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Monday, February 20, 2017

Why I Put Wayward Kickstarters' Feet to the Fire



There has been some recent displeasure with my Kickstarter coverage. No, not to me directly, but others are getting flack for letting the posts be shared over sources they control. I figured it was time for an explanation as to why I make such posts and why I take such posts seriously.

Our hobby is small. Really small. If you aren't WotC or Paizo, publishing is probably a side gig for you. Profit margins are slim. That is why Print on Demand and Kickstarter are used by so many RPG publishers - it minimizes risk and maximizes profit.

Lets look at Kickstarter. For all intents and purposes, RPG publishers use it as a preorder system. I'm not going to get into the argument that you are backing a "project" and not a "product." If the publisher treats it like a preorder system, allowing them to take your money up front while knowing how many of "X" to print, thereby minimizing the risk of dead stock sitting in a spare bedroom or garage somewhere, its a preorder. Quacks like a duck and walks like a duck and looks like a duck, its a duck. Fuck the DNA results.

Few publishers hit their overly optimistic release dates on Kickstarter. Those that do, I usually highlight. Most fall within the ballpark. A few go extremely long and a select few get to the stage of "tomorrow is always a day away."

Now, as a consumer, money that has paid for product that is now years late is money that could have been spent elsewhere - such as, you guessed it - other gaming product.

How many people take the time to track these late projects? How many look into the updates and try to ascertain what is truly going on? Who pays attention to see if a certain publisher / creator has a tendency to be really late, or not release at all? Does anyone vet these projects before backing them? Does anyone take the project creators to task, when lateness becomes lies and they attack the very community that funded them?

The answer to the above is "I do" and I wish others would.

While I like to think that honesty is the base state of human beings, we all know that it does not apply to all. Sometimes, you need to shine a light to remind folks to be honest as well as show honest folks who isn't, and beware.

But, Kickstarter says you are backing an idea, not a product, and there is no guarentee you'll get anything and that is true, its what Kickstarter says. But if shining a light improves the consumers' odds, that should only be a good thing. Not every funded Kickstarter is going to deliver, but every funded Kickstarter should make the honest attempt to do so. For every Mike Nystul, who fell on the sword and admitted to being an incompetent business man (and was pretty much forgiven by the gaming community even with Kickstarters that never produced product) you have a Gareth, with his "tomorrow, next week, next month" series of promises over the last five years. Or #ConManKen, who admitted to misusing Kickstarter funds, basically ran multiple Kickstarters as a pyramid scheme that only filled his pockets and has threatened me with lawsuits and arrest. Or Kevin, who took in $1.4 million and keeps punting completion to NeverNever Land.

Kickstarter is not all Ice Cream and Bunnies. There are those that will take advantage of their backers and potential backers should be armed with all the knowledge they can get.

Keeping bad Kickstarters in the light helps ensure that future creators do their own due diligence before kicking off their latest project and are ready to succeed.

As a side note, my moderating hand is VERY light here at The Tavern. I do NOT delete comments of those that disagree with me. I don't even delete ones where I am threatened with lawsuits or arrest by federal authorities. I am more likely to moderate personal attacks between readers than anything else, and even that needs to be over the top. So, if the Gareths, Kens or Kevins of the world want to defend their actions, they won't be silenced.

33 comments:

  1. Just so that you know, I am friendly with the creator of a well funded but delayed ks. She works steadily on the project, and keeps the monies for eventual printing and shipping in a separate account. She updates, apologizes for the delay and continues to produce content. In this, she is unlike some of these usual suspects.

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    1. I back a shit ton of KSs. Communication is key. Poor communications is what gets me PMs to look into stuff ;)

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    2. You used the F-Word and are a bad, bad man. Of course I agree with you so I'm probably a bad person as well.

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    3. All I ask for is honest communication when a creator is late. Communication goes a very long way in my book. And I too, back a shit ton of Kickstarters.

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  2. Don't forget that even though KS projects are backing an 'idea', Kickstarter itself established new policy back in 2015 that state the creator must account for how the money was spent and refund any unused portion to backers. That's the Cliff Note's version, there is more to it. Point is they make it clear it's not a "raise some money and "oh well" and walk away affair". There has to be some transparency which - demands communication.

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    1. Only reason I ride Ken is because he refused to communicate with US or with the backers. If he had simply said, "I'm done. I can't finish" that would have been something. Then he could have presented where the money went. As it is, he's not answering any questions, showing any sign of progress (or even having worked on the project(s) and he behaving as though asking about them is harassment.

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    2. Indeed, if he had been open all along and then finally come out at GenCon and said "I'm sorry, I mis-budgeted and made some mistakes, here's a breakdown so you can see where the money went and I'm willing to turn the material I have produced over to Kenzer or another agreed-upon party who can finish at least some of the project" then I think most people would have readily forgiven him(though some may have needed some time).

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  3. Failed Kickstarters are part of the risk. What is unacceptable is lack of communication and/or lack of honesty. I have backed a couple of infamous RPG or miniatures Kickstarter failures. I have also had a couple that delivered three or four years late. What I want is an honest statement from the sponsor. It is far far better to admit, honestly, that you cannot do what you promised than to cover lies with lies. It destroys credibility and - most sadly - it has destroyed some people I like.

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  4. We won't launch a Kickstarter until the product is complete. With the only possible exception being Kickstarter only exclusives. If we can't front some money to get the product in a state of readiness, how can we ask anyone else to do the same?

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    1. Same here. No projects release before they are completed. We do all work in house so that is an option (I know some don't have that option). Also, being aware of printer turn around/shipping times and providing a delivery date buffer in case of catastrophe lessens stress on our end and the backer's end. Also, not running multiple Kickstarters simultaneously is a rule we have.

      I'm glad blogs like this point a finger at KS projects that don't deliver. A delayed project with communication is fine by me. I understand. Years of delays and no communication is nonsense and hurts others in this game.

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    2. Me too. Except for any content related stretch goals, my work is complete before I launch the KS project. It's hard enough as a one-man show; getting the writing and much of the art done before launching means that I can focus on communication and fulfillment after the project ends. Oh, and like many Indie publishers, I have full time gig and family that take up a little time too.

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  5. I wonder if it would be possible for KS to include a "fail point." A mandatory field that would be a date set at the initiation of the KS project which would be distinct from the "estimated delivery" date. If the project is not delivered by that date, the project would be flagged as failed, and the fact that a given individual had so many failed projects would be included in all future projects.

    It's the Six Sigma in me. I like processes that use hard numbers and empirical data.

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  6. Running a Kickstarter is a business proposition, even with the unusual risk model. If you aren't prepared to handle the risks and hazards, you shouldn't be doing it.

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  7. I look at Sine Nomine as a gold standard for running Kickstarters. From that studio, I buy sight unseen.

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  8. #ConmanKen is too nice a phrase for that festering piece of shit. Othetwise, great article.

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  9. I just got another Appendix N adventure from Brave Halfling in the mail a couple days ago. Woohoo!

    Unfortunately, it was one I already had gotten. Sigh...

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  10. I'm glad you call them out, Erik. Keep doing it.

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  11. Total respect for those who have their ducks in a row BEFORE launching their KS. That makes it far more likely for someone like me to stay jazzed by incentives and to throw money at add ons. It seems to me that a lot can still happen to delay or derail even a pre-developed project - so completing most of the project ahead of the launch seems like a more equitable split of the risk. Also agree with good communication obviously.

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  12. Howdy guys and gals, I bought into a KS with Michael Tumey: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/615795674/25-quick-and-dirty-map-tutorials-guide-book that has only deleivered about half of the non-physical products and almost none of teh physical ones, since the it funded 3.5 years ago.

    I have been vocal about this to him, but almost nothing has been done in the last year. https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/109383565847958043404 maybe you can have a look-see.

    Thanks Erik

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  13. Keep it up Erik. It's one of the reasons I read your blog religiously.

    Sunlight is the best disinfectant and you seem to buy your industrial strength Sunlight by the 50 gallon drum. I think it's the retired Detective in you.

    Keep us would be consumers informed so we can spend our money on the places that will do the most good for our hobby and entertain us.

    And keep the glaring, hot lamp on Effing Ken/Whit Whitman. That slug keeps trying to crawl away and slink under any rock he can find. Don't let him.

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  14. Erik, Your KS accountability is one of the main reasons I keep coming back here. Please keep it up.

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  15. As a proud KS Super Backer (Almost all games) I have to say that I agree with this article and really want you to keep good work. I have been a couple of the failed KS, some that may, some day, maybe follow through. Some that are dead. But MOST get done.

    I am still ahead of the curve value wise. I still think KS, when done properly, is a positive/powerful thing. Part of KS working is, by definition, community. A healthy community will challenge, correct and support itself.

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  16. Once upon a time in business school they used to teach about the concept of "due diligence". For Kickstarter projects, that should probably start with a simple Google search of the involved parties. The way that you get results on that sort of thing is when places like this mention them by name. Results that exile Whit to darkest Blacklungistan instead of feeding on a buffet of unsuspecting victims, or send Nystul on the road on the ultimate couch-surfing safari instead of playing executive with other people's money. Dear sweet merciless Bastet, people, you've got a literal bullshit detector (powered by sites like this one) in your pockets and on your desks and some of you *still* gave Kevin Siembieda money in advance.

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  17. As part of a team that was late on our project (Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls) I want to thank you for letting us know when we were not communicating enough. I think it helped us stay on target and get it all done. We had some problems that involved health issues and probably the fact that the scope of the project grew bigger than we had originally estimated. But I think you treated us fairly and gave those who had complaints a sounding board where they could air their grievances to the gaming community. I am a regular following of your posts - especially ones about late kickstarters. They give me insight into how we can avoid those sorts of problems in the future. Carry on!

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  18. Providing some accountability for Kickstarter missteps and Kickstarter crooks is pretty reasonable. Just try to be a little measured about it. Calling a spade a spade is one thing, but sometimes you come across as gleeful at the failures of others.

    I can empathize with the desire to behave this way, and I do it myself sometimes. But when it is a constant theme it can come across in a way that I don't think you're intending.

    Just my 2 cents.

    I also need to find a way to filter the kickstarter junk out so I can see if there's any OSR content here, similar to that which brought me here in the first place.

    Your (minor) patron.

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  19. Just thinking out loud... What would be helpful as a potential backer would be a site where you can look up a creator. It would show number of fulfilled projects and number of outstanding projects. It would show how late the fulfilled projects have been. (Which can be tricky, but an imperfect metric can be better than none.) Reviews by backers might be nice for a subjective angle, but (1) I guessing only KS could verify that reviewers were backers and (2) I’m not sure that would actually end up being half as useful than the objective data.

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  20. Well, I have been bitten by a few, but most have delivered. Some of them even on time.
    By now I only back products (I mean projects:-)) from companies I know, or small fun projects that are cheap enough I can afford the loss in case of failure.

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  21. I can understand why people might get upset with your focus on KS issues like this, but I find it extremely valuable - I have nearly backed items that looked fantastic in the description, but your research has kept me from.

    For those KS companies who are honest and continue the ever so human habit of error, there should be no scorn. For all others, continue the duck hunt.

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  22. I think what you do and provide is good for all of us.

    I do believe that Kickstarter does often function as a preorder system for game books. It also functions as a way to gather funds to make those projects a reality. The thing is there are a lot of people out there kickstarting things so it's good to have someone who is pointing out those who are good at using this model and those who are terrible at it. We also have a saying over at Encoded Designs that if we ever, or when we do a Kickstarter, we don't want to be on Tenkar's naught list. I also know we're not the only people who think that. That's a powerful rep to have because it means you know you're stuff and people will listen and mobilize for or against Kickstarters and creators you talk about. I know I have in the past and even thought I keep a pretty strong finger on the pulse of gaming kickstarters I always pay attention to the posts coming out of the Tavern. So thank you Tenkar for being on top of things and for doing this for the community.

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    1. "We also have a saying over at Encoded Designs that if we ever, or when we do a Kickstarter, we don't want to be on Tenkar's naught list. I also know we're not the only people who think that."

      Yeah, count me in. I'm a regular reader here and I've carefully looked at what draws the ire of backers and therefore Erik. Conclusions:

      * Don't start until the manuscript is done
      * What can be planned in advance should be planned in advance
      * Put my own skin in the game by investing in lower-cost items such as layout, preliminary artwork, and (in some cases) editing or indexing early
      * Mostly fund things like art that can be tuned based on backer support
      * Have a very well established and articulated work process that I also communicate to my contractors and collaboration partners.
      * Make darn sure I brainstorm on the things that can go wrong, plan that they will go wrong, and communicate timelines accordingly. No one will ever likely send me a nasty-gram because "dammit, you delivered that product early."
      *Be responsive to feedback mid-campaign.

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  23. Keep up the good work, keep fighting the good fight. Two thumbs up for your KS-coverage. Not sure if that falls within your area of expertise, but Throne of Night by Fire Mountain Games (for PFRPG) is another candidate that irks me. More than 120 bucks I'll probably never see again, much less the physical products promised. More annoying: The creator keeps backing projects. The last update is more than a year ago.
    We can't let the rotten apples spoil the bunch. Bad KS practices are bad for the hobby as a whole and make funding for good companies harder.

    Just my 2 cents.

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  24. I'm glad you highlight Kickstarters both good and bad.

    Some won't launch or back a project unless it's completed. That's probably the wisest course of action. However, that's not the way I work, and I hope backers see my projects as exceptions to that particular rule.

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  25. The tone on some posts is angry-very angry-but justifiably so. I think Kick starter itself needs to help with due diligence and have rating profiles & detailed feedback from backers a la eBay. Where do their big fees go?

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