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What Irks Me About Kickstarter

Near the end of the most recent episode of Happy Jacks RPG Podcast, I engaged in a rather heated tirade about Kickstarters. We received an email from a listener who was promoting a Kickstarter, and he asked “what do you want to see from a Kickstarter?”

My answer, was this, “I’d like to see a fucking product.”

I’ve backed four or five Kickstarters now, and so far, I have very little for my money. Some of these Kickstarters are, I realize, still not near their estimated delivery dates for their products, but some are and some have said they’ll miss them.

In the future, I’m going to look at Kickstarters with more skepticism that I have in the past. Here are some warning signs I’ll look for:

1. Distant Estimated Delivery Dates

If you are a working game writer, the last thing you need to do is spend several month of your life working on a megadungeon for the new D20 Care Bears RPG, just to find out that only 4 or 5 people actually want that product. I understand that you’re probably using Kickstarter as a virtual flagpole to gauge interest in whatever project on which you might next work.

If you don’t have a list of published works under your belt, and you give me a distant estimated date of delivery, I’m assuming this is a product that is just in the idea phase. Additionally, I have no reason to have confidence that you have the capacity to finish it.

Maybe you do, but my wallet’s staying closed.

2. Promises of Extensive Artwork that Doesn’t Yet Exist

Unless the Kickstarter organizer is the artist himself (or herself), you are indicating that an enormous amount of work is going to be performed by a third party — a third party over which you have no control whatsoever. You and your prospective artist might work on a bid for the artwork in good faith, but what happens if the artist gets a boat load of work before your Kickstarter funds? “Sorry, dude, I had to take on the work, I didn’t know if yours was going to go or not, and I got rent to pay.”

Can’t blame the artist. Can’t really blame the Kickstarter organizer either. But the Kickstarter organizer is not in control of their product, so promise dates mean nothing.

I should hasten to mention that I’m not singling out artists here — it could be any outside, contracted talent — but it seems that art tends to be the thing that get farmed out more often than not.

3. No Previous Products

If you haven’t ever published anything before, I’m probably not going to help fund your product unless you are a personal friend. Nothing personal, but if I don’t know you (either personally or by reputation), I have no reason to expect you to follow through.

4. Too Many Stretch Goals and Extras

This, I suppose, is my own personal pet peeve. I’d rather go to a Kickstarter page, see what products you are trying to produce and if I like it, fund it at that level. When you start throwing in t-shirts, collector’s cases, engraved highballs, etc., I just start to wonder if you’re going to get bogged down when it comes time to ship the original thing you promised.

To me, too much stretch-goaling risks becoming a distraction.

Why I’m on About Kickstarter (Full Disclosure)

The reason all of this came to mind is because I’m currently working on a music CD, and I intend to run a Kickstarter to fund the final production of the disc. Having been on the other side of a Kickstarter, I’ve learned a couple lessons:

  • All songs will be written and recorded before the Kickstarter goes up.
  • I will get bids from multiple artists for the album art.

I considered including writing and recording a custom song, which would be included as a bonus track, at some funding level (it would be hundreds of dollars), but even that worries me, as that would be a new song that I would have to write (and rewrite if the first pass was shit) and record, mix and master in a timely manner. We’ll see.


Written by

Stu Venable is the producer of Happy Jacks RPG Podcast and writer and editor of He is founder and director of the Poxy Boggards and a member of Celtic Squall. He holds a degree in Journalism and Public Relations from California State University, Long Beach. He is a husband and a father. He hates puppies.

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5 Responses to "What Irks Me About Kickstarter"

  1. BrianNo Gravatar says:

    Mr. Venable I totally understood what you were getting at. When I listened to the show and this part came in I was glad to hear it. I know because I am part of a funded KS project. I sent you guys the email with “Must be read in C. Walken” in the subject.

    I think there is some abuse of the KS system to be frank. Not to mention that the customer support and the tools provided are average to OK at best. I know how much they made from our project and can only imagine how much they took in this year. Suffices to say I hope they do some improvements to the tools.

    I would like to give a better perspective of why we used KS to get the funds but, this post would be too long. Suffices to say that had Ed went much longer without getting the necessary funds to bring me on board Troll Forged Minis would have been overwhelmed as a one man operation. Sometime even being successful has its drawbacks.

    Personally I know the date is an “estimate” but to me it means ship date.

  2. swordgleamNo Gravatar says:

    Your article brings up a couple questions. I’m considering running a kickstarter, and I need it to pay for the art. All the production costs and stuff I can deal with – but I can’t pay my artist otherwise. What do you suggest I do? I have other artists I can go to if mine falls through, and I have a solid track record.

    About your kickstarter, if all the songs will be written and recorded ahead of time, what do you need the kickstarter for? I thought recording the songs was usually the main cost?

    1. StuNo Gravatar says:

      Thanks for your comments.

      Going from last question to first:

      Recording costs usually are the priciest part, depending on the release quantity; however, I own my own recording studio, so I have no studio or engineering costs. For me, the out-of-pocket costs will be (like you) artwork and actual reproduction/printing of the CD itself.

      Also, depending on the reception and level of funding, I might be able to send the tracks out to another engineer for mixing and mastering (otherwise, I’ll do it myself). It’s always nice to have a fresh set of ears (and a fresh perspective).

      With regards to art (and being an editorial guy with ZERO artistic talent myself), I feel your pain.

      Whenever you have to contract out to someone else, you you are giving up some control, and unless you can do EVERYTHING yourself, you’re going to have to do that at some point and to some extent.

      All you can do is make plans and contingencies in case things go sideways.

      In my case, I will describe the artwork I’m thinking of to several artists and get multiple quotes from artists I know and trust, then I’ll use the higher bids when I’m calculating the Kickstarter goal.

      If you have an idea for art, say, four dozen color illustrations, with brief descriptions of each, you could send that to multiple artists and get multiple bids, and also divide them up and get bids for “batches” of illustrations.

      Otherwise, you might have a situation where your artist gets overwhelmed. “Okay, the project funded. Here’s your $1000. I need a dozen illustrations by next month.”

      If someone came to me and said, “here’s a pile of money, write me a dozen good songs,” I just might lock up. I normally throw away two or three songs for every one that gets recorded. Some song ideas result is good songs, but most don’t. Maybe illustrators have a different experience.

  3. MattNo Gravatar says:

    Hey read how kickstarter works you are not buying anything you are basically giving a gift to those people. You could try sue them but legally you have no legal recourse. That is they way the site is set up.

    1. StuNo Gravatar says:

      I have read how kickstarter works. Read it extensively before I wrote the article.

      Read Kickstarter’s FAQ, it’s says pretty much the opposite of what you claim:

      “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. 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.”

      They even show you what organizers of a kickstarter see before they set it up:

      This is by no means a gift. It is a binding agreement. And definitely a quid pro quo.

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