Right off the bat, I’m going to apologize for writing yet another article on Kickstarter. Ever since Double Fine hit it big, an endless torrent of analysis has hit the internet as writers are both enthusiastic about the promise of crowd-sourcing allowing for a more pure developer vision to be realized, while simultaneously worried that the end product will be disappointing. In defense of this one last article (at least, that I’ll be responsible for), I’m going to let you in on the secret of Kickstarter. It’s your choice what to do with the information, but keep it in mind and it will serve you well-
You pays your money and you takes your chances.
And that’s it right there. That’s the whole of it. When a Kickstarter drive is successful, the only promise is that the creators are going to do their best to bring to life the goods/services as laid out in the project’s description and rewards tiers. Most of the time you’ll get what you donated for. On the really successful drives, stretch goals will get you more than you planned on. Sometimes, hopefully rarely, the end result is going to be less than promised, and there are even a few cases of backers ending up with nothing to show for their enthusiasm and support.
Obviously, it’s those last two situations that are going to cause trouble down the line. Or rather, are causing trouble right now, because there are a couple of projects in the Design section that are pretty obviously never going to get made, and the backers are (justifiably) howling for blood. It’s sad, but these things happen. It’s probably going to eventually happen in the Games section too, possibly on purpose as evidenced by the incompetent scammers behind Mythic: The Story of Gods and Men. That “game” got outed as vaporware due to every bit of concept art being stolen from somewhere else, plus copy/pasting the rewards tier from The Banner Saga.
That leaves us with the main question of Kickstarter- With the possibility of failure, unmet expectations, or outright scamming, is it worth donating? While I personally believe the answer is a very clear “Yes!”, I’m not here to spend your money. There’s all sorts of things you can look for, though, to let you know if it’s worth your time. A developer pitching a giant open-world game containing infinite replayability as their very first project? While you’ve got to admire their ambition, it’s not exactly a reasonable expectation no matter how much money they raise. Who are these people, can they run a business, and can they produce? On the other hand, projects like Kinetic Void, Rubicon, or Xenonauts have demos available. They’ve obviously got it together enough to create something playable that they want to expand beyond its current limitations, so a certain level of confidence is easily justified, assuming you like what you play.
While that’s all very nice to make sure you get out of a Kickstarter what you want, at the end of the day what you’re doing is helping alleviate business costs and enable creation of a New Thing. It might be a video game, local business startup, fancy tech gadget, or whatever, but the money that’s put in isn’t a direct purchase. You aren’t buying an advanced copy of a game, and you’re most definitely not an investor. If everything works the way everyone involved in the project wants it to, what will happen is they get to create the thing they dreamed of, and you get something nice for supporting its creation. If it doesn’t work out, then it’s honestly sad to see so much effort and enthusiasm wasted.
And that’s Kickstarter. You see something you’d like to exist, examine it to see if it meets your criteria for likeliness to exist, and donate whatever amount of money you determine to be reasonable based on the reward structure and what you’ve got available. Occasionally the result is disappointment, and very rarely the worst possible outcome arises and You get nothing, You Lose, Good day, sir! Most of the time, though, it works out ok, and if you’re really lucky you get blown away with pure awesome. It’s just important to adjust expectations accordingly, and know that no matter how hard it’s worked towards, success isn’t 100% guaranteed. It’s understandable if you don’t feel the risk is worth it, but if you decide to stick with it the good will probably outweigh the bad over time. And what the hell, some days it’s good to back up a dream with a little hard cash.