Kickstarter is all about impossibility if you think about it. Creators show up, and know they have it in them to do a great and unbelievable thing if only people, backers like you and I, will give them the resources. It is their job to explain to the rest of us, clearly and credibly, how they will accomplish this, and it is our job to judge the credibility of the creator, the feasibility of the business plan and the possibility of the project. All these things settled, all that is left to do is pay our money and take our chances; Kickstarter is not a store, and nothing is guaranteed.
So what should we do – what should Kickstarter itself do, when the project proposed is quite literally impossible?
It was recently observed that the problem with many of the projects currently on Kickstarter is that I take myself too seriously. It’s a harsh but fair assessment.
The truth of the matter is that I am a big fan of rules; not all rules are good or correct obviously, but many of those that are in place were but in place for a good reason. I think Kickstarter can blame much of its success on the fact that generally only highly credible projects make it on to its site. This in turn is because of the rules it has put in place. Those rules however, are only effective if followed.
Lately I’ve been focusing on projects that I feel are being fraudulent or dishonest. What about those that are just being ridiculous – what’s the harm? Everyone wants a good laugh right? For Kickstarter they help drive traffic and increase visibility, and for the myriad of projects up at the time, that extra traffic translates into a few extra backers, depending on how sticky that traffic is. What’s the harm?
In my opinion, putting up impossible projects trades on the credibility mentioned above, and blurs what should be very bright lines on this legitimate funding tool. To be clear, I’m not talking about projects where someone’s reach might exceed their grasp, or endeavors that might be euphemistically referred to as ill-advised: I’m talking about projects that are out-and-out impossible to realize. Consider these two examples:
This project want’s to raise sixteen million dollars to re-shoot, re-edit, and generally remake 2002’s Master of Disguise. I seriously doubt that the people who own the film would allow that, and even if they did, I think the budget falls a little short. The fine people at Kickstarter probably should have prevented this project from making its way onto their website. It could THEORETICALLY be completed though, I suppose, if all the stars lined up, save for one simple fact: the creator wants the 1999 version of one of his key actors. Seriously.
Haley Joel Osment circa 1999 as Barney Baker. No disrespect to Austin Wolff, but Haley is the finest young actor of a generation. Unfortunately he is now 24 so this will present some complications. It’s a good thing that the original makeup team won an artist guild award because we are going to need all of them back to pull this role off. Also, Haley will have to be a little less serious and creepy than he was in The Sixth Sense.
Forget everything else – all the other high budget actors he want’s swapped in, all the new special effects he wants to add, everything. As powerful as crowdfunding may be at times, time travel is (so far) outside its purview. At the end of its 2 month-long funding period, this project will have only raised about a thousand dollars from 9 people, and will die with as much dignity as it can muster.
Likewise, a more recent, and successful version of this ridiculousness is a British attempt to start down the road to building the Deathstar. Seriously. For only twenty million pounds, the people behind this project are willing to make the enormous sacrifice of spending your money to develop an open source (hardware and software) set of Death Star plans. In its first two days in existence it has managed to raise more than eighty thousand pounds toward its lofty goal from more than 600 backers – an average of more than 120 pounds a backer.
This project goes on to state that ‘The main challenge is assuring Kickstarter that this is a joke and not a serious project. As proof, the goal has been set high enough to make successful funding almost impossible.” First of all – that is not what the risks and challenges section is for: I would think that trying to build the largest man-made creation ever constructed in history would have more than two risks and challenges associated with it. Second – for a stretch goal, if they receive 543 QUADRILLION pounds ($850,000,000,000,000,000) then they will actually build said Deathstar.
Crowdfunding is about real people trying to breathe life in to real projects with the help of the larger community. While I understand projects like this are meant as jokes, their inclusion on otherwise reputable crowdfunding websites, is not appropriate. Maybe I’m alone in that though, what do the rest of you think?
Rules are definitely necessary to maintain order, credibility, and keep that sense of underdog triumph that a successful Kickstarter should have.
Eh, I think the people who back projects are discerning enough to recognize when a troll slips through. Given the success of the Pathfinder MMO, maybe only JUST discerning enough to recognize trolls, though.
I think the people who back them are just going along with the joke, understanding that no actual money is at risk. Eventually the joke gets old, and the projects go away. At least until some enterprising blogger dredges them up.
Every now and again you read about somebody creating an eBay listing to sell their soul, or their virginity, or playing the prank where the person puts a teapot or other reflective item up for sale, with them naked in the reflection. I don’t think anyone is at risk of assuming that these are what eBay is about. Similarly, I don’t think the couple of pranks on Kickstarter is going to scare anyone off.
That said, if Kickstarter policed their projects a bit more, I certainly wouldn’t complain about it.
Obviously, your problem is you fail to take my seriousness seriously enough. 🙂
Thank you for your thoughts on the subject, though. I don’t disagree with you entirely, I just feel that Kickstarter’s lack of enforcement is allowing the bad projects and joke projects to blend together in a way that is painful for me.
If bad projects and joke projects are conflated in the mind of the backers, I think that could actually HELP Kickstarter in the long run. I think it’d make people less likely to back bad projects, thinking they’re not serious. Maybe it would make project owners a little more careful about the quality of their presentation. Maybe. Occasionally. Okay, probably not, but it’s a nice thought.
You don’t think seeing both up on a regular basis are likely to damage the idea of crowdfunding in the mind of a new user? It damages my world view of Kickstarter, and I’m a regular.
Does the flood of really crappy books available color your attitude about bookstores? Does the fact the Rob Liefeld continues to get work make you less likely to trust your local comic book store?
I think a new user is likely to be more impressed with the thousands of good projects than they are scared off by the few bad ones.
Besides, as someone who’s been on Kickstarter for less than a year, I can say that seeing the bad projects has made me more appreciative of the ones that put in the time and effort to make a GOOD project. The jokes are obviously jokes, and don’t impact me at all.
Ah, Mr Liefeld. Wasn’t he bordering on pariah when last we talked. Who hired him now?
I agree with this being an issue. The whole idea of crowdfunding is a very new thing that can be tough for people to grasp — I’ve had to explain the idea of Kickstarter to a number of friends and family and you can just see the ‘this seems shady or a scam’ look in their eye.
A joke is a joke, but I don’t think that it should have official status on KS as an actual offering. If you want to have a laugh over, say, funding the Death Star, then bust out the Photoshop and do a mock up on your own site. The more savvy audience is going to be in on the laugh, but a newcomer who may be skeptical to start with isn’t necessarily going to be in on it.
I think such projects are fairly harmless in and of themselves, but I personally think we should be doing our best to show Kickstarter as a professional environment for investors to turn to. This is very important. After all, they are considering whose projects to invest in, and what doesn’t bug me too bad, could really turn off someone who is conservative, expecting professionalism, and who has a pile of money to invest.
They might think the site is too risky, if they see some of the duds I’ve seen. Those guys are out there looking to hand out money for something they can get behind, and you know what they say about first impressions. I say it’s better to be safe, than sorry. Thanks for the good blog post, David.
Negative experiences stick in one’s head longer than positive experiences. If someone sees 1 really bad reject and 5 good ones, after time passes, their overall response and memory of Kickstarter could be negative, especially if the project is very sloppy or extreme ( because that leaves a more vivid memory and it is therefore also more likely to be spread around, casting Kickstarter in a bad light, IMO.
I wanna know where these “thousands of good” projects Brian mentioned are. I’ve seen less than half a dozen.
Well, to date I have found at least 83. I’m feeling generous though, so I’ll double that, and say I’ve seen about 150 great projects to date, though only 83 move me to the point of actually backing them, and maybe only half of those to any significant degree. Thousands might be a bit of a stretch, though I would say that since the first of the year I have seen more bad projects than good ones.
Surely you’ve backed more than 6 projects to date, Clint.
When I say “good”, I don’t mean “things that I would back”, although that’s certainly a subset. I mean “good” as in “a project with reasonably articulated, achievable goals that someone would actually want to back.”
The vast majority of projects I see on here are not ones that I would back, but I can see why someone might. That does include some projects that, while the PROJECT may be good, the PRODUCT looks like crap, because that’s not my call to make. It also kinda includes the ones where the PRODUCT looks good, but the PROJECT needs work, because at least their hearts are in the right place, even if their sales pitch isn’t quite what I’d like it to be.
Certainly fair points. The category made up of “well meaning, but not my cup of tea” and “legitimate but poorly implemented” still exceed “I’m just in it for a buck” and “I’m really just wasting everyone’s time.”
I would prefer KS kick the projects that need a lot of work back to the drawing board though, rather than post them.
I’ve interviewed over fifty projects and I’d say 90% of them were “good” in the sense that they were worth being on here. Though I’d say the system lets way too many that are doomed for failure up. 😐
I think that’s an inevitable result of the crowdsourcing paradigm. The “if you build it, they will come” mentality is what drives entrepreneurship, and is largely detached from any actual creative or technical ability. I don’t think Kickstarter should be the one to decide whether or not a project can succeed. That doesn’t mean they should allow just anything up there, of course. But I don’t think they should go beyond their existing terms of service. If nothing else, a project that fails is a learning opportunity for the project owner.
That is certainly one view point, and while I don’t disagree, I think that it behooves the owner of the digital marketplace to keep standard high, in much the same way it behooves the owner of a brick and mortar store. Dingy shelves, defective products, flickering lights, and staffing that is rude, unprofessional, or insufficient will do nothing to improve sales.
KS has steadily increased the power of their hardware to cope with demands, and aside from (intentionally) limited search functionality they have a great site, but just because they don’t control what wares their establishment distributes, doesn’t mean they can’t hold all involved to a high standard, does it?
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