Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Hard Questions about the RPG Kickstarter Revolution

I think it's time we really had more thoughtful discussion on the crowdfunding model so rapidly multiplying like love-sick rabbits in our hobby. (Bully for David over at Dungeons Down Under raising his own concerns today in a reasonably even-handed post and getting me thinking about this again.)

While I'm personally fine with the six projects I have backed in the last year or so (I am in no rush to get product and generally like the idea of “paying it forward” to blogging comrades who have been shelling out free content for years), a growing trend in the model is starting to worry me. As a journalist who spent a good chunk of the last decade covering workplace issues--and the strange, byzantine world of finance that colors it--the red flags are just a flapping a wee bit too much for me to be entirely comfortable.

Increasingly, it's hard not to get the feeling that the original microloan-to-support-artists orientation of Kickstarter and Indiegogo is being supplanted by the proliferation of a new model of large-scale projects—many now generating millions of dollars--where essentially backers' donations are viewed either as pre-purchasing products or floating no-equity investments in larger commercial products. Kickstarter has been crowing recently about how it's raised over a quarter of a billion dollars ($275 million) since 2009--that's how big a pot we are talking about.

(By the way, the JOBS bill here in the U.S. will allow crowdfunders to start dabbling in equity next year, though Kickstarter has already stated it will not do so. This will certainly change the field, though whether is better or worse is still to be seen.)

That a number of the more enthusiastic in our hobby are taking a “buyer beware”, “your investment is risky and can disappear” tack of argument just compounds those concerns—it was the same rhetoric you would hear investment analysts using before the sub-prime market went supernova.

To date there have not been any trainwrecks of that magnitude in our hobby (others may take exception to that) but I see a number of problematic things in that expectation shift:
No Refunds. While currently Kickstarter has a stated policy that backers must show “due diligence” in producing the products/services promised, it has no refund policy itself. Remember that it takes a 5 percent cut off of each drive—and it's partner Amazon takes a further cut of 3-5 percent to process the transaction. Further it admits it has no real enforcement mechanism to ensure that projects match their backing.

Accountability/Transparency. Though woefully uneven, investment activity in this country is forced to jump through the hoops of the SEC. Not only are you not getting a piece of the financial ownership with your “investment” you are not getting reports and oversight privileges that accompany investing in most financial instruments. Again outside of the goodwill of the particular project there is no real requirement to let you the backer know exactly what the pace of development is.

Product Timeliness and Quality. When backers morph into consumers their expectations become different. Though clearly some backers have some sour bad faith or sulky expectations, it's not an irrational bar-raising given the clear shift in expectations from the projects themselves. In a traditional pre-purchase often at the least traded the floating of what is essentially a zero-interest loan and the chance to “vote with their feet” after poor reviews for a discount. Strangely many projects still give backers the products at the same—or even higher—price point of someone who buys it when it goes live.

I know well that we in the DIY rpg hobby have a wide diversity of views about commercialization and crowdfunding, so I'm curious if others are seeing it this way too. I'm not interested in taking potshots—or tearing down someone's success--but in exploring the ways that we can salvage the good pieces of the original model and figuring out at least a rough consensus of what constitutes “ethical crowdfunding” (or whether that's even possible).

How do we realign expectations? How do we protect “consumers” and most of all how do we keep the gold rush atmosphere for swamping out the vital aspect of imaging the shit out of our fantasy games?

I will likely continue to back projects coming out of our milieu, but you better believe that the larger the boom goes without a larger community rethinking the more I will be doing so extremely selectively. How about you?


  1. I can't speak to the legal issues, but isn't the idea that Kickstarter does not release the money until the promised product has been finished? Or am I misunderstanding that?

    In any case, I'm not much worried because I'm only investing in projects where a) I can afford to and b) I feel like I have some reason to believe the person I am investing in will deliver.

    Now, there is always a risk, but how many times did I run to the game store with my allowance to buy something only to discover that just because it said "TSR" on the cover, it wasn't necessarily not crap? And how many years did we wait for 'Temple of Elemental Evil"? Village of Hommlett had me so pumped and then I waited YEARS and nothing happened, then I lost interest in D&D for a while and when I wandered back again, Temple of Elemental Evil was already out of print and a collector's item. I finally got the PDF (back when you coul buy pdfs) and was underwhelmed.
    Then there was a gaming company that offered 'subscriptions' about 9 or 10 years ago and I bought in early and for 2 years they went to radio silence, then finally released the magazine that really didn't live up to expectations. I got inappropriately angy and ranted via email and probably made some enemies in the process (wish I could turn back the clock on that one, because now I think I wasn't being realistic when the magazine I got failed to meet my expectations). Buyers remorse on my part made me act like a tool. Live and learn.
    I guess, at this point, if you don't like the risk, then joining such an endeavor is not for you.

    1. I hear you about TSR, back then I did much the same. I almost to the product bought everything they produced in the early to mid-80s. Among the many treasures were some real turkeys.

      These days I am much more selective and tend to read reviews.

      But if crowdfunding is being treated like an actual investment,I think saying "you the backer are the only one shouldering risk" is really inadequate and doesn't even make the accountability bar we associate with most investments.

    2. I think I may be a bit naive and haven't read all the fine print. I thought the money was held by Amazon, and, if the Kickstarter didn't fund at 100%, you got your money back. But are you saying that if it funds 100% and the person(s) promoting the kickstarter do nothing and just keep the money, then it's "tough luck" for all the investors? Kickstarter won't do anything?
      I guess I find that potentially alarming, but I haven't put any money in that I haven't been willing to spend/lose and the couple of kickstarters I have chucked a small amount of money into are being run by people I have personal confidence in, so I don't worry for my own investment, but it would be a shame if abuse poisoned the trust and made future projects less likely to succeed.

  2. Side note from the G+ discussion, I was reading earlier today a piece discussing Kickstarters and DIY punk music. The article had an example from a band that was offering at the highest level, $7500, that:
    "I don't release the CD at all, instead giving all planned physical copies (minus those promised to other pledges on here) to you to do with as you please. I won't even release it digitally. In short, you stop the actual release of The Golden Vagina."

    While this is clearly supposed to be funny and provocative (at least I thought it was both), the fact that there could be a level that basically lets the band take everybody else's pledge and flush their product is a--even if just theoretical--messed up commentary about potential abuse. 

    1. that's....... very punk, kinda funny, and a monstrous abuse of a system flaw. Wow.

      Your concerns all make sense to me and I anticipate a blow up sometime soon. For myself, I only back out of goodwill (and curiosity) and I never bet more than I could afford to lose, so I'm not personally worried right now, but I am communally worried, as it were. the invitation to scam here is worrisome and much bigger and clearer than I'd imagined.

  3. I backed a Kickstarter project before the site got popular. The guy running the project flaked out. I think he bit off more he could chew with a software project he promised - and it's been years since I've heard from him and I think my 20 bucks went up in smoke.

    I figure wenty bucks is a pretty cheap lesson in learning who I trust to kickstart and who I do not. :)

    - Ark

  4. There have been things made that otherwise would not have been.

    That is worth 1000 thefts and failures

  5. That a number of the more enthusiastic in our hobby are taking a “buyer beware”, “your investment is risky and can disappear” tack of argument just compounds those concerns—it was the same rhetoric you would hear investment analysts using before the sub-prime market went supernova.

    I don't think this is a valid comparison. The problem with backing risky mortgages is structural. This is much different than the possibility someone is not going to see a game book they pledged $50 for. Banks made bets based on overvalued assets, and insured that value using methods that were not sustainable, thus creating externalities. Investing in a risky security is not the problem; that is, after all, what investing is: taking on risk.

    Potential Kickstarter fraud does not destabilize the financial infrastructure or create externalities in the same way.

  6. NPR recently had an article on a similar subject; http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2012/09/03/160505449/when-a-kickstarter-campaign-fails-does-anyone-get-their-money-back

  7. Well, I guess that article linked by Grumpy Celt answers my question.

  8. Yeah, "Buyer Beware" is about where I'm at with Kickstarter/Indiegogo right now - I've funded 8 projects and haven't gotten complete delivery on any of them; 3 are past their dates.

    I'm not swearing off the tool; I'll either be more selective by only funding projects with proven professionals (that wouldn't otherwise get made) or funding amateur projects that are done but for the art and publishing piece. Backing amateur vapor-ware has to be right out the door going forward.

  9. I always wondered why some of the larger indie publishers haven't looked at how wargaming companies like GMT or MultiMan Publishing run their P500 programs. Seems like a better deal for publisher and consumer to me than Kickstarter, tbh.

  10. Looks like the RPG community is just getting around to the discussion that the software supporters/gamers have been having about Kickstarter for about a year.

    By backing a project you are guaranteed nothing. Even a basic review of how Kickstarter works will reveal that. The people who receive the money are proposing a project - they may not deliver. They may not even work on the project after they get the money.

    I'm not counting on anything I pledged kickstarter money for, and I don't think of it as if I bought something. If I end up with something cool, great - but if you think of it like a donation, that's a better attitude.

    1. You're a better man than me Jeremy. When it comes to donations there are plenty of people pumping out top quality RPG product for nix that I'd happily donate money to, rather than fund people who make promises and then don't deliver.

      Those who decide to step over the line from fun hobby to serious publisher must then wear the hat of responsibility and accountability, whether they like it or not. I suspect some Kickstarters are struggling with that.

      While the software community might be different in that funds are needed up front to even begin work on a product (I don't know enough about it to know), tabletop RPGs don't have that restriction. There's nothing stopping the author of a pen & paper product from writing the whole thing before starting a crowdfunding project. Yep, need money to pay artists, printers, suppliers, etc., but not to write. Personally, I don't believe anyone should start a crowdfunding project for a project that either hasn't been written or is at best in rough note form. That's just taking advantage of people's good will.

  11. Well, truth be told, I haven't kickstarted any RPG stuff, although I've supported the Tabletop Forge project. I'd be more inclined to buy something like Vornheim, which supports somebody that I *know* produces great content. I'd support a Zak kickstarter, too.

    That goes back to being careful, though. If you want to use Kickstarter, check out the people doing the project, then write off the money. If you get something - gravy!

  12. I'm getting a little fatigued by them. I've backed, hmm I think 5 over the past few months and I'm sure once I get products in my hand I'll be fine with it all. But unlike Jeremy my POV is if I paid for something I want it. Things happen where projects get delayed and that's cool. Most of the ones I've back have had delays and have been very good about letting the backers know (a few seemed to have moved shortly after a successful funding...coincidence?).

    I put a mental end to my backing. Wasn't going to do it then fricking Frog God Games and S&W come out with theirs and wa la, I'm pushing that button again that makes my credit card sweat.

    I'd like to see more finished products offered up front. Example, I have a 666 layer mega dungeon of the abyss done ready to go, but here are some extras I'd like to add. This way the core product is done and the ornamentation is determined by the funding.

  13. Having an interest in startups and software (and gaming; but, my current adventure is not gaming related); I'm quite interested in the usage of sites like Kickstarter.

    -C about sums it up for me. All the "investments" I've made in Kickstarter were for the chance that the promised project would be completed, investment in the idea of a person being given the chance to turn passion into product.

    The few in which I've invested delivered cool games.

  14. I think the backlash/confidence issues stem from the gulf in expectation. Backers are generally of the mindset that "if you take my money, you do this as your first priority (barring a day job) until I get what you promised". Sellers are all over the board in regards to sharing or meeting that expectation. But the sellers who do share it are generally given a great deal of latitude by buyers if the sellers show sustained progress, even if at a slower rate than anticipated.

    Those who go silent, however, or don't seem to be prioritizing meeting their promises, will arouse anger. This is because we're all old enough to know that no news is always, without exception, bad news.

    The comments are exactly right - don't do a kickstarter if you're still working on any parts of the concept. Kickstarter could end up being a double-edged sword, if projects don't pan out. What was hailed as the proof of our buying power could end up souring some returning gamers on hobbyist publishing, and dent momentum for old-school games in general, due to diminished enthusiasm among those who are always last to arrive and first to leave.

  15. As interesting as this thread is, I can't get the thought "class action lawsuit against Kickstarter" out of my head. Nor can I stop rubbing my hands at that thought. "Quarter of a billion dollars" also flashes through there occasionally.

    Because I want them to reform their procedures, see? That's all. For the common good. But seriously, class actions were made for this kind of thing, where multiple individuals are harmed by conduct (like Kickstarter's inadequate policies and procedures, screening and oversight) but in individual amounts that are low enough to make individual litigation cost ineffective. If they haven't already been filed, they will be. I'll have to run this up the flag pole at my office....

  16. BTW, I'm assuming Kickstarter's Terms and Conditions will have the to-be-expected "we are never responsible for anything" language, but that may not mean much. It depends.

  17. My worries are not yours at all. The world is full of failures, cheats, and great opportunities. Kickstarter is nothing new, it's just made it very, very convenient.

    My worries are proliferation of projects, signal to noise, everyone getting $$ eyes and abandoning the RPG Hobby for the RGP Industry.

    I felt the real revolution with OSR/Blogging was that we all realized we don't need publishers, distributors, marketing to get our ideas, our creations out there. And that, similar to open-source, if I, you, most everyone create some small bit of something and give it away we will collectively have more than we could ever afford to pay for.

    I know that sentiment isn't gonna sit well with people who make their living selling words. But, if we all felt alike it'd be a boring world ;)

    Also I'm a total hypocrite as I've "donated" hundreds on various RPG related kickstarters.

  18. I've gone in on a bunch of kickstarter and indiegogo campaigns. Quite frankly, I only go on in projects that are either complete, and the money is needed to fund production costs (art/printing etc.), and/or by people that I trust (based on track record or e-personal contact. Quite why an unproven writer expects to receive crowdsourced funding before they've done the writing is beyond me. If I ever ran my own indiegogo campaign, I'd have a finished book (bar edits) and would be raising the money for art, graphic design, and printing - i.e. the product would be complete, bar the things the money was to pay for. Maybe if I had a few of these done, and was proven, I'd consider asking for money up front (but I'd hate to be committed to the tune of thousands of pounds to what is a hobby).

    Going in on Reaper's Bones was an easy decision.
    Going in on Advanced Fighting Fantasy's Blacksand! was an easy decision.
    Going in on a bunch of different Lamentations of the Flame Princess was an easy decision (even if Raggi has jumped off the deep end).
    And I'll be going in on the OpenQuest 2 with confidence.

    But I've seen kickstarter campaigns that look half-baked, yet have attracted plenty of backers. I've no idea what those backers end up getting, if anything. But I'm confident that if any of the projects I back fail to produce anything, it is because of a genuine breakdown, not a half-baked plan or lack of talent.

  19. I'm with -C and Norman Harman on this. Kickstarter isn't investment, and acting like it should be misses the point. I think there's a lot of good that's being done with Kickstarter, I think the opportunity for widespread abuse is pretty small, and at the end of the day I don't think it's much worse than, say, pre-ordering Diablo 3.

    I'm also not sure I understand the desire to sue Kickstarter (re: BTCHOUTEX) -- they seem fairly upfront about the extent of the service they're offering, and to hold them responsible because a fraud used their service feels wrong on it's face. Take action against the fraudster, not the service provider.

  20. I think the problem most people have, and this is not just for the backers, but for the creators, retailers, and other publishers, is that Kickstarter is not a retail alternative, but a investment alternative. Because of this, you are not really buying a product, per say, you are instead investing into a venture. Like any investment, you should be prepared to take some risk.

    That being said, a few simple guidelines need to be followed if you are the creator:

    1. You need to make sure you have the ability to finish what you started. If you have never created a game, or any type of product, and you are not sure of your ability, you should not do this. Once you get money, no matter how much it is, the project has become your job. You must deliver on the dates you set up.

    2. You need to realize that the Kickstarter is a contract with your backers. Once it closes and you get the money, you must deliver the goods in a timely matter. Your also must communicate with your backers.

    Personally if I was too do a Kickstarter I'd treat it like I treat my projects at Rogue Games. The manuscript would be ready and edited. All it would need is layout. I would use the Kickstarter as a means to generate pre orders.

  21. Speaking just for me, I am never, ever going to fund any project or creator who suggests I am "investing" unless I actually get equity out of the deal. Or convertible notes.

    People who want to get involved in gaming as investors have microlending. People who want to get involved in gaming as philanthropists have paypal.

    If Kickstarter isn't about purchasing a product, why do we need Kickstarter?

    1. Because this might not have been created at all without crowd funding:


      That's why.

      Some projects are too small to justify further financial infrastructure.

      Using Kickstarter, IndieGoGo puts a floor on potential demand, and thus also on potential losses, from the point of view of the creator. That's why it's patronage and not pre-order.

    2. People who want to get involved in gaming as philanthropists have paypal.

      The same argument could be used against any middleman service, including Ebay, or in fact any social network. These networks bring people together and provide a common expected interface.

      Why do we need Ebay? Just write that guy in the other side a check! This ignores the huge value of the network.

    3. (That was supposed to read "that guy on the other side of the world".)

    4. Hey Brendan, good to see you fighting for the rights of the backers.

      That's why I used that word, "microlending." There are plenty of ways for small projects to receive capital. They're truly aimed at "investors."

      None of them are structured around delivering retail-like rewards for "backers."

    5. Is your first sentence sarcasm? I'm guessing so, but such things don't communicate well over text.

      I'm not fighting for the rights of backers. I don't believe those "rights" need defending. The risk of non-delivery is clear. Refusing to participate because you're not getting enough of a return is an eminently rational approach, and is open of all of us presented with such opportunities. We are not talking about things with wider social consequences, such as retirement funds or financial system instability, here.

      The genius of the crowd funding model is that it mixes the selfish motive (pre-order a retail product) with the altruistic motive (help make something exist). Maybe that's also its potential downside (as the discussion in this thread demonstrates) as a crown funded project should be considered to have the negatives of both kinds of venture, not the positives of both kinds of venture (if that makes sense).

    6. I know you're not fighting for the rights of backers. I am being sarcastic. What I hear from you in comment after comment is a profound resistance to anything but the notion that the backer doesn't need any protection or recompense when a Kickstarter goes awry, and I find that interesting.

      Muddying the conversation with "risk" and "investment" doesn't help. These are words with precise legal meanings and carry profound legal implications. Call a Kickstarter transaction "flying lessons" if you like. Call it "farming."

      How Kickstarter currently defines it is a contract between the creative and the backer in which the backer receives the rewards promised. That's a retail transaction. It's explicitly not an "investment." Maybe it's charity, but the minute rewards are attached, it's a retail transaction even if you call it flying lessons. And there are rules governing retail transactions.

    7. Muddying the conversation with "risk" and "investment" doesn't help.

      So don't do that. I didn't call it an investment anywhere. Calling it an investment is only confusing, and partially obscures the patronage part, which is the socially valuable part.

      I believe there's a place for a higher risk option to get stuff made. I guess you don't?

    8. I live in a world of higher-risk options to get stuff made. They're called "companies" and those companies form their capital through "investment." True, you weren't the one jumping my nerve on this one today, but talk of backers being exposed to "risk" triggers area weapons.

      I also live in a world of philanthropic options to get stuff done. They're called "non-profit organizations" and sometimes friends and family. They get their money through holiday gifts and tip jars.

      But no more talk of flying lessons from me!

  22. Ebay is pretty tight with its fulfillment requirements, too. They need to be because paypal is bound by the anti-fraud policies that the credit and debit card networks demand in order to cover their own asses.

    I think as long as this level of confusion persists in the community, Kickstarter is a disaster waiting to happen.

    Again, if you want to be an "investor," get equity. If you want to be a "patron," use the tip jar. Or admit that it's all about the bells and whistles of "reward levels" and "stretch goals."

  23. Let's explore what happens in an investment and a retail transaction.

    In an investment, if the project fails, you may not be able to get your money back. OK, sounds like Kickstarter so far. But if the project succeeds, you share in the success. You get either more money than you "kicked" in or you get ongoing participation in the business. As it happens, "financial incentives" (ownership, share of profits, repayment/loans, etc) are specifically banned in the Kickstarter community guidelines.

    OK, so Kickstarter is some kind of investment that theoretically exposes the backer to all the risk of failure and is banned from giving the backer the financial incentives normally associated with investments. Great.

    Maybe Kickstarter is structured like a retail relationship. In that case, if the product I pre-ordered never comes out, I can always cancel the order and get my money back. Maybe the publisher never got enough orders or ran out of money; the "campaign" didn't "fund." It happens.

    Try it on Amazon. The refund process is fun and relatively painless. In the meantime, the publisher had my money and could use it to fund development. Call it a zero-interest loan, call it patronage, make up a word, I don't care.

    On Kickstarter, if the product doesn't "fund," I'm out no cash and was never at risk. No refund required. If the product DOES fund, I'm owed that product or a refund. There's still no "risk." If the creative flakes, it's not my fault and not my legal responsibility. And if I suspect fraud, the credit card companies I used to execute the transaction will take it out of Amazon's hide because their legal responsibility is to investigate fraud claims.

    1. You get either more money than you "kicked" in or you get ongoing participation in the business.

      In a crowd funded project, the benefit is the thing existing and maybe getting to help shape the final form. For example, backers of the ACKS Player's Companion got to develop some of the classes. Go check the Autarch forums to see this working well. Also, many rewards can give benefits like "a picture of your character getting killed by this nasty trap". Go check the Barrowmaze II IndieGoGo for examples of that.

      Here is an example of something that will probably never exist because people decided not to fund it:


      The potential opposite of that absence is the benefit of a successful crowd funding campaign, not an increased share value. If you don't understand that, then you don't understand the crowd funding model. Seems like lots of people don't understand that (or don't value it) and thus misunderstandings are likely.

  24. Restricting our universe of discussion to indiegogo versus kickstarter seems too dangerously close to flying lessons to me, so I'll just go on the record one last time to say I believe backers of successful projects have paid for the rewards they've been promised and deserve accountability and refund channels if the rewards don't happen. And that I'd be happy to fund a flake in order to sign onto that class action suit, if that's what'll take.

    But a bit of fun now. Talking about "ongoing participation" made me step back and realize that in a kickstarted industry, the role of the investable corporate entity is really limited -- there's no need for ongoing capital commitment. In theory there are no "companies" at all, only IP owners and more-or-less temporary working groups operating on a project basis, opening or closing to consumer participation as suits them.

    THAT part is really neat. Maybe that's what you're calling "patronage." For all I know that's what you consider "investment." But frame the relationship like that, and it's all roses and cheese.

  25. PC Magazine has this to say ...


    The interesting thing is that Kickstarter offers no support for backers if things go south with an "investment". It's between the backer and the project boss exclusively. The problem, I think, with that model is that it will only take a few rotten eggs to scam people with slick promos and zero intention of making good for the idea to be degraded. As it is it seems that the business model is "... and then everyone was nice and good and kind and there was sweetness and light forever". That usually doesn't pan out well for long.

    I suppose it might help if Kickstarter owned up to its poor business model and said "If your group of investors in Project XYZ get screwed, we will send our Big-Beefy-Lawyer over to the Perp, and make sure that you get your money back". At the very least it would show that the folks at Kickstarter are willing to put a little skin in their own game.

    As longshoreman-philosopher Eric Hoffer observed
    “every great movement begins as a cause,
    eventually becomes a business,
    then degenerates into a racket.”

  27. Call me old-fashioned, but I always thought that FIRST you produce the thing, and SECOND if the thing is any good, people will give you money for it.

    I guess free-market capitalism is radical these days. We're turning into commies.

  28. Sorry but I view the kickstarter model as a pre-order, and I suspect the majority of "investors" do the same. We haven't even discussed the ramifications of the failure of a very large game-related Kickstarter on both the hobby and the gaming community. If an indie project of, say, $500,000 or more fails to the point that no product is released, I believe this will severely curtail any further donations by a significant segment of the gaming community, and endanger many of the small projects that need the money.

    I also wonder if many of the Kickstarter creators also realize the level of singleminded obsession many of the backers have. I know people who have followed comic creators throughout the country at conventions to get money or prodcut owed them (and collected protective orders in the bargain); I once drove over 100 miles to collect $100 owed me from an ebay seller that had never delivered his product after weeks of delay (banging on his door at 7 am in the morning; btw I got my money from a clearly scared out of his mind father trying to get his kids off to school and deal with some maniac at the door of his house at the same time). And I'm an immensely reasonable person, by any estimate. One can only wonder at the level of vitriol aimed at someone who dumps a kickstarter project and keeps the cash. And unlike guys like Madoff these creators are not insulated from the public by layers of wealth and bodyguards.

    I think this thing has the potential to get really ugly here in our hobby if expectations are not met.

  29. This comment has been removed by the author.

  30. If anybody has contact info for David Macauley, would you do me a favor and drop him a note to let him know he may have inadvertently turned off comments on his blog post that spawned this one.

    In his last comment there, he asked me for some information, but then turned off comments, so I don't have a great way to supply the info...

  31. Badmike, if this is your understanding of Kickstarter, then you should not be supporting Kickstarters. You simply don't understand what you're doing. I know that sounds offensive, and in a way, it's meant to be.

    Kickstarter is just a formalization of a guy calling you and saying "I had this great idea, if you give me $20, I'll give you one when it's done." If you give the guy $20, and you get nothing, it's between you and him.

    If a $500,000 project fails and that inhibits some people from contributing, that's GOOD. If losing $50 on a project that fails keeps you from supporting other projects, then you should not have been supporting ANY projects to begin with, because you didn't understand what you were doing.

    So please, if you think it's a pre-order, stop. You don't understand what is being offered, or the terms and conditions you are pledging to. But that's not totally unreasonable, as it seems like a lot of people don't really understand it either.

    1. But, Jeremy, what you are saying means that I have to think and read the small print before I put my money down and think before I spend. I'd rather just click randomly on 'pay now with paypal' buttons and then bitch up a storm when what I imagined should happen doesn't!

  32. Hey Jeremy, how does what you're saying jibe with the Kickstarter terms of use?


    Project Creators are required to fulfill all rewards of their successful fundraising campaigns or refund any Backer whose reward they do not or cannot fulfill.

    To me that says if that guy who takes my $20 screws up, he has to give me my $20 back. Maybe I don't understand Kickstarter though.

  33. Let me get this straight, actually.

    "If a $500,000 project fails and that inhibits some people from contributing, that's GOOD."

    What exactly does this mean? Who is it good for? Who benefits?

    Maybe someone with the best of intentions raises $500,000, spends the money on development, can't deliver and has to cough up the cash to refund the backers or else seek bankruptcy protection and the money is gone. Poorer but wiser? Seems an expensive lesson for the community and the well is poisoned for next time.

    Or maybe someone with less great intentions raises that $500,000 and skips out on the backers. Great proposition for him unless the backers can track him down, and the well is poisoned.

    What other scenarios can we imagine where a failure enriches the backers and/or the community?

    1. I would hazard a guess that such a failure would have a ripple effect on the DIY tabletop that would go far beyond a few people feeling they got a lesson.

    2. I have to admit I'm being so obnoxious here because that original line is ringing out louder than ever.

      "That a number of the more enthusiastic in our hobby are taking a 'buyer beware,' 'your investment is risky and can disappear' tack of argument just compounds those concerns."

      It's not even about many losing a little or a few failing big. It's the cavalier approach to what Mr Shear might call the "social contract" that gets me. Helas, finis gloriae mundi...

    3. When it does come down to, yes it really isn't the money or the sheer principle so much as the effect it will undoubtedly have on the "folk art" aspect of this side of the hobby. Because I can imagine nothing more poisonous than treating fellow hobbyists as consumers who shoulder all the risks of your "dreams".

    4. Because I can imagine nothing more poisonous than treating fellow hobbyists as consumers who shoulder all the risks of your "dreams".
      That's an interesting point. I'm going to have to think on that a while. On the one hand, money and expectations of return seem to ruin a great many things, on the other hand, if Gygax & Co. hadn't tried to cash in on their hobby, then I don't know if we would be here. I think it's a bit late to bemoan the 'commercialization' of the hobby.

      I also think it's too early to speak of the 'hobby's demise' in the wake of some kickstarter disspointments... especially when I'm not convinced that the scale and number of dissapointments are anywhere close to what the naysayers would have us believe. And, seriously, some of these gamers are spending more on their annual pilgrimage to Gencon than on their kid's college fund --- I don't think they are going to let the fact that some douche screwed them on a Kickstarter drive them from the hobby.

      All that said, I love the D.I.Y. aspect of the hobby, so I'll have to wait and see how this changes things.

    5. This frame only occurred to me yesterday, so my views are evolving around this.

      Stephan, I'd place more emphasis on the second half of that sentence "shoulder all the risks of your "dreams"", that's the part that really rubs me the wrong way in this discussion (and I thank everybody involved for being thoughtful and mostly high road here). The assumption of risk seems to be shifted in this model almost entirely to the side of the consumer.

      The backers of TSR--and I agree that without it going big and commercial there likely would have never been a hobby to speak of--risked it big pouring in their life savings and energy. I mean didn't Don Kaye borrow heavily against his own life insurance policy for the start-up funds for the first printing? And they owned their investment and its return--at least until frittering it away.

      I don't bemoan the overall commercialization so much as the more recent commercialization of the mini-boom of our hobbyist niche--and even that I am not terribly concerned about.

    6. I don't bemoan the overall commercialization so much as the more recent commercialization of the mini-boom of our hobbyist niche--

      Understood... it's a part of this that I struggle with, and, I guess my views are 'still evolving' (especially since I have been paid for drawings I made for some Kickstarters --- this is just me doing full disclosure).

    7. the more recent commercialization of the mini-boom of our hobbyist niche

      Can you explain that in more detail? Most importantly the "recent commercialization" part; what is recent, and what counts as commercialization. And who/what is part of the hobbyist niche; in the sense of, is there less hobbyist material (either in relative or absolute terms) now than before?

      Is it all merely perceptual, and possibly not actual?

      Might some of these feelings simply be fueled by the dollar transparency that crowdfunding sites provide?

  34. So far my own Kickstarter/Indiegogo experiences have been positive; 1 backed project that delivered (almost on time even!), 1 backed project that I'm reasonably certain will deliver (started by well known company), 1 project I'm not sure if it will deliver or not but I'm hopeful (project scope was reasonable).

    I actually think the use of Kickstarter by larger companies is something of a positive development, in terms of how likely it is that a project will deliver. If some random person takes off with the backer's money there isn't much that can be done about it with the current rules, but a company with customers and a reputation has a lot more on the line if they have a campaign that goes belly up. If say Reaper's Bones project doesn't deliver that's going to be an incredible amount of bad press, and in the very small pool that is the gaming industry that will hurt, perhaps be fatal. Inadequate protection? Definitely, but better than nothing.

    So I guess in the end I'm of two minds about Kickstarter. I think there are plenty of projects that would A) never have been done otherwise or B) have definitely be improved through the use of Kickstarter. But the spectre of a massive unmitigated disaster is certainly there, and without structural changes I see it being inevitable to a certain extent.


  35. Wow, so many posts about this my eyes are burning. I have just a few thoughts because this topic seems to drift into ideology. Most of the discussion here seems to be concerned with the relatively short term issues of crowd funding. But, I think this model is also troublesome in the long term as well. What if it becomes common place? All projects, publications, gaming material, etc. become Kickstarters and you must pay upfront for any future products to come to fruition. If Kickstarter starts becoming common place, why wouldn't a company/publisher want to use it? They are taking no risk and recieving interest free loans- it's ideal. A company could sit on a chunk of the backers money while their project is under production and actually make money on the interest. I find it very niave to rely on the good will of others.

    Another point was made about certain projects never seeing the light of day without crowd funding. My personal opinion is, if that is really the case, the individual does not have the passion or personal grit to see it through, then and the project probably shouldn't see the light of day. The risk does not have to shift away from the producer onto the consumer. The traditional way of running a company is through loans/investment and productivity, not wishful thinking.

    1. dervishdelver wrote:

      Another point was made about certain projects never seeing the light of day without crowd funding. My personal opinion is, if that is really the case, the individual does not have the passion or personal grit to see it through, then and the project probably shouldn't see the light of day.

      It is often not a question of passion and grit, but rather where to allocate resources. For example, it is a good bet that no matter what happens Monte Cook is going to be working on new gaming material. Just look at his past track record of products and the current success of Numenera. However, he will not be working on The Unbegotten Citadel because not enough people proved to be interested in it. I don't think anyone would argue that Monte lacks the passion or grit to see that project through, it's just that there are so many other potential projects.

    2. I hear what you're saying, but Monte can choose to allocate his time, talent, and finances any way he chooses. Monte was successful well before crowd funding came into fashion and could choose other modes of funding his projects. He could probably sell a product on face value with his name alone. Using Kickstarter as a measure of marketability is another ball of wax that has it's own list of questionable business ethics. Others may disagree.

  36. Oh yeh, just in case people think I'm talking in extremes about companies shifting to this business model, take a look at Troll Lord Games and their last few projects. They don't even use a middle man like Kickstarter anymore. It's all on their own site.

  37. Pop Quiz!

    Which crowdfunded module specifically compatible with TSR-era versions of AD&D/D&D sold approximately 300 print copies during its 60 day sponsorship phase, raising over $5000 in capital?

    Hint: Approximately 100 more print copies sold in the month following the physical release.

  38. We realign the terminology from "investor" and "backers", back to the words "patron" and "sponser", people would understand what they are doing a lot more. When people realize that what they are paying for is the art and the idea of the product, instead of the *actual* product, you will get people investing more wisely