When Kickstarter first fired up, it felt like a gaming revolution was upon us. I suppose, you can still say that is the case. I freely admit there are great ideas and stories behind many kickstarters and there will be many good products to come from kickstarter. However, I caution gamers, because unlike the many I am not convinced that kickstarter is a good direction for our industry and more importantly the consumer to continue to back as it is.
Before we dive into my trepidation over Kickstarter for gaming I think its important we understand the fundamentals of Kickstarter. Just what exactly is it, and what am I the consumer getting into?
By its own definition Kickstarter ” is a funding platform for creative projects. Everything from films, games, and music to art, design, and technology. Kickstarter is full of ambitious, innovative, and imaginative projects that are brought to life through the direct support of others.”
I assume most readers of this will have a good idea of what kickstarter is and how you the consumer fit into the premise. But if you need a simple answer its this: You the consumer are the funding source for a kickstarter project, and in return for your money given you are rewarded with something predetermined by the kickstartee.
On the surface it sounds almost as though you are investing into something, many still think that is the case but it isn’t. Nor is this a loan from you to the developer for a project. The reality of Kickstarter is its a straight forward transaction. The Kickstartee sets a goal for funds to raise and promises you some form of goods in return for the money pledged toward their goal. As long as the funds goal is achieved your money is 100% taken by Kickstarter and minus fee’s the money goes to the kickstartee. The kickstartee is then obligated to only give you what was agreed upon in the pledged transaction. This is a very important part of kickstarter that often goes overlooked. You are buying only what the kickstartee has offered you for the dollar amount you pledged and that is not necessarily the final end product of the kickstarter.
To give some additional perspective, here is some of the language off of kickstarter.com that further defines what you the consumer is getting involved with:
* “Project creators keep 100% ownership of their work. Kickstarter cannot be used to offer financial returns or equity…
* Some projects that are funded on Kickstarter may go on to make money, but backers are supporting projects to help them come to life, not financially profit
* It’s the project creator’s responsibility to complete their project. Kickstarter is not involved in the development of the projects themselves.
* Kickstarter does not guarantee projects or investigate a creator’s ability to complete their project
* Kickstarter doesn’t issue refunds as transactions are between backers and creators, and creators receive all funds (after fees) soon after their campaign ends (kickstarter goal met and time period expires).
Measuring Success on Kickstarter
The success of Kickstarter by their own merits seems to be largely measured by the percentage of projects “funded” as in how many kickstarter projects have been proposed and then met the goals they set out to reach in terms of “funding”. Kickstarter boasts that over 43% of their kickstarters have been funded. They do reference “Unsuccessful” dollars which are kickstarters that failed to fund but that is where it stops.
So, what happens after the kickstarter funds? Where is the success stats of the projects that actually get “completed” and what kind of measurement or bench marking is being tracked or enforced to make sure these projects are fulfilled or on a different level the quality of work? The scary answer is very little.
Once it funds, Kickstarter has very little teeth to it to enforce anything with the exception of delivery of the rewards to the pledges, and even then it seems Kickstarter isn’t really interested in being the go between. The relationship truly is handed off to be between you and the developer/kickstartee.
A cautious example of how it can go wrong:
* Haunts: The Manse Macabre, a kickstarter that funded fully in June 2012. By September 2012 the developer admitted that funds for the game had been used up and they didn’t have the money to complete the game. They had to go back to source more funds and still no delivery in sight.
Failed management of projects aside, the other quantitative element we can look to for “success” is the quality of the work. I mean this is the ultimate barometer we give to all games, how good is it? How does it rate compared to others in its genre? Graphical bench marks along with audio and gameplay are all elements we often use. And this is where I feel Kickstarter shows its biggest cracks from a consumer point of view. All of these bench marks are irrelevant in terms of kickstarter. A majority of the time with kickstarter you are more or less given a pitch prior to any real quantitative work being done. This is the same pitch (basically) these developers would have given a publisher to secure funding. They can secure that funding through kickstarter with no over watch, no quality control and nobody to tell them its bad, or they need to go back to the drawing board. They have the money and nobody to answer to.
Consumers lose buying power
You have power in your wallet as long as the money remains there. Game developers / publishers want that money and in order to get that out of your wallet they have to present a quality product to you. The moment you take the money out of your wallet and hand it over you lose all power especially in the kickstarter model.Ensuring quality of work is one of the core issues I have with kickstarter for games. We as consumers are able to vote with our wallet on games that are created and presented to us at a retail level. IF the game is good enough, or whatever bench mark you personally use, you will put forward your money to reward the developer/publisher for creating a product you find worthy.
As a consumer we should be rejecting the notion of using our voting dollars as source funding, it absolutely kills the power of the consumer. We should instead be demanding that things like kickstarter amend their value propositions for the funder. In reality we are the investors in someone’s ideas but due to the lack of oversight and accountability our dollars/investment is taken with minimal reward or guarantee of quality in return. The cracks in this system are obvious to those willing to look.