The Thing About Kickstarter

I might’ve mentioned a thing or two about Kickstarter in the past, so if I duplicate some efforts, I do apologize, but I am entirely too lazy to look those up and reference them at the moment. When it comes to donating money, any amount of money, be it a few dollars or a few hundred dollars, it is important for someone to know where their money goes and what that person will do with it.

Charity is a longstanding piece of society, the act of giving someone money, food, clothing, or much more, has existed since forever. When I donate to the American Red Cross, or Child’s Play Charity, or even a local church charity, I’m donating money that I assume will be used by that organization to help their cause. When the Tsunami hit Japan over a year ago, I donated to the Red Cross. Annually, I donate to Child’s Play Charity, which goes to the local children’s hospital. I don’t see this money once it leaves my account, and for all I know, someone could easily be taking it to fund their summer home in Spain. We assume there is transparency because the organization is reputable, responsible, and we see its effects, the end goal we paid for. Even in business, when investors fund a start-up company, they fund an idea, a dream, and the end product that comes of that idea or dream pays out for those investors over time. Capitalism exists on ideas and dreams, someone had to build it for us to come.

Kickstarter is trying to integrate these two components by allowing anyone who has money, to fund a public project. It could be anything really, as long as it is a project intended to produce an end result from an idea or dream, but instead of suits in a closed-door meeting deciding its fate, ordinary people are given the means to contribute whatever amount they feel is justified towards meeting that goal. This seems like the perfect way for small businesses and teams to fund projects that would otherwise never get off the ground because no investor or company would pick them up.

For video game developers, this seemed like a chance to revive dying properties, or start side-projects, or start new projects riding on their namesake or their previous credentials. Who wouldn’t want a game from X Guy or Y company? You’d be crazy not to! But what is their plan? What are their goals? What about the details of the project? Do they have an outline of what they will be doing, milestones they plan to achieve, who will be working on what component, what type of quality control we should expect? These are the type of things investors with shit loads of cash will ask when you want to fund an idea or a dream, and many “idea people” don’t understand the concept of developing something from nothing, their only concern is the idea itself. Now that you’ve essentially crossed out investors and replaced them with regular people, what kind of expectations should you set for them?

All of this comes around to me talking about how I personally think Kickstarter is a bad idea for almost anyone who is on the other side of the page, being you, the regular person. A story I often invoke is that of an IRC server I once was on many years back, where the administrator held several donation drives to fund servers or equipment for the IRC network he ran. A lot of money was collected, but in the end, no new servers or equipment materialized and the site continued to suffer from DDoS attacks. I then heard rumors he took the money and spent it on other things. Be it true or not, you hear stories like this all of the time, people burned by others claiming to be raising money for a real thing. It burned me, and I did not donate anything to anyone over the internet ever, except actual charity organizations. Now I don’t want to insinuate that everyone with a KS page is out to scam you, but even with those who aren’t, what about what they’re doing? Penny-Arcade for example, people who have been often harsh of other KS pages of various natures, launched their own KS page to experiment with the idea of removing ads on their site if they raise X amount of money. Advertising has been an age-old debate and sore point for webcomic authors for years, and for viewers as well. Many authors used to spam donation pages every month to be able to host their comic, and at that time, it was partially justified by the fact that web-hosting isn’t cheap. Many artists were drawing the comic full-time, so they also needed money to live, and even then it’s still not cheap unless you are a big comic, like Penny-Arcade, and I have no doubt they still need the funds from ads to keep the site free for their viewership. But are people willing to pay for no ads?

I think the biggest weigh-in for most people when it comes to Kickstart projects is their return investment. Real investors expect a return on their investment into a project, but Kickstart projects end up being more like donation drives, charity even. Once you’ve given your money, that is it. It’s theirs. Even if you are promised an incentive, a lot of people’s incentive list aren’t worth the price of donation. For example, PA suggests that for 10k you can have lunch and play games with the PA office for a day, but you still have to fly out there. For that much money, I could fly out there and buy them twelve ox and a grandfather clock and deliver it to their office and walk away, probably with money left over. Those type of incentives really only pander to celebrities or the super-rich who can afford to throw that much money into their project. The lower bracket, things like “Gabe will think about you while having sex” and following on Twitter for a year, while cool, you’d have to have a massive case of unwarranted self-importance to pay for something like that, and I am known to battle with USI myself, but I have to pay for a wedding. Priorities! Still, the incentives isn’t the point in the PAKS, the point is to donate to eliminate ads. Should they be successful, and they likely will be, this will change the model for other sites that proves people are willing to donate to eliminate ads and refocus a brand on its core properties.

Kickstarter is a wonderful idea for small and indie development teams to get projects off the ground, but it’s important to remember that you are not buying their finished project, nor will they give you anything for your money beyond the promised incentive. You are donating real money to an idea or dream, and if that finished product materializes, chances are you will still have to pay for it in the end. Some projects were probably rejected by actual investors or companies for a reason. I’m not advocating that no one use KS, but you should be smart about who you put your chips on each time you read the next greatest PLEASE BE GIVING US MONEY NAO project.

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