When Good Kickstarters Go Bad
Why hello there. My name is Joe Kelly, and I write a silly blog called DavidGaames. But for every bit that it is silly, it is also somewhat serious. It’s about video games, with a focus on Kickstarter projects – mostly bad ones. You could consider it a “what not to do” guide for creating a video game Kickstarter. Having a focus on Kickstarter himself, David found my blog and generously offered me a guest post on his (far more established and professional) blog. So while I’ll be a little more professional here, my own blog is not for the faint of heart. With that said, here’s an idea of what to expect from it.
This story begins with my fourth post, about a little game called Project Lodus. Normally, what I do is follow a project that I find particularly offensive in its absurdity, and wait for the moment it runs out of time, not having reached its goal. I screen capture that moment, and write about what I feel they did wrong – which is usually everything. I was all set for this routine with Project Lodus, but as I watched it during its last day, something happened: the project succeeded in reaching its funding goal.
(Fund The Wardenclyffe Horror!)
That in itself is not so unusual, of course. What is unusual is that with no more than 14 hours left in the campaign, Project Lodus hadn’t even reached half of its funding goal. At the time of my post, I chalked this up to an anomaly – they were lucky enough to gain so much interest, literally overnight, that they were inundated with last minute pledges. Now I’m not so sure.
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may have seen David’s post about a site called Kicktraq. It’s a great resource to get in-depth analysis on Kickstarter projects. So what does it say about Project Lodus? Well, see for yourself. If seeing that graph doesn’t make you at least a little suspicious, I shall use the powers of mathematics to change your mind.
First, let’s get an idea of the exact numbers we’re dealing with. Up until the last day, Lodus had received $22,684 in pledges over the course of 35 days from 358 backers. That’s roughly 10 backers per day, with an average pledge of $63.36. On the last day, they raked in $28,516 from 112 backers – an average pledge of $254.61. Let’s go over all of the ways that that is literally unbelievable.
It means that at the last minute, they got over 10 times the average number of backers up to that point. Not only that, but the average pledge from those 112 backers more than quadrupled the average up to that point. It means that the total pledge amount more than doubled in one day – from less than one-third of the number of backers up to that point. I’m just going to go ahead and make the obvious math pun: something doesn’t add up here.
The list of backers is equally questionable. The list is ordered by the time of the pledge – that is, first pledges are listed first, and last pledges listed last. Now, were we to postulate that there was some foul play involved here with the last day of pledges, there should be something a little off with the end of this list. And since I don’t just want you to take my word on it, here are some specifics.
The beginning of this list looks exactly like one would expect: Level Zero Games, joined March 2010, backed 14 other projects. Joshua Thomas, joined April 2010, backed 1 other project. Seumas, joined May 2010, backed 252 other projects. And so on. This is your standard Kickstarter crowd – they’ve been around a while, and have backed a few projects in their day.
Now let’s take a peek at the last page: Spenser, joined August 2012, backed one other project. Sewart Brown, joined August 2012, backed no other projects. Alicia Froelicher, joined August 2012, backed no other projects. David Freeman, joined August 2012, backed no other projects. Monica Alvarez, joined August 2012, backed no other projects. And so on. And I do mean so on – the last two pages are filled with people who joined in August, have no location, most don’t have a picture or any other projects backed. They have every sign of being what is known as “sock accounts”.
So we’re supposed to believe that in one day Leviathan Interactive managed to convince over 100 people to make accounts on Kickstarter and contribute more money than they had made over their entire campaign – an average donation of $254.61? And since we can only see the reward numbers and not a pledge amount, we know that one of these backers pledged at least $2,500. That’s one hell of an enthusiastic Kickstarter newbie. And since these accounts were made specifically to fund Project Lodus, they were obviously not your usual Kickstarter browsers, meaning any argument about being discovered on the “Ending Soon” list gets thrown out the window.
So is the more likely scenario that Leviathan saw that they were about to lose $22,684 by not reaching their funding goal, and found a way to artificially boost their pledges so that it just barely reached the funding goal at the last minute? After all, not only was the spike unusual, but how likely is it that this huge burst of interest in the project was just enough to make their goal?
For another example, check out Conclave. Same spike in both number of pledges and average pledge on the last day, same crowd of faceless newbies at the end of the backer list, and just barely made the goal – even closer than Lodus.
I think it is, for one very important reason: you have a funding goal. The concept of having a funding goal mean that you can only make your project happen if you get a particular amount of money. That’s why you’re not supposed to take anyone’s money if you don’t reach that goal. And that’s why Indiegogo is Kickstarter’s graveyard – if you fail at your goal on Kickstarter, at least you can just toss the project up on Indiegogo and get your pledges even if you don’t reach the goal. That kind of makes your whole project a stretch goal, but that’s another topic for another day. Maybe I’ll have a post about that on my blog. Hintwinknudge.