So I get an email from Paizo this week about a big kickstarter and then I see how well the good-value-for-money Reaper-Bones minis Kickstarter has done: three-and-half-million dollars (with a mere $30k target) ...and then the penny drops. Apart from the get-on-board-or-miss-out! rhetoric, what might be turning me off from Kickstarters is that it reminds me of what a post-apocalyptic culture must look like:
"Rags-and-teeth John is building a working fridge-freezer and we need everyone to donate some metal to help him in his cause. For three grams of metal John will give you four ice-cubes and three square centimetres of space in the new fridge. If you don't donate then no-one of will ever experience refrigeration again and old Ragsy will go back scavenging bomb sites."
So maybe the fact that Kickstarter projects are now commonplace is a natural response to the Recession? Essentially where mass markets fail, small communities pool resources. But should established companies be using these systems? My early impressions of kickstarters was that they literally "kick-started" small community projects which may be worthy but not financially viable for loans and so forth - or perhaps kick-start a small company.
One of my main issues with kickstarters, so far, was with authors of printed rules systems using kickstarters to fund print-runs when print-on-demand sites can do the same job - and the product will be available for as long as the file is on the site (see "Pledge me not!.."). When it comes to an entrepreneur not being able to create-one-unit per customer then it makes sense for Kickstarters being used to fund bulk stock -but this flies in the face of traditional trading. Upfront capital is what all businesses need to get started (if the acquiring loans have failed, that is). For individuals or companies to keep using kickstarters, one after another, seems to counter what the original ethos was about. It's supposed to be a one-off boost to help you on your way. That was my understanding. But, hey, a lot of people will be receiving a lot of figures in a few weeks for an absolute bargain price-wise, a thing only made possible by "people power", right?
(Maybe...) As a pledger taking part in kickstarters are you changing the way your chosen industry's economy works. For all of the Bricks-n-Mortar save-our-local-shop support we give, would kickstarters be taking income away from shops? - Or can many adapt or even excel with Kickstarters -much like they did by adopting webstores and mail order?
Imagine, you see a poster in your local gaming store - the shelves are half empty but the poster says if thirty customers all get together and pledge then they'll be able to order the new War Machine figures at two-thirds the normal price. Naturally there are none is stock at the moment. That Reaper Bones deal made a lot of sense - but what's the "returns" policy if that plastic is not of a good quality?
I'm slowly coming around to the idea that for the very small companies and individuals kickstarters are a socially acceptable way of raising capital for bulk manufacture. If single unit print-on-demand sites existed for figures I think things would be a little different, although it's safe to surmise that a one-off minotaur from a 3D printer will be many times the price of a bulk printed resin cast figure (correction: these sites do exist for demonstration models where you send in the dimensions on file and it's costly). However, I'm sure that it wasn't long ago that getting a few printed copies of a book would seem infeasible until Lulu.com came along. At some point it may even be possible for the designers in their garages and spare bedrooms to sell mini armies online through a webstore, without even having to handle packing or distribution. This would be good news for the freelance designer-publishers and for gamers who don't mind paying a slightly higher price per unit, and it wouldn't threaten larger companies who can bulk-build/print and order and keep the price low. This already happens in the PDF/Print-on-demand RPG books market. The internet already presents us with cottage industry webstores meeting the reasonably low demands of dedicated hobbyists. I suspect that Games Workshop will always need a straightforward "mass" market to keep their own street stores going.
One thing which larger markets like is a sudden focussed flurry of interest in a product yet to come out, which is why Kickstarters will appeal to the likes of WotC and Paizo - both of which are pay a lot of lip-service to "community". Much like the overuse of the word "interactive", involving "community" or the consumer-base is very sexy to marketing departments, and will of course mean something far different from the warm fuzziness of belonging felt in a forum (which is what many of us think a "community" is). Quite understandably, there is a culture of wanting quick and high returns in any market, although any grocer will tell you that the stability of regular income is also good (it helps him plan how many apples to buy in advance for example). I'll be honest, despite sounding cynical, I adore the clamour and advertising of a new thing - otherwise I wouldn't be typing on this blog, I love celebrating new products (and yes, affiliate links are a tiny perk for me). The longevity of a hobby is also important to me.
When games publishers bring out products, saying that they are the best thing ever and then drop the line 6 months later, it can be a stab in the heart to players and collectors. So, naturally I am suspicious of mass market quick sellers (when spotted) - much like in politics- how far ahead are the marketers looking? But all companies know that reputation and customer respect is pretty important too - but in my mind most companies prefer the short term gamble. I think what I am trying to say is that for smaller companies, raising funds through pledges can be an honourable make-or-break exercise (if other avenues have been explored first), but for larger companies Kickstarters are brand marketing, a quick return and nothing more. You are no more empowering this company to make a new product or cause an event to happen then you are promising next months wages for an unfinished product. I'm also guessing that consumer law will not cover the customer in the same way that already occurs in straight forward pay-per-product transaction. If a large company wants an opinion, they should run a poll, not a Kickstarter. I am certainly more sympathetic to very publishers and charities using Kickstarter (and other crowd-funding sites) than I am to well established companies - to whom crowd-funding may as well be the same as a high-pressure sales (because that deadline means "you may miss out on this great opportunity" = hard sell, in my book).
Where is this all going?
I don't know, maybe I'm over reacting, but something doesn't feel right. Maybe it's just change. By taking in part in Kickstarters are you saying "no" to old fashioned trading? Does it really matter? Will every product be only available for a short period? Will Kickstarter pitches mature and stop pretending that they are as important as an overseas help-the-starving charities?
I know I'm late catching the boat on this one, I'm suddenly aware that crowd-funding is a massive force for change which will effect small pockets of community-led markets. It feels like a force for democracy, but apart from the flurries of interest and temporary mammoth bundles, will this take revenue away from traditional points-of-sale, which in turn won't be able to keep prices low for a single product which you can look at before you buy? Okay, I know this is garbled and I want to help the guy build the fridge in my post apocalyptic wasteland (hey, I actually can't think of many friends online who aren't involved with kickstarters), but if HotPoint set up a kickstarter to build a thousand bomb proof fridges before the apocalypse would that be the same thing, morally speaking?
Anyhow, congratulations Reaper Miniatures. The talk of GenCon. The people love you (we always did, but we only said it and just bought a handful of figures) - only now you might have to deliver on $3m worth of miniatures in one go. That's good, right? It's all good. We all win.
Any thoughts? :)