Saturday, 21 July 2012

Pledge me not! Kickstarter Free Zone

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. :)


  1. In a way I know how you feel. I am very slow to accept newfangled technology or styles. I can't accept PDF publications. PDF is ok for something that is free. But if you want me to pay money for it - put it in print. PoD is perfectly ok, but I want a hardcopy.

    I don't understand the lure of Facebook or Google+. I don't understand how online role-playing (chat, G+, online gametable) can possibly be a stand-in for the real thing. I feel like a dinosaur in the face of FLAILSNAILS.


    Kickstarter I got from day one. This is an extremely useful tool for small-press publishers and self-publishers, either as a method of getting their project financed or as a method to gauge interest. The dungeon geomorph dice are one of those ideas that would probably never have seen the light of day without this way of just asking the community if there is demand.

    I can also see why it is a good tool for larger companies. Especially in this time of Facebook and forums a company is flooded with feedback from its customers, but it's getting harder and harder to differentiate feedback from some vocal hard core minority from that of the (more silent) mainstream customers.
    The hard core minority might demand certain products that the company believes wouldn't survive in the market. So they set up a Kickstarter to let their vocal customers "put their money where their mouth is".

    1. Thanks for posting!

      I really like the last point you make about a hardcore minority being given the tools to ask for something special when a mass market publisher is hesitant. Very good example.

      I used to have similar feelings like yourself about PDFs being sold online, and I still don't think that they should be the same price as the printed copy. I try to explain to my dad that I sell dungeon tiles, which people print out at home, I say that they are like the old magazines with knitting patterns - people still pay for knitting patterns, but he doesn't get it and we both know it would be difficult for me to give up the day job. But as with my early suspicions of eBay your point reminds me that I might be just part of a different mindset.

      Again, a good point about geomorphic dice - a very unique idea for a product.
      I understand that geomorphic dice would be difficult to produce without some sort of backing, but not impossible. The Internet, being as it is, very few ideas remain hidden. Cardboard versions of those dice can be sold (or given away) as nets in PDF form, certainly not as nice to behold as the solid kind - but it is possible to create that stock on a small budget. Or sell dice stickers through GameCrafter with dice at almost no cost. The quality might be lower but it's still possible. The stock doesn't always have to be made or bought in bulk in advance.

      An alternative is a pre-order system. If crowd-sourcing generally is working more like chartered plane tickets -i.e. you need a minimum of thirty customers (all paying the same product price) before you can fly - I think that works for me, but the option to pledge different amounts means that it doesn't resemble the traditional buying model, which puts me off becoming involved.

      My point is that kickstarters are inappropriate for the RPG market, which had many forms of advertising and sharing before kickstarters became popular. Many of my recent purchases have been through Lulu. I buy soft and hard backed books from people lucky to sell more than 100 books a year. These products exist and the authors / titles have international acclaim without large companies or kickstarters.

      In one discussion an author claimed he needed the kickstarter to help pay his wages during the month of writing - it makes no sense - asking for an advance from your potential customers seems wrong. If someone was raising money for a children's playground I might consider helping out. When an artist or writer wants to revive old work, how can they justify taking the money up front from their fans? Most of the time the products seem already ready to sell. I refuse to believe that I'm one of the only people that feels that most kickstarters could be seen by others as a type of well-meant robbery.

      In a way, I'm just saying count me out, and I'm sure not be the only one, and there might be unforeseen consequences for everyone if it becomes the norm. -I'm not sure what those consequences are by the way.
      ...But that would make me an irrational doom-crow. *grin*

      Thanks again for commenting.

  2. So far, I've backed two Kickstarter projects. The first being Far West, the second last month, with Deadlands Noir. There was a kickstarter for the return of the original Traveller by Mark Miller which while I loved the concept, I didn't back because it was a $50 pledge just to get a PDF of the product, now THAT is ridiculous. Far West included may stretch goals which were amazing...including an entire paper town. Deadlands Noir included a PDF copy of the Deadlands Deluxe at the $20 level, this was added near the end. I DID NOT want to back Paizo's bid for Pathfinder Online because I don't like the EVE style game they're talking about, I want PATHFINDER, not EVE Reskinned, and not DDO. So in 2 years I've backed 2 projects, I had to think hard about whether to back either project. I personally think it's an amazing Engine which could really help get products out which never would have happened, now I wonder what kind of ramifications will happen when products fail to be produced as promised.

    1. Those first two kickstarters are the sort of products which would get me excited too (and MM's Traveller did get my attention just then). It's good to hear examples of people being very selective about which kickstarters they support (contrary to my theory that a small number of gamers are pledging for everything!). I think if the perk system has a lot of really special extras (like the paper town -cool!) then I guess it's a bit like being in a special fan club, so as long as kickstarters provide a very different alternative to just buying a product then maybe I'd feel a bit more relaxed about them. A friend on Facebook made a joke recently about the number of kickstarters which had zombie-themes - that somehow trends in crowd-sourcing projects can tell you what's in demand by the consumer - or maybe it's all cynical marketing by small publishers. The irony about "bring back" projects is that I'm guessing that they get the most support from people who already own the original games. Thanks for posting. :)

  3. I hadn't thought about the cutting-out-the-retailers angle before. Definitely something to think about. On the upside, I've noticed several crowdfunding campaigns lately have had retailer-aimed pledge levels, so a retailer can theoretically budget some funds towards that, and just treat it like a preorder.

    Also, I hope that most crowdfunding campaigns are raising more money than is required to fulfill the backers' pledges. Hopefully the $3.4M that Reaper raised will make a hell of a lot more minis than the 18k backers have coming to them--I'd hope by an order of magnitude. So that means all those other minis will end up in retail, or mailorder, or something. Similarly, if you set your success threshold to, say, $5k, and it'll take 200 backers to get you there, that should fund printing a 1000 copies, not 200, if you succeed. The "buy it now, or never!" hard sell should be for the extras and thank-yous, not for the basic item being created. A Kickstarter should be the push that makes the item possible, not a one-time preorder, IMHO.

    1. Hi Woodelf.
      That's an interesting point. It hadn't occurred to me that retailers might be pledging too. Also I'm seeing that almost no shops are complaining about crowd funding. In fact, since the relationship between the tabletop gamer community and publishers is so close, I can see why retailers welcome the viral marketing by proxy kickstarters bring to the hobby as a whole. Just by being listed on crowd funding sites, means that the hobby gets more exposure over all - and is seen to be as popular as crowd funding for computer games for example.
      I may have to rethink my stance on all of this! ;)
      Thanks for commenting.