There are many things that have occurred since the middle 90s at which I find myself confused, bemused and sometimes a little threatened - to the point that I wonder if I am in fact twice my actual age. I could mention half a dozen ruled systems and company decisions here, but I mustn't digress. Digression is the path for creative fools! ;) I am both, but your time precious!
A couple of months ago I was going to write a fairly predictable mini rant about kickstarters (and any crowd-sourcing) for RPG products, but now I'm coming to realise that they are just part of the modern way of doing things. But that doesn't mean I accept them.
I've turned down a few collaborations / small contracts for art and abandoned some very interesting discussions for a bunch of reasons, but it was the mention of the pre-product launch kickstarter-style fund raising which always made things sour. In effect, I was actually saying "I don't even want to be associated with your new product if you use target based sponsorship." I'm still not sure about this. Is this just another thing that I've just got to get used to?
Sometimes, it was language which had put me off RPG-related kickstarters. Even when pledgers were being offered perks - i.e. they're getting a return of sorts - its the charity hard sell (and hey I can handle normal hard sell) which verges on emotional blackmail. I paraphase: "Hey, don't be a party-pooper, get on board, in order to make these hand-carved Basic D&D character sheets on slate we need $3000 by Tuesday..." * Hey wait a second, you're saying if I don't donate this idea will vanish forever? Naturally, the enthusiasm behind new projects is admirable and buoyant to the point that I seriously doubt that when we don't pledge, that the entrepeneur will totally give up on his ideas and shelve it completely, especially if the initial funds were to help get his products into shops. The kickstarter is certainly not his only way visualising these dreams - but the crowd-sourcing method obliges him to rush you. If you don't pledge by Tuesday, the kickstarter will actually "fail" but only in terms of crowd-sourcing methods. If it is a market worthy product, then finding a small sum upfront should be possible even for the smallest of companies or individuals (even if they have to sell their vintage brown box D&D that sits in the display cabinet...). That's if it's even necessary to have money in advance.
(* I'm trying not to provide examples of actual crowd-sourcing initiatives, but there's no shortage of the surreal proposals out there.)
I'm having to be careful not to become a hypocrite, because I think when I first heard about bidding on Ebay, as a concept, I was suspicious that Ebay would be rife with scams, and I now have trouble imagining a world without Ebay. Maybe like Ebay, kickstarters are here to stay and will become more mainstream (I think they are less prevalent here in the UK). Also, I've made many friends on-line who both don't have a problem with pledging or setting up kickstarters themselves, and I certainly don't want my opinions to look like a condemnation of their works. Most of these people I really really respect - they are talented and gutsy.
My message to new project publishers is that, like many dedicated hobbyists, I'm both a customer and a content-contributor to the industry, and that I can't be the only person who doesn't see why a product which will end up for sale online or in a bricks'n'mortar shop, with the right planning, needs to raise funds through it's fan (customer) base first. My confidence in the wisdom of that publisher I don't know then drops. The circles I move in mainly use downloadable products and print-on-demand stores, which have little to no upfront costs if you put in the initial work for free (which is was a lot of part time authors and designers do, hoping to reap rewards later). There's all sorts of solutions out there which use traditional buy-and-sell methods. Anything other than charitable missions or one-off statements, as in art (say, a Giant d20 in Utah, or an inflatable stone henge for school kids) can look like a bit of a scam. You might understand how crowd-sourcing works and think it's respectable, but some of us are still getting used to Ebay, Amazon and Paypal. Imagine for example, that it's hard enough explaining to concerned parents why their child spent £300 on Games Workshop figures and now they are being asked follow links of Facebook to raise money for life-sized Space Marine statues* ... Our secular hobbies come in for enough flack as it is.
It's been pointed out to me, that on the plus side, crowd-sourcing in an effective form of marketing feedback. Not only will people pay for your Sci-fi and Dinosaurs RPG when it comes out, but they'll give you money just to keep the idea afloat! Bonus. It's a good point, but somehow the ends do not justify the means. On the other hand, as a potential customer, you may have just alienated me by asking me to pledge.
Originally I thought that kickstarters were mainly only for smaller companies and individuals (charities aside) and then to my surprise I get a email from Paizo wanting to raise money for an electronic product. Why would Paizo need to fund things this way? Are they broke? I'm guessing it's do with wanting to seal further bonds with their community. In this perfectly pleasant email they inferred that they wanted to convert all of the "Likes" on Facebook into pledges. Now, I do a lot of "liking" on Facebook, but I hadn't realised that my genuine message of "Good luck with your project" could be read as "I want to give you money, but I need convincing". There are many noble endeavours - and maybe that's why it suddenly reminds me a bit of evangelism - because from the top-down everyone totally believes in what they are doing and that there is no room for doubt, doubt is the enemy, doubt kills the fund raising fervour.
Some of the ideas coming out of the old school revolution and retro-clones clique are notable because so many of them are effectively acts of counter-culture when compared the last 20 or so years of cynically marketed glossy collectables. I like that. Yes, sure, I cheer these plucky Davids vs the metaphorical Goliaths, but being asked to donate stones when I'm not even sure they have sling ready would make me responsible for encouraging them to walk into a big fight in a financial recession. Sometimes I want to say, "I'll pay you *not* to embark upon this project "- "...Before you know it you'll have no room in your house, because it'll be filled with a 1000 copy print run of your Space 1999 revival comic (not to mention the copyright lawsuit which forbids you from selling any)". We like the plucky underdog, hell yes, we'll give them $30, go for it, son, go! Bungee jump off Dead Drop Cliff with your fistful of game mechanics! But pledge to big old Paizo? Come on!
One of my day-jobs is working in a drop-in centre for people suffering with mental health problems, so I'm obliged to be alert to the fact that many of our members are classed as "vulnerable adults". This is especially true when it comes to developing addictions and compulsive spending. Like everyone else, they can all still vote, they have rights and certainly don't need patronising. But we sometimes provide a second opinion or advice if a person is doing things that may lead to them becoming more unwell, either mentally and physically. Some addictions are less of a problem if they are being managed well -as long as the person is still paying the bills and still eating, and isn't suffering. Apart from too much alcohol, too many bets and illegal drugs, it can be difficult to identify something as an unhealthy obsession or a compulsion where in other communities these things would just be classed as a dedicated hobby. Incidentally, we look out for sudden changes in behaviour as these are sign of a worsening mental health, or medication not working or not pills being taken at all. Perhaps I see the world through my work eyes, because sometimes kickstarter pitches remind me bi-polar friends who are on the "up" (i.e. "manic"). ;) It's probably safe to say that many of us role-players are compulsive buyers and collectors - maybe this is how the industry and it's on-line fringes survive. Most of us are grown-up, old enough to vote, spend money on what we like and have relationships (as are the users of my mental health drop-ins) - but are role-players and tabletop gamers as a type just slightly more vulnerable to exploitation? Possibly not. We're should be allowed to make bad decisions, but when I read that people are donating to Kickstarters on a monthly basis as part of the norm, I begin to wonder that there might need to be moral or psychological aspects to this which we are not addressing. Consequentially, there's a small chance that crowd-sourcing (and RPG start-ups by association) might get a bad name, much like gambling has. Okay I'm not saying that this is all about bi-polar entrepeneurs taking money from compulsive spenders (not a bad simile though?). And this isn't even about large companies exploiting young customers. Is it about gamer-geeks pressurising and egging each other on until there's no money left to spend in normal stores(?). Maybe, that's it, maybe I'm worried about one new capitalistic method replacing the one I'm used to (i.e. I see something, I buy it, store holder takes cash, publisher takes cash, I have a new thing, we're all happy).
In summary, to me, sourcing is all a bit too odd, so just for now, I'm letting folks know that I don't mind talking about new products or concepts, but I won't be linking to their kickstarter pages and to some extent I shall avoid taking part in anything which uses crowd-sourcing as a way of raising funds for what will in the end be profit making products -which also may as well just be published at low cost through POD or similar. That's where I am at the moment. If I can turn down charities telling me that I'll be killing kids in other countries if I don't donate, I can certainly turn down an RPG-related kickstarter. Actually no, that's my point, I don't even want to discuss your new kickstarter because you might think I disrespect you or your idea. The truth is many of the ideas seen on crowd-sourcing sites are insanely fun and I really adore enthusiasm in publishers/writers/artists/gamers, it's just the method I'm not sure about.
If it exists already -it's been created in rough, share it, give it away, pimp it, sell it. I might buy it, "like" it, read the review copy, post pictures, pimp it for you, but don't ask me to sponsor you or ask others to sponsor you. But good luck, anyhow.
The Adventures & Shopping is a kickstarter/crowd-sourcing free zone. The same goes for my work as Billiam Babble, freelance artist and writer and Inked Adventures.
We do things the old way here. :D
Thanks for reading. :)