To date I have personally backed eight Kickstarter campaigns – six of which were successfully funded and two that didn’t meet their goal. The only two I’ve actually received any backer rewards from so far are Mega Ran (some digital downloads, but none of the physical perks) and Nintendo Force (magazines show up every month or two). I recognize some of it takes time – for example one of Mega Ran’s perks was a physical and working 8-bit Nintendo cartridge. That’s not the easiest thing in the world to do in 2015 – it’s not like factories churn them out by the thousands like they did in the 1980’s. Good things are always worth waiting for, and given Random’s track record over the years, I have zero doubt he’ll deliver in the end.
The problem isn’t so much the four that haven’t delivered, though the lack of transparency for Meow the Jewels is vexing. The real problem is that you’re basically taking it on faith that the people whose artistic endeavors you are funding won’t simply pocket the money and not produce anything tangible. This isn’t a knock on the people I’ve funded, but it is an acknowledgement that it’s happened before. One infamous example is The Doom That Came to Atlantic City, though it really should have been called “the doom of your wallet for funding some schmuck’s personal life.” Instead of producing a board game as promised, one Mr. Chevalier bought things for himself and paid his rent with the money from backers. The Federal Trade Commission ultimately got involved after numerous complaints of fraud, and he was subsequently hit with a judgment to refund investors that (surprise surprise) he was unable to pay due to insufficient funds.
If that seems like an isolated example, one dedicated gamer built a massive spreadsheet detailing how many Kickstarter campaigns that raised $75,000 or more had yet to deliver a working game. It’s rather shocking how many failed, defrauded their investors, just plain disappeared, or all of the above. The successes are noteworthy though too. I didn’t even fund Shovel Knight but I wish I had. I bought the Wii U version of the game after it was released on that platform and obsessively played my way through it until completion. They call it “a love letter to 8 bits” and they’re not lying – it’s pixelated fun with a platforming challenge that’s as hard as it is rewarding – and half of the reward is the humerous gamer jokes and bad puns. Bravo Yacht Club – you actually overdelivered and made backers feel they helped make a great product. If only every Kickstarter campaign turned out that good.
Unfortunately it’s hard to say if I can really expect that kind of performance from Kickstarter in general, given a paltry 22% of projects I’ve backed having given me any reward on my investment (1.33 out of 6 – I’ll give two thirds more to Random when I get a cart). That’s why even for something as worthwhile as a new De La Soul album I was awfully hesitant to pledge. It’s not that I don’t believe in De La – I’ve already “backed them” to a large extent by buying every album, a plethora of vinyl singles, and seeing them in concert several times. My financial stake in their success is not small, and my affection for the group is quite large, but even with the cool as f#%! backer rewards they offered I just kept thinking “Are we at the point in 2015 where even successful rap legends like De La need crowdfunding to release an album?” It feels like they ought to have enough bread to do it on their own, and if they don’t that’s a really sad indictment of the music industry for bilking them of millions upon millions of dollars for all the successes they’ve had as recording artists up ’til now.
In short this long rant is about whether or not a lot of people who use Kickstarter to get funded really just need a kick in their ass. In theory it’s a great idea – helping entrepreneurs with a great idea but no traditional access to bank loans and venture capital get the backing they need to produce great products. Lord knows that if you have a good idea and don’t have the right connections that you get a lot of doors slammed in your face by greedy, rich, (yes I said it) WHITE people in suits and ties. A service like Kickstarter should exist to provide opportunities to the disenfranchised. At the same time Kickstarter SHOULDN’T be a place to fund the half-baked schemes of idle daydreamers, or a quick “fund my lifestyle” plan for easy living at the expense of people who bought the charming snake oil sales pitch. Former WWE and current TNA star Matt Hardy said it best in the video below. He was mocking GoFundMe, not Kickstarter, but the idea’s the same.