 2020. Its latest campaign doesn’t offer any merchandise at all. The company is instead using Kickstarter’s reach to sell places in line to purchase its next product, a game master’s screen, which it will sell on Backerkit.

“People have to do what’s best for them,” Ritter-Roderick said. “There’s definitely value in the larger campaign on Kickstarter — more exposure, higher up in the sort, more articles talking about it. […] Do you want that more exposure? A lot of people like Wyrmwood are like, ‘No, we don’t need it. We don’t want it.’ That’s OK. […] It’s our tool, and they can use it how they want.”

Ritter-Roderick also noted that he’s not paid on commission, and the company’s bottom line means very little to him professionally. The same is true, he said, of Kickstarter more broadly, which, unlike other companies in the crowdfunding space, is a public benefit corporation. Doing public good is written into the founding principles of the company.

“As a PBC, we can focus more on that bringing-to-life aspect and less about maximizing profits,” Ritter-Roderick said. “We’re not a publisher. […] Our charter is about bringing these projects to life. It’s not about maximizing profits. So taking the knowledge that I’ve had prior, and then making sure that people still know that I’m that same person. I’m still that creator who started on Kickstarter and is insanely grateful to be here for a bunch of reasons, and then I can pass that off to like the next generation of creators.”

Ritter-Roderick also said that he sees tabletop games, including board games and role-playing games, continuing to be a core element of Kickstarter’s business. The category currently accounts for more than 30% of the company’s annual income from crowdfunding.

“I think people write off [tabletop] games a little early,” he said. “And I think that one thing that I really hope over the next, like, three or five years people recognize is the game board games are very much in the entertainment industry, just as much as video games, as movies, as TV. And I think [that with] the upcoming release of the D&D movie, people are going to start seeing things transition from board games into movies versus the other way around.”

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