The dark side of Kickstarter

Kickstarter Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms have become quite popular recently. A lot of RPG publishers and designers have adopted Kickstarter and other crowdfunding services to raise money for their products. I have backed a couple of projects on both Kickstarter and IndieGoGo and overall I am quite happy how things turned out so far.

But alas where there is light there’s also darkness. Some time ago I had a post called “How not to run a Kickstarter to fund your RPG”, where I gave some examples of what I consider big no-noes. You also might have heard about the problems the people behind the upcoming iOS/Android game “Star Command”. After paying for the backer rewards and taxes they basically had not much money left to actually make the game. It looks like they managed to get back on track after all, but there’s some real risk that a badly planned crowdfunding effort might stop a project instead of actually kickstart it.

Another problem I’ve seen is that there are sometimes issues with fulfilling the promises made. What we backers often forget is that there’s always a risk involved when be back a project. If the project starter fails to fulfill his or her promises or takes the money and runs, we can’t do much about it. Especially when it comes to bonus goals things can become frustrating quickly. I know of one Kickstarter project that has ended almost a year ago where people are still waiting for the stuff promised when the bonus goals have been reached. A lack of recent updates isn’t making thing easier either.

But not getting some bonus stuff promised is not as bad as when over the year after the fundraiser has ended people are still waiting for the release of the game they helped to fund even though it was supposedly done (aside from layout and printing) when the crowdfunding started.

Of course we never know what went wrong in these cases. In most cases it’s probably not ill will of the people involved but just bad planning, personal issues or health issues that got in the way or what we would call “force majeure”. But with every Kickstarter you support there’s a certain risk that even if it meets its goals the backers might not get what they hoped for.

That’s something we should always keep in mind when putting our hard-earned money on the table. Don’t get me wrong, I totally love the idea of crowdfunding but we have to keep in mind that there’s always risk involved. It’s not as if you have a legally binding contract with the project starter. You basically donate money to a cause with limited to no influence on the outcome.

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

4 thoughts on “The dark side of Kickstarter”

  1. My default assumption is that my product will be late. I usualy go into a kickstart knowing that the whole process is probably going to be new and overwhelming for the creator.

    That said it does suck when it seems like a product has just puttered out, or there is a looooong silence.

    1. That’s probably the correct approach. I have to admit that I am usually very enthusiastic with each new Kickstarter I back but when things are delayed or not as I expected frustration sets in quickly.
      But when you accept that there’s some risk involved in the start, it becomes much more bearable. 😉

  2. I was wondering a little about the badly planned and especially calculated projects. At least if they result in a product, this should work out. With that much popularity of the project that it got funded initially and now they have insufficient money there shouldn’t be that much of a problem to find some investor that pays the remaining money. It should be significantly less than what was needed before and the product has proven to have a enthusiastic audience.

  3. I look at Kickstarter as a sort of odd mix of gambling and philanthropy. I usually don’t contribute the higher levels, I look into who’s behind it, and I figure that there’s always a chance I lose the money.

    You can also look for products where part of it is complete. If they have demo videos or sample pages, you’re more likely to get something than where it’s all work in the future.

    If it’s a lot of money, there’s always the possibility of a class-action suit to get the money back. This is more likely if the kickstarter is being done by a company with assets than an individual. If it’s not a lot of money, then it wasn’t a lot of money.

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