The concept behind the site is very simple. Let’s say I want to create something. I can start a Kickstarter page, and fill it out with all the details about whatever it is I’m gonna make. Donors can come, see how much my fundraising goal is, and choose to contribute. I set up fundraising “tiers”, much like larger fundraising organizations do, except these tiers provide tangible benefits. The $10 tier might get you a personalized thank you card, the $50 tier might get you a signed copy of whatever I’m creating, and a $500 donation might get your name listed as a Gold Donor or whatever.
The main selling point of Kickstarter is that if the fundraising goal is not met, you don’t end up donating any money. So if my goal is $400, and I only raise $250, the money raised all goes back to the donors, no questions asked. So it’s kind of like risk-free financial supporting: toss some money if you like the idea, but if not enough people do, then there’s no risk.
I’m not saying the Kickstarter model is a bad one. In fact, I’m absolutely positive that more projects will see the light of day because of the platform, when in the past they would have been merely the dreams of idle gamers, artists, and programmers. Kickstarter is a fabulous tool for the indie creator, to be able to subsidize the creation of whatever his or her dream project is – and if enough people can get behind it, then it’s worth creating.
There are a few obvious worries. What if the people just run away with the money? I’ve heard that the Kickstarter folks are very serious about fraud so they have your back there. I don’t think there’s any guarantee against “shitty product”, but when tossing your money toward anything, caveat emptor. There’s no way anyone could guarantee the quality of the products supported, which is a bit troubling but not a dealbreaker.
I guess what I am worried about is the fate of the works created – once all of the backers have been compensated, then what happens? To me it seems that the donors are simply putting forward the production cost and then all they get out of it is a copy of the game or a little piece of themselves in the game (or some recognition from the author). I’m especially wary of the numerous video games which are popping up – the primary option simply seems to be able to pre-order the game. Many of these games have far exceeded their initial fundraising goals – in some cases the creator has a plan for the additional money, but in some he/she does not.
It would all make sense to me in some way if the projects were distributed at-cost or for free following a successful Kickstarter campaign. But, donors are basically paying retail price (and justifying it as “I would have bought a copy anyway”) SIGHT UNSEEN for the game, footing the bill for the production of the game. I feel like there is an evil genius somewhere who loves the idea that the very people who will be buying the game are paying for the production – which just increases the profit margin on every copy sold after the game is produced.
Furthermore, I feel extremely manipulated by some of the projects. I don’t like that we’re “donating” money, because, really, we’re not. We’re paying for a service. Now, that service might be incredibly valuable to me (oh boy, Baldur’s Gate 3?!?!), but I can’t help but feel that it’s not a donation (especially since there is the tiered system of “rewards”). I know that Kickstarter likely must make this decision for tax/legal purposes, but I still don’t like it.
Plus, and I may be stereotyping us gamers here, but I think it’s a very typical desire for people like me to want to be a part of things. I mean, look at conventions where we get to meet William Shatner or Nathan Fillion. How crazy would it be if we got to be on Firefly? or at least a part of the show in some way. We feel the same way about our games. How awesome would it be if my character was one of the main villains in this new campaign setting? This feeling is not at all uncommon and I would say it’s perfectly natural. Thus, I feel somewhat manipulated by the super-expensive options that allow you to “put a piece of yourself in the game”. It’s the same kind of impulse that makes us buy one-of-a-kind collectibles like costumes from the Star Wars movies, or one of the original Browncoats. Except Kickstarter-based projects ask us to do that before the project even comes out. It’s like they’re promising awesomeness, but they aren’t guaranteeing it. The risk-averse angel inside of me is stomping my nerd-glory devil like crazy.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t fund Kickstarter projects that appeal to you. You absolutely should. If there is a certain webcomic that you have been enjoying, for free, that has a Kickstarter page, by all means support the comic’s work. Reputation is king – our fearless leader has his own game that I’m sure he makes almost no money off, and those are the types of projects we should be supporting, not fan-service bloated-budget revivals of games we used to love. We need to support the indies who are Kickstarting because they literally cannot afford to fund it, not the creators who are Kickstarting because they couldn’t get enough investors. Heck, crowdsourcing works; it’s a lot easier to get 10,000 people to “donate” buck then a single person to chip in 10,000 bucks.
Just be wary. I don’t think we’ve reached the first wave of massive Kickstarter disappointments, but I do honestly believe that it’s coming. And people won’t be happy when they shelled out a few hundred bucks for a limited-edition specialized copy of a game that sucks. Again, Caveat emptor, and don’t get your hopes up too high. And maybe this is the recalcitrant jerk inside me talking, but don’t delude yourself that you’re doing the world a service by donating to some of these projects. You’re investing in their product, and instead of a share, you just get a copy of the game when it’s done.
Update: Looks like an already well-established publishing company (Paizo) is getting involved in the kickstarting (though the other links in the article are dead) for their MMO.