I've been giving a lot of thought to Kickstarters lately. I have yet to support an actual Kickstarter (though I did help fund the upcoming Ben Folds Five album on PledgeMusic, which is similar), but I have come close a few times. Most recently, I almost gave in to Alpha Colony's update to the classic game M.U.L.E., but found the rewards confusing and never settled on exactly what level to fund. That Kickstarter didn't make it, but rumor has it that it'll be back.
In case you're new to them, Kickstarter projects entice you with various rewards based on the level of support you provide - typically starting around $10 and in some cases going into the thousands of dollars. You might get a small token of appreciation, a signed copy of the finished product, and maybe even a chance to meet the project's creators depending on how much you're willing to kick in. If a Kickstarter doesn't reach its goal, you keep your money and the owners of the idea either give up or start over, perhaps with a scaled back plan and budget goal.
One Kickstarter that is getting a lot of attention right now is Ouya, which has earned more than six times its $950,000 goal with about 5 days left to back it (if you're so inclined). Pronounced "OOO-yah," the device is an effort to transform Android OS - traditionally used for mobile phones and tablets - into an inexpensive gaming console for the living room. You'd hook it to your TV and, in theory, get access to an open gaming platform that will be populated with generally inexpensive titles that have been largely locked to touchscreen portables. Plus other uses, such as streaming TV and movies via services like Vevo (according to a recent report).
There seems to be a lot of confusion around Kickstarters, even among the seasoned games press. For instance, I noticed this tweet recently from Ben Kuchera of Penny Arcade Report:
Don't look at Ouya based on money raised, look at systems pre-sold. Right now? About 38,000. That's a Coldplay concert, not a revolution.-- BenKuchera (@BenKuchera) July 19, 2012
Ben's not the only one to make this argument, but his comment is both snarky and succinct so he gets called out.
If you look at the definition of a Kickstarter, this is a very shallow argument. The goal of a Kickstarter is to fund the completion of a project, not create an economically sustainable installed base. Few if any could realistically do that, particularly at the console level. The main reason you should consider funding a Kickstarter is that you believe in a product and want to see it reach the marketplace. IF it is completed (and that is a big "IF"), you will be rewarded according to the level that you funded it and the reward that goes along with it. Plus, perhaps, the knowledge that you helped something creative come into the world that otherwise might have died.
But let's return to that big "IF." When a Kickstarter is funded, that means that the money is released to the project's developers. What happens after that is unregulated. If all goes according to plan and the intent of the Kickstarter program, the product will be completed and you get your reward more or less on schedule. The project may take longer than projected, it may fail to ever see the light of day and, in the worst possible scenario, you might be getting played by someone who has no intention to deliver the promised result. Scams are rare but not unheard of.
Just skimmed through the numbers, and over half of the Kickstarter projects I've backed are or were late by months. Be careful out there.-- Dustin Deckard (@dustindeckard) August 1, 2012
So, if you're going to play the Kickstarters, it's a good idea to back projects from creators you believe in and, ideally, have a track record providing similar products.
If the Ouya ships and proves popular, people will clamor for it - even busy gamers. Its makers can charge whatever the market will accept that covers their real costs of manufacturing and doing business.
Ouya might still fail, but I think it has a decent chance to get to market thanks to the vast overfunding and seemingly reasonable amount of developer interest - assuming you can believe even some of the hype. So if Ouya ships and proves to be a good product that's worth its asking price, I will buy one. I simply choose not to back it before it's complete.
I imagine many people feel the same way. You barely have time fit in an hour or so of gaming here and there - where are you going to find the time to research and back worthy projects? As one busy gamer put it:
-- Kate Lollar (@katelollar) August 2, 2012
@gamewatcher they're gamers, not investors. If they all stop playing to care about the backend biz, the industry will have bigger problems.
Where do you stand on Kickstarters? Are you supporting the Ouya? Any others? Have any of your Kickstarter ponies come in and, if so, were they worth it?