Monday, February 20, 2012

Kickstarter: Show Me the Money

On the latest episode of the B&B Podcast, Ben Brooks took issue with the promises Kickstarter campaigns make if the project is overfunded. Using the example of the Kickstarter campaign of Double Fine Adventure, Ben made two points: first, implying - or in the case of Double Fine Adventure explicitly stating - that funds in excess of the funding goal will go toward the product - may well be false, especially in the case of massively over-funded projects; second, that people's willingness to fund projects may depend on how the excess funds will be used.

Double Fine Adventure had a $400,000 goal but had received pledges of nearly $1.7 million as of Feb. 13 with nearly a month still to go. The project's FAQ says

Q: What happens if you go over the goal?
A: The extra money will be put back into the game and documentary. This could result in anything from increased VO and music budgets to additional release platforms for the game.

While it's possible that a $400,000 project could become a somewhat better $500,000 project, it's hard to imagine how the firm can use four times the original fundraising goal solely to improve the product.

Ben's related point is that some fraction of donors may be less likely to back a project in which the creators earn more money if the project is over-funded. That is, some people like the idea of crowd-sourcing but dislike the idea of profits. The combination of those two points leads Ben to conclude that the Kickstarter model is "flawed."

I'm not sure either critique shows a flaw. Certainly the Double Fine Adventure FAQ was poorly worded, likely because it never occurred to anyone that the project might be over-funded by a factor of more than four. If it had said "Some of the extra money..." or "The extra money up to $x..." there would be no issue of whether the company was somehow duping backers. As for the second critique, it's certainly possible that some backers don't think people using Kickstarter are in the business of making a profit, but I can't see how it's Kickstarter's problem that these backers are making unwarranted assumptions. I'd think the normal assumption is that individuals and firms are trying to make money on their ideas, using crowd-sourcing as a way to ensure that the project will have enough money to at least break even.

Ben's solution is to stop funding once the project reaches its goal. That's one solution, of course, but the Kickstarter projects I've backed have all involved pre-ordering a good to be delivered later (music, the New Babbage book, an iPhone charging cradle). If I see that the project is already funded but still want to buy the product, I'm no worse off being given the option of pre-ordering it through Kickstarter rather than waiting for the product to be created and ordering it at that time. (In fact, the charging cradle was being offered at a substantial discount over the projected retail price.) I don't care if some or all of my money goes to the developer's bank account; I'm happy he or she got the project funded, and I'd like my copy of the product.

I could see Ben's solution being applied by the project's originators in certain cases. Limiting the number of backers could create an incentive to invest early, so the project is funded quickly and the creators know early on that they can get on with the project. But it doesn't seem as though creating a policy to that effect would improve Kickstarter.

No comments: