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Timothy Zahn’s Kickstarter Flames Out in a Vortex of Fail

parallaxAs of this post there’s about 30 hours on the clock and really no hope of turning this project around.  With less than $33,000 of a $350,000 goal, I’m frankly amazed they didn’t pull the project off of our favorite crowd funding site like they did their last one.  Where did this project go so very wrong, and what does its failure bode for the future of crowd funding (if anything?)

Peek below the fold to find out.

The project to support Parallax, Timothy Zahn & co.’s (actually “Prototype Software X, LLC,” because ‘X’ is by far the coolest letter in the alphabet, followed by ‘Q’ and ‘Zed,’ as our friends in the Commonwealth say…) 4X turn-based strategy game is, by all appearances, a hot mess.  Besides making it clear that the game will feature lots of aliens (and that some might be big, and others small, some fat, and some tall… there are paragraphs dedicated to aliens, people), there is no obvious design direction.  In fact, most of the backer rewards are predicated not on influencing design, but actually contributing content to the game.  Have you ever wanted to pay $120 to write dialog for a crappy video game?  Well, don’t wait!  There is still time to get your pledge in!

Basically, the game lacks a coherent vision or design direction.   When it comes to video game projects, backers have made it clear that they want to back projects that seem cogent, have a clear course, and have the major pieces in place (or a clear plan to get them there).  It is a bit hubristic to throw a person of note’s name in the project title and expect shit to work itself out.  Some advice for “Prototype Software X, LLC”: comeback when you figure out what you actually want to accomplish and take some meaningful steps towards getting there before your inevitable relaunch, but here’s a tip for you and anyone else thinking about launching a project in the meantime—it’s okay to let backers influence design but don’t rely on them to freaking dictate it.

What’s becoming increasingly clear is that “celebrity” isn’t enough to fund a project.  After recent “disappointments” (I use the word lightly because, you know, schadenfreude…) for playwright David Mamet’s daughters and for Sabrina the Teenage Witch’s recent attempt at career-resuscitation, it’s pleasing to see that the community has moved past name recognition as a driver for backing.

While I concede (somewhat and conditionally) to the camp that argues that celeb projects bring more attention to Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and crowd funding in general (though David made some pretty damning observations about the phenomenon, rooted in Kickstarters own data here), when high profile projects like Neil Stephenson’s CLANG fail, I contend that it damages the reputability of the whole system.  That is, people on the fence about backing future projects decides that, “if my favorite author/director/muso/horse-I-came-to-back can’t do it, there is no way Joe Schlub is going to pull off a project,” and those potential backer dollars are gone forever.

In this author’s opinion, the system would ultimately be better served if there were fewer James Francos “bringing attention” to crowd funding, and more buzz around cool, emergent products and businesses like Occulus and Pebble which originated from within the community and represent what crowd funding can achieve when people get behind someone’s good idea.  Those projects’ total contributions to Kickstarter’s halo are far more meaningful and significant than the fact that people came together to save Zach Braff’s personal fortune from a risky investment in a Zach Braff movie.

I mean, who’d take that risk willingly?

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This entry was posted by Chris Avery.

One thought on “Timothy Zahn’s Kickstarter Flames Out in a Vortex of Fail

  1. I am elated that celebrity doesn’t automatically make a project fund. I totally agree that how fully realized, showcased and articulated a project is should a better determining factor in it getting funded than the name attached to it. However, the gaming industry has its celebrities. An Alan Moon or a Mike Elliot or even your favorite designer is more likely to get your pledge, because of their track record. My biggest objection is someone who hasn’t taken the time to build a network within the game industry tried to fund in the hundreds of thousands based solely on their name.

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