The surprising answer is Yes AND No. Sure, they are supposed to make a good faith effort to attempt to complete their project in a timely fashion, but if it's all for naught there really isn't much you can do as a supporter. Kickstarter can't even force a refund. It really is a gamble of a sort.
What does Kickstarter say about it in their FAQ? A whole lot of stuff about how they are not responsible and you are shit outa luck if the project creator craps out along the way.
All this frustrates the living shit out of me, especially as our hobby has turned Kickstarter into it's premiere pre-order system
Who is responsible for completing a project as promised?
It's the project creator's responsibility to complete their project (emphasis mine) Kickstarter is not involved in the development of the projects themselves.
Kickstarter does not guarantee projects or investigate a creator's ability to complete their project. (read this again) On Kickstarter, backers (you!) ultimately decide the validity and worthiness of a project by whether they decide to fund it.
How do backers know if a project will follow through?
Launching a Kickstarter is a very public act, and creators put their reputations at risk when they do. (yes they do. our hobby is small. I think we are learning that a popular name behind a project does not mean they have any idea on how to complete a project)
Backers should look for creators who share a clear plan for how their project will be completed and who have a history of doing so. Creators are encouraged to share links and as much background information as possible so backers can make informed decisions about the projects they support.
If a creator has no demonstrable experience in doing something like their project (this is most of those looking to do kickstarters in our hobby - just because I am an active blogger does not mean I can put together a kickstarter project. at least I'm honest) or doesn't share key information, backers should take that into consideration. Does the creator include links to any websites that show work related to the project, or past projects? Does the creator appear in the video? Have they connected via Facebook?
Don't hesitate to request information from a creator. (I'll be doing this religiously to find out just how far along the actual creation process is. I can no longer support projects that are scratch note on index cards and a shit load of marketing) You can always reach out before pledging via the "Contact me" button on the project page.
How do I know a project creator is who they claim they are?
Perhaps you know the project creator, or you heard about the project from a trusted source.
Maybe they have a first-person video. That would be hard to fake. "Is it really U2?!" Well, it is if Bono's talking about the project. (very few of us in the hobby of gaming are known by face - this doesn't help much)
Still not sure? Look for the creator bio section on the project page. Are they Facebook Connected? (fuck Facebook) Do they provide links for further verification? The web is an invaluable resource for learning more about a person.
At the end of the day, use your internet street smarts. (regretfully, you have to get screwed at least once before they usually start to kick in)
What should creators do if they're having problems completing their project?
If problems come up, creators are expected to post a project update (which is emailed to all backers) explaining the situation. Sharing the story, speed bumps and all, is crucial. Most backers support projects because they want to see something happen and they'd like to be a part of it. Creators who are honest and transparent will usually find backers to be understanding. (yep, and hiding under a rock has the reverse effect. this becomes less and less effective as time goes on)
It's not uncommon for things to take longer than expected. (it is unlikely the project you are supporting will be ready remotely on time) Sometimes the execution of the project proves more difficult than the creator had anticipated. If a creator is making a good faith effort to complete their project and is transparent about it, backers should do their best to be patient and understanding while demanding continued accountability from the creator.
If the problems are severe enough that the creator can't fulfill their project (will never happen - you'll just get strung along forever), creators need to find a resolution. Steps could include offering refunds, detailing exactly how funds were used, and other actions to satisfy backers. (refunds will rarely happen - after kickstarter and amazon fees, refunds will result in the loss of hundreds or thousands of dollars for the project creator)
Is a creator legally obligated to fulfill the promises of their project?
Can Kickstarter refund the money if a project is unable to fulfill?
No. Kickstarter doesn't issue refunds as transactions are between backers and creators, and creators receive all funds (after fees) soon after their campaign ends. Creators have the ability to refund backers through Amazon Payments (for US projects) and Kickstarter (for UK projects). (so, kickstarter can't force a creator to refund for a failed project)
Why can't Kickstarter guarantee projects?
We started Kickstarter as a new way for creators and audiences to work together to make things. The traditional funding systems are risk-averse and profit-focused, and tons of great ideas never get a chance. We thought Kickstarter could open the door to a much wider variety of ideas and allow everyone to decide what they wanted to see exist in the world.
Kickstarter is full of ambitious, innovative, and imaginative ideas. Many of the projects you see on Kickstarter are in earlier stages of development (I'm done supporting RPG projects in the early stages of development) and are looking for a community to bring them to life. The fact that Kickstarter allows creators to take risks and attempt to create something new is a feature, not a bug. (there SHOULD be very little risk in completing an RPG project in a timely maner. This isn't rocket science)
What is Kickstarter doing about fulfillment?
As Kickstarter has grown, we've made changes to improve accountability and fulfillment. In August 2011 we began requiring creators to list an "Estimated Delivery Date" for all rewards. This was done to make creators think hard about when they could deliver, and to underline that Kickstarter is not a traditional shopping experience. (no, kickstarter has turned into an RPG pre-order system)
In May 2012 we added additional guidelines and requirements for Product Design and Technology projects. These include requiring creators to provide information about their background and experience, a manufacturing plan (for hardware projects), and a functional prototype. We made this change to ensure that creators have done their research before launching and backers have sufficient information when deciding whether to back these projects.
We've also allocated more staff to trust and safety. We look into projects reported by our community for guidelines violations and suspicious activity, and we take action when necessary. These efforts are focused on fraud and acceptable uses of Kickstarter, not a creator's ability to complete a project and fulfill. On Kickstarter, backers ultimately decide the validity and worthiness of a project by whether they decide to fund it.