Can Someone Explain the “Exploding Kittens” Fad?

Can someone please explain the “Exploding Kittens” fad? Exploding Kittens is one of Kickstarter’s most successful campaigns. There are 3 days left to go and the company has raised about $6.5 million. What does the company plan to do?  They expect to sell a deck of playing cards. With the deck you play a straightforward game that ends when someone draws from the deck a card with a picture of an exploding cat.

This simple deck of cards with funny cat pictures has convinced about 160,000 people to spend $35 each. Other card based games, like Pokemon, have been amazingly successful in the past so why is this a puzzle? The puzzle with “Exploding Kittens” is that no one has played the game yet. The game will not be available until this summer. This means no buyer knows if the game is fun or a dud.

Moreover, the company is offering the game at two price points. The regular game sells for $20. Very few people (about 10,000) purchased the regular game which is for ages 7 and up. Most of the backers (over 150,000 people to date) have spent $35 for the regular deck plus the bonus cards that are “too horrible/incredible to include in the kid version.” It is tough to be shocking with kittens given every cat you and I have ever seen is already naked. Why are so many people spending so much on an unavailable and unproven card game?

The economics of the company are amazing. Custom printing two decks of cards, including a nice box is less than $5 when purchased in bulk. Kickstarter takes 5% to run the campaign and the credit card company takes between 3% and 5%. Combined Kickstarter and the credit card processor are taking a little less than $3.50 per order. Adding in some shipping and handling costs (likely around $1.50 per order) means for every $35 order, the company will make about $25 gross profit. The three partners stand to make a before tax profit of almost $5 million.

I don’t begrudge anyone profit for coming up with an interesting idea. What I don’t understand is this fad itself. Yes, cats and cat videos are big on the Internet. Everyone loves cats. They are cute and cuddly. However, simply putting up a cat or kitten game on Kickstarter is not a sure road to success. Another company saw the amazing growth of “Exploding Kittens” and tried to capitalize on its success by offering “Cat Simulator -an exploding & exciting cats and kittens game.”  So far just 9 people have backed this alternative game.  This shows that merely offering cat pictures or drawings is not a surefire way to be successful.

Many people pre-order products. For example, Apple Computer has been very successful in stoking demand for the next IPhone via pre-orders. However, the Apple pre-order fad is understandable because people have experience with the last version of the IPhone. Moreover, showing off the latest version of the IPhone the day it ships provides instant status in most situations. I am not sure how much social status people gain by bragging to friends and family that they have the latest card game and the game deck has silly pictures of cats.

I have been puzzled before by card games (see my Cards Against Humanity post here). However, I am stumped by this one. I understand fads for physical things. I get why people loved Hello Kitty items or Beanie Babbies. They are physical items that are both toys and keepsakes. I also understand Internet fads. Psy’s Gangnam Style video was fun to watch the first half dozen times.   What I don’t get is a fad for a product that doesn’t exist yet and has not been vetted or played by anyone. Can you explain it to me?


Update:  The Exploding Kittens campaign has ended and there was a burst of funding/buying in the last days.  The campaign raised almost $8.8 million and had about 220,000 purchases.  Only 15,500 people purchased the game rated for all ages, while over 200,000 people purchased the more risque $35 card deck.  This suggest each partner will earn well over $2 million once the cards are delivered this summer.  Throughout history people took their “hats off” as a gesture of respect.  In this case I say “cats off” and give a hearty well-done to Shane Small, Elan Lee and Matthew Inman.

11 thoughts on “Can Someone Explain the “Exploding Kittens” Fad?

  1. It’s the right product, from the right people at the right time. Shane Small and Elan Lee were both involved in Xbox, they know how to design a game. Matthew Inman has been building The Oatmeal and its unique brand of humor for the past five years, already has 3 million Facebook likes and his books have been on the New York Times bestseller list.

    The NSFW deck is a Kickstarter exclusive, providing an incentive to buy sight unseen as opposed to waiting.

    The time is right because Cards Against Humanity, while great, has been around for a few years and a new addition to my complement of party games is most welcome. Personally, $35 is a small price to pay to discover if that alluring stranger at my next gathering has the same (lack of) taste as I do.

  2. They cleverly gamed the system by creating a hype/buzz with flooding the media about the spontaneous nature of their concept. This must have been a well-calculated, strategically launched crowdfunding campaign with the sole intent of creating and monetizing a fad. If everyone were as smart and discriminating as you are, this would have not happened!

  3. “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe!”

    – Albert Einstein

  4. Its totally the “Matthew Inman” effect. That guy is a viral super star online. Crazy campaign tho, a great example of kickstarter economy factor.

  5. you spelled “Pokemon” wrong Pokemon is a trading card based game while exploding kittens is just a regular card game with everything in the box you need. No trading friends, no “booster” packs unlike Pokemon which is more like a gamble every time you open a new pack of cards to get the card you want. Pokemon is more about collecting than anything. Exploding kittens is more like a board game style deal and the game honestly doesn’t seem that fun. I think this is more of a deal of selling on a silly name alone then having the game be any good.

  6. I find this totally fascinating, was looking at the top all time Kickstarter projects and could not believe the money these people are getting.

    Most people are too afraid to go against the herd, thanks for the great article.

    I thought that this was the dumbest thing I have seen since Ryan’s toy review and could not believe people would pay 35 dollars for a deck of cards. I searched google for negative reviews and all the top results are raving over the game.

    The name just sounds stupid, I am going to come up with a game for Kickstarter called Decapitated Donkeys, whoo hoo I will be rich.

    I think these people are connected and are colluding, it has to be and people just follow along like lemmings.

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