Thursday, August 30, 2012

Kickstarter - I Just Don't Care


The following is a guest post/rant from my good friend Greg from the Fawcett Ave Conscripts.  One of the many things I really enjoy about Greg is listening to him when he gets a bone in his craw about something. While I may not always agree with his perspective, the resulting tirades are typically explosive and always entertaining. Known for snapping his crayons about Sony, C-3PO, WH40K and prone figures, Greg has recently expressed exasperation regarding the proliferation of "Kickstarter" projects in the hobby.  I largely agree with his positon on the topic and, for fun, I've asked (read: incited) Greg to share his opinions with us...




The Internet has certainly revolutionized modern communications and changed a lot about our day to day lives. Much of this is for the better.  Thanks to the Internet, I can collect all sorts of fun figs, and communicate with other great gamers all over the world.  But some Internet things are really, really annoying.  For the latest evidence of this tendency I look no further than the recent proliferation of Kickstarter projects in the hobby.

They have spread, flu-like, from postings on TMP, to my own email box, all with the same "Look at this-or-that Kickstarter".  Some of these notions are neat.  Some are ridiculous.  Some have clearly had work put into them, with greens sculpted, and masters ready.  As far as I'm concerned, put them on the same pile of indifference.

In theory, crowd funding (to borrow the buzzword before it hits the bin) is a great thing for the hobby, right?  A way to show those sculptors and game companies what we really want! Wow!  Strike up another life-affirming transformation for the gosh dang Internets!

Not.


Why?

1. This is not new
Kickstarter is getting attention in the general media, not just in the hobby area.  And these media stories all refer to it as "new".  Always remember, by the time the media are telling you something is "new", it's not even close.

The concept of user-driven/pledge of for production is not new. Eureka has had something like this for years. There is also Wargames Factory.  Both efforts managed to produce products of varying use and quality. Both produced a similar phase of "check out my submission" posts and tidal waves of solicitations  and I would wager both foreshadow the fate of the Kickstarter spam, which is that most of these projects will never, ever appear.

Still waiting for this particular Kickstarter to appear on TMP...
2. These things will never, ever, appear
Yes, they have greens.  Yes, they have masters made.  Yes - many of these get fully funded - even overshoot on the funding by a large amount. But most of these things will never, ever be finished, even with the hearty support of the proposed customers.  This is not because the proponents are frauds (although the Kickstarter medium overall will be vulnerable to this) but because even the best intentions of current, hard-working top sculptors and figure companies working with a sure-fire product still BARELY get made.

For evidence, just look at how long it takes for the Perrys to have stuff from their work bench appear for sale.  A year? More in some cases?  I don't even look at the Perry greens any more.  Is this because the Perrys are bad? Of course not! I love their stuff, and they provide great service.  But they are constrained by reality - getting the moulds made, getting it ready for sale.

On the sci-fi side, go check out the 15mm "Doe Gunship" from Khurasan models. For a long time, sci-fi fans of Khurasan' Red Faction NF not-Soviets (and I am a HUGE fan) have pined for a VTOL gunship that essentially looks like a Hind.  Who doesn't love the menacing Hind attack helicopter? A sci-fi version would sell like hot cakes.  The outstanding fellow who runs Khurasan knows this, and has been labouring to get the Doe for sale for at least a year, maybe more.  Pre-production test models have appeared, but even now it is still not available, even though it will sell out in five seconds once it is.

Kickstarter was orginally a way to allocate funds to venture capital, a type of investment that, as a rule, is defined by the failure of the overwhelming majority of its projects (that's OK - it's important that these things are tried). So what proportion of these things are ever going to get made?

Of course some Kickstarter projects will come through, but these will be the exceptions that prove the rule.  Bottom line is that if Perrys, Khurasan and other very legitimate folks have to take a long time to bring solid, high-demand figs and models to the market, why should be we believe these little Kickstarters will have any better time of it? Which brings me to my next point...
"The Emperor seeks your wallet...."
3. Money is not really a problem in the hobby
Before you smash your keyboard on this one, hear me out.  The central premise of something like Kickstarter is to connect funding (money) with ideas.  To put this in the hobby context, we would pledge our money to the "28mm KISS Rock Band Armed With Late War German AT Weapons And Pikes" Kickstarter, and the figures would be cast because the money is there for them.

But financial allocation isn't the issue in the hobby.  We're not rich - far from it. But as businesses such as GW, Battlefront, GHQ and Foundry have repeatedly proven, people will pay for $75 rule books and $40 character models and all the rest. Like anything else, we will pay for a product we value. 

Do all of us run out and stock up on Forgeworld? Of course not! We have our favourites, and our price points.  And we complain about the prices (myself definitely included). But gamers will pay for nice stuff.  Kickstarter trying to line up money for interesting figures is solving a problem that is not really there. Money is a problem for me - but not for the hobby.

You might respond, however, that Kickstarter offers sculptors/mini makers a more certain view of what the market is looking for, because as a web-based tool it has such a broad-based appeal and reach.  My response to that is...

"Here is my money! Please sculpt some one-armed emo trench coat infantry with panzerfausts!"
4. Crowds are idiots
This whole wiki-ocracy notion that web-enabled masses somehow contain any inherent wisdom that is not otherwise present is simply ridiculous.  First of all, crowds of web users are no more inherently "wise" than the crowd of people at the Blue Bombers game.  Second, even though there are fearsomely smart people present at the Bomber games, I would never expect them to somehow act as a group to fix a problem or find a solution to anything.  Not even for football-related issues.  If the crowd is calling for the backup QB to go into the game, we're probably wrong (yes I still wanted the backup to play...). 

Throwing money into the mix just makes it worse - remember, the crowds were sure Facebook shares were a gold mine, just to take one recent example.

Potential for 28mm gaming? Hmmmm.....
Our modern consumer culture is of course driven by data gathered by feedback from customers, and web tools make this amazingly easy (and, increasingly, somewhat sinister).  But gathering feedback is very different from taking your course from the "crowd".  If you check the TMP threads around the hilarious saga of the Wargames Factory Sci-Fi troopers, or some of the strange orphaned products that emerged from the Eureka 300 club (or whatever it is called now), I think you will see the difference for yourself.

"It's on Kickstarter, so I can kick it for sure now...."

Of course, I'm just a curmudgeon, so I'm sure this trend will continue until its well and proper flamed out. And some of these "Kickstarter" figures will be made, and purchased.  Dallas sent me a note about someone trying to get 28mm hockey players made.  I'm a huge hockey fan (cue the Canadian stereotype), and would eagerly purchase hockey player figures just to paint them up for kicks.  A Force on Force game with several Toronto Maple Leaf players as objectives of some sort (needing to be rescued from their day care or emotional therapists, for example) would be fun.  I'm sure that particular Kickstarter will get funded - but I won't hold my breath waiting for the figures...


13 comments:

  1. I like Greg, well written rant and I agree with him!

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  2. Greg, that's an interesting and timely riposte against the Kickstarter frenzy. It's certainly nothing new - as you say, there's Eureka and Wargames factory who have tried it. In the boardgames industry many companies offer a similar P-500 (or similar) threshold for new games. And yes, even the really popular boardgames on that system are some years in the actual publication - up to 4 or 5 years in some cases.

    I think it will be interesting how many of the projects arrive at completion and result in the backers actually having their pledges taken through credit card billing. What's the chance of acrimony or fall-out at that point when the figures, rules or RPG supplement arrive on the doormat and it isn't what the backer expected? I don't want to be negative - perhaps that the same risk as you always have in ordering material which you have not seen before, but that type of situation isn't perhaps mentioned as much as I'd have expected on the various projects I've looked at.

    Thanks again for the post. My views on Kickstarter are a bit less negative, but I very much enjoyed reading it.

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  3. I too am feeling a little jaded about Kickstarter, as every day there seems to be new and more obscure hobby related projects popping up wanting my money. I do feel in our industry it is a double-edged sword. It gives smaller companies and individuals an opportunity to find funding for their ideas, which a bank manager would laugh at if you asked for a loan. In some cases this could prove essential for the likes of Wyrd Miniatures (when they were starting out) who have a genuinely good idea.

    My issue lies with the bigger companies who are already making money who start a kickstarter project for a new idea. In this instance we're saving them lots of money in production for a project that clearly wasn't good enough to make the normal production schedule and invest in. So, get the punters to pay for it and they'll reap the profits without the investment. Their high profile nature and flashy visuals can sucker people in to shell out up to a million dollars - it's madness, in my mind at least.

    Thanks for the article. I enjoyed the read.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Templar. I agree the presence of large incumbent businesses in these kinds of things adds to the frustration - a marketing gimmick for them, instead of a genuine effort.

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  4. An interesting position. As one of those nasty investor types, I have a very different take on Kickstarter - I think it's a very useful tool and an inevitable outcome as technology pushes traditional intermediaries (local retail stores, banks and traditional lenders) out of the way. Is Kickstarter the most efficient way to fund something, certainly not, but does it offer a small business person an effective way to raise small sums to test idea and provide market intelligence, yes it does that and rather well.

    There is a degree of risk sharing that isn't present in a normal retail transaction (pre-payment without assurance or recourse of delivery) but it allows supporters to participate in the business side and makes micro funding available to a lot of small entities. Will any of these little gaming companies grow to be the next GW? I'm not sure, but I'm sure the answer would always be no is they never got a start.

    Modern portfolio theory teaches us that more investment options leads to a better outcome, just like more shots on goal lead to a higher score. Tools like kisckstarter and it's descendants facilitate those shots (and the missed shots). That's a good thing and everyone has the option not to participate if they want to.


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    1. There is nothing "nasty" about being an investor. Good for you - I wish you well in it.

      Kickstarter is certainly an interesting tool - my main crack at it has to do with the hobby aspect. Almost none of these figures will be made - a reminder that, no matter how much we try and use technology to shove intermediaries around, there are still real physical constraints in the real physical world. The figures need to get made - and if the Perrys and Khurasan struggle with that, these Kickstarter projects will struggly at least as much and probably more.

      Maybe if someone started a kickstarter for a hobby tooling business...

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  5. An entertaining read!

    I personally don't have the excess cash lying around to throw at "maybe" projects as I have an unending list to buy of what's already out there, but I'm certainly not against others doing it and if things that interest me actually make it to the market then great I'll just have more to add on my to buy list. A win win situation for me!:-)

    Christopher

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    1. Very fair points Christopher. Also good to point out that there is no reason to be against others participating/hoping - it is all the promotional "check this out" chatter that snaps my crayons.

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    2. In all honesty I don't really follow much kick starter things as I'm busy checking out what's for sale on sites already. I suppose if I did follow more often then perhaps I might get a bit annoyed.

      I suppose the closest I get to your subject on a regular basis is seeing what's on the likes of Perry and Bill's projects board, but I guess that's a little different as you know those are actually getting done.

      Christopher

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  6. I thought I’d weigh in with my next-to-worthless thoughts on the topic.

    I certainly understand that funding-models like Kickstarter can be a boon to those needing venture capital to underwrite their ideas, but I find that it often degenerates to a form of cyber-panhandling. It seems we are currently in a deluge of vapour-projects that at first glance seem like the cat’s pyjamas but invariably ends with the equivalent of, ‘Hey, Buddy? Can you spare a dime?’

    Maybe for grumps like Greg and me it speaks more to our lack of patience than anything else. Typically when I want figures for a particular project I want them RIGHT BLOODY NOW, so I rattle down to my local game store or get online and find a supplier to get them ordered. The whole ‘perhaps, maybe, give-it-a-little-money-and-time’ model just makes me crazy. It’s like constantly being taunted with potentially cool stuff – cool stuff that maybe available along some undetermined schedule based on a multitude of known and unknown variables.

    I find the Kickstarter phenomena to be similar to the auto industry’s insistence on displaying concept cars at auto shows. These concept vehicles are pie-in-the-sky mock-ups, largely based on fantasy and often could not even be produced due to a host of issues (cost, design limitations, safety regulations, etc.). Their intent is to feel-out consumer thoughts and explore trends in order to better inform the auto designers. Nonetheless it often backfires - the viewing public invariably gets whipped into a lather about these new ‘wonder vehicles’ but ultimately will cry foul when the final product doesn’t look/perform anything close to the original concept. My feeling is that if the auto makers instead displayed ‘real’ upcoming models which were scheduled for actual release then the customer will have a real idea of what they’ll be getting and when. Otherwise the concept strategy seems to be one designed to create nothing but hype and ultimate disappointment.

    I’m largely with Greg on this one: Don’t talk to me until you have a firm product, otherwise I’m just not interested.

    All this being said, I’d love to buy some 28mm hockey players being devoured by zombie fans – I could get behind that (I HATE hockey)…

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  7. Kickstarter, kickstarter... Today, all is kickstarter! I like a lot this entry from Greg, and I agree with you, Curt. I like to buy quickly my minis, see them finished in the web and only wait for a week or two to receive them.

    Hockey players devoured by zombie fans... Is it your Kickstarter project?

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  8. I liked the rant, Greg. While Kickstarter is not necessarily a bad thing, it is increasingly being used to throw out bad ideas. People need to start getting objective when they see these crop up. How many times have you looked a Kickstarter project that piques your interest and within minutes of starting to read it, you pull back and wonder what the hell they're thinking? Miniatures and games projects that either are trying to raise enough to launch a venture capital firm, or on the opposite end of the spectrum, some that won't even cover mould-making costs seem to be the norm.

    Others are just bad ideas that have been shown to be bad. I saw one recently for bringing back a cult game of the late 80s. The problem is that the game was so wildly unpopular it originally drove its publisher to ruin. Sure, interest may have grown a bit since then, but the people funding it are only funding the initial launch with only fuzzy notions of continuing the project past the first release. I even funded an early effort to revive the game when solicitations were posted on message boards in the late 90s. Fool me once...

    Finally, I fear that good money and ideas in the hobby are being chased out by bad ideas, or at least half-baked ones. There are industry professionals who can explain at length the difficulties in launching a new game or miniatures line, and by and large, they're not the guys putting out KS projects. They're outnumbered 2,000 to 1 by punters who figure they can make it all work if they just had some scratch. It's noise of those punters who drown out the good ideas.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Chris. You describe very well more aspects of this "trend" that makes me mental - the way so many gamers give these Kickstarter projects legitimacy, and how the stupid ideas proliferate.

      I just read a hilarious thread on TMP about how the Kickstarter to get the game OGRE going again is - surprise, surprise - delayed! Fully funded, but no figures in sight, and I will be stunned if they ever appear.

      And the stupid ideas! Eureka has just put out something from one of their ridiculous clubs about a 28mm Jazz Band. How many of those are they going to !#$!#@ing sell?

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