On November 3, a lovely crowdfunding project with the (surprisingly shouty) name of “HATOFUL BOYFRIEND OFFICIAL PLUSH PROJECT!” flapped onto Kickstarter. Many gamers out there have heard of Hatoful Boyfriend thanks to its incredibly unusual premise. In this visual novel, players take the role of a high school student who is the only human among various bird students. Despite the different in species, she also has the potential to fall in love with one of multiple birds. The game offers far more than awkward laughs, too, as the storyline leads to very heartfelt and even serious places.
Even so, the actual community of people who unabashedly adore Hatoful Boyfriend is a pretty niche group within the visual novel community. That’s why the plush project concerned me. Erick Scarecrow’s goal of $25,000 seemed totally feasible for getting a handful of small plushies out for production. However, it was hard to say for certain how many people would end up showing their support. I was linked to the Hatoful Boyfriend Kickstarter right when it launched, felt amused by its existence, and went to bed. The next time I looked the project had already attained its goal. Okay, so it seemed that this was on track to be a massive hit.
But how is it possible that such a niche group were able to sustain immediate success and continue to double down on it day after day? In my opinion, it has to do with the fact that the community is so niche and that the Kickstarter had very smart goals and tiers in place. First, let’s investigate from the niche aspect. There is very little official Hatoful Boyfriend merchandise available in North America (if any). There is a small amount of fan gear that gets touted out at conventions but, for the most part, fans have no way to show their love other than buying the visual novel on multiple platforms. Japan offers rarities such as drama CDs and books, but those were produced exclusively in Japanese.
This Kickstarter allowed those fans to share their love — a love which has been bottled up for years in the case of some. After all, the very initial release of Hatoful Boyfriend was in 2011. With people so devoted to a title, it only makes sense that they flocked to it immediately upon launch. Not only that, it makes sense that they shared the word with everyone who would listen. The Hatoful Boyfriend Kickstarter was even trending on Facebook at a point thanks to this wonderfully obsessive level of affection for the property. It also helped that the plush themselves were cute as heck.
Now let’s turn our attention to the reward tiers. Although there were tiers lower and above, the main one I’m focusing on is the $25 3 pack tier. Coming with three different birds, it quickly shot ahead as the most popular tier. When you consider the price of plush these days, this is quite a fair price for three small plush. Right at the start, these were also the only three birds available. As people backed the $25 tier in force, funds continued to skyrocket. After all, who would opt for a single bird at $16 when you could get 3 for $25? With that said, there are some criticisms I have with other tiers. The exclusive Maid Ryouta and Souma Isa $75 plush tiers were limited to 100 each and there has been no attempt to re-open or add more of them since. Then there’s the matter of there being no tier between $75 and $1,000. But hey, they made it work because this helped force the focus right on $25.
$25 is a fair chunk of money and all, but that alone isn’t what propelled the Hatoful Boyfriend plush Kickstarter to $100,000 and beyond. Much of the continued strength of funding day in and day out in the first few weeks was almost certainly due to stretch goals. Stretch goals existed for every $10,000 raised from $35,000 up to $75,000. Basically, they were always the same formula, too. When a stretch goal was reached it would unlock a new bird plush and collector pin. Because it was so predictable, and because the ultimate goal of many fans (such as myself) is to own every single bird, people kept upgrading their reward tier with extra cash. Each additional plush cost $12 more for $16+ backers.
Each time a stretch goal was obtained, fans frantically went to work upgrading their tier with an additional few bucks. With so many doing the exact same thing, it’s no wonder why stretch goals were reached day after day with little issue. You see, the stretch goals themselves produced more funding because folks wanted the new bonus items, and more money helped facilitate the continuation of this pattern up until $75,000. At that point, things changed — but this was likely also for the best. It appears that Erick Scarecrow did not anticipate such a resounding success on Kickstarter. As such, they required time to consider where to go from there. More plushes would make people happy, but it might have also become more and more challenging from a production/shipping standpoint.
So far, no more stretch goals have come up and there may not be any more on the way. With that said, the Hatoful Boyfriend plush Kickstarter has been a resounding success regardless. Just look at the thing! Even after all the stretch goals were met, the momentum has continued to accrue thousands of dollars. People just really want these plush and are (apparently) tremendously interested in getting a complete set. Once again, given the small number of Hatoful Boyfriend collectibles out there, it makes sense that people are intensely focused on getting all they can with the campaign.
It’s just amazing that Hatoful Boyfriend of all the games has done this well. For reference, Scarecrow’s last campaign was for a Hotline Miami figure. In the end, that raised about $70,000 from nearly 500 backers. Yet, here we are with an otome animal-based visual novel raising $120,000 (and counting!) between more than 2,000 backers. This is a testament to the power of harnessing a niche audience. This is also thanks to the ability to create self-sustaining funding machine with attainable, attractive stretch goals.
Did you back the Hatoful Boyfriend plush project? What game would you love to see get official plush toys?