The time has come for some open discussion, a debate if you will, about backer reactions to missed deadlines and about “public shaming”. As gamers and consumers, we are either supporters of Kickstarter or we are not for one reason or another. Opinions are very personal, but let’s not tread into personal attacks here on the blog or any of the social media site that this article will be posted to. Thank you!
Kickstarter as a funding platform was revolutionary when it was introduced several years ago and has permitted new creativity within the hobby. Creative people have been given an opportunity to bypass traditional developmental processes and are able to more directly get their products in the hands of consumers unlike ever before. This is usually done through incentivizing backers to part with their money through a variety of discounts over retail costs and/or through the dangling of stretch goals.
Kickstarter was founded in 2009 as a way to allow creators to find resources and support that they need to be able to bring their creative projects to consumers. To date, Kickstarter made it possible for 97,885 projects to be successfully funded by more than 10 million backers and supporters. Over the years companies of various sizes have gotten involved in Kickstarter to some extent, but paradigms have changed and so too have the consumers that support these projects. What follows is my analysis and opinions of where I think things are within the hobby.(1)
Recently, a game designer and publisher had commented to followers on Google+ that public shaming of Kickstarter projects served no useful purpose. To this end, he is absolutely right, but there is more to that story in a moment. The conversation also evolved from public shaming to a discussion on why some of us either liked what Kickstarter has become or why we disliked certain practices that have been happening more and more as of late. Let’s first look at the consumer backlash and public shaming. I know the term public shaming is probably a little harsh, but in some cases shaming is what is required.
Project creators, as a whole, are very bad at estimating the time it takes to get their projects into the hands of backers. I don’t believe in the majority of cases there is any intended misrepresentation, but in some cases there is purposeful misrepresentation. There are many factors that can affect timelines and deadline dates. Backers, as a whole, need to remember that there is some inherent risk in all projects and that dates are purely estimations of when a creator believes that they can get the end result into their hands. Due to the anonymity of the internet, many people are overly quick to lash out at creators for not meeting a deadline which may or may not have been in their control to start with. There are many external factors, both professional and personal that can have a bearing on these timelines. There does come a point in which backers should begin to constructively voice their concerns publicly and hope that it motivates the creator into action.
If you have been reading this blog for any length of time than you know that I have openly and publicly aired my displeasure with one particular Kickstarter that I backed and was it was originally due to deliver in June of 2012. Here we are 3.5 years later and I have only received half of the promised products; others have received nothing. For the longest time I was sympathetic to this creator’s personal and professional plight and voiced my support. I understood there was risks involved and timelines are only estimates. It wasn’t until 2014 that I became publicly vocal about the situation and the creator’s poor management of the project. Again, my comments were harsh, but not overly so. I pointed out facts and why I was upset with the delays. Others, were downright hostile towards the creator and incessantly called him out for missing any newly revised timeline or just mocked him. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago (Nov 2015) that I called him out again as I am considering contacting my state’s Attorney General’s office for possible consumer fraud.
In most cases I have seen creators respond to backer comments, both positive and negative, in a variety of ways. In my experience, the most obvious responses have led to a more open communication channel from the creator to the backers and vice versa. The inverse is also true! I have seen creators become more distant due to negative feedback and comments by backers. Some backers are very immature in how they communicate to creators during a campaign that does involve some measure of risk on the part of backers. Sadly, these folks think that every project will go off without a hitch and that just is not the case. When creators experience what is often nasty public shaming and personal attacks, they distance themselves by putting out fewer updates with less measurable benchmarks. Some will wear their frustration or sadness on their sleeves. In almost all cases, I would surmise, that there is an emotional toll on the creators as well. Which probably factors in future delays.
I am a firm believer in letting the projects play out through the ups and downs of missed deadlines if the end result is much better product. For example, if a designer needs more time to rewrite a section of rules or a products needs more playtesting to yield a better game, so be it. In the end there will come a time when enough is enough and creator should be put on notice to produce what was promised or risk being publicly shamed (based purely on facts, not personal attacks). What’s the threshold here? There is no one threshold because every backer is different, but I would propose that twelve months past an estimated delivery date is more than enough time to produce, refine and deliver. In reality from the end of a campaign to the estimated delivery date is typically 4-8 months. If you tack on the twelve month grace period I am proposing for unexpected delays, creators have 1.5+ years to deliver. If after twelve months from the estimated delivery date a creator does not produce, they should be mentally ready to deal with the backlash. If they are not ready, maybe they need to consider more traditional development and distribution models. This should also put potential creators on notice to try to or accurately estimate a reasonable delivery date.
At no point should the any public shaming become a means or justification for personal attacks which seems to happen more and more lately. My public comments about the situation with the project I referred to above, has been limited to pointing our his mismanagement, which he freely admits too, and how that might be surmised as potential consumer fraud due to perpetual delays and lack of deliverables to many backers. Again, he admits to the mismanagement and how it could be construed in the way I was viewing it. The bottom line is that backers have the right to comment and show their displeasure with delays and lack of progress, but it should never turn into personal attacks. That is not going accomplish anything. My hope in public shaming the creator was to hopefully appeal to his sense of integrity and to spur him into action. To that end, it worked. Immediately he published an update and gave us some sense of his continued plan of action. I am not holding my breath, but time will tell.
I believe that constructive public shaming can lead to actionable and measurable responses on the part of creators. Sometimes creators just need a kick in the ass to keep moving forward. There are ways to both publicly shame and provide constructive and useful ideas to a creator.
I would love to hear your opinions on this topic. Please chime in as you see fit. I only ask that you keep it civil.
(1) Kickstarter, https://www.kickstarter.com/about?ref=nav , accessed 16 Dec 2015