Since its launch in 2009, Kickstarter has been a haven for both gamers and developers looking for something new. It’s such a simple idea: creators post their plans online, and fans contribute as much – or as little – as they want to make sure that the project becomes a reality. It works, too. Kickstarter is directly responsible for innovative hardware like the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset, and the Ouya, a budget-priced gaming console. Many popular and highly anticipated games also rose from Kickstarter campaigns, including FTL: Faster Than Light, Double Fine’s Broken Age, and Mighty No. 9, Keiji Inafune’s spiritual sequel to Mega Man.
Over time, however, Kickstarter lost some of its bloom. While video games dominated the platform in 2013, the gaming community is growing increasingly wary of Kickstarter projects. Many campaigns overpromise and under-deliver; worse, only a third of Kickstarter’s video game campaigns actually ship a complete product. With customer dissatisfaction growing, some analysts think that Kickstarter might have peaked – but don’t tell that to Elan Lee, Shane Small, and Matt Inman, the team behind Exploding Kittens.
At over $5.5 million with twelve days left, Exploding Kittens isn’t just the best-funded game in Kickstarter history; it’s the sixth best-funded project on Kickstarter, period. The campaign easily blew past its original $10,000 goal, and currently sports over 140,000 backers – and that number’s still rising. That’s not bad, especially for a plain old card game.
The Exploding Kittens campaign page pitches the game as “a kitty-powered version of Russian Roulette.” Players take turns drawing cards from a deck; if someone draws an Exploding Kitten card, they’re out. Other cards grant special abilities. Some cards allow players to fend off elimination by “defusing” an exploding kitten, while others let players peek at upcoming cards, avoid their next turn, or even reshuffle the whole deck.
No, Exploding Kittens isn’t a video game, but the team behind it has some legitimate video game bona fides. Elan Lee started in the industry as a designer at Microsoft, and gained wide recognition for his augmented reality games The Beast (part of the marketing campaign for Steven Spielberg’s A.I.) and Halo 2’s I Love Bees campaign. Shane Small has a long history as a mobile game producer, as well as a short stint with Xbox’s ill-fated original programming department. Matt Inman, on the other hand, isn’t a designer; he’s better known as The Oatmeal, an extremely popular and much beloved cartoonist.
The Exploding Kittens campaign itself also borrows from video games: backers can work together to unlock Xbox-style achievements, which include both funding goals and general buffoonery (nobody’s unlocked the “Post a Picture of Ten Batmen in a Hot Tub” achievement – yet). Unlocking twenty achievements leads to a deluxe box to hold the game, while unlocking thirty results in a special “surprise.”
According to some estimates, Exploding Kittens is on track to pull in $9.43 million. If that happens, Exploding Kittens will pass the Ouya and become the third highest-grossing campaign ever, just behind the Pebble e-watch and the Coolest Cooler. In some ways, that seems ridiculous, but with Exploding Kitten’s strong design team, the game’s simple premise, and the Oatmeal’s celebrity pull, there’s really no limit to how successful this campaign could be.