What is Kickstarter?


As a new publisher, we’re planning to use Kickstarter.  If you’ve not heard of Kickstarter, it’s a crowd-funding platform.  The basic idea is that ‘creators’ present a concept for a project that they need help bringing to life.  It might be a book, a dress, a film, a robot, a boardgame – creators are only limited by their imagination.

Creators are supposed to progress their idea as far as possible before launching their Kickstarter project (although in the early days, many projects launched with little more than a bright idea).  Usually the primary driver for launching a project is to raise funds, but as I have discovered, there can (and should) be a lot more to it than that.

People look at the various projects and if one inspires them, they can become a ‘backer’ by pledging to give a certain amount of money (credit card details are taken, but not charged).  Each project has a definite end-date (usually a few weeks after launch) and must have a funding goal.  If the project receives enough pledges to meet the funding goal, then the backers’ credit cards are charged.  If it doesn’t meet the funding goal, the project is over and nobody pays any money.

Why do people donate money to these projects?

Why do people donate money to these projects?  Well, some people may just be altruistic and gain satisfaction from seeing something they support come to life.  However, for many people, the reason they back projects is for the ‘rewards’.

Backers don’t get shares in the company nor get their money back with interest down the line.  It’s not an investment in the traditional sense.  However, if the project is to produce some kind of product, the creators usually promise to provide each backer with this product once it has been manufactured.  This is certainly the case with boardgames.

A project will have a number of reward levels, for increasing amounts of money, that provide more and more desirable rewards.  Reward levels may start as low as $1, where backers would simply receive updates on the project and see how it progresses.  There is usually a core reward level, which would provide the product (eg. boardgame) at a cheaper-than-retail price.

There could be a more expensive reward level that provides a special version of the product with extra bells and whistles.  Sometimes, for exorbitant amounts of money, project creators will provide one-off rewards, such as being given a bit-part in the film, or spending a day with the creators at their studio.

Kickstarter is not a store.

Now these rewards, particularly in the boardgaming arena, have led people to treat Kickstarter like a pre-order system.  You pay some money and a year later (yes, it often takes that long!), a brand new boardgame arrives at your door.  If I’m honest, this was probably how I treated Kickstarter when I first started backing projects.  However, Kickstarter has attempted to make it clear, time and time again, that Kickstarter is not a store.

And here’s the thing: there is a real risk of losing your money.  Thankfully, it doesn’t happen often, but it certainly can.  Some creators bite off more than they can chew, don’t budget properly and end up blowing through all the donated funds without managing to finish the project.  What do they do then?  Very few people would be willing to give them even more money to finish what they started, so they’re usually forced to cancel the project.

That’s why Kickstarter is so keen to make it clear that backers are supporting project creators, not buying goods.  There is now a mandatory ‘Risks and Challenges’ section at the bottom of every project page that gives the creators a chance to discuss the risks and explain how they are mitigating them.  Creators needs to demonstrate that they can be trusted, which can only be a good thing.

My attitude to Kickstarter has changed significantly since I started using it.  I love the idea of it: to provide funds for projects that would never see the light of day otherwise.  But there is another aspect of Kickstarter that is just as important as the financial side.  An aspect that I will need to discuss another day: community.

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

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