First, they gave us Exploding Kittens, the physical and digital card game that raised $8.7 million on Kickstarter and sold more than 2 million physical card games. And now, Matthew Inman’s The Oatmeal and video game maker Elan Lee are creating Bears vs Babies, another crazy card game.
In just seven days, their new Kickstarter campaign has raised $1.4 million, and it still has 23 days to go. Once again, Lee and Inman have swept far past their $10,000 original goal. They will likely do a digital card game, but surprisingly, their physical card game from Exploding Kittens has far outsold the digital card game. And in this process, they’ve discovered a winning methodology. Rather than create a digital property at the outset, they use their vast social media reach to crowdsource the content of a physical card game. Then they can more confidently create a digital app with a higher chance of success.
“This is still both thrilling and terrifying our second time around,” Lee said in an interview with GamesBeat.
And the company is announcing its stretch goals that it will deliver, based on the progress of the Kickstarter campaign. If the community proceeds to do a variety of goofy tasks, then the game will include 112 cards, rather than the initial 80.
Exploding Kittens came out as a physical card game in 2015, and then it shipped as a digital card game in January 2016. The game hit No. 1 on the top downloads list in the U.S., but it didn’t stay there for a long time. Lee said that the team plans to create a digital card game again, but only after they use the crowdfunding advice to finish building the physical card game.
Lee said that the Exploding Kittens physical card game sold more than 2 million copies at $20 each, generating an estimated $40 million in sales. The digital card game was also downloaded hundreds of thousands of times.
With the additional funds for Bears vs Babies, the company will be shipping a lot more boxes to those who are preordering the game.
“It lets us take advantage of economies of scale,” Lee said. “The production costs go down and we can add more cards to the game.”
Lee said that the team has created a list of new items that they will create for the game, and they’re releasing that list today as part of a thank-you to current contributors.
While Exploding Kittens came together in a jam session over two weeks, Bears vs Babies has been cooking for longer. Inman, who creates the zany art of The Oatmeal and has tens of millions of followers, started thinking what an Oatmeal card game would be like about four years ago. He started putting heads and torsos on cards, mixing and matching them.
“He came to me after we fulfilled our initial orders for Exploding Kittens,” Lee said. “He told me that he put his best art onto these cards, but the game he created wasn’t fun. We sat down over two weeks and tinkered with rules sets. We came up with one we loved. But we put it on hold while we got two million copies of Exploding Kittens out the door.”
Lee said they thought about the lessons of Exploding Kittens. One of those was that there’s huge value in a good card game.
“Cards are the mechanism by which other people you play with entertain you,” Lee said. “They create conflict, hilarious moments, and betrayals. Exploding Kittens was a test. We put it out there and it was phenomenal. People wrote us and said that we saved their marriage.”
In this game, there are three types of cards. There are body parts for creatures. There are baby cards. And there are action cards, such as chopping off limbs.
If you draw a creature card, you use it to assemble your creature. If you draw a baby card, you put it in the middle, creating a “growing army of babies,” Lee said.
You can play an action card that provokes the babies to attack another player. That player has to hope they have created a creature that is powerful enough to withstand the attacks of the babies.
“It’s a completely original concept,” Lee said. “The closest thing to it was old parlor game called ‘Exquisite Corpse’ that I played in elementary school. In that game, you draw a part of a picture, and then fold it so the next person can only see a part of what you have drawn. You pass it to them and they draw what they think you were drawing. Then they pass it on. The result is a collaborative drawing.”
So far, the only sharing that the creators have done is on The Oatmeal and Lee’s own social accounts. But since The Oatmeal reaches 40 million people, the reach has been huge, with more than 38,000 contributors.
As for the digital version, Lee said. “We haven’t started work on a digital game. I don’t believe you use Kickstarter as a store. You go there to raise a crowd, and that crowd is more important than the funding. We are not done with the game. The art isn’t finished. We are still balancing, and we haven’t written the instructions. We want to tap the community.”
He added, “We haven’t started an app yet because the core game is not done. Once it’s done, we’ll start extensions like the app.”
Lee and Inman still own 100 percent of their company, dubbed Bear Food, which is the parent company for both Bears vs Babies and Exploding Kittens. The team consists of eight people working in Lee’s backyard in Los Angeles.
“It lets us do crazy things, like the physical card box that meows when you open it. .
Bear Food has partnerships with AdMagic, which does the manufacturing and printing, and Black Box (owned by the makers of Cards Against Humanity), which does distribution. Across those partners, more than 840 people contributed to making Exploding Kittens, Lee said.
The team plays new games every Friday, partly because they get mailed a lot of prototype games by those who want feedback for their card game creations.
“We love card games and board games, but I think there will be an opportunity to add digital games in the future,” Lee said. “I don’t think you should isolate one from the other.”
As for creating an app that does better next time, Lee said the team could have added more statistical tracking to the game. But he added, “The market is fickle. It’s crazy how fast the tides turn and the new exciting thing jumps to the top. You have to either make something that people come back to over and over, or you have to create the new thing. With Bears vs Babies, we are trying to create the new thing.”