I was going to write a post about the current fascination with Kickstarters but now I start wondering if arguing about Kickstarters is the new, “Can Paladins kill baby kobolds and get away with it?” question… in short, it becomes a question in which a lot of people have strong convictions but I start to doubt whether the question itself (are Kickstarters good/not goof for “the hobby?”) matters.

THIS IS NOT TO SAY THAT I APPROVE OF PEOPLE USING A SERVICE LIKE KICKSARTER TO RIP OTHER PEOPLE OFF ANY MORE THAN I APPROVE OF ANY OTHER CON.  But a con perpetrated through the mail does not mean that ‘the post office is evil;’ similarly, the fact that Kickstarter could be used to bilk people doesn’t mean that we should automatically be afraid of it. 

I don’t know if Kickstarters and similar ‘crowd funding’ strategies are here to stay or not. I’ve kicked in at pretty low levels on a couple of them, mostly because I liked the ideas and thought the people proposing these projects could pull them off. If I don’t get what I was promised (or I get much less than I was promised), I guess I’ll feel disappointed… but I remember feeling pretty disappointed back in the day when I waited and waited and waited for TSR to publish ‘Temple of Elemental Evil’ and they just didn’t but somehow managed to find the time to grind out woodburning sets, trapper-keepers, Saturday Morning cartoons and needlepoint kits.  I didn’t have to wait for the internet to be invented to feel disappointed by the way in which I fit into (or failed to fit into) a game company’s market strategy. I find myself thinking that amateurs with Kickstarter backers are going to have to try pretty hard to do worse.

The complaint that I hear echoing around the blogosphere, however, is that these ‘kickstarters’ are going to be ‘bad’ for gaming.  I just don’t buy it.  First of all, I don’t know what ‘gaming’ is since it seems to cover everything from Magic the Gathering to Napoleonics. Somewhere in that broad spectrum are people like me who like playing older versions of D&D — and I don’t feel much in common with the card games people or the Princess Leia in a metal bikini impersonators. I’m not against them; I’m just not a part of them. So, if your basic proposition is that “kickstarters are going to disappoint people and drive them from the hobby,” first you are going to have prove that people will leave the hobby. I don’t think that will happen because:

a) I don’t think Kickstarters will disappoint enough people to form some sort of ‘critical mass’ of disappointment that will make people leave “the hobby” (whatever the hobby is).

b) I don’t believe that all of the people who are involved in this hobby in all these different ways have such a shallow level of personal investment that not getting value for the $25.00 or $1,000.00 or whatever is going to drive them from the hobby.  There are people out there who name their kids “Han” and “Leia,” do you think getting rooked by a Kickstarter is going to make them say, “Fuck it” and go scrape all the Trekkie and Doctor Who stickers off their Subaru and never go to GenCon again?

c) Who has been robbed via kickstarter? I know some projects are late and some kickstarters are not communicating with their backers as much as a very vocal group would like, but the level of noise from some people makes me feel like this is something on the scale of a Bernie Madoff con.  Dear internet: late does not equal fraud. KIckstarter is not a “pre-order.” If you have actually been robbed via kickstarter (i.e.: you know that you will never get what you were promised), please post below… share details.  I wanna know about it.

Some kickstarters will be in trouble because the people running them are incompetent, some will fail for lack of effort or because of dishonesty… and some will be everything that the originator promised but the backers will still be dissapointed because the backers didn’t bother to read what they were agreeing to before slapping their money down.

One suspicion I have is that the signal to noise ration has spiked because the obsessive compulsives who simply must have one of everything D&D in shrink wrap in their closet are suddenly overwhelmed by the sheer number of things coming out via Kickstarter and feel like if they don’t kick in on every project, they risk having a collection that is incomplete… yet if they do kick in on every single project, the ‘completeness’ of their collection is reliant on the good will and work ethic of strangers. Because the O.C. Collector can’t risk an incomplete collection, he has to gamble on the honesty/work ethic of strangers — no fair! Collecting is all about control and this makes me feel out of control!  It’s like the wailing and gnashing of teeth we heard when Goodman printed up only 300 of some ‘special edition’ adventure for sale at one convention, sold first come first served, and, to add insult to injury, he didn’t limit “one to a customer” so people who came by later in the day were S.O.L.. For months after that event, some of these obsessive types were cursing Goodman like he had killed their dog simply because he published something and they didn’t get a copy.

7 Comments on “Kickstarter”

  1. Drance says:

    I think there are a lot of folks out there who are just feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of Kickstarter RPG products in the hopper. Now, just because someone is suffering from Kickstarter overload doesn't give them legitimate reason to just “hate” or distrust Kickstarter altogether. That's being rather childish, eh? If you are getting a headache from too many roleplaying Kickstarter projects, start being more selective. We have limited budgets most of the time, folks, so be wise with your support of such projects. And yeah, enough with the doom and gloom shite about “oh we might get ripped off!” Yeah, I really think this Kickstarter hate is an offshoot of people groaning “Oh no, not another retroclone/fantasy heartbreaker/megadungeon/module/whatever.”

  2. Erik Tenkar says:

    A little “due diligence” goes a long way when it comes to Kickstarters and other crowd funded projects, but in the long run, anything can unintentionally “con” you.

    James Mishler's infamous implosion with his Adventure Games Publishing and unfilled subscriptions are an example of best intentions critically failing.

  3. Stephan Poag says:

    Tenkar: I don't know anything about Mishler's Adventure Games Publishing — that wasn't a kickstarter, was it?
    I've did a 'subscription' type thing years ago that didn't pan out as I hoped. At the time, I was pissed and I ranted and raved and sent angry emails… in retrospect, I was definitely over-reacting, but the company was also, IMO, pretty lame in fulfillment (and, if I remember right, about 2 years behind schedule).
    I've since decided to only join such ventures if the risk seems worth the reward and after having made myself the promise that if I gamble and lose I won't lose my mind in addition to my money.

  4. Erik Tenkar says:

    Stephan – AGP published a version of the Wilderlands for use with C&C – very well done. Very poorly planned with short turn arounds for a one man operation. It wasn't a Kickstarter.

    Like I said, James had the best of intentions and produced some great stuff – he just couldnt figure out the business aspect properly it seems.

  5. Porky says:

    That collecting take is a fresh one and has a truthful ring. You might be right the amateur producers will have their work cut out disappointing us better than the professionals.

  6. Malcadon says:

    I like Kickstarter. Its like a productive form of panhandling, but with free key-chains! 😉

  7. The kickstarter rip off is a non-issue. Crowdfunding is just hip name for capital investment which has been going on (and being used for cons) for hundreds of years.

    The real concern for me is commercialization of the hobby. I was driven from D&D and RPG because of the obvious money grubbing shovelware late era TSR. I've watched other hobby segments get commercialized and suckified.

    Also FLGS vs Kickstarter

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