The million dollar playing card project
So it's finally happened. A playing card project on Kickstarter has hit over a million dollars. Congratulations to Vivid Kingdoms Playing Cards, created by artist Peter Robinson, better known by his artist moniker Ten Hundred.
And it has done this easily. The project reached the original funding of $10,000 in just three minutes flat. Sixty minutes later, it was topping $100,000. Within the first 24 hours, the project had already hit $850,000. And early on day two, it had crossed a magical milestone, the million dollar mark.
At the time I'm writing this article, the project has already attracted the support of over 18,000 backers, to the tune of more than $1.5 million dollars. And the funding isn't even over yet, because the project only closes on 4 October 2021.
(Update: When the Vivid Kingdoms project finally finished funding, it had generated $2,143,826 from 23,147 backers.)
Why this achievement is amazingThis is an incredible achievement, because it's completely unprecedented. And it's totally unexpected, both for the creator himself, and for the entire playing card community. And here's why.
To give you some sense of the size of the amazing achievement of the Vivid Kingdoms project, and get some sense of how amazing this accomplishment is, start by taking a look at this list of the most funded playing card projects of all time on Kickstarter that I put together just a few months ago in June 2021. Here's the all-time Top 10 list as it was halfway this year, arranged by the total funds raised:
1. $630,300 - The Name of the Wind Art Deck by Elodin Enterprises
2. $589,660 - The Name of the Wind by Albino Dragon
3. $564,558 - MINT 2 by 52Kards
4. $477,229 - Jerry's Nugget by Expert Playing Card Company
5. $393,000 - The Eye of the Ocean by Stockholm17
6. $364,000 - The Photography Deck by Travel9to5
7. $321,052 - Anubis & Osiris Shadow by Steve Minty
8. $287,813 - The NOC Luxury Collection by Riffle Shuffle x House of Playing Cards
9. $265,200 - Arrow & Shield Playing Cards by Card Mafia
10. $250,887 - Kingdom & Kinghood by Artisan Playing Cards
The Vivid Kingdoms deck has absolutely obliterated that list with its record breaking result. In fact, it surpassed the previous #1 in less than a day, and has just blown away everything that has preceded it. It's already generated close to the amount of funding from the top three projects combined!
When making the above list a couple of months ago, I discovered that less than 25 playing card projects had ever raised more than $150,000. Only a dozen previous projects had hit $200,000. So that already puts the Vivid Kingdoms project into elite company. Only four projects had been funded to the tune of $400,000 or more, while just three achieved the magic figure of half a million bucks. Vivid Kingdoms is breathing rarefied air.
The previous highest of all time was The Name of the Wind Art Deck by Elodin Enterprises with $630,300. Both it and the #2 deck on the list achieved success largely on the back of a close connection with a popular fiction book. Vivid Kingdoms has nearly tripled the previous all-time best, and at the rate we're going, it could even top $2 million.
The success of the Vivid Kingdoms project is absolutely phenomenal, and it came completely out of nowhere for many of us in the playing card industry. What makes it all the more astounding is that this is the creator's first ever playing card project on Kickstarter. Not only is this level of funding totally unprecedented for any previous custom deck on Kickstarter, but it's all the more sensational because it is a first-time creator. Playing card enthusiasts are known to be wary of new creators without a proven track record, so this really is unheard of.
Why this project has been a successSo how did this happen, and how was this stellar result even possible? Here are some factors that played a role:
1. It's a lovely looking deck.
The greatest creator in the world may have his name on a dud, but it's still a dud. He may still get some loyal fans buying it even if it is a lousy deck. After all, big name playing card designer Jackson Robinson managed to get a surprising number of customers to buy a simple deck-shaped block of wood with his signature on it, which he listed on 1st April. It's still not clear whether or not this was originally intended as an April Fools Joke, but he delivered on what he promised, and plenty of people seemed to want to buy it. But the general rule is you need a solid deck to make money. Nobody is going to make a million bucks without a good quality deck. Which this is.
Playing card enthusiasts and collectors will find a lot to like about this project. The tuck case will have embossing and a custom seal, and there's even a custom die-cut sleeve that slides over the tuck case for added style. Some collectors won't like the monochrome backs and the one-way courts, but there's plenty of great things about the artwork here that will win a lot of people over.
The suits tell the story of four different cultures, each with its own thematic elements, and the artwork on the cards is vibrant and stylish. I especially like the number cards, which have transformational features. What's more, the number cards of each suit combine to form a larger image, known as a polyptych. I'm a huge fan of decks that have this puzzle-like feature, because it helps them stand out from your typical 52 playing cards.
2. It's an original and artistic deck.
Many playing card designers can get stuck in a rut, because they approach playing cards too attached to conventions and previous styles. It's true that beginning a custom playing card project with a comprehensive knowledge of playing card conventions can give you a good foundation to work with, and can help you avoid rookie mistakes. But it can also cramp your style when venturing into custom territory.
Ten Hundred is a graphic designer who by his own admission didn't really know much about playing cards when he began this journey. That means he's entered playing card territory by way of his expertise in the field of art, and the result is that it can liberate him from conventions, and try something new. Because his focus until now was graphic design and the skills in art that he developed outside the world of playing cards, he can come into this field with a completely fresh and original approach. And that's definitely what we have here: something original and artistic, that is the product of someone who is an artist first and foremost. The court cards are especially spectacular.
We've seen a success like this from artists before, who have transitioned from art to playing cards, although never on this level. For example, graphic design brand Uusi has produced a number of delightful custom decks for which they used traditional art techniques. These were widely praised within the playing card industry, and were also the result of applying well-honed skills in the world of art to the new world of custom playing cards. Vivid Kingdoms also exhibits artistic qualities that are original and striking on the level of art alone.
3. It's a well-polished deck.
Some creators make the mistake of rushing a deck to market too quickly, in their quest for funding. Especially someone who is a first-time creator and who doesn't have much prior experience with playing cards is liable to mis-step in this way. While Ten Hundred put a lot of care and thought into his first forays in designing a custom deck, he didn't make the mistake of throwing his initial design onto the market right away.
We've seen plenty of other graphic designers from outside the playing card industry make that mistake. While well-intentioned, they make the assumption that their skills will automatically transfer well when they try their hand at playing cards. But they don't realize that they can make a lot of errors common to novices. For example, they fail to consider important factors like the practicalities of borders, two-way designs, functional pips and indices, or they might choose a poor printer to work with. This will immediately cause a lot of playing card fans to give their project a hard pass.
But Ten Hundred wisely took the time to fine-tune his initial ideas before launching his Kickstarter project. He consulted other big names in the playing card industry, such as Chris Ramsay, and he worked with ideas and suggestions made by fans and followers. And it shows. By taking the time to research playing cards, cardistry, and magic in the course of refining his design, he created a product that manages to avoid the many weaknesses of a lot of first-time projects created by other well-intentioned graphic designers. And yet throughout this process, he retained his own artistic vision and style, which ensured the ongoing appeal of his Vivid Kingdoms project.
4. Its creator already had a large following.
While Ten Hundred was very much a non-entity in the playing card industry until now, he did have an established name on another platform. He runs a very successful youtube channel, where he has over half a million subscribers. Just head to Ten Hundred's personal website or his youtube channel, and you'll see that he is a very creative individual whose artwork is vibrant and appealing, and whose videos are engaging to watch. He lives in South West Michigan, and in many of his videos he documents his paintings, murals, and many fun art challenges and other projects. Over on his personal website he has a ready collection of art, apparel, and other merchandise available for purchase, all featuring his unique style of art. The art is compelling stuff, and it's little wonder that he's already attracted a solid fanbase.
His community of over 500,000 subscribers represents a loyal and large following that already appreciates his work and respects the man for what he does. These people are already invested in his brand and his style. Many of them are more than happy to throw dollars at him when he designs a custom deck of playing cards. That much is obvious from the many people in the list of supporters for the project that are first ever backers on Kickstarter. Many of these are likely to be committed subscribers of his channel, who joined Kickstarter just so that they could support his project. So Ten Hundred's massive youtube following likely accounts for the biggest chunk of this success, and not the playing card collectors who normally are essential for pushing a project limply across the line of its funding goal.
We have witnessed playing card projects on Kickstarter have success for this reason before, where large amounts of funding were achieved due to cross-over appeal, or from a large pre-existing community outside of the world of custom playing cards. The two most funded playing card projects on Kickstarter prior to Vivid Kingdoms were both based on the Patrick Rothfuss book The Name of the Wind. As a result, those projects could draw on the many existing fans of the book. Similarly we've seen other projects generate significant success due to crossover appeal in other markets, like The Photography Deck, which attracted a lot of interest from photographers who might otherwise not be in the market for a custom deck of playing cards. One real positive about this development is that it may help many non-collectors discover the joy of custom playing cards.
5. It benefited from community engagement.
Ten Hundred has documented the entire process of designing this deck on his youtube channel, and invited his followers to walk with him along the way. This means we had as many as a hundred thousand people joining him on his quest, and accompanying him on his design journey. By the time he was ready to launch his Kickstarter deck, many of them were very familiar with his design, and were emotionally invested in his story. They were attached to the creator, and so were more than ready to open their wallets and get unattached from their money the moment the project went live.
I mentioned earlier that when the deck was launched on Kickstarter, it was already a well-polished product. That was largely a result of this community engagement. The comments and feedback from his fans helped shape the direction and look of the deck. For example, at various stages along the way, Ten Hundred ran polls to solicit input about which card back design people preferred, and which design for the face cards they liked better. Not only did this input from fans make Vivid Kingdoms better, thus increasing its appeal, but this process of fine-tuning also came with the additional benefit of bringing more people on board as the project developed.
If you haven't yet seen them, head over to his channel and check out the excellent videos that Ten Hundred posted about designing and creating his own deck, which walks through the journey he's been on: Youtube playlist.
What happens nextThere's no doubt that this is an insane result which came totally out of the blue for most playing card collections. I can only applaud Ten Hundred for surprising us, and for treating us to a spectacular deck that has had such success.
But many seasoned creators will likely have mixed feelings about this remarkable result. They'll be happy for the man, I'm sure, and perhaps even a little envious. After all, there are many worthy projects from experienced and talented playing card designers that don't get anywhere near a tenth of the attention or support of this project. But seasoned designers will also be realistic, and be thinking about the headaches that Ten Hundred will have doing the fulfilment. Just think of how many decks he has to sign, for example, as part of the rewards he's offering. I spoke with one experienced creator, and his immediate response to the news of this Kickstarter's record result was: "I hope he'll be just as successful pulling off the fulfilment.''
Fulfilling a playing card project isn't easy, so don't go thinking that this is easy money. One reaction I saw online was this: "So this guy produces the deck, meets all criteria with all backers, sells everything, he pockets the rest of the bread? Is that how this works? Honey, I'm changing careers. That's right - consider me henceforth a "playing card designer". I'll be at my desk." No sir, that's not how it works. If they're lucky, most playing designers barely cover their costs when they run a Kickstarter for a custom deck. The amount of playing card designers that actually make a living off designing playing cards can be counted on two hands at most. By the time they've completed fulfilment and sorted out any issues with missing packages or defective decks, there's not often any "bread" left to pocket. Most creators of custom playing cards don't embark on this process to make money, but do it for the sheer love of it.
In reality, there's a lot of expenses involved, so don't be thinking that this means that Ten Hundred will be pocketing over $1.5 million bucks. Kickstarter takes 5% - that's an easy $75,000, thank you very much. Payment processing fees will eat up another 3-5%. That's another $75,000 gone. Of what remains, a significant amount will be going to the costs of printing and fulfilment. Somewhere along the line the tax man will get some too. Certainly the boys in the Kickstarter boardrooms must have a bit of a party when a project like this comes through. And so would the folks over at the printer, the United States Playing Card Company, because this is great business for them. But a successful project like this isn't the ticket to becoming an instant millionaire, because a lot of that funding is going to be eaten up by expenses.
What's more, fulfilment involves an enormous amount of work. A new creator needs to think about how he's going to market and advertise his Kickstarter. There needs to be regular engagement with backers, both during the time of funding, and keeping them informed with updates afterwards. Making all the necessary arrangements with the printer and getting the decks shipped to the homes of backers isn't nearly as easy or as smooth as you might think. There are often unanticipated issues that need resolving along the way. And once decks do end up in the hands of backers, you'll have to invest time and energy to sort out the inevitable instances where something went wrong, e.g. where a backer didn't get their deck, received the wrong decks, or received damaged decks. There are real life examples where creators had to dig into their own pockets and even their savings to keep their supporters satisfied, or simply didn't come through at all.
In short, fulfilling a playing card project of this size requires a lot of time, effort, and expense. For most creators, this adds up to a huge amount of hours - and that doesn't even take into consideration the amount of time spent on doing the actual design. Once you deduct all your expenses, there's usually not much money, if any, left over at the end of the day. And if you take whatever profit there might be and divide it by the number of hours of time you've spent, it usually works out to a pittance. You'll probably earn more working at a fast food outlet. That's the reason there are so few professional playing card designers around today, and most creators are hobbyists who do this purely on the side, as a hobby for the love of it.
Ten Hundred will have a lot of money sitting in the bank after the funding from Kickstarter comes through. But he'll also be spending a lot. And he'll have a lot of work and headaches to deal with along the way. Many experienced creators will be wondering how Ten Hundred will go with accomplishing that, given a project this size. There's no reason to think that he won't come through, because the amount of effort and time he has put into his design shows that he's committed and hard working.
Furthermore, unlike most creators, he already has over a decade of experience in shipping his art merchandise, and has the infrastructure and employees needed to make this happen. When I asked him about how he plans to accomplish the fulfilment part of this project, he said: "I run a full time shipping warehouse with several full time employees where they send out orders all day and respond to customer service emails. This is the largest scale project we have ever done, but we have the infrastructure in place to fulfill these orders. Also I am currently exploring some options with fulfillment partners behind the scenes to make sure I am finding the best solution to get these cards into my customers hands."
Clearly he's been thinking about this carefully from the outset, and has things in hand for the fulfilment stage. Supporters can rest easy that they'll receive their playing cards. But easy money this is not. Whatever profit Ten Hundred does make after the dust has settled will have been well earned. This project might just generate a reasonable amount of funds for Ten Hundred to enjoy after all is said and done, but it won't have come easily, and it is a rare exception in the world of playing cards, and not something that creators should make a goal for themselves.
Will there be others?I'm very pleased for artist Ten Hundred, and I look forward to seeing the printed result of the Vivid Kingdoms Playing Cards project. And I hope that this remarkable success will also become an incentive for new contributors and talented artists to try their luck in the playing card industry. Many custom decks are created by playing card enthusiasts with skills in graphic design or art. But why not turn that formula around, and start with someone with skills in graphic design or art, and let's see what they can produce if they become a playing card enthusiast. This project shows that a popular artist with an established following can have big success with a custom deck of playing cards, if they go the right way about it, and build on the strength of their brand.
However, it would be a mistake to think that this is an easy accomplishment. It requires an original art style, and real artistic skill. It requires a strong brand with a solid reputation and large following. And it requires the artist to spend a lot of time understanding playing cards, the way that Ten Hundred did. The Vivid Kingdoms project may be a record-breaking surprise, but it was in no way an accidental success.
But let's hope that it is a harbinger of more successes to come, not just for Ten Hundred, but also for other established artists. The playing card industry can only get better because of it.
Update: When the Vivid Kingdoms project finally closed on 4 October 2021, it had generated $2,143,826 from 23,147 backers.
Want to learn more?: Check out Ten Hundred online here:
● Official website: tenhundredart.com
● Social media: Youtube channel, Facebook, Instagram
● Kickstarter: Vivid Kingdoms Playing Cards
Related articles you might find interesting:
● Kickstarter Rockstars, Part 1: The Top 20 Most Funded Decks of Playing Cards of All Time
● Kickstarter Rockstars, Part 2: The Top 40 Most Funded Decks of Playing Cards of All Time
● The Mystery of The Newest Million Dollar Playing Card Kickstarter
About the writer: EndersGame is a well-known and highly respected reviewer of board games and playing cards. He loves card games, card magic, cardistry, and card collecting, and has reviewed several hundred boardgames and hundreds of different decks of playing cards. You can see a complete list of his game reviews here, and his playing card reviews here. He is considered an authority on playing cards and has written extensively about their design, history, and function, and has many contacts within the playing card and board game industries. You can view his previous articles about playing cards here. In his spare time he also volunteers with local youth to teach them the art of cardistry and card magic.