Barriers to Entry: Is it too Easy to Start a Kickstarter project?

More than half of all Kickstarters fail. Both this subject and its associated statistics have been reviewed pretty exhaustively by anyone with the inclination to do so over the last year or so. I myself made a post earlier this month about failed Kickstarter projects, but that’s not what I want to talk about today. Instead, I am interested in how many projects deserve to succeed.

Who am I to decide that? Who is anyone? Isn’t it about letting the market, the crowd, decide which products deserve to succeed or fail?

Let me clarify – I am not judging project based on whether or not I like it, if I think the world needs it, or even if I think their pitch is good. What I want to know is how serious developers are about their own projects. To some people, Kickstarter is nothing more than a source of free money, and they are just throwing ideas against the wall to see what sticks. This is the idea I would like to explore, how to separate passionate creators from the also-ran’s.

Browsing the isles of Kickstarter, as I discussed here, is difficult, for two reasons: there are so many projects and so few search tools; whether the second is intentional I leave to you to decide, but the first is definitely a problem. When I look at projects I have to sort through twenty before I find one I’d consider giving money to. The ratio is very poor, but with a good headline and a nice picture you often have to click on every link along the way. This is frustrating, disheartening, and likely a bar to further growth and expansion – not everyone has the time to wade through the swamp.

Kickstarter is hardly the first group to have this dilemma. Recently, Steam encountered a similar problem. Valve wanted to make video game publishing for indie developers more accessible. The result? A lot of really good submissions and a lot of really bad ones. The way it was supposed to work was that game proposals get voted on, and when a given project garners enough votes, it will be produced. Generally though, the volume of projects submitted to the system made it unusable, though.

What did they do about it? They started charging a fee for admission into the program. They did this to make money on the backs of impoverished developers and loyal fans right? Wrong – they donated the entire fee to charity. The point was to make people put their money where their mouth was, to make them seriously consider whether they want to go through with it. While it is true that $100 might break the bank for some people and crush their dreams, in the overwhelming majority of cases it is simply enough to discourage those that aren’t serious, and keep the clutter down.

I think a similar system for Kickstarter could be very effective, though I would add two changes. I would make the fee variable, and set it at 1% of the funding goal so that a small $500 project for a community or high school project is trivial but a million dollar tech start-up project will require serious thought on the part of the people pursuing this funding method. I would then take that money and use it to fund better project reviews (including a budget review to keep people from low balling their expenses to duck the new fee); hire a few people to go over the budgets and goals of the incoming project queue. These two changes, if properly executed would be cost Kickstarter nothing, but would substantially improve the projects listed on their site in a matter of months by increasing the overall quality of projects and reducing the volume.

I doubt this suggestion will be popular with everybody. Adding an extra $100 fee to the cost of our upcoming Kickstarter, on top of art costs and projected advertising costs would hurt, but it would not break the project. Try looking at it from another perspective instead: would you pay $100 dollars to make your $10,000 Kickstarter project twice as visible to possible backers in a system that was much easier to explore? I know I would, and count myself lucky at twice the price.

This entry was posted by David Winchester.

7 thoughts on “Barriers to Entry: Is it too Easy to Start a Kickstarter project?

  1. Is it more common for a donator on Kickstarter to (a) browse Kickstarter until they find something they like or are they someone who (b) was directed to the site by another outlet and already planning on donating to a project?

    If the latter is the most common donator then your plan caters to the wrong crowd. Why have a barrier to entry if the most common donator doesn’t wade through the mediocre projects at all? Kickstarter is in the crowd sourcing business, not the curation industry.

    • I suppose we could compare one time donators to the serial variety like myself. You are correct in that my arguments would only apply to one camp, but I my take is slightly different.

      I think it is easily inferred that Kickstarter is trying to persuade people to search and explore the site with its limited search functionality, and the various ways it has to spotlight programs. If this is its plan, than I think raising the bar on its content average is the next step in a logical series.

      I could show you several graphs that show the “Project of the Day” spike if you are interested; this phenomenon is another excellent example, I think that people wander the site looking for interesting projects.

  2. I think a fee would be a good idea if you are coming from the standpoint of a serial donor, such as yourself. I think that concept, the overpopulation with crap, however, is a reason I stopped using sites like DeviantArt as much. Too much crap to sort through to find the stuff I actually like. Waste of my time. If a site like Kickstarter found a way to handle it effectively, like Steam seemed to, it might behoove everyone involved.

  3. As much as I would love to have seen some people pay upwards of $9,000 to put their project up, I see the percentage idea as being exploitable in a way that would have other repercussions as well. Think about it: you could put your project up for way lower than you actually “need”, still get funded if you don’t make your actual intended goal, and pay a smaller fee to get it going. I think the greed would especially cause game developers to put up shoddier projects, and make stretch goals the norm.
    Not that I’m saying there doesn’t need to be some sort of barrier to entry – my god, does there ever. A fee of some kind could work, but when the goal is to *get* money, making people spend money just for the opportunity would probably just lead to more shennanigans. Ideally, they would require some proof that the team can actually handle the project, but then someone would need to make that decision, and that can get hairy.
    It’s an interesting thing to ponder, anyway…

    • I have considered all of your objections and concerns. Perhaps the fee could be set by Kickstarter based on a variety of factors including project type.

      My point is that I think Steam had a good idea, and that Kickstarter needs to do something. Success will only increase the amount of poor projects they receive. Thank you for your input though. I’d love to hear a counter proposal.

  4. The problem, as you state it, is ease of entry into a website offering free money from the multitudes available. As Kickstarter and crowdfunding become more popular, this will only become a greater conern.

    I agree that a simple fee up front would do an amazing job of cutting through the crap. However, their pricing structure and even their motto of supporting creativity provides a mine field of problems toward this simply solution. Your proposed method of some kind of formulaic screening done by employees is still simply a concept, even you don’t know how they’d go about it. What you suggest amounts to creating a bureaucracy that would cost more to employ then they’d get in fees (forget giving it to charity), and it might not even solve the problem.

    Just so you know I’m not a negative Nancy, I’d suggest a solution to this is right inside your blog post. Improving the search capabilities would allow casual and serial funders to siphon out the majority of the stuff they don’t want to see.

    If that isn’t enough, any kind of flat fee would do the trick. If a game gets on steam, odds are they’ll make more money with it then the average kickstarter does (the occasional smashing success aside.) The 100 dollars as you mentioned is a token amount and given to charity. The point is asking just about *any* amount will usually dissuade the kind of crap you’d like to see dissuaded.

    Overall however I fall into the ‘improve the search engine’ camp. If that ends up being an utter failure, you can always creep more regulation in. Something like Kickstarter should be very careful how they restrict things.

    • All great points. I agree that adding a fee of any kind flies in the face of the ethos of crowd funding to some degree. I think that adding increased search functionality would help, but only to a degree. You can point to Google of course, which does a remarkably good job at giving you the results you want on the web amidst all the SEO and clutter.

      I would say that Kickstarter realizes they need to be doing more. Just look at the policy change they implemented the other day. They also announced they were hiring project managers a few weeks back, which I assume means more community outreach, etc. They realize they need to be doing more to keep from becoming victims of their own success, and I applaud them for it.

      I’m not saying a fee is THE answer, just one possible answer. I would love to hear more, beyond fees and search engines though. How can we improve the quality of projects in other ways?

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