So once again I don’t really have time to write a post here — I have to pack for the San Diego Comic-Con yet this evening, and I have a few other things to do as well. But Kickstarter has obviously been an important part of the tech industry lately, and I have a few thoughts about it that won’t seem to stay in my head, no matter how hard I try to keep them in.
As you have seen on Twitter if you’re following me there, I’m frustrated with the whole thing. Kickstarter as a concept doesn’t bother me all that much. Just like Etsy, I see it as a good, if a little costly, way for people who want to start setting up a business and selling cool things to begin. I’ve actually backed two things on Kickstarter — one was the Tim Schafer adventure game that began this whole gaming on Kickstarter fad, and the other was a friend’s project, Randy Nelson’s digital gaming magazine. So I don’t have any problems with Kickstarter in general. If you’re planning to make a product and would rather get your gross profit up front so you can use it in the production, it’s an easy (but costly) way to do so. I say costly because Kickstarter does take a nice chunk of the money donated, and trust me, there are plenty of easier ways to collect money like this on the Internet.
My issue with Kickstarter really lies in the difference between ideas and implementation, which is something that I’ve read about online before. Here’s the thing: Anyone can have good ideas. We all get tons of good ideas all the time. I’ve got them pouring out of my head. When I try to sleep at night, my brain won’t stop coming up with ideas. Ideas, even good and great ideas, are cheap and plentiful, and worth about nothing, because there are tons of good ideas out there, and there will always be more.
Oh good, you’re done. What’s that? You didn’t make Twitter? No kidding. That’s because the idea of Twitter is much easier to come up with than the actual implementation of Twitter itself. A good implementation depends on a lot of work, a whole lot of talent and experience, and even (maybe especially) lots of luck. Anybody can think of a great game — just combine great games together: Tetris meets Final Fantasy Tactics meets Castlevania: Symphony of the Night! It’s great — you fight turn-based battles around a 2D platforming world whose landscape is constantly changing because blocks keep falling out of the sky! But very few people can take that idea, and implement it well. Well enough to make sense, well enough to appeal to a wide audience, and well enough to make it fun and interesting and good.
And this is why Kickstarter is such a problem lately: Because Kickstarter rewards ideas, not implementation. Ideas aren’t worth anything, but Kickstarter puts a big donate button next to them, and says, “That thing in your head? It’ll be real if only you pay money.”
This is also why video games work so well on Kickstarter. Every gamer has fallen prey to this: You read a preview of a game a month before it comes out, and the developer interviewed promises all sorts of great things. “We’re going to have an RPG system governed by how you feel while playing the game,” he promises, “and our vendor shop system is going to be revolutionary — prices will actually rise and fall according to the whole economy of the world.” And then November comes around, the actual game comes out, and you realize that a) the game doesn’t correctly sense your emotions while playing, because that’s basically impossible, and b) it doesn’t matter how a vendor system is governed if the actual UI to control it is terrible. You fell prey to the hype. You believed in the idea of a game, while the actual implementation left you wanting.
I’m not saying all of these great things on Kickstarter aren’t going to live up to their promises: I look forward to Tim Schafer’s game, I’m sure I’ll be buying quite a few of these Kickstartered games even after they’re released on Steam and in other places, and I am just as excited as every one else about the Ouya (though I didn’t, I will note, put in the $99 to get one just yet). I’m not saying people getting backed by Kickstarter, especially Tim Schafer and Yves Behar, can’t implement ideas well. There have already been some cool things backed by Kickstarter, and there will be more in the future, I’m sure.
I’m just tired of all of the hype of ideas getting treated as actual products. Republique was a huge offender on this. I have my doubts about their background and their experience in creating games, but heck, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they do eventually make an actual game. Maybe it does have all of the features they promised, and maybe it does even present a really great, action-based experience on iOS.
But one of their promises was to “explore heavy topics, say something meaningful.” What does that even mean?!? Even they use the word “something” — they have no idea what they’re even planning to say! And “push cutting-edge graphics on mobile,” really? What does that mean? Does that mean 60 FPS guaranteed, or does it mean photorealistic graphics, or does it just mean the game will look good? On the basis of these vague, strange promises, these people ran away with over $500,000.
I don’t mean to just pick on Republique (and I look forward to your angry emails and tweets) — there are plenty of Kickstarters out there selling an idea rather than an actual, realistic product. All I’m saying is that in the middle of this Kickstarter mania, it’s worth remembering that these people aren’t yet selling products — they’re selling ideas. And it’s very, very easy (especially when you’re an ad agency — ahem) to make a pitch for an idea look really, really good. It’s a lot harder to actually implement that idea, and that’s what I worry these backers who put hundreds or thousands of dollars into these projects aren’t understanding.
I fully support people who have a good idea and a ready-made plan to put it into action. And hey, I also support people who have nothing but a good idea, and need a few thousand dollars to turn it into a real thing. But these people who come up with nothing but an idea, have almost zero real experience to back it up, and ask for hundreds of thousands of dollars, all the while promising to do things that industry veterans have been trying to do without success for years? That, I don’t believe. That, to me, sounds like a scam. That, to me, sounds like even they are getting caught up in their own stupid hype, forgetting that the whole point of getting money together in the first place was to create something, not just make a lot of money.
Just remember this: If you back something on Kickstarter, you’re backing an idea, not a product. Don’t be surprised when, weeks, months or even years later when you get that product, it doesn’t live up to the idea in your head.
Posted on Wednesday, July 11th, 2012 at 8:17 pm. Filed under general.