Kickstarter and the Blockchain

I want to get a few boring explanation things out of the way real quick then we’ll get to the good stuff. Because I know that not everyone will care about those I’ve put them in a spoiler tag so they’re not taking up room if you don’t care.

The nitty gritty nerdy parts
  1. I know my sample size and population selection here would make my psychology professors (and Matt Sanderson from Nooks & Crannies) shudder in disbelief.
  2. I’ve asked real people some questions about what they think about what’s going on and I’m not telling you who they are. They have a livelihood to protect. I’ll refer to these people as creators for single people or teams, and companies for larger entities with maybe some more descriptive language as appropriate.
  3. I know that my conclusion of “I’ll have to wait and see what happens” is a bit anticlimactic but that’s where I am and frankly where a lot of people are right now since nothing is really set in stone.
  4. The most common answer I got when asking people if they’d answer a few questions was some form of “I don’t know what’s going on enough with the technology/decision making process/etc and don’t feel comfortable providing an answer at this time” which is perfectly valid because it’s all a giant mess and there’s no way around that.

Crowdfunding already has an uphill battle. You’ve got all the fun of preordering with the additional struggle of doing it from a small time creator that doesn’t have the outreach or presence of some of these big companies. EA can get people to preorder Madden all day long because they have the track record for getting the games out. Let’s ignore quality, if you’re preordering Madden now you should know what you’re getting.

Kickstarter has been great for that. I’ve heard the criticism that Kickstarter won’t be a truly viable thing until people go to the site to find an invention for making your cat’s life better and stick around to find comics, but I think that’s too much to ask for. I’ve found plenty of comics because I was on the site looking for a specific comic to back.

As of right now I’ve backed 44 projects that got to completion. 41 of those were successful, 40 of the successful ones were comics, and 3 projects that I’m backing that are currently running of which two would be funded if they ended today. I have never tried to get something funded through Kickstarter and am not in their system at all as someone who is even thinking about it. I say all of this because I feel like I want a 100% clear picture of where I’m coming from here.

Recently Kickstarter made the decision to switch to using a blockchain technology, much like crypto currency or NFTs. Crypto has somewhat been a niche thing, or at least not super widespread. The issue with crypto has always been the energy consumption needed to mine the currency. NFTs take that and add in the fact that people are making NFTs of stolen art. Shocking, I know. It’s something that I don’t think is going to stop as long as people can get away with it.

I don’t expect to be told too much about the inner workings of Kickstarter. Rightfully to them, I’m just a supporter of their primary clientele. I’m sitting here trusting these creators that their use of Kickstarter is the best move to make their project happen.

So it concerns me that when I asked both individual creators and smaller publishers who use Kickstarter what kind of warning they had with this change I heard things like “We got no warning about this too” and “None. Just like the Kickstarter employees. Seems like there were just a few guys driving this decision and they played it close to the chest.” Even more concerning to me were responses like “No warning what so ever! I found out about the blockchain decision via twitter, Kickstarter never sent a email or anything detailing the decision itself” but there’s one response in particular I want to break down a little further because it hits all of my concerns.

  • Absolutely none. I didn’t receive any emails, any notification that they were considering this, any questionnaires to see what I may think. 
    • Switching to blockchain technology is a big deal, and changing the entire infrastructure of a business that people rely on for their survival is a big deal. I’d think that this kind of change would get run past the creators who this effects.
  • While many may think that’s not unusual, in my past experience Kickstarter often tries to include creators who run or have previously ran campaigns on their platform and see what they might think needs to be improved or what they may think of potential new functionality. 
    • The simple fact here is that there has been a precedent set that Kickstarter runs things past the creators using the platform according to people that I’ve talked to. It would be one thing if they never ran things past the creators, then doing this would just be par for the course.
  • To me, I find it deeply suspect that Kickstarter made no effort as near as I can tell to continue this practice when it came to the blockchain decision.
    • Me too friend, me too. But what do I know? I’m just a kid.

I also talked to someone on the press team at Kickstarter who never told me their name so I guess we have to take everything as the official word of Kickstarter. Since I have mostly seen reactions from people in the comics community I asked if other portions of Kickstarter are seeing the same kind of reaction. Frankly their answer scares me:

Our team has been hearing a wide range of reactions from across all the creative communities that rely on Kickstarter. A number of artists and leaders at cultural institutions have reached out to learn more, express excitement, and find out how they can participate in and build the future of crowdfunding.

We also understand that our community is going to have a lot of questions about this new initiative and we’re speaking with creators one on one. We may not have all the answers, but we’re committed to bringing our community along on this journey.

I have seen nobody thinking that this is a good change other than a small handful of people liking that a new technology is being tried. I’m not someone who wants to keep using the same old tech forever. But I don’t want to switch to something new just because it’s new, I want to switch because it’s an improvement.

I might be missing something here, but wouldn’t you want all of the answers before drastically changing the infrastructure of something like Kickstarter? As I’ve already said here, livelihoods are at stake here because if the supporters don’t trust Kickstarter as a platform they won’t throw money at the projects.

I asked if this negative reaction was anywhere close to what they expected to see:

We’ve heard from members of our community that we could have told the story of why we are supporting a decentralized protocol better.

Creators are and will always be an incredibly important part of the Kickstarter community. And we are committed to being thoughtful and transparent, and hearing from creators as plans take shape from here.

Oh really, you think so? You think that there could have been a better explanation than “Oh yeah we’re switching.” And at least from the creators that I’ve talked to the statement that creators are important is best seen as laughable.

Are any elements of this decision are being reconsidered after seeing the reaction from the general public?

Many of these plans are still taking shape, and we’re planning more ways to gather input from the community as we move forward from here.

When Kickstarter first launched 12 years ago, there was a similar sentiment of anxiety with pockets of creators who were unsure what to make of this new model of going directly to audiences to fund creative projects. As people learned more, that uncertainty subsided. We expect the same with this new direction and deeply believe that long-term, Kickstarter will only get better.

Again, why couldn’t they get this sort of thing figured out before making a big announcement? You have to anticipate that people will have questions and not having the answers just makes you look unprepared and that this decision hasn’t been well thought out.

What plans are there to win back creators who have started migrating to other platforms?

We take our responsibility to creators very seriously and are working to paint a clearer picture of the opportunities and possibilities that the protocol will unlock for the community.

See above points. Let’s just move on.

How many new users do you expect to attract because of this change?

Ultimately, this is about significantly scaling the number of creative projects that get to show up in the world, and improving the experience for creators and backers.

When Kickstarter was founded, the number and breadth of potential funding sources for creative work increased dramatically—from a few centralized gatekeepers to anyone on the internet. This is what we’ll do at a different scale now.

We expect the changes we’re making to result in better tools for creators and backers, more backers getting involved in supporting projects, and more projects finding funding.

This one just brings out questions. Is there a problem right now where Kickstarter is unable to be a home for the number of projects that wish to reside there? Is there going to be a problem based on the past numbers they are trying to avoid?

Kickstarter was founded in April of 2009. At the time the only major crowdfunding platform that I’ve heard of was Indiegogo which had launched in January of 2008. GoFundMe came about in May of 2010. Yes there were, and always have been, much smaller scale operations in the mix but from my research we’re mostly looking at things that existed because of a single project or group of related projects.

As for better tools, we’ve yet to see anything yet about what that might be despite being told back on December 8th that we’d see something in the coming weeks. As far as I can tell there have been no updates as of January 1st, 2022. As a backer the only thing that I care about is that good creators are making good products on a platform that we can both trust, and part of that trust is that everyone knows what’s going on with the middleman taking my money and giving it to a creator.

So what does this all mean? Despite everything you’ve read here I honestly have no idea. The change hasn’t gone into effect yet so there might be some sort of equilibrium that hits and makes everyone happy. I’m not going to pull my support from campaigns that were started before this decision was made known to the world. That’s just not fair to the creators who have poured their hearts and souls into their work and trusted a platform that up until now has been mostly a gold standard.

Instead I’m in a “wait and see what happens” situation. Friends and others that I follow that tend to put campaigns on Kickstarter are either holding things back or don’t have projects ready to go. Like them, I’m waiting to see where things are actually going. I’m not going to hold it against Kickstarter that they want to look into the possibility of new things, within reason of course. But I do expect them to try to do right by the creators and by extension people like me who are just supporters.

Be sure to check back to see some of the other reactions I got from creators.

Chris runs the Play Comics podcast and website. When he’s not he’s usually spending time with his wife and three cats. Or working on his other podcast Caffeine and Spite or on another show from the Gonna Geek network, Legends of Shield.

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