ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Kickstarter in Summer —

I wrote an entry about Kickstarter from the point of view of a person starting or running a campaign, and I’ve talked to a lot of people in podcasts and other venues about it, all from the same point of view. Now, let me talk about it as a backer.

I got into Kickstarter early, way early, when it was friends of friends of friends all getting into the precious hipster sleepover of this new big-text-and-white-space fundraising site. It had the sheen of planning about it, of people sitting up late nights arguing at a big screen with prototype layouts and crazy fonts and wanting it to welcome people into the idea of throwing down to make stuff happen. It was very nice. (And psst, very well funded on the back end. They had room to grow.)

The project ideas were generally kind of benign, little twee plans to put on something that needed a few hundred dollars, or heaven forbid a couple thousand, and if we all threw 15 or 20 bucks at it, there we’d go. It was 2009, a lot of online life was pretty ruined but hacked-in poop in browser rendering engines made it all seem like it was going to get better. And kickstarter seemed, for what it was, another cute little idea with lots of design packed into it and a bright future for doing some silly projects here and there.

I ran a few campaigns over the years. Again, this entry is not about that.

No, it’s about the 71 campaigns I was a backer in. Here’s my profile with the record of that. If you start to study it, some sort of personality profile comes out of it. Let me spoil it for you. Here’s what I like:

  • Stuff that is put up by one of my buddies. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

It’s hard to take my judgement seriously about them – they’re my buddies! My buddies can do no wrong, that’s why they’re my buddies. If your buddy needs $20 because they’re going to go down to home depot and build an entirely ill-advised sled that has a couch on it, well heck! Why not! Send me a video of you with a broken neck! I’ll even pay a little extra to have my name stitched into the couch, so the cops know who to call when the find the pile!

Now, I’m lucky – I have some talented buddies. But even if they were doomey doom doomed, I’d still support them.

  • Crazy-ass documentaries on crazy-ass subjects. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 etc.

As someone who makes crazy-ass documentaries, I appreciate the investment of time, money, sanity and misery that accompanies making a film about something based in reality and which is fluid and flexible in its concoction and implementation. Oh, man, the years it takes to do a decent one! The endless “almost dones” followed by “aw, shit, our sound mix is ass” or “oh no, we need more footage of the main dude to make it all make sense now that he just quit his job”. It’s a thankless iceberg of sad drudge with a tiny cold point of glory sticking out of the water. You bet I’ll throw $50 their way (or more) and then wait, very very very patiently, for the film to come out a notable number of years later.

  • “Everyone else is doing it, how can I not”. 1 2 3 4 5 6

Can’t help it, in this case. I see people piling onto a project, waving money, watching the amount slamming up into insane heights, and I have to throw in a ticket just to be around for the really big show. The show might be an explosion or it might be the final cosmic key that takes us all to a pan-dimensional orgasmic space-time utopia. Don’t care. Just want to be there when it happens.

  • Oh, what the hell! 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

I didn’t know I even WANTED this stuff until 30 seconds before I clicked the Back This Project button. I looked at it, went “huh”, and slapped the big green love letter and became a backer. I didn’t need the stuff, I didn’t necessarily want this so badly I couldn’t imagine life without it, but damn… while they’re handing this out, sign me up for one.

Now, what’s the one thing all of these have in common? All of them?

My fucking ATTITUDE.

Every time I clicked that button, I knew what I was doing – I was saying “yeah, toss me in for it”. You see, I’ve been alive for a while. I know that I get into the car with my buddy to help him buy a TV, we might not come home with a TV and in fact we might not get back until tomorrow. (But what a story!) I know that if I back a documentary about a guy and his dream of a balloon chair, I might get a supreme oscar winner in the mail down the road, or I might get a bunch of explanations that the guy died and we’re sorry, everyone, and the raw footage is going somewhere.

Every one of these, every one of them, is me putting money into a jar along with a scrawled note saying SEND IT HERE IF YOU FINISH IT, screwing the lid on, and tossing it into the river. I don’t care if it was my best buddy saying he needed to raise $100 for cookies or someone promising a massively multi-million-dollar-funded AAA game that sends strip-o-grams to your door for life. Every single one was a crap shoot. This was a delightful game of roulette with everything on black and just spinning the wheel.

That’s how I went in.

What have I gotten from it? A lot of amazing.

In my high school, I was in a band, and at one point we had a guest player on a song, a bassist who could not be beat and who kicked ass. His name was Ted Kamp, and 20 years later he did a kickstarter to finish his album. He finished it. I got what I was told he was going to do, some fantastic music, and a personalized autograph saying things had come a long way from the high school days. And they had! Within a month after that, he was playing with a band on the Tonight Show. He’s toured. Fuck yeah!

One of the most fascinating stories to me in animation is the weird history of the Thief and the Cobbler, Richard Williams’ masterpiece that he spent over 20 years on and which collapsed and was shoved out the door heavily butchered. I thought I knew the story, but I wasn’t sure. And so a documentary came up for funding about it, and I dropped money in. I later heard there was a sneak screening at the director’s college, and the college happened to be 10 miles from my house. I shot down there, got right in the middle of the front row, and I got the whole story, director’s long cut version, of the history of this film. Amazing. AMAZING. Now it’s playing film festivals.

My name is on a plaque on the side of a typecasting machine in Portland. It’s in the instruction manual for an Atari 2600 port of Star Castle. It’s in the credits of a nice handful of amazing, released films.

And in my house are DVDs, albums, posters, and bric-a-brac from all sorts of dreams coming true.

Kickstarter has been very, very good for me.

Have some of these trees not borne fruit? Oh, sure! My favorite was one documentary where the editor and director left the project and wrote to tell us this, oh, six months later. (On the other hand, production seems to be going on.) In the 71 backed projects are a handful of ones that are little tombstones marking projects in dormancy or maybe just deep slumber. Some of them, I paid for it to go a certain way, and it has, but there weren’t any rewards, so I just paid and that was kind of where the work ended. (I’m fine with this.)

But you know, it comes back to that attitude.

Somewhere between 2009 and 2012, Kickstarter went from being a site to being a fucking VERB. People who I wouldn’t imagine do much browsing at all talk about kickstarting something near me, or running a kickstarter. I’ve seen it be lauded, analyzed, held up, knocked down. It’s just THERE now. It’s gone huge, as huge as it could possibly go for the moment, but they’re definitely keeping an eye on things.

I’ve spent time with founder Perry Chen, with founder Yancey Strickler, with other employees and planners of Kickstarter. These are bright, energetic people making magic happen. Magic has happened. I have been in dark rooms watching movies on subjects I could never have dreamed would get such coverage, I’ve been at events and listened to music and worn the watch and put on the t-shirt.

Am I a fan? Ya fuckin’ THINK?

But here’s the thing.

At the end of the day, Kickstarter is about money. Oh, sure, it’s about community and support and hugs and unicorn snuggles, but it’s about money. Money to projects that need it. Money invested in these projects. Money spent, money tracked, money returning results. And so it will always be. The next entry on Kickstarter will cover that.

But of all the weird unexpected results to come from the Kickstarter miracle, I’ve been rather surprised how much a secondary equation has entered the mix – one I could never have planned for.

People. People are dicks.

I mean, make no mistake, I knew people were dicks. Along my many travels, I’ve seen lots of dicky people being dicks. I’d be in the middle of some awesome post on a vintage computing forum or in the comments after a news story of meaning and import to me, and there come the dicks. Woo hoo! A bushel of dicks just being POURED on the situation, right where they’re never wanted to needed. But that was more about going “well, lie down with dicks, wake up sticky”.

No, what’s amazing is Kickstarter is to dicks what bright bug zappers are to moths.

I have a confession. Some of my kickstarters? I invested in them, just a bit, to keep up on the assholes.

You see, if you support a kickstarter campaign, when they post an update, you’ll be notified. The e-mail’s even clickable. And so I have a handful of these campaigns where the only reason I am backing them is so I can be notified to run on down to see what these assholes said TODAY.

Because I knew, no matter what the person posted, no matter how positive and forward looking and on-track and amazing, you’d get a nice big ol’ dick sandwich in the comments. Without fail! And if you want to keep on the cutting edge of assholes, it helps to spend time near an asshole attractor.

Kickstarter’s design, purpose, and dream all attract assholes. It’s in the DNA. They will never be rid of them. It can’t be undone, just like no matter what restaurant you run, how clean, how special, someone is still going to just boot puke buckets in the bathroom. You can mitigate it, you can try to keep on top of it, but the fact is, it’s dicks all the way down.

Some of my favorite dickstarters:

  • Cigar-chomping, Uncle (or Aunt) Moneybags demanding answers, goddamnit it, answers who “invest” $20 into something and then act like they just backed up a dumpster of cash into someone’s basement. Feature demands, time demands, back-of-the-envelope calculations that they preach and bray about like they’re hard-won economic forecasts. Threats of withdrawing their Andrew Jackson if they don’t get a rundown right now, because they shouldn’t endure this economic hardship without a proper prospectus for this cupcake-baking machine someone is making. What kills me is that this manner of asshole is a given in the film and game industries, but those people are providing tens or hundreds of millions and so the ‘creative’ has to sit there in the chair and quietly take this strap-on because it will lead to the good of the project and the lives of the crew and potential riches and awards down the line. It’s a terrible position to be in, but it’s the reality when so much is on the line. Not so much if you’re waving a $50 like it’s made of hand-spun gold, dick. Throw the cash down and shut up.
  • The Technicals. Oh, man, the back-seat engineers and wizards of scientific majesty who get an update or a clarification and start their responses with “Disappointed that….”, followed by the sound of a penguin farting. You didn’t use linux! What about doubling the RAM! How can I be expected to expand this board when you have this style of port! What contingencies have you made for the Chinese manufacturing holiday! This isn’t the shade of red I ordered! (That one actually happened – someone hit the roof because they believed the shade of red had “shifted” from the original mockups and OH MAN it was like someone had shredded their newborn.) The technicals are great because they can endlessly complain without that whole scary “running the project” aspect.
  • The Recent Graduates from the Hari Seldon School for Knowing What’s Happening Next. Don’t worry, kickstart organizer – if you delay for any period of time, or provide any number of details, just lean back and let this class of person step right in and predict the whole thing for you. They’ll explain how long you’ll take, why you’re doing it wrong and what would make it work better, and best of all, fill all the details in comments for all the other backers, because someone appointed you the Grand Vizer of the project and you’re the one standing at the balcony letting  the crowd know what the real story is, like some errant scandal sheet column.
  • The fallen angels who have have the veil ripped from their eyes. Oh, my most special favorite; the people who write things like “After funding this kickstarter and finding (delay/changes/cancellation/rebooting), I am seriously disappointed and this really costs my faith in kickstarter.” Oh, the pain, the misery, your investment you made freely may not have worked out. Meanwhile you paid $10 for a shitty popcorn 4 times this year and not once did you prostrate at the ticket taker about your shattered love of cinema.” Poetry is the watchword: one person I encountered wrote “this really killed my kickstarter fire.” WHAT EXACTLY IS THE FUEL FOR A KICKSTARTER FIRE

Dicks all the way down! And like I said, there’s some projects I join just to watch them in action. They remind me how much I hate people, but something positive too.

It reminds me that when things go right, when people are not boneheads, when your supporters and fans and friends and family treat you with respect and dignity, it’s not a given, it’s not even the odds-on favorite. It’s a precious show that you, the person getting such support and respect, should recognize and appreciate. I have been so goddamned lucky with my campaigns – so much support, so much assistance, so much eternal love coming from so many quarters and distances. It’s been a joy and it will continue to be a joy. Thanks to every, absolutely every single one of you.

And that’s Kickstarter, in the summer of its life.

I’ll discuss the autumn another time.

Categorised as: punditry

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  1. Bruce says:

    Exactly this. I continue to try to explain to people that kickstarter is a way of making something happen, not a way to get something, but… nothing. In that sense, now that board game publishers large and small have colonised the place, there’s another species you didn’t mention: the people who support a project to get some game published and then kvetch endlessly about how (now that it’s funded and happening) they could have gotten it XX% cheaper at a random online discounter.

    The price-comparison point-misser, if you will. Gah.

    Me, if the projects I backed on Kickstarter didn’t come through, I’d be sad because I really wanted whatever they were doing to actually happen. Documentaries are one example, but various other art things just as much. Not especially fussed about when, but it is nice to get occasional updates, if for no other reason than to get a reminder of how fascinating and amazing the process-behind-the-scenes actually is.

  2. TPRJones says:

    My approach to Kickstarter has been to toss money in various attractive buckets and make a note to check on it annually and then forget about it. Often I get a nice surprise in the mail before the first year is up. Sometimes I check back a year later and there’s an interesting comedy to read. By year two there’s usually a tragedy to read. Not sure what to expect for year three yet.

  3. Dave says:

    The problem is most people who back kickstarters aren’t smart enough to realize they’re throwing money int a black hole, with the hope that something gets crapped back out eventually. They think it’s a fucking amazon order with a slightly longer delivery time, not a blind contribution to a person who looks like they might have a cool idea. I sort of blame kickstarter here, they really need to filter projects better so that it’s not so much of a preorder marketplace with a huge empahasis on what should be “rewards,” but ultimately the information about the possibility of failure is on there and people just ignore the risk. Until it happens.

  4. Simon C. says:

    Man, Jason, I really enjoy (and respect) the work you do, but goddamn if I don’t keep coming back to this blog for your writing. “Lie down with dicks, wake up sticky.” Beautiful.

  5. phuzz says:

    I’m getting a bit of a Bill Hicks vibe from this rant.

    (that’s supposed to be a complement)

  6. jasman says:

    i think you like kickstarter so much because you got so much money out of it