Sunday, April 5, 2015

Like a boot to teeth and a kick in the ass

To start off, turns out that trying to be creative and maybe even a little funny on a regular basis is much harder than it first appears - who would of thunk it?  Even more challenging is not just creating a wall of text, but being able to actually show off something.  Perhaps I need a little bit of leather inspiration - a belt to the mouth and a boot to the ass to kickstart some ideas.

Kickstarter (see what I did there :-)), for those of you who have been hiding under a hobby rock for the past several years is a crowdfunding platform.  It is basically an open, pre-investment system where people (or companies) ask for investments in order to create something - anywhere from writing a book to putting on a play to making potato salad.  To do this they simply start by setting a goal, making a video and page, and submitting it to kickstarter.  In general they offer different rewards for different contributions, and if they do not make their goal in contributions, then they don't get anything and the contributors are not out anything beyond the time they took to investigate the project.

There are other crowdfunding platforms as well.  Indiegogo is another crowdfunding site, which while smaller than Kickstarter, has the option to accept immediate donations - so that your money goes to the project when you pledge it even if it doesn't make it's goal.  But these are pretty much the same, especially from the point of view of a contributor.

Participating in a kickstarter project can be quite exciting.  One thing many projects do is to add stretch goals, which are goals over and above the original funding request - and in general these open up some additional perks for the contributors.  There is a general contribution curve with most successful kickstarters - where they start out with a big rush (often spurred on by 'early-bird' rewards (usually a discount), then they tend to get really quiet in the middle, and have a big push to the finish at the end.

I've participated in a few kickstarters (my wife actually reads this, so I won't say how many :-) ), so I have some idea how they work.  Mantic Games really likes the kickstarter model - they are currently doing their ninth campaign - an expansion to their miniature game Deadzone which itself was kickstarted for over a million dollars a couple of years ago (they have actually done another one that went over a million dollars as well - for their new dungeon crawl board game Dungeon Sagas : Dwarf Kings Quest which appears to be on schedule to ship this summer).  So why would a company choose to go this route instead of the more traditional funding models?

One of the problems with traditional funding (where the company goes out and gets some source of venture capital, either by finding investors or getting loans) is that the creation of the product is in a vacuum.  The designers do their work, the writers create the background (and in the case of games, the rules), the actual product is manufactured, orders are solicited, and then the product is released, where consumers then buy it.  In a successful project, the consumers like and want the product, so buy enough of it that the company can make a profit large enough to not only pay off the investors or loan, but also to continue to fund the operations of the company, and eventually, after this cycle is repeated many, many times, to be able to actually fund new products internally.  However, there is an inherent risk to this, in that if the consumers do NOT like the final product and thus don't buy it - the company may not be able to pay off the investors and can even go under.  It is a large gamble that as you try to put something out not knowing if it will be successful.

With kickstarter - your investors are (in general) also your customers.  While this is not always the case (I saw one last year to bring a geek burlesque show to Gencon - however the show was already completely sold out, so all investors could get would be merchandise from the show (I passed on this, because if I was going to contribute to someone doing a show, well I wanted to see the show!)) it is still a good rule to go by.  Most kickstarters are not done with a finished product in hand, so the contributors can actually have a say in what does or doesn't get funded.   This can also help the company gauge the amount of interest in a given product - if the campaign doesn't fund then they know they have done something wrong and there is little interest in the product.  If it limps along and barely makes its goal, then the company knows not to expect huge support when it hits the market.  If it succeeds more than expected (sometimes WAY MORE) then they know they have something that people want to see on their hands.    A good example of this is the indiegogo campaign for Con Man, a web series that is, essentially, a comedy about going to science fiction cons from the point of view of actors whose shows were 'prematurely' cancelled (so yes, it is about the cast of Firefly, just like Galaxy Quest was about the cast of Star Trek and science fiction conventions)).  ConMan has funded for over 600% of it's goal - and looks now to be close to a dozen episodes (instead of the base 3 it started asking for).  And it still has five days to go!

There is some risk to backing a kickstarter.  If it fails to fund it doesn't cost anything, but it can also ship late, and in some instances never at all (one of the first ones I backed seems to be in this boat, the creator has not responded to any messages for over a year (but then again I've wasted $20 before on lots of worthless things, so I'm not too worried)).  Another one I had backed seemed destined to never happen as the creator came down with cancer afterward - I easily wrote it off.  However four years after her initial project funded, UberDork Cafe' finally opened to the public, and I'm glad to have been a meager investor in this project.

So if you have ever wanted to help out the little guy, the creator trying to start something new, then crowdfunding (i.e. kickstarter) is a great way to do that.  I've found that instead of buying products from very small company at conventions I am now backing their kickstarters to help even more products get made.  A win for them, and new shinies to feed my addiction for me.

1 comment:

  1. That pretty much sums it up for me, too, although I tend to buy into Kickstarters from established businesses like Mantic, instead of from new companies.

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