Ok, ok...my thoughts on Kickstarter

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Summary: I have backed a number of Kickstarter projects, despite having mixed feelings on the platform. Let's talk about what I consider the pros and cons.

BLOT: (29 Mar 2014 - 01:19:19 PM)

Ok, ok...my thoughts on Kickstarter


I have backed 32 projects. I've backed my fair share of late and incomplete and poorly made products, and my fair share of early and exceeding-expectations and eye-opening products. My top three currently backed projects are [in no particular order] tremulus, Hillfolk, and Fate Core. All of them unlocked enough stretch goals to include lots of extra materials. I suspect the Chaosium projects (Call of Cthulhu 7 and Horror on the Orient Expres) and Privly will join this best-of list when they get released. For now, let's just say that I was a moderate participant in the site, and I have mostly tired of the way certain aspects are handled and so probably will never be as active again [while still backing those projects, likely RPGs, that get my attention]. I am not an expert on Kickstarter, but someone who has invested time and energy playing its games.

One thing Kickstarter is not is a site for "donations". Despite the tweet above, given in support of Oculus Rift being sold to Facebook, the word {donation | donor | donate} does not show up once in either the What Is Kickstarter? page or the Kickstarter Terms of Use page. It is not a charity organization. It explicity says it is not in its guidelines. Neither does the term {invest*} (it also explicitly bans selling "shares in the company" as being part of reward). What does show up are the words {fund*} [14 times in "What" and 21 times in "Terms] and {back*} [11 and 25]. And in the spectrum of things between investing and donating, "funding" and "backing" lean much more heavily towards the former. Then again, a backer is not expected to have any stake in the company (the opposite is the case, see above). They are not expected to be able to make demands outside of reasonable ones like excepting to get the rewards for their pledge levels, maybe. Besides getting the rewards and add-ons, rarely will a project going big benefit them. Back a novel and it sells well? You get the same ebook copy you would have gotten if had not sold at all.

Kickstarter is in the uncomfortable crossroads between giving someone money to make their dreams come true and getting reasonable value back for that money, with neither aspect guaranteed. It feels prone to taking advantage of the dreamer who thinks their product will finally make them rich and of the person who thinks they will be supporting the next wave of technology and getting amply rewarded in the meantime. Looking at any number of searches with terms like (but not limited to) "Why I'm disappointed in Kickstarter" or "Why Kickstarter is great" you find a lot of confusion about what the community represents, how to use it, how to take advantage of it [in both the positive and negative senses of the term], what it can do. Some of the biggest stalwarts aren't sure what they are playing with, and that's kind of crazy, this relatively late in the game.

Something I am pretty sure about is that crowdfunding as a concept will only grow bigger and better from here on out, while the Kickstarter model is already showing its age and limits, unless something tightens up. With big names using it to back vanity projects, and companies pushing a number of sales off-site to other payment venues, and infamous vaporware projects, and cases where stuff like shipping costs destroy a company structure, and in one case a creator destroying a successfully backed and produced product because he felt the attitude of the backers was all wrong: Kickstarter's not-quite-preordering system opens up a lot of doors for abuse.

If it pulled a little more to the "back the things you love without expectations" [what I suppose you could call the IndieGoGo model] or a little more to the "buy in at an early date" then I would be more in love with it. I might give, say, Ron Edwards, a few dollars just in general support and then buy what he Kickstarted when it gets released. Alternately, if I could simply pre-order the product, and be guaranteed a reasonable chance of completion, I would much prefer that.

Imagine a site, just like Kickstarter, without the often esoteric pledge levels and add-on confusion about who gets what, and instead having a more itemized business plan and timetable requirement that people could buy the exact things they want. For RPG X, I could buy the hardbacks, the advanced rules, the bonus worldbooks, and custom dice. Pay reasonable shipping on all of those things. Then chuck in some extra dollars in support. And if my total exceeds Level A, I get my name in the back of the book and if it exceeds Level B, maybe I get a t-shirt. And I'm reasonably assured of getting my product because the creators have already received estimates on printing costs and time-tables and that information is printed there on the site. I know there would be failures, especially in those cases where a company gets so much support that they do not have the infrastructure for it, but all things being equal I would rather be able to be smarter about what I back than merely trust a project creator's word that the amounts asked for are actually going to complete the project. And if the company does really well, and sells out to a bigger company, then it doesn't feel like I am owed anything, because I got what I was owed. The lines are drawn in the sand, right off.

And maybe it is simply best to let it stay a little anarchic, I really don't know, but it feels like Kickstarter is suffering at the edges for its own success, like many of its darling projects have already done.

Me Versus the Net


Written by Doug Bolden

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