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'Exploding Kittens' game goes nuclear on Kickstarter

Exploding Kittens card game
Exploding Kittens

Elan Lee is going to need a bigger boat.

The ex-chief design officer of Xbox teamed up with Shane Small, former Xbox art director, and The Oatmeal founder Matthew Inman to launch a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter for a card game called "Exploding Kittens."

After 30 days the project has become the most backed campaign ever on Kickstarter with 219,382 people pledging more than $8.7 million.

Two weeks into the campaign the team's projected order of 500 decks was suddenly exponentially underestimated.

"I had flashes to that scene in 'Jaws' where Roy Scheider sees the immense great white for the first time and says in a stupor 'you're gonna need a bigger boat,'" Lee said during a Reddit Q&A on Thursday.

The campaign initially sought $10,000 in pledges, but received far greater enthusiasm. Within 20 minutes the campaign was funded. In under an hour it was financed 1,000 percent.

"We didn't expect this at all." Inman said. "We had hopes that after a month it would be in the six-figure range. ... I think we hit 1 million in seven hours. It was pretty unbelievable."

"Exploding Kittens" is now the third most funded Kickstarter campaign and the most funded games project in the site's history.

Why "Exploding Kittens"?

"When we were playing the original version of the game, instead of a kitten there was a bomb card ... I thought it'd be funnier to make the bomb a kitten instead, that way you wind up with a room full of people all living in fear of a kitten." Inman said on Reddit. "Plus it's right in the nexus of funny and horrible, which is my favorite place to be."

Other games that have tread the line of funny and horrible include Playroom Entertainment's "Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot," Wizards of the Coast's "Guillotine" and fellow Kickstarter campaign "Cards Against Humanity."

Max Temkin, co-creator of "Cards Against Humanity," worked closely with the "Exploding Kittens" team to ensure that the project would be ready to print as soon as the campaign ended. The Kickstarter campaign for "Cards Against Humanity" was funded in 2011 by 758 backers, but as since become a party game cult classic.

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Temkin has experience with quick mass product distribution. In December, "Cards Against Humanity" shipped more than 5 million gifts across America as part of its "Ten Days or Whatever of Kwanzaa" holiday promotion. The company sent 250,000 people 10 gifts throughout the month after charging $15 a person.

"Retail for indie games is a disaster," Temkin said on Reddit. "It's very hard for designers to make a living with publishers, distributors and other bloodsucking middlemen in the mix."

The "Exploding Kittens" campaign offered backers rewards based on their donations. Backers who pledged $20 will receive an official "Exploding Kittens" deck, a $35 pledge will receive a not-suitable-for-work deck, a $100 pledge gets signed collector decks and playable decks, and a $500 pledge would result in all the previous rewards and a custom drawn card.

Decks are estimated to be delivered in July with custom cards arriving in August. However, a wide-release date has not been set for consumers who did not participate in the campaign.

"We don't have a retail plan yet." Lee said on Reddit. "We made a promise to more than 200,000 people to ship them this game. That's our highest priority right now."

Inman isn't a stranger to crowdfunding projects. In 2012 he launched a campaign through Indiegogo to purchase the property of Nikola Tesla's former laboratory so that it could be converted into a museum. The massive act of philanthropy garnered more than $1.37 million from crowdfunding and also received an $850,000 grant from New York state.

Elon Musk donated $1 million toward the building of the museum and agreed to construct a Tesla supercharger station in the parking lot. Inman raised the rest of the money by selling t-shirts and customized bricks that would later be used as a walkway to the museum.

"I think one of the biggest advantages of crowdfunding is it allows us to do it our own way," Inman said in an interview with CNBC.

Both Inman and Lee agree that the "Exploding Kitten" campaign became less about the money after they reached their initial funding goal and more about the community.

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Backers were encouraged to participate in "Achievements" via social media platforms as part of the campaign's stretch goals. Achievements were simple to accomplish but ridiculous, and ranged from posting pictures of potato-cats and goat selfies to getting 100,000 likes on Facebook.

Inman said receiving all the achievements was "probably the most amusing week of my career."