Kickstarter is not a store / by Jefferson Geiger

Peak Design Kickstarter

If you’ve been paying attention to the quality of photos in the Valley Courier, you may have noticed that I got a new camera. And getting a new gadget, at least for me, means getting a slew of new accessories. Of course after the shopping spree one must get another accessory to hold all their accessories.

Researching camera bags gave me a larger headache than when I was researching aperture size and megapixels of the camera. Should I get a messenger style bag, or a backpack? Should it only hold a couple of lenses or my entire library? What size laptop, if any laptop at all, could fit inside?

Kickstarter, a crowd-funding site, tempted me with camera bag thoughtfully designed with durable materials and pockets to hold more than the contents of Pandora’s box.

However, I decided to get a cheaper bag that I’ll eventually outgrow. Now every internet advertisement is taunting me with the more expensive bag that I passed on.  They yell to me, “Only a few days left to pre-order the bag at a discount!”

While the savings are extremely tempting, I can’t bring myself punch in my credit card. For one, I don’t have so many lenses at the moment that makes it necessary. I also can’t try the bag in person before buying. The company may have a track record, but I’m still hesitant to buy a product that wouldn’t reach my doorstep until December.

Why? Because Kickstarter is not a store.

Over six years I’ve spent $500 on 14 Kickstarter campaigns. I’ve bought a small independent video game for $5 and I’ve coughed up $100 on a hardcover book. The company is a great way for creative people to self-publish and do whatever they desire.

That is, if they meet their funding goal and everything goes as planned.

So far, all but one of the projects I’ve backed has delivered on their promise and I’m still waiting to receive five of those. The first campaign I ever backed, an animated film of a Neil Gaiman short story, doesn’t exist yet even though it made roughly $10,000 over its goal back in 2010. Hopefully it’ll be worth the wait.

The risky nature of Kickstarter projects led me to create a self-imposed policy: I never back more than five at a time. I’ve all but stopped backing video games on Kickstarter, too.

The road isn’t always smooth in game development. The game “Mighty No. 9” raised $4 million in 2013 and was supposed to be a spiritual successor to the “Megaman” franchise and a triumphant return to the series’ roots. However, the game released this year to very poor reviews. Another title, “Project Phoenix,” raised $1 million and was supposed to come out last year yet has been delayed until 2018. Others have been pushed back indefinitely, ran out of money or outright cancelled.

But there also have been success stories, such as “Hyper Light Drifter,” “Kentucky Route Zero,” and the immensely popular card game “Cards Against Humanity.”

One of the most successful video game Kickstarter projects, and the one that opened the floodgates for hundreds of others, was Doublefine’s “Broken Age.” What made it special was that the entire development process, both the good and the bad, was filmed for a documentary. Each installment was put online as soon as possible. Backers knew when things went south and they also knew why.

That level of transparency made it easier for contributors to be more forgiving of the missteps. Since Doublefine received about $3 million when they only asked for $400,000, they expanded the scope of the game. However they went a bit too big and almost ran out of cash. They had to split the game into two acts with sales of the first funding the completion of the second.

The finished game was released to positive reviews, but it told an important lesson. They’re called rewards for a reason. Accesses to the finished product is incentive to back, but shouldn’t be the only reason to back.

Approaching a Kickstarter should be handled with the same care as any investment opportunity. Research the creators to analyze their qualifications and try to calculate the chances of completion. If the campaign was funded easily, maybe hold off on adding your dollar to the pile. You should fund a project if you really want to help out, but don’t think of it as like buying milk from the grocery store.

I’ll probably get that camera bag sometime in the future, but only once the product reviews are published and I have the opportunity to test it out for myself. If you really want something, buy it after the Kickstarter. Don’t invest.

This column was originally published in the August 24, 2016 edition of the Valley Courier.