Gosh, John Walker’s interview with Peter Molyneux makes for hard reading. It’s resulted in the usual outraged reaction from those gamers who get terrified of reading anything which isn’t a simple graphics/gameplay/replayability review with a percentage score. And, yes, Walker’s interview pulls no punches and its opening gambit is especially on the nose – but it’s also an astonishing, fascinating interview which gets to the heart of an issue that everybody else has danced around for about 10 years.
That aside, what really jumped out at me was Molyneux’s horribly miscalculated understanding of Kickstarter, and crowdfunding in general. His answers are full of generalisations such as “I think most people who do Kickstarter would agree with me here”, even while he’s demonstrating a lack of understanding of crowdfunding’s core.
Well, I think if you talk to anyone, and this is the advice I have given to people about Kickstarter, is to not ask for too much. You cannot unfortunately ask for the actual amount you need. Because you don’t really know. This is how I based my assumption of what money we needed.
It seems from conception, the Godus Kickstarter was designed all upside-down. The entire point of Kickstarter, and other fixed sum crowdfunding models, is that if you don’t get the money, you don’t do the thing (or, at least, you need to find another way). Molyneux sees this as a problem, and a waste of effort, and that you can’t risk the Kickstarter failing.
Really, it’s the other way around. If your Kickstarter fails, then it’s a good sign that the project isn’t worth pursuing in the first place (this is assuming that you handled the campaign correctly, of course). If you’re not able to get enough interest from enough people to fund the project, then don’t make the project. Sure, the campaign failed, but at least you found out there wasn’t enough interest in the project before you went and spent months/years working on it.
The problem is when you have established companies using Kickstarter. When it’s an individual floating an idea, if the campaign fails then they just carry on with the day job. But when a company does a Kickstarter, and is relying on its success to fund their next project, they’re putting their entire staff on the line. If the Kickstarter fails, then people lose their jobs. That’s what leads to Molyneux’s line of thought, whereby you game the system itself to ensure you get some money, even if you know it’s not an accurate amount.
That’s why you have to be very careful about what your Kickstarter is. When we designed the HitFilm for Mac Kickstarter, we knew from the start that we wouldn’t be able to fund the entire development via Kickstarter. But rather than pretending that was what we were doing, as seems to be the case with Godus, instead we were very up front about the whole thing: the Mac version was coming one way or another, but the point of the Kickstarter was to accelerate development by enabling us to pump more resources into it up front.
People responded to that and we ended up doubling our goal. Everyone knew what they were getting into. And the finished product was delivered precisely on time, with the other backer rewards coming in more-or-less on time.
The problem with Kickstarter is that if you get to day thirty and you don’t make your pledged amount, which we got to like three days before our cut off, before we hit our pledged amount, then you don’t get anything. Then all that work and all that effort and all that exposure and all the hangovers that Kickstarter have, the biggest one is that takes the fire out of any excitement you can generate in the press, has been used up and you haven’t got any money.
It’s the same thing with that second quote. If all the fire and excitement disappears out of your project, then take that as a signal that it’s probably not a project worth pursuing. Use Kickstarter as an interest barometer. If it fails, and if you’re sure you did the campaign right, then acknowledge that and move on. Don’t go all Canute and decide that you’re right and the world is wrong.