Kickstarter: Patronage or Pre-order?
That’s not the thing I want to talk about, although it’s dancing around a core issue with Kickstarter: is it a place for patronage or a place for pre-orders? Nota bene: I’m not forming an answer in this piece, just exploring some thoughts. I don’t know if there are clearcut answers.
Patronage projects are about “if you fund this, I’ll start working on it, and later (hopefully when I claim it’ll happen) you’ll get a thing.” Pre-order projects are “we’re pretty much done, we need money to make physical stuff, and you’ll get a thing.”
My own recent Master Plan Kickstarter was clearly a patronage project. Dungeon World & Race to Adventure were pre-order projects. But then it becomes really weird once you bring is stretch goals that haven’t been made yet, because you’re turning a pre-order project into one about patronage as well. And that middle space fascinates me, both as solution and as problem.
While talking with Eddy Webb recently, he pointed out that Kickstarters are events — they take place on the Internet rather than in a physical place, but they’re promoted and celebrated just as events are. Events are finite in time, which leads people to buy into them. I’ve said multiple times that I believe that we as individuals have a limited amount of Kickstarter mojo, and if we’re not careful we’ll expend that. I suppose that extends to a community level as well, as we’re starting to see people claim “Kickstarter fatigue.” That’s natural, when our community keeps creating event and event, that we’ll start feeling tired of them.
Which brings me back to patronage versus pre-order. Patronage projects live and die by support. Pre-order projects have time, energy, and in some cases money already invested in them, so there’s incentive to get those projects out there even if a pre-order can’t be met. Yet, these exist in the same space in the minds of the public, more or less, as events. Some events are “get stuff sooner” and some aren’t. So, that’s a criticism of using this model for pre-orders — that, and pre-order models already exist.
On the other hand, consumer confidence in individual Kickstarter projects extends to consumer confidence over all KS projects in general. The whole you don’t own your message thing — if someone’s burned on prior folks they’ve backed delivering a product that doesn’t live up to its promise or not delivering at all, that negative emotional resonance extends to your projects, even though they’re unrelated except that they’re on Kickstarter. Sure, it’s unfair, but this world isn’t about fairness. And it’s more likely that those patronage projects will under-deliver (on promise or product) than pre-order ones. So, there’s a criticism of using this model for patronage.
Then when a project reaches funding and pushes for more, the event continues, perhaps with it a greater degree of exhaustion. This is true for pre-orders and for patronage models, so it’s a criticism of the stretch goal concept. And understand that people who buy into a patronage model may see it as a pre-order one, because of the areas in that environment where they primarily interact.
These criticisms aren’t meant to say “don’t do this style,” but to talk about biases people are growing in this new crowd-funding world. They are not in and of themselves bad ideas, certainly not! But they’ll impact us as we go forward, because these two very different things are being lumped together as the same sort of events, and those events are stretched out beyond their initial goal. I feel that we have a responsibility when we’re adding to the environment to think about these things and to not overdo it, to not poison the well for ourselves or others in the future.
Though, to put a very personal spin on it, I feel like I’m in the minority, and most people are taking advantage of the moment without thinking about the impact. And I say that as someone who has been involved with pre-order and patronage models with stretch goals (since nearly every KS has stretch goals if they hit far enough).
By the way: I’ll be talking about Kickstarter at Gen Con.