Creators Could Be Killing Kickstarter

KS1There are trends. There are things starting to emerge. We are teetering on the edge of something that could scare people away from Kickstarter and Indiegogo forever.

Most people contribute to crowdfunding campaigns to be a part of a process and to support creators they really believe in. By helping with that support and funding, backers usually end up being privy to certain perks or rewards. Ideally, these should be special—after all, they serve as nice, personal tokens from a development team showing their gratitude for helping them achieve their goal.

But as consumers, we’re suddenly being put in a tricky spot. In the game industry, creators and publishers are getting pushed to offer traditional pre-order bonuses, but in some cases, we’re starting to see pre-order bonuses that are nothing but recycled crowdfunding rewards.

To backers, this stings. The pride of helping fund someone’s passion simply isn’t there if everyone else can eventually have a piece of that pie, too. No matter how they’re acquired, behind-the-scenes documentary videos, “alpha” builds, and in-game perks aren’t exclusive anymore if everyone can have the same perks. Arguably, it’s even worse when, in a few instances, these pre-order bonuses are coming in cheaper than you could have initially gotten them with the crowdfunding campaign.

It could be viewed as a question of whether or not someone is willing to effectively pay a “crowdfunding surcharge” for early access, but again, occasionally the same “alpha” or “beta” access is being offered to everyone who pre-orders in the traditional sense.

In another more specific example, contributors who helped fund a particular game’s development were offered a soundtrack and short story novella to accompany their copy of the game at a certain reward tier. Fast forward to the game’s impending launch, and a pre-order of the “digital deluxe” version could get you the same bonuses for eighteen dollars cheaper.

This isn’t a witch hunt; I love the community too much for that, and I won’t mention most of these games by name. But that’s a real example, and as these projects and ideas start to become reality, creators and consumers alike will be faced with more and more situations like these.

These could be a problems that, in the future, will drive people away from crowdfunding.

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This isn’t to say that the situation is untenable; there’s good being done here. One of the earliest Kickstarter campaigns to make its mark was for funding further development of a game called Kentucky Route Zero. Technically, no reward tier actually offered the game as a reward, and even as the funding came to a close, showrunner Jake Elliot stated, “Since we don’t have a system in place to fulfill a lot of pre-orders, we’re just informally promising them to supporters over $40 for now.”

While “informally promising” the game might seem shady, this was new territory for game development; the kinks hadn’t been worked out of the system, so there weren’t really any expectations. What was the solution?

Kentucky Route Zero developer Cardboard Computer confirmed via e-mail that they ultimately sent out a full copy of the game to anyone who donated at any level. Aside from logistical problems, they simply wanted to show their appreciation to anyone who had supported them so early in the process.

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And that’s how you do business, plain and simple. Other creators could stand to learn a lot from how Cardboard Computer handled that situation.

Alternatively, they could avoid these sorts of problems altogether. Creators need to make sure that their long-term plan goes far beyond the crowdfunding campaign, mapping out pre-order and release details as well. This will eliminate any potential unfairness that could be misconstrued as anti-consumer.

Even though it may be catering to a feeling of entitlement, creators should also try to keep rewards exclusive to campaign contributors. While the primary goal for most backers is to help bring something amazing into the world, the number of collectors who get involved in the crowdfunding process can’t be underestimated. These collectors proudly display tangible goods and tchotchkes as a matter of pride, and as a public display of commitment to the cause.

In short, creators should be careful about alienating potential contributors. If creators are willing to make the rewards, they should be willing to cater to their backers, too. Internet culture is a touchy, fickle thing, and it doesn’t take much to alienate a vocal minority (a very vocal minority).

There’s a great deal at stake here. These crowdfunding efforts are the only chance that some of these creators have, and they could lose that resource if we’re all not careful. Games like Kentucky Route Zero and FTL: Faster Than Light might not have ever seen the light of day without Kickstarter, and we certainly wouldn’t have seen Dominique Pamplemousse in “It’s All Over Once the Fat Lady Sings!” without Indiegogo.

Places like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are fertile grounds for creative talent to take their would-be projects, but creators have to be careful not to squander the interest of supporters. We’re not in questionable territory anymore; crowdfunding is a widely-accepted practice, and creators have to be aware of their actions. It might only take a few more exclusives-turned-pre-order-bonus items for that vocal minority to denounce crowdfunding on the whole, potentially sullying the entire ecosystem for future hopefuls.

  • patrickwlindsey

    I think Kickstarter’s biggest problem is that it suffers from a lack of clearly defined purpose. It doesn’t really flesh out what the creator/backer relationship should be, so we’re all just sort of flailing around and breaking shit in the process.

  • Iphigenie

    Collectors just have their status wrapped in all the wrong things, if you ask me.

    As you mention in the article, I support projects so they get made, projects which might not get made otherwise. I feel good about it. I see it as investment and charity and funding the way people in the renaissance used to fund artists…

    I love getting news and rewards, but I have no need to get any kind of insider exclusive thing that “shows” the world how special I am – I have other ways to feed my ego and status. I do not feel cheated if they are later available elsewhere. I did support a pen kickstarter and one of the colours I chose was the exclusive kickstarter green pen, but that was because I love green, not because it was exclusive. if it one day is available in stores I won’t feel cheated.)

    I look at what I am funding and how much I want to fund it, and the rewards as described there and then, and make my decision. If something else is offered later, well, I remember I made my decision. I don’t get angry, after all it seemed a valuable thing at the time, and therefore still is. Heck, I share the deal on social media so more people get the game I MADE HAPPEN (it wouldn’t be there for them if I and many others hadn’t) ok there’s a deal for others now

    After all this is how it happens all the time outside kickstarter, buy the game from a shop on or offline, and six months later it is available on steam cheaper with some steam extras. Buy a device and a few months later it is cheaper and there’s a free gadget offered, or a tweaked version, or a bundle of software. Buy a new TV and two months later it’s on sale…

    Still, clarity transparency and honest setting of expectations will benefit everyone, and in the gold rush on game funding there probably are people guilty of not thinking through.