Kickstarter: This Is What A Mistake Looks Like

EDIT: Kickstarter has clarified: — Kudos for getting specific and responding relatively quickly. I’m preserving the rest of my post as is, though I think their definition addresses many of the concerns.

I rarely post about things with a negative bent, because that’s not really my style. But hot on the heels of concluding a second successful Kickstarter campaign, this bit of news seems worth putting under the microscope. It was recently brought to my attention that Kickstarter has added (maybe it’s been there a while, maybe it’s a new addition) a bullet to their prohibited rewards list:

  • Rewards in bulk quantities

So, that feels pretty ill-considered.

For game producers using Kickstarter, it’s a salvo fired right at the heart of our efforts to support and promote the participation in Kickstarter projects by the retail tier.

Our recent Race to Adventure kickstarter had two retail tiers, offering 6 and 12 copies respectively, and we sold a couple hundred units that way along with the rewards we were sending to our non-retailer backers. Those couple hundred units showing up on shelves early into the product’s lifecycle will be a vital and necessary part of making sure that our product is a success post-kickstarter. If we’d had to heed this prohibition, we’d have had to institute less-obvious ways for retailers to participate, or remove that option entirely. Not to mention it would have cost the project all of its $50k-and-up stretch goals, as those retailer backers represented over $2,600 in pledges.

It’s also a display of poorly defined language. Should we be considering “bulk” to mean “anything more than a single unit”? Or is there some number down the line that counts as bulk? In essence, is it bulk if I have a reward tier for getting 2 or 3 copies, maybe at a mild discount, so folks can save on shipping & buy for friends? Not at all clear. Wiggle room is kinda bad in these situations, because it creates uncertainty, and uncertainty is the root of fear and inaction. Put those into play, and you end up with fewer kickstarters, less ambitious kickstarters, and people taking their intended-for-kickstarter crowdfunding projects elsewhere (or giving crowdfunding a pass, period).

I get why most of the other stuff is on their prohibitions list. A lot of it makes sense. But this? Without a good explanation, without a great many cases made for why it’s more than an occasional problem, it’s a message to me, and perhaps to others, that maybe it’s time to stop making use of the site for our projects. Which is a real pity; we were just getting started.

I’d certainly welcome a good explanation, and hope we’ll see one soon.

(Then again, if someone could produce a crowdfunding site that separates money to be spent towards shipping from money to be put towards the project’s goal, so someone could pay $40 for $10 ship and $30 that goes towards the actual goal tally, I’d be pretty damn tempted to move my business even without this gaffe on Kickstarter’s part. It’s a pity Kickstarter isn’t putting more effort into solving that sort of problem.)