My thoughts on Kickstarter
Hey everybody! I’m going to spew stuff out of my head again! This time about Kickstarter and my current feelings towards it. Are they good feelings? Bad feelings? Or am I just hungry? Click through to find out!
PREFACE ALERT: I have no background in business and especially the business of making tabletop games. These are just my personal thoughts and opinions.
So, yeah, Kickstarter. You’re not cool anymore if you don’t have your own kickstarter project. Everybody has them. And, in general, I think they have been very beneficial to the tabletop gaming ecosystem. It’s helped stimulate the tabletop gaming economy by offering backers a plentitude of stretch goals and exclusives and given smaller designers and publishers the chance to put out games that would’ve likely not seen the light of day. I’ve personally backed a little over 60 tabletop projects on Kickstarter to the tune of over $2,000. But anymore, I avoid backing Kickstarter tabletop projects.
So, what changed? Well, for starters, the atmosphere surrounding these projects has changed. “Back in the day” it felt much less about companies making products to sell and more like I was personally helping some guy get his idea off the ground. You’re seeing more and more projects that are nothing more than glorified pre-orders for games that are ready to be published. You’re also seeing more and more publishers “going to the well” repeatedly, and asking their devoted fans to back related projects without having even seen their predecessors. And the backers themselves have changed. There’s much more of an attitude of “buying” instead of “donating” to a creative cause. Kickstarter themselves tries to downplay the physical deliverable side to projects with the first sentence of their response to the frequently-asked question “What do backers get in return?” by stating “Backers that support a project on Kickstarter get an inside look at the creative process, and help that project come to life.” Now call me old-fashioned and out of touch with the business world, but in my mind, I feel like portions of the tabletop game industry are using Kickstarter as a way to circumvent one of the biggest hurdles to making a living at producing something: the unknown.
But to me, the very nature of making a product to sell is having to take that explicit chance that not enough people want to buy it. That word of mouth will be too little or too late to recoup the production costs of a venture as it’s struggling to stay afloat. That your name and your track record aren’t going to be enough to entice people to part with their hard-earned cash. But isn’t that the point? That what you choose to produce lives or dies on how hard you work at it, the level of quality of the product, and your reputation as a producer and a business person.
So, why do I bring this up in relation to Kickstarter? Well, in this changing atmosphere I mentioned earlier, the lines are blurring between pledging a donation and purchasing a product. And along with those blurred lines comes the predisposition that backers get an all-access pass to the process. They have a right to know how the sausage they “bought” is being made. Now if we’re strictly talking about donating to a creative project, then that’s one thing. You shouldn’t necessarily have a personal vested interest in a project outside of wanting to see it succeed. But if you’re a buyer, and you’ve in essence purchased a product, and you get to go behind the curtain and find out that in the business world, things don’t always go as planned or the way you think they ought to, then you’ve got yourself a social media powder keg.
Production delays, quality sacrifices, and what appears to be the worst offender as of late, backers not getting their rewards/”purchases” before retail customers all contribute to what I think is the ultimate problem with Kickstarter. It’s not a preorder program. It never should have been and shouldn’t be one in the future. A preorder program allows the producer that “business curtain” that they can keep the sausage making behind, for the most part, while still giving them that fix to the problem of the unknowns of putting their product out to market. Backers are now full blown consumers, but with a focused location to express their dissatisfaction, in the project’s Kickstarter page. They demand updates and progress, and have the potential to affect the course the product ultimately takes. At a certain point, in my humble opinion, a company should move away from Kickstarter and just start doing straight preorders. What that point should be and how to define or identify it isn’t a black and white thing, obviously. But that’s just my gut reaction.
I believe that something needs to change with Kickstarter. I think that the blame for its problems can be shared fairly equally between both creators and backers alike. And I don’t think the onus is necessarily on either side of the coin to fix it, with the exception of taking a step back and thinking about the Kickstarter process as a whole. And thinking about the inherent contract between a producer and a consumer.