A few weeks back, I took a fairly personal look at Kickstarter – the projects I’ve backed, the things I’m waiting on, and the things that have piqued my interest recently.
As I said at the time, beyond the interaction I have with Kickstarter as a means of buying board games, I also find it fascinating in terms of the social dynamics on display. Very little of it is unique to Kickstarter, but I do find certain things come more sharply into focus there. Kickstarter also involves a fair amount of number-crunching (at least behind the scenes), which regular readers will know is a topic I get somewhat over-interested in, and that was what I wanted to talk about today. However, by the time the draft of this article passed 3000 words, I decided that I needed to break things down.
What I’ve decided to do then, is to turn this into a series of shorter articles, all of which I’m going to be lumping together under a Kickstarter sub-heading here on the blog: hopefully this will reduce the need for me to keep repeating myself in future, and allow people to dip in and out of the sections that most appeal to them.
Today then, I’m just going to provide a refresh on what Kickstarter is and (broadly) how it works. This should be a very short article, but one that lays the groundwork for some more concise thoughts in the future.
Kickstarter: The Basics
Kickstarter is a platform that allows people to create projects and ask other folk to “back” them, by pledging money. Most Kickstarter projects will run for about a month, and they will have a target in terms of the money they need to raise in order for the whole thing to be “funded” and go ahead. They generally have a number of “pledge” levels, where people are encouraged to offer a set amount of money towards the project and in return they are promised a particular “reward” at the end of things.
For a Board Game Kickstarter, you could commonly expect to see a $1 “just interested” pledge level (aka “I just want to show my support” aka “I just want access to the pledge manager [more on that later…]). You’d then expect another pledge level to get you the actual game (this varies wildly depending on what game it is), and often even higher levels allowing for deluxe/limited edition versions, or special, bespoke rewards.
Once the countdown reaches zero, assuming the target has been met, all the credit cards of those who pledged will be charged. The charge at this point will be the amount you indicated when you decided to back.
Because most modern Kickstarters come with optional extras, all but the simplest of Kickstarters will now follow-up with some kind of “so what were you after?” communication.
A common way of doing this is through Pledge Manager – this is popular with a lot of backers as it not only allows you to confirm which bits and bobs you want, but it also allows you to add money. This creates a group of people who will back large projects for $1 during the campaign, confident that it’s going to get funded anyway, and knowing that it will allow them to make their mind up 6 months later. If they still like the look of the project now that further information is available, they haven’t lost out, and if they don’t it’s only $1 wasted.
The downside of doing this of course, is that it lowers the total raised during the campaign and may mean fewer stretch goals unlocked. On a multi-million-dollar project, it’s easy for the individual to think that they aren’t making a real difference – but then, at the last general election more people didn’t vote at all than those who voted for any individual party: it all adds up.
Other campaigns avoid Pledge Manager. The most recent project I backed, Aeon’s End: War Eternal kept giving us large reminders that we needed to have pledged for the full cost of the stuff we wanted by the time the campaign ended, as that would be it. Instead, we got an electronic survey to indicate what the money was for.
I’ve not spoken to any Kickstarter creators personally, but I’d imagine it makes fulfilling the project longer and more complex, and probably involves additional costs for the creators. Many Kickstarter projects become victims of their own complexity, so keeping things simple and streamlined is a major positive.
Whilst cards are being charged and money is being taken, the designers will then huddle down to produce the content, which will hopefully reach people eventually. Delays are common, and the whole process relies a lot on good faith – or at least on reputation, as it’s possible to get badly stung by backing Kickstarters that never deliver. Assuming the project doesn’t come from a completely unknown creator, eternal non-delivery is a fairly rare worst-case scenario, as it’s something akin to career suicide for the non-delivering designer. One of the Kickstarter projects I’ve been waiting on for a while has a designer involved (in a creative, rather than logistical capacity) who previously ran her own independent project, which never quite managed to deliver some of the promised pledge-levels. Given how sick I got of seeing trolls complaining about this, I can’t imagine how painful it is for her to see.
That said, whilst I don’t think it’s particularly fair or helpful to go complaining about one project on the forum of another only tangentially related, I do understand the frustrations of delay. I’ve talked on here before about projects I’ve backed personally which are over a year late, and that’s far from being a record – I’ve definitely heard of games getting stuck for 2 or 3 years.
At the end of it all, the games are delivered and (hopefully) the project is over. Sometimes it’s a 1-and-done, sometimes it’s just another step in an ongoing cycle of projects with the next project already in the pipelines.
That’s a very simplified overview of the Kickstarter process: I’ve already written various other articles about Kickstarter in the past, and you can find them, along with anything else I write on this topic in the future, on my Kickstarter Hub