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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Kickstarter For the RPG Hobby - Are Your Preordering, or Donating With a Prayer?

I see the following come up a lot, especially when someone complains about a Kickstarter that is rotting on the "overdue pile of poop":
"Remember, Kickstarter isn't a preorder system. You are supporting the project. If it doesn't actually give you anything after taking your money, well, that's Kickstarter for you. You gave your money to help with the idea".
The above is a flaming crock of bullshit, and the assholes that spew it, especially when the larger projects, the ones put forth by The Big Names in the hobby run late - they may as well be sucking ass.

Think for a moment. If someone was doing a preorder for The Best OSR Game EVAH! and they approached you and said "Dude! I have this awesome game I want to publish! Give me $100, and if I actually get around to finishing it I'll send you a copy" you would tell him to "Fuck off!"

Thats what the RPG Kickstarter Apologists are trying to sell you. "Dude, you gave money for the idea, not for the product. If you get product, that's just a bonus!"

Frog God treats Kickstarter like a preorder system. Autarch treats it like a preorder system. Evil Hat treats it like a preorder system. Steve Jackson treats it like a preorder system. The list goes on. Sure, they add chatzkies to the goodies list as they funding get higher, but it's still a preorder.

Do smaller companies use it to actually raise funds to get a project up and running and out the door. Sure. But even they don't say "give us your money and we'll send you a DVD and an Umbrella" as if you were donating to PBS. The all basically tell you some variation of "short of my death, dismemberment or world ending cataclysm, you WILL get this product". Preorders, each and every one of them. No matter the words of the RPG Kickstarter Apologists.

Think for a moment. How many of us would put good money in the hands of someone if we thought there was a good chance they would not complete their project and we would be left with nothing for our money spent? Very few.

We back Kickstarters because we believe. We believe in the hype of the project creator. We believe in the project creator. We believe that we are making a preorder for a product that will see the light of day. We believe because somehow, against all odds, against the reality of the chronically late RPG Kickstarter, projects that we like will see the light of day.

The fall from these beliefs will be painful as all hell, but it still won't make RPG Kickstarter Apologists right - preorders have failed (Razor Coast anyone?) and funded Kickstarters will fail, even ones that are run "as a preorder". It won't stop companies from marketing their Kickstarter as a "preorder", and if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and shits like a fucking duck - it's a fucking duck.

26 comments:

  1. Somehow I just knew you would be interested in that thread on G+. :)

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  2. sigh - am I that easily manipulated" ;)

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    1. LOL Nah, just figured that given all your recent posts about Kickstarter, this one was just asking for your input. Begging really.

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  3. I have to say that while the "Apologists" are technically correct. I do agree that's not the way 95% of people view Kickstarters. People expect something for their money. Hell, one of the Kickstarter project I funded basically supplied the funds for someone to setup their small business, but even they had products they plan on shipping. And they are very communicative during the entire process, which in a previous post you point out is very important.

    So in the end, yes people view Kickstarters as a pre-order system that only takes their money if there is enough critical mass to make a project happen. Which is why people feel "Safe" in backing projects in the first place. Not enough interest and no money is taken. Once the money is taken, people do expect something for their money.

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    1. from the kickstarter website:

      Is a creator legally obligated to fulfill the promises of their project?

      Yes. Kickstarter's Terms of Use require creators to fulfill all rewards of their project or refund any backer whose reward they do not or cannot fulfill. (This is what creators see before they launch.) We crafted these terms to create a legal requirement for creators to follow through on their projects, and to give backers a recourse if they don't. We hope that backers will consider using this provision only in cases where they feel that a creator has not made a good faith effort to complete the project and fulfill.

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    2. Interesting, I've obviously never read that.

      I guess then the problem lies with what recourse can a backer really do? Just based on the above clause, I would assume they mean legal.

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  4. Do people ever sue to get their money back? Here in the UK I think I could bring a small claims court action vs a UK company very easily, and the loser has to pay winner's costs.

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    1. I could sue either under my own contract with the company in default, or as a third party to their contract with Kickstarter under the Rights of Third Parties Act 1999. It helps that I teach Contract law, though. >:)

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  5. The apologists are incorrect. The only gambling involved is on whether or not a Kickstarter will be funded. Once it is funded the money has been raised and committed, the publisher is then obligated to deliver the product they promised - you give me x amount of money and I will give you x. If he doesn't deliver, then the publisher has broken the contract he has made with his paying customers - no vague crap about investments and good will - if he doesn't deliver he has stolen people's money and is a thief.

    The apologists need to purge this stupid idea from their heads that Kickstarter patrons are "investors" rather than customers. The person who thought up that twisted line of reasoning was probably a failed Kickstarter publisher who took people's money under false pretenses.

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    1. This.

      But......in reality, I harbor no illusions of recouping money in the case where the guy responsible for providing the product drops off the face of the earth and produces nothing. So, in that sense, there is a bit of a "gamble" and we need to manage the risk. In most cases, "$10-$15 for a PDF and screw the extras is as far as I'll go" has been my approach (exceptions include OGRE and AS&SH - SJG is an established company and I know Steve Jackson really wanted to make it happen, and I'd seen that Talanian had most of AS&SH done...he just needed final tweaks, art, and layout.)

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  6. Believing in hype is the same as falling for a sales pitch. You sound like the proverbial sucker born every minute and now you just have sour grapes because some of us have decided to splash a little dose of reality onto your viewpoint. Companies abuse kickstarter as a preorder system but doesn't mean you have to participate. Besides, if you don't like the delays associated with kickstarter then maybe you should try complaining to the people you gave your money to, or to the kickstarter company itself.

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  7. @Doc - I have to say they've heard out complaints fairly well, especially the complaint about "lack of communication"

    If complaining gets the some grease for the squeaky wheels, I'd say it better to complain then sit in your corner and hope and pray silently.

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  8. From a legal stand point, the question is, do they have to fulfill the obligations by the dates originally prescribed? Or simply show good faith in meeting their obligations (by occasionally e-mailing an excuse for project not being completed)?

    I've backed exactly one Kickstarter (which is late and I am waiting on). This was my first and last venture down the Kickstarter hussle. I wish I percieved then what I know now. But this is the perception that will be the death nell to this sort of funding over time. It could definately be done better, in such a way that requires a strict buisness plan and helps protect the backers from cons. The way it is now, the system is ripe for abuse.

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  9. Yeah, it's definitely a pre-order system if you put in enough to quality for one of the specifically stated bonus goals. Most projects have a "support only" level ($1 - $5) where you explicitly will not get anything but a nice thank you from the devs. A lot of these RPG projects seem to have poor delivery stats, although apparently most do finally deliver in the end. I put money into the 6d6 project, but that's because they already basically had a version of it drafted and being played at cons.

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    1. That's a great point.

      I suggest everyone banging the pickle barrel about "Kickstarter isn't about the rewards, it's a way to give back" should literally put their money where their mouth is and click the "support only" level. Then those nasty pre-order questions never come up.

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  10. I think different companies use it for different things, don't they? I mean, Frog God generally has 60-95% of a project already finished, and the role of Kickstarter is to (a) give certainty to the size of the order, (b) to pick up extra cash from people who want collectible versions and want to pay for it, (c) to make the release into an event that's fun and in which people can participate. It's essentially a preorder, although there are other whistles and bells that wouldn't come into a normal release. On the other hand, though, Reaper was directly funding the creation of molds that wouldn't have been done for years and years, essentially the archetypal kickstarter. Other people have sold things that were less than finished, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, it's risky and some of these people definitely haven't come through. On the other hand, there's something to be said for having a way of funding the different parts of a product and identifying how many you'll need to order. The full range from crap to quality seems to be out there, which seems like what you'd expect. Kickstarter doesn't change any of the fundamentals other than allowing a publisher/producer to identify demand and hold an internet festival about the product. It was never supposed to add safety or quality, just to offer a sales platform that works better for products that have a higher degree of uncertainty (e.g., needing a large print run, depending upon hitting a timing deadline, etc). I might be missing the forest for the trees, though, I suppose.

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    1. Matt, let me start by saying I appreciate all your contributions to the hobby. But, the way you are suggesting Kickstarter is intended to be used by companies like Frog God is not beneficial to the hobby. It's actually harmful to the hobby, though it may be short term beneficial to a company/producer. The reason I say this is because it allows a company to put any pipe dream out there with an increasingly larger price creep with little to no risk. In other words, the company doesn't even have to do the minimum amount of research and cost/risk analysis. They can just continue to see what they can get away with by relying on the sales pitch. If it doesn't fund, no/minimal loss to the company, try again next quarter. This has a cascading effect of encouraging others to do the same and driving up costs (including artists and writers expenses as they want a piece of the pie). To me, this is not ethical business, though I know others don't see it that way. This is the sort of thing I would expect from a used car sales man. The ultimate loser is the customer because he has either paid too much for the item or he has gotten a lemon or he has gotten nothing at all. The hobby suffers because of the increasing commercialization and price creep (I'm not sure if we've learned any lessons from the past).

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    2. Why is allowing companies to complete pipe dreams for little to no risk a bad thing for the hobby?

      I am also not understanding how a free marketplace of ideas somehow is driving up costs? Nearly everything I've funded on kickstarter has been more expensive after release.

      You are just as at risk for lemons when you browse RPGnow, you have to caveat emptor, no matter the platform.

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    3. Creating an environment where people can continue to put anything out there, with increasingly larger price tags, without any fiscal analysis (because there is no risk), with the hopes of possibly funding, is what's bad because it creates irresponsible behavior that doesn't have the hobby at heart. It inflates prices because companies continue to push the envelope with a "shot in the dark" strategy. I am not talking about small companies producing modest products that is within their reach and abilities. Also, "risk" is part of how a free market works for most companies and is why they're rewarded. Socialism is where the risk is shifted onto others.

      Why is the product more expensive after release? To cover costs that were not properly researched from the get go? Or do you think they're doing you a favor for being a supporter? Could this also be why some Kickstarters are asking for more money after being funded to cover shipping? In a way I think your comment answered your own question.

      On RPGnow, you have reviews to go by and you do have recourses for a product that is damaged, undelivered, or misrepresented, by going through Paypal, your credit card company, and RPGnow directly.

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    4. What does have the hobby at heart mean?

      What is best for the hobby? People making and playing games. Kickstarter supports this.

      If the price is too high, people won't buy and it won't fund. However if they do fund the project then ipso facto the price wasn't too high.

      The market corrects on this. Rappan Atthuk was way more expensive to purchase before the kickstarter funded it, because of it's quality and the limited print run. Razor Coast literally could not be purchased, without the kickstarter to fund.

      Gaming material that people want existing where it would not have existed otherwise, is not bad for the hobby. It is the best thing for the hobby.

      Those shots in the dark aren't large, and often don't fund. The whole thing is self correcting.

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    5. Maybe your right -C, maybe I'm just a cynic. If your good with $100+ price tags for supliments, sight unseen, and Blonde Frogs good with making $3/hour (ref. Razor Coast post), who am I to say otherwise. Sounds healthy. I actually think I explained myself well enough above.

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    6. I mean, I'm sure I'll earn about that or less for the amount of time I spent working on alchemy for what I'll make, and the percentage is much better than it is for novel writers.

      Would I rather have done something else? No. I don't write games and books because I want to get rich, I do it because I love it. That's why everyone in the industry works at a pittance.

      As far as the price tag goes, after a movie and popcorn for the girl, and a soda for myself, I'm out over 50 bucks. Twenty years ago, that would have been 20$. RPG books used to cost 34$, now they cost 60$-100$. Milk is expected to be 7$ a gallon after the start of the year.

      Clearly people have accepted the inflation of the american dollar, by them funding these projects. So while it sucks, the products aren't going back to being cheaper.

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    7. C, where are you living? Even in Manhattan, two movie tickets still cost under $30 (about double the national average), so unless you're an IMAX enthusiast, I feel your pain on that popcorn and soda!

      But bringing up IMAX points out that there's inflation and then there's relative value. Love the module or hate it, Temple of Elemental Evil retailed for $15 back in 1985, which translates into a whopping $32 in today's money. That's 22 cents per black-and-white page, softcover glued binding.

      Savage Coast is coming in at $150 for a 250-page product: full color, expensive art and textbook binding. That's 60 cents per page. Fans seem to think the look and feel are worth paying the equivalent of 72% more per page of content than they did for T1-4 -- adjusted for inflation -- and maybe that's okay. They think they're getting 72% more value. Maybe they are.

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    8. Queens (one of NYC's outer boroughs) is 13 for a ticket, 10 for a matinee.

      So, me and the wife hit a matinee, grab a large popcorn and a large soda to share - it's about 32 bucks with the price of the tickets.

      We dont do it often, either.

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    9. Oops, that's *172%* more per page and not just 72% more. Double, almost triple what they paid for T1-4 back in the day. Maybe the improved production values are worth that to people. Maybe the content's just that much better.

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    10. Well, that and I have ToEE sitting right here and I've looked through it this year.

      Like all rpg books, it has a high value for the cost. Like everything frog god produces, I expect the same from razor coast.

      My ticket prices are as Tenkars. 7$ matinee, 9$ adult with a 3.50$ 'surcharge' for digital/3d. 7$ popcorn and 5.50$ drinks (free refills!) x2 and x2 tickets and well, you have a very pricy activity.

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