The Kickstarter for a Monopoly-style Lovecraftian mashup board game is dead. Lots of kickstarters die, but in this case it’s notable because the publisher, the Forking Path, raised more than $122,000 — more than three times their goal of 35k.
Erik Chevalier, who is the owner of the Forking Path and a first time Kickstarter organizer, secured the rights to publish the game and organized the Kickstarter. By his own admission in his final update he states that at least one of the reasons for the failure was his lack of experience in board game publishing.
The designers of the game, Keith Baker and Lee Moyer, who only allowed Chevalier to publish the game, will forever be associated with this $122K scandal, even though by their own statement, they have not received any of the Kickstarter money.
Jonathan Liu, a writer for Wired Magazine’s GeekDad column, did a write-up promoting the game and the Kickstarter.
Then there are the more than 1200 Kickstarter backers who are left with no game and only a promise of a refund someday.
It begs the question — several actually. Why did so many people trust Chevalier with their money? Did he have some sort of track record in game publishing? By his own admission, he lacked board game publishing experience.
Why did Baker and Moyer trust Chevalier with their intellectual property? Why did a first-time Kickstarter organizer get publicity for his project on a top-shelf media outlet like Wired?
Did the thousand-dollar-level funders realize they were funding an untested publisher and not Baker and Moyer?
Meanwhile, as all of these people were putting their trust in an untested publisher, Chevalier was quitting his job and setting up a board game publishing company.
It’s a sobering lesson about Kickstarter for prospective backers and those of us who Kickstarter organizers go to to publicize their projects. We need to do more research and not be fooled by someone who just happens to drop the right names and counts on credibility by association.
According to the Kickstarter comments, some backers have already filed charges with the Oregon Department of Justice. Quite frankly, I doubt this is going to increase the likelihood of anyone getting paid back. I’d wager it’s more likely to put Chevalier into bankruptcy.
What confounds me more than anything about this are the (admittedly few) apologists who have exonerated Chevalier of alleged wrongdoing and aren’t holding him to his promise to refund the money. We’ve all see the phenomenon of self-justification of the decision to fund a project by those who vehemently defend project organizers when their projects are chronically late.
Are these the same people who say, “It’s alright. Don’t worry about refunding my money.” Are they so reluctant to admit that they made a mistake?
The attacks on Chevalier are pretty pointed and I think deservedly so.
If you are going to go asking people to fund a project for which you have no experience, you have an obligation to educate yourself. You need to do research. You need to talk to printers and manufacturers, understand their requirements from you, their turnaround times, their pricing structures. You should have quotes, in writing, for every phase of the project. You should know how your cost basis is going to change if the scale of the project changes, either by stretch goals or a huge increase in volume of sales. For every skill you’ll need for the project that you don’t possess, you need to have subcontractors you can trust, who understand the scale of the projects and you should have written estimates from each.
Some funders have criticized Chevalier for seemingly “starting a business” rather than fulfilling a Kickstarter project. If you are fulfilling a project of this magnitude, you ARE starting a business, and you better go in in understanding that if you don’t run it like a business you’ll end up going backwards.
These things are your responsibility if you’re going to go to the public with your hand out and say “fund me.”
I hope Chevalier is held accountable at least for the incompetence he already admits. I hope people remember his name when they go looking at that new enticing Kickstarter. I hope he loses the right to start more Kickstaters, though there are people who run chronically late Kickstarters and still start new ones.
Kickstarter should develop a rating and review system for those who wish to organized Kickstarters. We should clearly know who these people are. We should see their resumes, whether they’ve done other similar projects. We should be able to read the feedback about organizers by clicking on their name (if they have previous projects — successful or not).
Kickstarter can provide wonderful opportunities by removing barriers-to-entry for those who want to see a dream become a tangible product. But in reality, it only removes one barrier: money. Plenty of other barriers still exist.