Neither a Mark nor a Lender be: Kickstarter

Erik Tenkar has been keeping an eye on RPG Kickstarter projects for a while now, and I appreciate his perspective on the phenomenon of some of these explosive bidding processes followed by months of waiting and – more often than not, it seems, by delays. I especially appreciate that he does not proclaim the sky is falling, just ‘caveat emptor.’ Sensible as always is the proprietor of Tenkar’s Tavern.

I have been lucky in my backing of Kickstarter projects. I don’t support many, the ones I have supported have generally (but not always) been communicative once the project funds, and none have folded (…yet). My interests lie outside of the mainstream of the RPG industry, so that helps keep things in perspective. My location makes choosing to get in on a lot of physical products impractical, as well. Still, even with these internal and external factors to help protect me from impulse involvement, there have been some long, silent waits for delivery – and I have yet to be satisfied with a reason for those silent delays as it inevitably amounts to, “I had something else to do.”

I am fairly sure that were the people stating that excuse on the receiving end of it, their insight into just how weak it is would blossom like flowers in a desert rain. Fortunately, in my case at any rate, those designers all run in the same circles and I need not concern myself with their products again. How did they lose my future support and my future business? They forgot some very basic rules:

  • Don’t promise what you cannot or will not deliver.
  • Don’t put today’s work off until tomorrow.
  • Don’t give excuses, give results

My first experience with supporting a project was very positive, but in hindsight, I feel I invested more in the ongoing development of the game than I did in the game being proposed. I certainly invested more than I would have had these linked rules for projects been in place at that time. I think clear completion and delivery outlines should be a bigger part of the process. The advice not to treat Kickstarter as a store is a good one, but a requirement to post regular progress updates and to lead with a reviewed and practical projected completion date would make that easier. I don’t think it can be argued that the whole idea of stretch goals can blind people to the reality of Kickstarter, as once the escalation starts to really accelerate, the focus shifts away from the core of the project to be backed and becomes a game of balancing investment vs. potential reward.  This gamification of investment, or the all important marketing aspect as the “WTF is Legendary?” Tenkar puts it, is intended to distract and excite. It is the carnival sideshow and it is looking for marks. The outlook it leads to is one of “getting your stuff” instead of ‘supporting game development.’

Ideally, a realistic number of stretch goals should be planned in advance as well as having the potential to deliver vetted and a commitment made to it prior to project launch. Again, ideally, these should be linked solely to making the final product more impressive as others before me have said. With luck, this will become the prevailing position in the community. Working against this? In the rush of the descending count on the clock, and the excitement of promising more for pledging more, some people can forget that they still have day jobs, and that directed creativity is not always available on demand.

Ultimately, Kickstarter is in the business of making money from promises of project completion not actual completion. The company has taken only those steps necessary to insulate itself from association with projects which fund yet fail to complete (or take more than a year to ‘get around to’ completion). That leaves it in our hands (obviously?) to be more discerning in the projects we choose to support, to remember that we are investors, not customers, and to ask the questions that Kickstarter and the masses don’t or won’t.  Is it as bad for the hobby as Writer or Wronger suggests in his plea for changes to how projects are designed? I think we need to remember that the power in these relationships resides in our wallets and when we unleash that power to serve someone else’s wallet we surrender control over it. We must stop being marks, and start being investors. Kickstarter is not the magic bullet that can slay our RPG blues. Rather it is the magic flute which leads us entranced, onward into the faery realms the pied creators are being paid to create, never sure if what we seek is real or dream.

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7 Responses to “Neither a Mark nor a Lender be: Kickstarter”
  1. BFWolfe says:

    I still haven’t gone down the road of RPG kickstarter, but I have jumped into an online game equivalent (yes, MWO). I stumbled on this cartoon the other day for software development, but it could equally apply to any project :)
    http://sphotos-g.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/793_528552847154739_2016700541_n.jpg

    • Runeslinger says:

      That is a highly accurate portrayal! I have contributed to a few. One is slowly doling out its stretch goal supplements but met its initial release dates for the core product. One was a simple edit/update that took more than a year to get around to. Two more are three months overdue and counting. The rest are on schedule for Spring releases. We’ll see.

      • BFWolfe says:

        After my first foray, I don’t think I’ll do it again. I’m not sure if I approve of the business model philosophy itself. What kind of a project can you expect where there is no personal investment, and no risk in failure? Or even worse, where all the risk is assumed by the eventual customers? I’m not sure if there is anything that I truly want bad enough to assume (part of) the risk of it failing. Maybe I’m just getting cynical in my old age, but purchasing a finished game these days is risky enough and frequently not worth the price. You say we should be as investors, but the only potential reward is the exact same as a consumer?
        Heh, this started out as devils advocate, but ended somewhere close to rant, sorry for diverting your comment section. :)

        • Runeslinger says:

          Comments, like Frankenstein’s monster, are “Alive!”

          I enjoy backing projects I know I will appreciate, but are unlikely to see the light of day otherwise. The new edition of The Morrow Project is an example. I know the game is finished, and I know I will enjoy having it. I also know from waiting and checking on it over the years that without investors: no product.

          I also got a kick out of helping to support the creation of new dice in another Kickstarter.

          I am not at all likely to support a supplement or core book from an established company. That leaves a lot of projects to be disinterested in~ ;)

  2. anarkeith says:

    Investing is a tricky business. It seems to attract a wide range of smart, shrewd, and shifty folk. Make no mistake, investing in Kickstarter projects is a risk. There are a lot of good RPG ideas that get brewed up in our community. Most of them are open-sourced in blogs, forums, and the like. I’ve got no problem with those that are looking to fund their RPG projects, but I suspect that the economics of the community make it more likely that Kickstarters will go unfulfilled.

    I know there are worthy RPG projects out there. As a community we need to help one another identify the good stuff, and weed out the bad.

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  1. [...] recently Runeslinger @ Casting Shadows entered the fray with his own commentary on why some designers have lost his interest. How? By not following through on their promises. As [...]



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