Sunday, 26 August 2012

We all win with Kickstarters, right?

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 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?  :)


  1. I really like the idea of Kick-starter. I contributed to Reaper and I think it can be used for big and small companies.
    My only concern if the misuse of the moneys set in place for the projects described. After all, what any of them use the money on is only known to them.
    Not to knock Reaper, because I LOVE their company, but they could use half that 3.4 million to all get new cars, a house and a long trip to the warm weather and sunshine. Know one knows. And it will be like that for all Kick-starters. Trust comes into play here and maybe the law in time.
    I can see a time where the starter company will be found out not to be using the funds for what they say it was going to be used for or they done follow through on their "Rewards" to people who sponsor them.
    All in all it is a cool system. I just hope it stays a cool system.
    As for the local gaming store issue. Some may actually benefit from the Kick-starters because without this "in" many little companies or individuals would never be able to produce new products with in turn might not even make it to the FLGS shelves.

    Just my 2 cents.

    1. Thanks Rob. Like with many things I fear, usually just decent legislation or well written Term & Conditions will cover everybody in the event of misuse of money, fraud, robbery etc. One of my original worries about Kickstarters was what they said about a company or individual - i.e. that somehow it was more disreputable to gamble with promises to customers over a short period of time than the traditional selling. For a moment we're championing individuals with no business experience who are offering to publish and produce new ideas (or resurrect old ones). In many instances, it didn't seem well thought through - as if selling a PDF on RPGNow or a print copy of Lulu wasn't enough- they had to hand stitch dice bags for every pledger as well... For a moment it all felt like a trucks were pulling up and selling stolen goods fast before the police arrive, unlike the family store where a gentle old man goes to the store room at the back to see if they have what you are looking for ;) Naturally I'm exaggerating - but there's still a massive number of people who buy online have never heard of kickstarters (some UK friends look at me in bafflement when I explain) - so some customers may be being lost or alienated by these new fangled practices. ;)

      It's impressive to see how discerning folks actually are when pledging. Maybe I'm playing devil's advocate here - I'm still on the fence with kickstarters - and yes, part of it is the infamous "fatigue" - It's so strange to see almost everyone I know online try start up Kickstarters. I feel very out of step with the ethos and logic of the whole thing.

  2. Good post. I think people hear the numbers and get excited or scared or have any number of reactions. $3 million dollars IS a lot of money. Someone said that Reaper's annual income was reported at $3 million, with 20 employees employed. So basically this kickstarter netted them a full year's earnings in 30 days. The success of this kickstarter has also led some to question or fear a "saturation" or "depression" in the minis market. After all, with 240 minis in each bundle (plus add ons), those of us who contributed to this kickstarter won't need to buy minis for quite some time.

    Except that 17,000 people are barely a fraction of the number of people who use, collect, and/or paint minis. In fact, I've heard from a lot of people they haven't owned or painted minis in decades and this kickstarter got them back into it. I'm one of those people. So this kickstarter brought in new customers.

    For another example of what I'm talking about, loon at the Ouya. Now personally, I don't think the Ouya can deliver on its promises; a game system from an unknown company who's never built a game system in their life has a to market window of 8 months, which neither Microsoft or Sony would ever be capable of?

    But people see "$8 million dollars funded" and think Wow! That's a lot of money!

    Only it isn't. $8 million is barely a blip compared to the revenues on xbox and ps3. And if you look at number of backers, they equal one tenth of one percent of just the U.S. gaming market, let alone the global market.

    Ouya will no more "upset" the game industry than Reaper Miniatures will saturate the market.

    Reaper miniatures has proven they are a company to pay attention to. They ran one of the most successful, best executed, heavily maintained kickstarters I've ever seen.

    As for corporations like WotC or Paizo using Kickstarter, I for one welcome our rpg overlords. Mostly because its inevitable and I hate acting surprised. Also because I'm curious what perks they'll offer.

    1. Thanks, Chris, excellent points.
      I hadn't actually thought of the immediate effect on an individual's wallet, when they hand over cash to Reaper or other KSs - it would be ridiculous to say that that money was somehow being taken away from normal stores. *grin* If I remember my own monster collection for Warhammer Quest - a $100 (£65) would be a tiny quantity of my annual spending (which I don't want to add up!) If you're serious about figures - a few special offers won't detract from serial expenditure - after all shopping is fun. :) But you've reminded me again that there is a shopping habit factor, like with ebay, where it's hard not to bid on many things at once, some folks may max out by pledging on a whole load of successful RPG Kickstarters - and yes, that has to have an effect on how much they have to spend in traditional shops and webstores. I enjoy the humility expressed by people when they say they have a mild Kickstarter addiction - but like eBay, it's the small business and customer on whole who seem to benefit.
      It's interesting what you say about the comparative quantities of money in established industries. I spend most of my time chatting with very small publishers to whom the turn-over means that it is at best a "paying-hobby" (my own brand "Inked Adventures" brings in the odd fuel bill payment at the most). The vast sums of cash required by larger computer game / entertainment industry make my mind boggle - but like you say, large figures are normal where there in mass demand and wages for teams of staff. I haven't really been following the Ouya story. What intrigues me, as with any successful advertising campaign - if demand is suddenly vastly higher than expected (as in 10 times the base plan, in the case of Reaper) maybe that can actually screw things up when it comes to keeping customers/pledgers happy - like delivering on time or temporary storage of extra stock. This deadline / "rush" buy/sell culture can cripple a self-employed publisher. I keep reading on Facebook about about weekends lost to folding special pre-print boxes, hand made perks gifts, processing huge numbers of shipping orders... I genuinely believe that small publishers/creators can sometimes get themselves into a big pit of trouble. I think I'm uncomfortable with the culture of these things. But then I don't really swim with the sharks. The good news is that from what I'm reading from the responses I'm getting in different places is that pledgers/buyers and RPG-related entrepeneurs are accutely aware of many of these risks - which is good to know.
      "I for one welcome our rpg overlords" All hail the ants! :D
      In my mind's eye Kickstarters were meant for smaller companies or charities, but if they encourage large companies to reward individuals/communities with creatively thought out perks then perhaps it's exactly what those communities want - as long as they ditch the desperate hard sell language of kickstarters - as long as we know that they won't claim that products will "vanish forever" and that the company will close if we don't pledge, then maybe it'll be a more interesting world, where the consumer feels ownership of a brand ...
      Most intriguing. Thanks again, Chris.