Challenges with Kickstarter and Crowdfunding

I am considering shutting down my Kickstarter account in early 2022 after I have received the current outstanding projects I supported. There are several reasons I detail below having to do with issues I think are common to crowdfunding in general and personal reasons. I wonder if others have experienced the same frustrations and challenges.

I joined Kickstart in 2018 and within months I had become a “Superbacker” (i.e. pledged at least $10 to at least 25 projects). In roughly three years I’ve now supported over 120 projects and spent more money than I’d care to admit. There are several issues I am dealing with.

Issues with the Kickstarter/crowdfunding

  1. Products not delivered on time.
    As I write this blog there are worldwide shipping delays, and the COVID pandemic has made things difficult for over a year. But Kickstarter product delivery was an issue well before the pandemic. Sometimes the delays are due to first-time creators not understanding the time commitment from the period of creating to completing a project. But this is also a problem with some veteran companies. I can sometimes be forgiving to first-time creators that don’t deliver on time, but if you are a company that has been around for decades and created hundreds of products and you still don’t know how long it takes to get a project from the idea stage to publication, I am going to have issues continuing to support your Kickstarters.
  2. By the time you finally receive the project, you may no longer be interested in it.
    It can be so easy to get excited for something on Kickstarter and think it will fit into your campaign only to discover when it arrives on your doorstep 9 months later that this was just a fleeting thought that passed through your head at the time and is now no longer relevant. During a Kickstarter it is easy to get pulled in, you get caught up in the excitement created by others in the comments. You “click” to “pledge” your monetary support for the project vision and the money doesn’t get drained from your bank account for another 2-4 weeks, so it is easy to forget about what you’ve spent due to the space and time between pledging and the end date of the funding period. Compare that to being at your FLGS or a convention and holding the product in your hand. You can take your time and examine it. It has weight. The price is displayed on the back cover of the book. You have to pull out your credit card, or cash, to pay for it. You notice the cost and you can evaluate whether you truly need this item as you page through it. Although we’ve always been able to impulse buy at a brick and mortar store, crowdfunding like Kickstarter has made it easier, since it rarely seems real – you are seeing the fantastic possibilities and someone’s vision, but not necessarily the realities.
  3. Products were not what you expected or wanted.
    This has occurred the most for me when it comes to dice Kickstarters. I have just a wee bit of a dice addiction (I have more than I will ever need). Kickstarter initially made this worse. But now, strangely enough, it might be solving the problem, but what a learning curve I had to go through! There have been a lot of dice Kickstarters where you see marvelously crafted dice sitting on moss-covered rocks with atmospheric smoke drifting over and around them. Yet, when they are finally manufactured and delivered to you up to a year later, they don’t look like what was presented under the atmospheric and filtered lighting they used in their promotional videos and pictures. This has happened so many times that I have now stopped supporting dice Kickstarters.

    When it comes to RPG books I am pretty much done with glossy pages. With or without my glasses reading glossy pages are too much of a struggle and too annoying. When you support a Kickstarter you only occasionally know what the final product will look like. I am nearly to the point where if a book is produced with glossy pages I will skip it, and you usually only know this if you can hold the book in your hands. There are also layout problems that you won’t know about until you have the actual book in your hand (Kickstarter mock-ups always exaggerate certain aspects of the book, such as its thickness, to make it look larger than it is).

    One example of this was a KS for digest-sized booklets in a boxed set. When I received it, the pages were very glossy making it difficult for me to read. In addition, the font size used in the booklets were too small for me, and the interior columns nearest the spine requires the need to open the book wider to be able to see everything and this will cause the spines of the softcover digest books to deteriorate faster. If I could’ve seen the final result of this product, I would’ve skipped the KS and stuck with previous versions of this rule system I already had (or perhaps purchased digital where the glossiness does not apply, I can zoom in to increase the font size, and ruining binding doesn’t matter).

    The Need to Collect RPG Products: What’s with all the leather-bound “collector editions” with silk bookmarks that are now offered with virtually every RPG Kickstarter?
    I was initially quite excited when RPGs I already owned had a “special edition” or “alternate” cover, or they offered leather-bound covers with silk ribbons sewn in. I could continue to use the “normal” book and keep this beautiful “special” one on the bookshelf for its appearance and as a conversation piece with gaming friends. Some companies also do this with special edition woodgrain/white box sets as a homage to Original D&D. I initially got pulled into all this and got some leather-bound books and woodgrain/white box sets.

    But why? Even with the normal RPG books, I have so many of them that some only rarely get pulled from my shelves and looked at. Do I really need to spend a $100+ on a leather-bound edition to just sit and collect dust on a shelf and so I can occasionally point to it when my gaming friends come over so and show off how much money I spent on it and how special I am?

    These special editions were initially a unique novelty, and for those of us who have been gaming for roughly four decades and remember when gaming was laughed at and some products were made in someone’s garage on a low budget we can get caught up in these new fancy productions. But things have changed. Gaming is popular now. It’s mainstream. It’s “normal.” I now struggle to think of any major RPG book Kickstarted in the last year that hasn’t had leather-bound options with ribbon bookmarks. They all seem to have them now. How special is a “collector’s edition” when every company has “collector editions” and they have become the norm? Why spend all that money on books that aren’t used? Is it a “status” statement? For whom?

My Own Struggles

Pledging on KS can be addicting.

Addictive behavior can manifest itself in a lot of ways. Years ago on Facebook I became obsessed with getting “likes” and “shares” and spent hour upon hour “doom scrolling” through it and Twitter. I deleted both of them years ago, but perhaps by coincidence as I was leaving them I opened my Kickstarter account, and soon enough I found myself scrolling through KS trying to find something interesting that I “need to get” – that I “must have” – and I would reassure myself – if I noticed I was spending too much money on something I didn’t really need – that I was “helping someone else out.”

Final Thoughts

A part of me would really love to cancel my Kickstarter account right now. But I have projects I’ve supported that won’t get delivered until March of 2022 (and, of course, many of them will be delivered months late). If I cancel KS for my own peace of mind and to free myself of its hold, I may not receive the products I supported. More and more I try to avoid visiting Kickstarter and getting pulled into supporting something I don’t need, yet, I have to somehow go at least 7 months not supporting KS until I receive my final item before closing things down. But Kickstarters and Indiegogos are discussed constantly on social media. Companies you support constantly bombard you with emails promoting their latest crowd-funding project. Even old Kickstarters that have long since been completed and you received the products are still used by companies to promote their latest KS. It is a never-ending cycle of in-your-face advertising and promotion. It wears you down sometimes (at least it wears me down). To get out of this cycle, I think, is going to be a real challenge since you can’t really quit cold turkey. For some just pulling back from supporting so any crowdfunding projects is enough, but I don’t think that will work for me.

I look forward to shifting back to buying most RPG products in the traditional way. Which is to visit my FLGS, or a vendor booth at a convention, and page through the product. Feel it in my hand. Pay attention to how it was made. Reflect on its content. Consider its cost. And think about whether I really need it or really want it. It is time to slow things down and try not to get caught up in the never-ending hype and propaganda of the latest promotion of the week (or the day, or the hour).

Has anyone else felt the same way on this? If so, what has been your solution?

6 thoughts on “Challenges with Kickstarter and Crowdfunding

  1. Just checked my account. Backend 226 kickstarters by now. Talk about addictions… :/

    I’ll reduced kickstarter alot in the last months. I have more 5e stuff than I ever needed (I don’t even really like the system) and most US kickstarters demand such high shipping costs to get them to europe nowadays that the shipping is more expensive than the original product. With EU changes to VAT rulings I even have to pay extra charges now… last book I received was 0,60 Euro VAT for a 50$ book but 6,40€ fee for the postman who was instructed to get ist from me. So in the end I had a 50$ book for a 45$ backing with 60$ shipping and 9$ import charge – round about 114$. Madness.
    And with 5e books that get backed now and have a delivery date stated with the second half of 2022 you don’t even know if 6e is not allready arount the corner while you latest 5e kickstarters are still on their way.

    Right now boardgame kickstarters charge extra because of raising transport costs from China. After allready paying 40$ for shipment for a single boardgame another 15$ was charged half a year later now that the shipping really starts. IF it really starts at all with all the chaos in China and it’s shipping facilities.

    Yeah, my head says I’m done. The wave of wokeness on kickstarter was the final nail in the coffin. But honestly my heart now and than still demands just one more backing. I’m still backing the Troll Lord Games stuff because I love the system, the company and the people there. “The Starship Warden” kickstarter I received last month really made my heart jump. And I eagerly wait for the GMG to arive, as well as the new PHB. Even though I allready have 4 of them from the last printruns.

    What I wanted to say is: I can truly and absolutly understand your rant. I hope you could understand mine, too. Excuse the english. I did my best 😉

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    • Yes, living outside the US will make things difficult to receive physical products (better to just stick with PDFs). It is also puzzling why we buy products for systems or games we don’t even like that much (for you it is 5E, and I have done similar things for 5E and other systems).

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  2. I’ve become very picky about backing anything on Kickstarter or Indiegogo. And like you I’ve been underwhelmed by some of the final products that I’ve received or by the time I get it, I’m just not that interested in it any more. It needs to be something really special from a publisher that I already have some trust in before I back a project.

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    • I still have to wait 7+ months before I can shut down my KS account. But since I’ve received the things I supported on Indiegogo, I’ve now successfully shut that down. So the process has begun. If something interesting is released on these platforms I can make the decision as to whether I want them after they’ve been released to the general public. I am now taking steps towards putting more careful thought and patience into whether I need something and if I think it is worth getting. I am leaving the hype and over-promotion behind.

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  3. Pingback: Is the current explosion in the RPG market sustainable? | The World of PhilosopherZeus

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