Assuming that you have friends, chances are you’ve played Cards Against Humanity, the positively filthy and by extension much funnier riff on popular word association card game Apples to Apples. Though only available directly through the Cards Against Humanity website or specialty games stores, the game and its four expansions are consistently sold out. Meanwhile, the PDF version – offered for free through the website – has been downloaded at least 1.5 million times, and probably at least a few hundred thousand more, since the company only started tracking this number last year. Though the makers of the game refuse to give any sales figures, a report by the Chicago-Sun Times estimates that it’s made roughly $12 million in profit, based on the price that they sell the game vs. the estimated cost of production. Not too shabby for a game that was crowdfunded for a paltry $15,000.
But here at The Plaid Zebra, it’s not the amount of money a company has made that makes them worthy of an article – rather, it’s how they use it. In this respect, Cards Against Humanity might just be the most humanitarian business around.
First there’s the hilarity of their annual Black Friday event, a sly protest of the insane consumer culture surrounding the “holiday.” In 2013, they had a one-day “sale” offering the game for five dollars more than the average price, and found that not only did they not see a hit in their usual game sales, but they actually gained a nice spike the next day. This year, they offered boxes of actual bull shit for six bucks apiece. They explicitly stated that it would contain no surprises – no extra cards, no additions to their usual holiday gift promotions – and yet they still managed to ship about 30,000 boxes of literal poop to their fan community.
These are funny little pranks that make a big point about the nature of Black Friday – that it’s an inhumane practice that preys on the consumerist nature that corporations instil into otherwise logical people. But aside from the satirical nature of these promotions, the people behind Cards Against Humanity have also donated tons of money towards charitable causes.
Since they started in 2012, much of the profit from Cards Against Humanity’s more traditional holiday sales have gone towards public-education-based charities. The first one, a pay-what-you-want holiday-themed expansion pack, allowed them to donate $70,000 to the Wikimedia Foundation; in 2013’s “12 Days of Holiday Bullshit” they spent $100,000 to fund almost 300 public school programs in high-poverty classrooms; finally, their most recent “Ten Days or Whatever of Kwanzaa” promotion generated $250,000 to put towards the Sunlight Foundation, a not-for-profit that lets people see which organizations fund elected officials. Even cooler is the utter transparency of these numbers – the announcement of the holiday pack donation was released along with a fact sheet detailing how many units were sold, how much it cost them to make and ship it, and how much cash they received in sales. The two Holiday Bullshit promotions so far have followed suit (though with simpler figures due to their fixed price points).
In addition, despite sales of Cards Against Humanity making millionaires of the eight creators, none of them consider the game their full-time job. Pseudo-ringleader Max Temkin has done design work for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, sits on the advisory board of DonorsChoose.org, and published the local multiplayer video game Samurai Gunn. A couple of the co-creators, David Pinsof and Josh Dillon, are working on their PhDs in evolutionary psychology and astrophysics respectively. The creators of the game are also in the process of outfitting a co-working space, where they’ll offer desks for cheap to writers, comedians, and artists of any sort.
Aside from showing an honest-to-goodness rare moral fortitude, these sorts of initiatives – the charity, the pranks, the support of creators – are just good business. Most people interact with the products they own in a begrudging fashion; they love Starbucks coffee or the bargain-bin prices of Wal-Mart while also recognizing, disdainfully, the harm that these massive corporations cause. There’s a tiredness that comes with buying things – the guilt of spending money on objects that are not entirely necessary, not to mention the tangible hit to your bank account. By contrast, supporting Cards Against Humanity feels good, and knowing that they’re using the money for charitable causes or support for other interesting projects makes fans of the product more likely to continue to buy future releases. It’s nice to know that the things you like are also made by good people, and that by paying them you’re also indirectly responsible for a bunch of other great projects. This is what inspires the sort of loyalty that makes 30,000 people feel okay about buying bovine feces.