At 8pm on April 19th, 2016, a small group huddled around a PC in the corner of a local gaming store in Stockport as I pushed the button to launch our second crowdfunding campaign. That campaign was DARK SOULS™: The Board Game. By the time it ended one month later, we had raised £3,771,474 from 31,178 backers and smashed the then-record for a tabletop game Kickstarter.
It was incredible, it was exhilarating, it was the campaign that built Steamforged Games into a company with more than 60 talented employees and a large catalogue of games. But it could just as easily have been the campaign that killed Steamforged Games.
My name is Rich Loxam, and I am CEO of Steamforged Games. Eight years ago, Mat Hart and I founded the company, driven by our shared passion for tabletop games. Some of you may even remember us from when we were just a small news website covering tabletop miniature games and hobby tutorials — including some early YouTube videos ;).
In 2015, we had delivered Guild Ball, our first crowdfunding campaign, to immediate retail success and critical acclaim, which allowed Mat and myself to not only quit our day jobs, but also hire a few staff to help out. Even so, the team remained small — just six part-time employees, with Mat and I calling in family favours and doing our best to keep up with the growing demand for Guild Ball.
Working out of the back of a retail store, with family and friends helping us pack our Guild Ball parcels for Kickstarter delivery
Although we were small, Mat and I were always thinking big, and so we attended the 2015 British Licensing Expo in London where we approached Bandai NAMCO to discuss opportunities. It just so happened that at that time, with video game sales skewing more toward digital downloads and away from physical CDs, the video game industry was on the lookout for new ways to build their brands. Meanwhile, tabletop games were growing in popularity as an avenue to connect with fans.
For us, that opened the door for the DARK SOULS™: The Board Game Kickstarter.
It would be an understatement to say the Kickstarter’s performance took us by surprise.
We had of course hoped and planned for success — being big DARK SOULS™ and tabletop gaming fans ourselves, we believed the game would find an audience as excited by the concept as we were — but even we couldn’t have predicted the level it reached, with over 30,000 backers and more than £3.7 million in funding.
Salute 2016, our first live demo of the game featuring the Dancer of the Boreal Valley boss fight. The crowds were huge and the demos never stopped.
Even as we were reeling from a rollercoaster of a Kickstarter, reality was dawning. The sheer size of the success triggered an immediate need for us to significantly grow Steamforged Games to meet the task ahead. Our small team was already kept very busy with the product line we had, and we were about to encounter new challenges on a considerable scale.
We’d never had to manufacture so much product before. Never had to ship globally on anything like this scale. We were new to working with a licensor. We’d also told our backers we’d deliver their game a little less than 12 months after the campaign ended, which most experienced Kickstarter backers will now recognise as a nigh-on impossible feat for any game, let alone one the size of DARK SOULS™: The Board Game.
And unexpected problems were also cropping up. Just over a month after the Kickstarter ended, the UK held the Brexit referendum, the knock-on effect of which caused some huge fluctuations in the value of pound sterling. By the time the funds had been transferred to our account from Kickstarter, we had lost over half a million pounds out of the project, just like that.
DARK SOULS™: The Board Game in production in 2017
We’ll be the first to admit we made mistakes along the journey to finally delivering everything we’d promised in the Kickstarter. One of our bigger mistakes was making the decision to handle everything behind closed doors, and to only speak publicly when we felt there was something important to say. At the time, we thought this would be best for the project.
We were wrong.
We learned the hard way that transparency with supporters, backers, and fans is always the right choice. We now strive to communicate as much as possible to build trust and our reputation. We’re active on social media and in community spaces like BoardGameGeek. We provide regular updates and communicate in the comments on our active Kickstarter campaigns, work with content creators, and host AMAs.
It hasn’t been an overnight or all-at-once process, and it’s something we’re continuing to work on every day.
We were able to start shipping the DARK SOULS™: The Board Game core game in April 2017 as planned, but the success of the Kickstarter had blown up the number of stretch goals beyond what we’d expected. With those new additions and the additional language copies, we had to split manufacturing and shipping into four waves just to get it done.
But get it done we did. It was always of absolute importance to us that we delivered. We’d made a promise to our community, and didn’t intend on reneging on that.
In 2017/2018, we shipped waves 1 and 2, and confirmed our schedule for waves 3 and 4, which we completed in 2020.
We continued to expand over the course of the years following the DARK SOULS™ Kickstarter, and by 2019 we had grown enough to attract investment from Foresight Group. This allowed Mat and I to push Steamforged on to the next level. It helped further build the infrastructure we needed to scale the company upwards as we moved into the future.
MEN Business of the Year Awards, 2019
Now in 2022, we’ve delivered a total of 12 Kickstarter campaigns, including everything we promised in DARK SOULS™: The Board Game, and we continue to get better and better at delivering them with each one. We understand how to keep projects within scope — while still pushing boundaries to excite and reward our backers for their support — and how to accurately estimate timelines and prepare for potential. So much so that we were recently given the ‘Backer Favorite’ badge on Kickstarter. Delays are now much rarer, and we deliver our projects on or close to on time. We even managed to deliver Bardsung three months early!
Me and Mat opening up the new Steamforged Office in MediaCity 2022, Manchester UK.
We’re also fortunate enough to be in a position to help others starting out on their journey, as we once were. Earlier this year, we were able to help the Diea Games team resurrect Euthia, offering our experience and infrastructure on the production side to allow them to continue as a design studio. And we hope to help other studios, and existing games, in similar ways.
We’ve been able to do all this despite the difficult global circumstances of the last few years. The experience and infrastructure we’d built allowed us to weather the challenges brought by COVID and navigate through them. It certainly wasn’t easy and I wholeheartedly sympathise with every publisher in crowdfunding and the wider tabletop industry, all of whom have had to face the same challenges.
Building Steamforged Games has been a labour of love, teamwork, and commitment. Not just from Mat and I but from all of our team, both past and present. We are so thankful for the support of our customers, licence partners, manufacturing partners, logistics partners, investors, and all the others who’ve supported us during this time.
The Steamforged team at the new office opening, 2022
To bring this story full circle, we would never have made it this far without DARK SOULS™: The Board Game and its Kickstarter campaign. It built Steamforged Games, it nearly broke Steamforged Games, but we came out the other side far stronger and with invaluable experience. It has become one of the best selling board games of the last half decade, and is now at over half a million units sold to date between the Kickstarter and retail.
We cannot thank Bandai NAMCO enough for taking a chance on us. They saw in us a company that understood the core audience for DARK SOULS™ and believed in our ability to translate their amazing work into the tabletop. We’ve worked with them for six years now and look forward to many more. We will be forever grateful for the opportunity.
DARK SOULS™: The Board Game won 'Best American-Style Board Game' at UK Games Expo in 2017
It’s been phenomenal to see the community that has grown around DARK SOULS™: The Board Game, and our team is working alongside them to help continue that growth.
DARK SOULS™: The Board Game - Tomb of Giants core set, coming soon
My statement in a recent interview with Alex Radcliffe of BoardGameCo holds true: we are and always will be students of the tabletop industry, as much as we are fans.
We’re constantly excited and amazed by news and developments in the tabletop gaming space, even as we ourselves continue being a driving force in the space so we can keep pushing that bar higher.
It’s been a long journey, and we haven’t always gotten it right in the past. But we’ve worked incredibly hard over the past several years, and have shown that we can deliver.
From the bottom of our hearts, thank you, everyone, for your continued support. Because the best is yet to come.