Well now, that was the month that was!
Some of you may have listened to my Lave Radio Podcast where I discussed my early memories of Elite and the role it had in my life. I then went on to talk a bit about how I got involved with Elite Dangerous since the Kickstarter and what I've been up to.
The whole experience has been pretty surreal, but definitely worthwhile and worth thinking about how it all worked out.
The role of crowd source funding in providing initial capital for a project is a wholly different world to applying for a business loan or academic grant. However, there are definite parallels in the process too. There is a fundamental need in any process when courting potential investors, to convince those investors you are worth investing in. However, the reasons for that investment, across different platforms and by different individuals can be incredibly diverse.
Kickstarter arrived in the UK at the end of October 2012. There is an interesting blog post listed here that talks about how the organisation managed in this first month, very well going by the numbers. There are a number of other crowd source funding websites, Indiegogo, Wefund and Crowdfunder, but Kickstarter is the most popular.
I approached Kickstarter very cautiously. I had been watching projects like Sedition Wars since the middle of 2012 and scene several articles about projects on comics. The Elite Dangerous Kickstarter was the first that really grabbed me and it still took me sometime to overcome my initial reticence. After all, where are the guarantees? The checks and validations on the people you back? Similarly, if you put down for a 'reward', isn't the development time needed a long time to wait for your return?
There isn't really a good answer for many of these questions other than to see a crowd funding project as something more egalitarian than purchasing a book or game by mail order. The Ebay ethos isn't quite the right attitude to have. When I was working out my pledge for Elite Dangerous, I did have the same psychological moment you get when looking for something on the shelf in a shop. You select a pledge tier and imagine yourself owning it. The one that fits best, owing to all considerations, is usually the one you select.
The difference with crowd funding, is that actually, your purchase means more because your putting in the money that will finance the product. The feel good factor associated with this is quite a phenomenon in itself. If you let it, this feeling can keep you ticking over whilst you wait for the product to be completed.
The element that I didn't realise until I actually made a pledge, was that nothing is taken from you on Kickstarter unless the project is a) successful in reaching its funding goal and b) until the duration of the funding period has expired.
The setup of Kickstarter creates privilege. Much like a cinema showing, you become part of the people who have seen, rather than the people who haven't. The attached community message board for pledgers reinforces this structure. You can read the posts if you browse them, but you have to pledge to be able to post yourself. As the creator of a project, it is this system of hierarchical privilege that you must make use of with your pledge rewards.
Running your own Kickstarter as I did with Elite: Lave Revolution is a whole different experience again. The emotional roller-coaster you go on through the funding period is incredible. The visible and invisible efforts you make to promote and raise the profile of your idea are an exercise in frustration in themselves. The Facebook statuses, the Tweets, the promotional videos, all in an effort to keep the pledges ticking. Each one that rolls in is a bittersweet moment; Excitement when you see things move and a little spine stiffening humble pie when you realise people are supporting you and the thing you intend to make.
It's also worth bearing in mind you are going to spend some time during the Kickstarter feeling there are many more worthy causes to pledge money to than your creative project. 'Causes' are pretty much banned under the guidelines, but when people donate to your proposal, it doesn't stop you making the comparison.
Which projects succeed? There's no hard and fast rule here, but thinking about who your audience is for your product is very important and that thought should form the basis of your pitch. You also need to factor in the fees and remember, you will not get the money immediately. Kickstarter keeps hold of the finance for a little while.
Of course, some projects you can't plan for the response. The Veronica Mars project response, where 100% funding was achieved in the first day isn't something Rob Thomas would have planned for, but I'm sure he was elated when it happened. Similarly, Mike McVey couldn't have planned to achieve 4756% funding! The territory is still relatively unknown and it is only by reflecting on each experience that you can learn what worked and what didn't. To make that analysis complete, you also have to look at the failures. For me,one of the most interesting articles on that is on Pins of War.
So how does Kickstarter fit into the world of the creative project? Well, just as the e-book provides access to publication for thousands of would be writers, the crowd sourced funding model could launch hundreds of entrepreneurs, but both facilities are different animals to the traditional methods they compete with. Both, provide a vehicle to connect the Creative with their Consumer, but for every success, there will be disappointments. The self published e-book needs an editor, just as the crowd sourced business needs professional financial advice.
For me, Kickstarter will always be the most humbling experience of my life. The weight of expectation from my backers is something I chose. I must shoulder it and shoulder it well. The proof will be in the reading and the watching.