What is wrong with wanting something in return for handing over cold hard cash? It’s a question that when asked out of context doesn’t sound too strange. If you were out doing your weekly shop, got to the checkout and paid £60 you would expect to walk out of that store with enough food to sustain yourself for a while, right?
So why is it when I use that exact same question to highlight why I won’t ever back something on Kickstarter do I get derided?
For those of you who’ve been living in a box for the last few years, Kickstarter is the crowdfunding platform that allows creators to ask anyone for money in order to create the project of their dreams. Since Kickstarter’s 2009 launch over $1.2bn has been pledged towards 65,000 projects.
Ever since Kickstarter came to prominence as a viable way of creators to fund their projects I have had an issue with it. And not just because I am a killer of hopes and dreams.
There is absolutely nothing in place to make sure that when a backer pays their money over that they will get something back in return.
For every success there is a failure, for every Elite: Dangerousthere is aYogventures. For people who put their hard earned cash into a project there is not a great deal they can do if a project is successfully funded but then dies months or even years later. Kickstarter themselves wash their hands of any responsibility straight away stating in their FAQ’s:
“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. On Kickstarter, backers (you!) ultimately decide the validity and worthiness of a project by whether they decide to fund it.”
I can fully see why Kickstarter can’t take responsibility; they are just the platform after all. But there is something not quite right about pushing a huge part of the responsibility onto the backers themselves. Backers are people on the internet (like you), people on the internet can such very, very stupid things.
Should we trust the internet to “decide the validity and worthiness of a project”?
Another thing that has always nagged at me; what is a backer? When you see a Kickstarter project go spectacularly tits up the person who gave the project owners money are left with either nothing or some free shit that came as a “reward”.
Stay with me on this point, giving money to a Kickstarter project is a lot like giving money to charity; You see a cause that you want to help out because you think it is worthy, you give money towards that cause but you never really know where that money has gone and what it has actually done. In twelve months time you might see a picture of some aid being delivered to a war torn country but then again you might not.
Circling back to Yogventures (the most recent high profile Kickstarter calamity)one of the reasons given for the project never happening was that “The project was proving too ambitious and difficult for them to complete with their six-man team”. How are ordinary ‘backers’ supposed to be able to tell if a team is able to complete a project to the level they say they are going to?
If you head to most successful Kickstarter pages you will be welcomed by a rather fancy video and a wall of text that assures you as a potential backer that they are going to be making the most awesome product of all time. Anyone can promise the world and a lot of people will believe them, regardless of that person’s ability to follow through on their claims.
That’s not to say I disagree with the developer’s motivation for turning to Kickstarter. There are millions of people with billions of ideas in the world and in order to turn your idea into an actual product then you need money. In the real world there just isn’t enough money to finance every single idea people have.
Ragnar Tornquist, Designer and Writer at Independent studio Red Thread Games made a fantastic point on Twitter shortly after the Yogventures story broke:
The reason devs have turned to @kickstarter for funding isn’t because it’s “easy money”. It’s usually because it’s the ONLY money.
— Ragnar Tørnquist (@RagnarTornquist) July 18, 2014
He also went on to comment that “Games are some of the hardest things to make. When someone fails it sucks…but it happens a LOT. Kickstarter just makes it more visible”. And it’s another great point, unless it’s a high profile game that gets canned how often to the general gaming public see or hear of cancellations.
Then again when a game gets cancelled that has been funded by private money, even if we hear about it the feeling is usually that of “oh, I would have loved to play that” but with Kickstarter backed games the feeling turns into more of anger that people have lost their own money. You have paid money into something and you are expecting to see a product / rewards in return for that backing.
Kickstarter has actually been a fantastic tool for some developers, those who have a clear plan in their head of the game the want to make and the amount they need to make it. Where some developers who have successfully funded projects fail is when they earn more than they originally asked for and try to shoe horn in additional content that wasn’t part of their original idea. That is what puts pressure on smaller, less proven studios.
I certainly don’t expect Kickstarter to be something that disappears anytime soon. As long as there are still people ploughing money into projects it will survive regardless of how many projects fail after being successfully funded but there will have to come a tipping point.
Even though it is a hub of creativity and it is fantastic to see so many various ideas there won’t be anything that changes my mind, I will never back a project as long as it is on Kickstarter.