Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Tale of Two (Other) Kickstarters

This week, I'm going to talk about two projects that I didn't back.

The Pathfinder Online and Small World 2 for iPad.

Because these two epitomize some of the issues I'm having with Kickstarter in general.

Let me rewind a bit, first:  a few weeks back, Google Plus unleashed communities on the world. And I was immediately invited to a ton of communities which I had zero interest in joining.  I even started two communities as a joke.  Because I could.  Then, a short time later, I was snarking about some Kickstarter project or other, and I realized that I didn't have to be the only one snarking.  I could share the snark with like-minded individuals who could also then snark about projects in need of snarking.

And Kicksnarker was born.

I got very lucky very early, in that several extremely funny individuals joined almost immediately.  I won't say the community took off like a shot - because we didn't.  But the folks we got were high-quality funny people.

A bit later, one of them was snarking about the Pathfinder MMO project. Since I have exactly zero interest in MMOs, I didn't look too closely. Until it started appearing again and again and again in the community.  Goblinworks has done two Kickstarters for Pathfinder Online.  The first one raised $300k for a tech demo.  Backer rewards were split between the online and offline versions of Pathfinder.  It was ... odd. But it made its goal and then some.

That project didn't draw a lot of snark.

Then came Pathfinder Online: A Fantasy Sandbox MMO.  This one drew a ton of snark.  Ridiculous amounts of it.  Why?  Because the backer rewards were ... split between tabletop and online rewards.  And as the project went on, the tabletop rewards became more and more ridiculous. Paizo threw all of its weight behind the project, pushing it on its forums and getting PDFs and print versions from some of its third party partners to sweeten the pot and encourage gamers to up their pledges so it'd make its goal.

In fact, all of the pot-sweeteners were for the tabletop version of the game.  It was bad enough that I considered pledging just so I could get my own personal Pathfinder library.

It was a bit like going to the grocery store and being offered a potato that I don't want.  "If you get this potato," they would say, "We will throw in this gallon of ice cream.  And this chocolate syrup. And these candy sprinkles. And this ice cream scoop.  And if you buy a ten pound bag of potatoes, we will throw in this blender!"

Interestingly, all of this backing and pushing was apparently pointless - other than to make the project succeed.  But the MMO was going forward regardless.

Read this interview, pointed out by a Kicksnarkers member (the ever-funny Jason Paul McCartan).  The key portion of the interview?
Morrus: What happens if the Kickstarter fails to reach its $1,000,000? Will you try again, look for alternative means of funding, or cancel the whole project? 
Ryan: The game is financed and in production. The Kickstarter lets us speed up the time to develop it. We are focused on getting the Kickstarter across the funding goal and we're not making "what if" plans.
Read Ryan's answer again.  Especially that first sentence.  The Kickstarter project wasn't a make-or-break for the game.  The project was to show off that they could raise $1m. And get more programmers on the job to speed it up.

There was no need for Paizo to throw their weight around and post on all of their forums and spam their newsletter subscribers over and over and over, begging us to pledge.

It's possible that the third party support for the project may have hurt the overall Pathfinder economy for some time to come, too.  If I pledged to get the PDFs, then the PDFs that I have are both non-sales for the publishers that contributed and make it less likely that I'll be buying more PDFs for some time to come.  If, for example, the project gave out Eric's Big Book of Monsters, then as a consumer, I'm not likely to go buy Dave's Big Book of Monsters - why do I need to?  I have the other one.

And yes, I know.  Monster books are not the right example for this - but the underlying principle applies.  Paizo may have long-term hurt their numbers for a short-term gain.

Now, by way of contrast, read this.

Why did Days of Wonder cancel their Small World kickstarter?

"Making the goal of the campaign the funding of a new ipad version we had already decided to do was wrong." Compare that answer to Ryan's answer above. And then think about it.

"Having Android as a stretch goal was a mistake.  We underestimated people's reluctance to fund a platform that might not happen." That is just sensible.  If I back just to get an Android version and it doesn't hit its stretch goal, I'm going to cancel my funding. Or be very unhappy.

"Making the designer edition of the centerpiece of the campaign's rewards left people wondering 'whether we were trying to fund the software or the Designer Edition?'"  In other words, "Giving free ice cream with purchase of potatoes doesn't make sense. If we're selling potatoes, we should give away butter and chives and bacon bits. Not ice cream."

Thank you, Days of Wonder, for continuing to be a class act. Even if it did cost you a small amount of money in the short term.

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