As we've discussed before, one benefit of crowd-funded programs like Kickstarter is the massive amount of market research you can gather from potential customers. Whether the project is unsuccessful, or whether you're the ridiculously successful Double Fine, the feedback you get can assist with everything from wooing other investors to building new ideas into your product. Making the latter even more useful, Kickstarter-style projects can actually let you do this kind of thing on the fly, building in features based on backer feedback, resulting in an ultimately more appealing end-product for the largest number of customers.
“One of the cool things is we have the opportunity to think about it and address it because we brought it to the community,” says [Double Fine's Brad] Muir, suddenly grinning. “We brought it to a broader group of people, and then there were some people who brought it up and wanted to talk about it. There’s a raging thread on our forums.”
So hurrah, hugs and well-muscled sexytimes for all. This, Muir figures, is the optimal outcome. Everybody wins, and then they all get married.
The coupling of Kickstarter's platform and Double Fine's actions is the very blueprint of CwF+RtB. If you can manage to check any ideological feelings about gay marriage at the door, from either side of the debate, this is pure market feedback resulting in a product more potential customers desire. Muir notes that they didn't preclude gay marriage in their game consciously. It simply never came up. Comments on their project alerted them to this, as well as providing a clear desire from many gamers that this kind of option be included, so they went back and put it in. More notable, Muir seems to think this all would have gone much differently under a more traditional, game-publisher route.
“If we had gone with a publisher on this, I really think [it wouldn't have ended well]. Because you sign the deal, you go underground, you start working on the game, you don’t talk to the community or anybody, and you get so focused on all these other aspects of the game. Just making it work – and all the tactical combat and mechanical things. We might just overlook something like same-sex coupling all the way until we announce the game. And then people say, ‘Hey, what about gay marriage?’ And we’re like, ‘Fuck,’ because we’ve already worked on it for more than a year.”
In other words, this is a direct result of connecting with their fans. And, by being proactive about it, they avoid the kind of mess that other games have had when their stance on the subject is vague. So, regardless of your politics, we should all be applauding Double Fine's ability to listen, engage, and react to the feedback they get from their customers. Is it any wonder they have been so massively successful?
Not this again. Back in 2011, we first discussed why it was silly that some people got upset that someone rich and famous would use Kickstarter, as if the platform was only allowed for unknown artists. That was about Colin Hanks, the son of Tom Hanks, financing a documentary via the site. Since that time, the argument has popped up a few more times, including when Amanda Palmer used the site, when Bjork tried to use the site and when the Veronica Mars movie was funded via the site. Most recently, it's been aimed at quirky actor/filmmaker Zach Braff for his Kickstarter project, called Wish I Was Here. Braff set a goal of $2 million, which was raised very quickly.
And that's when some people got angry. Just as before. But it's a small group of people. There are at least 36,000 people (i.e., those who have funded the project so far) who did not get angry. Why? Because they like Braff and want to support him. I'm curious if the people who are attacking Braff for using Kickstarter ever have watched one of his TV shows or seen a movie he was in. Because, in that case, they'd be paying the same sort of thing... but most of that money would be going to a giant corporation, rather than to the actor himself. So what are they complaining about?
Frankly, he's more defensive in that video than he needs to be. He's got nothing to be defensive about. He notes, accurately, that he's long been known as someone who engages deeply via social media, especially Twitter and Reddit where Braff has been active for years. He also talks about his own obsession with Kickstarter, and how great it was to get the various updates on projects he'd funded, and how he hoped his fans would enjoy getting updates about the movie making process. And, yes, he's backed a bunch of projects himself, including the Aaron Swartz documentary.
For the life of me, I can't see a single logical argument for why people are upset about this, other than (a) they don't like Braff or (b) they're jealous of him. Neither seems like a particularly compelling reason for why Braff, or any famous person, shouldn't use the platform. The two most common arguments seem to be "he's rich and should fund it himself." But that's stupid. First off, he's probably not quite as rich as you think, and second he's made it clear over and over again that the budget is much higher than the amount he's raising and he's putting in an "ass-ton" (his quote) of his own money as well. Also, if you think that, don't fund him. No sweat off your back. For his fans who like him and want to support him, so what? The second argument is that this means he gets the money instead of some struggling filmmaker. However, as he himself has pointed out, the data suggests something entirely different:
I have something every detractor doesn’t have: the analytics. Most of the backers of my film aren’t people on Kickstarter who had $10 and were deciding where to give it, and then gave it to me instead of someone else. They came to Kickstarter because of me, because of this project. They wouldn’t have been there otherwise. In fact, a lot of people who didn't know about Kickstarter came and wound up giving money to a lot of other projects too. So for people to say, 'That’s ... up; you’re stealing money from documentaries' is just not a sensible argument.
All he's doing is the same thing we've been arguing for years is the business model of the future: connecting with fans and giving them a reason to buy. Braff has done exactly that, and has built up a huge and loyal following who are really excited about this project. As we pointed out when Amanda Palmer raised $1.2 million on Kickstarter or when Louis CK made over $1 million by selling direct off his site, the fans who are buying in aren't disturbed by how much money is being made. For the most part, they seem thrilled to be a part of something amazing.
I think that's the key thing that the detractors simply don't understand. This is about two key things: being part of an experience and a community. It's not about "a movie," but about much more than that. And, even specifically around "the movie," people should be supporting what Braff is doing, because funding it this way means that it's going to be Braff's vision for the movie, rather than a giant Hollywood studio. A few months back, Jonathan Taplin, a filmmaker and defender of the old system, told me during a debate that no real filmmaker would ever use Kickstarter. At the 40 minute mark, he goes on a condescending rant saying sarcastically that "major filmmakers" could never possibly use Kickstarter because "the average" film only raised $10,000. But the average is meaningless for something like this. Furthermore, he goes on and on about (his friend) Martin Scorcese getting to do a movie he wants, and how that would never work via Kickstarter. But we're seeing over and over again the exact opposite. When a star with a big following uses something like Kickstarter, it gives them more ability to make the movie they want without outside interference.
Now we're seeing, quite clearly, that "major filmmakers" can use Kickstarter to do interesting things, and somehow, I get the feeling that it's the same sort of people who insisted they couldn't possibly make it in the first place who are now complaining that they are...
Earlier this year, in noting just how many movies were getting funded by Kickstarter, we also mentioned that two films that had been funded via the site had been nominated for Oscars in the past -- and that there were quite a few documentaries that were "shortlisted" to be nominated this year, including Inocente. And now it turns out that, not only was Inocente nominated, it won for best documentary, making it the first Kickstarter-funded film to win an Oscar, though I doubt it will be the last. Hopefully this means we can kill off the line we've heard too many times from some industry folks about how Kickstarter isn't for "real" content creators.
Nearly two years ago, we had a post pointing out that it was silly for people to complain when the "rich and famous" made use of platforms like Kickstarter. That story was about Tom Hanks' son Colin looking for funds to complete a documentary. As we noted, it made perfect sense to use Kickstarter, since it's also a nice marketing platform and a way to connect with fans. I don't understand why this seems to get people up in arms, but it continues to this day. You may have heard about the high profile failure of Bjork's Kickstarter campaign. She sought £375,000 not for a new album, but to make a port of her last album's app, Biophillia, from iOS to Android and Windows 8. The original Biophilia won some rave reviews for pushing the boundaries of what an album was... but also was widely criticized for being platform specific to iOS. When it came out, Bjork said she hoped that those on other platforms would just "pirate" it, but we never understood why she didn't release it on multiple platforms.
Apparently, the answer was that however the app was designed, it would be insanely expensive to port to other platforms. That seems like much more of a design mistake than anything else. It seems likely that her project failed for a few key reasons, including that it was just about porting an app that came out years ago, rather than anything new. Also, the "rewards" were somewhat unimpressive. And, of course, Bjork fans who were iPhone users had little reason to contribute as well. There's also the big one: unlike some other stars, Bjork really hasn't embraced connecting and communicating with her fans. That's her choice, of course. No one says she needs to. But, it's much harder to raise a ton of crowdfunded money that way.
Still, many are saying that the project failed because she's rich and famous and could have just paid for everything herself. But that seems silly. There are plenty of ways that the rich and famous can make use of crowdfunding and plenty of reasons why it makes sense to do so. The project failed because it was a bad project for crowdfunding, and because Bjork isn't necessarily connected with her fans in a way that makes sense for crowdfunding.
crowdfunding should, by its very nature, be available to EVERYBODY....
here's what i think: THE MARKET IS EFFICIENT.
if ANYBODY wants to give a go at having the community help them with a project, that’s the ARTISTS prerogative. if it fails, then the interest wasn't there.
it should't matter if it's justin bieber, obama, the new kids of the block reunion project, lance armstrong, oprah, or the friendless 18-year old down the street who's been hiding in his bedroom making EDM music.
ANYBODY CAN ASK. that's democracy.
and since crowdfunding is – by definition – in the hands of the community: THE COMMUNITY WILL DETERMINE WHETHER A PROJECT IS SUCCESSFUL.
And yet, people still get upset. To some extent, this feels a bit like "hipsterism." People feel that these platforms are special because the rich and famous haven't necessarily discovered them yet. But why is it so wrong if they do find them and do use them? If people want to support the projects they will, and if they don't, they won't. That's what makes these platforms so useful.
You may remember that, at the beginning of 2012, there were some predictions that Kickstarter might possibly help fund over $150 million that year, up from about $80 million in 2011. Turns out that estimate was way low. Kickstarter projects actually brought in $274 million on $319 million in pledges.
A lot of folks are focused on that $319 million, but it seems like the $274 million is more interesting. You can see the breakdown of pledges as well, showing how it covers a variety of different areas:
It seems notable that some of the areas with the most funding are the ones we're often told are struggling the most with new business models. Kickstarter is clearly not "the" new business model (because there isn't just one), but it shows that there are solutions out there, and likely will be many more on the way, even as Kickstarter itself continues to grow.
Less than a year after being declared the darling of Sundance -- especially for not having "the arrogance of a studio" -- Kickstarter has announced that over $100 million has been pledged to indie film via its platform (which, of course, is hardly the only crowdfunding platform that filmmakers use, though it is the most popular). There are some caveats, of course. This is over Kickstarter's lifetime (since April 2009), but the numbers have been growing rapidly. $60 million of those pledges came in 2012. Also, that's pledges, not actual money given, since only projects that hit their target get the money. The actual total collected is $85.7 million -- which means that'll get over $100 million pretty quickly.
And, yes, the "but what about my $100 million movie" crowd will scoff and argue that this number is so "small." But, two points there: first, this number is growing very, very, very fast. And if you can't understand how trends explode, then you're going to be in trouble soon. Second -- and this is the more important point -- those funds helped create 8,000 films. For those who have been arguing about culture and how we're going to lose the ability to make movies... this suggests something amazing and important is happening which goes against all those gloom and doom predictions. By way of comparison, the UN, which keeps track of stats on film production, claimed that in 2009, 7,233 films were made. Worldwide.
Also, some will inevitably suggest that these aren't "real" films and don't "count" or aren't important. But, of course, the data shows that it's creating a nice long tail of film production, and that includes some very "real" films no matter how you measure. According to the Kickstarter post:
At least 86 Kickstarter-funded films have been released theatrically, screening in more than 1,500 North American theaters according to Rentrak. Another 14 films have theatrical premieres slated for 2013.
Earlier this year, a picture posted online by musician Lester Chambers of the Chambers Brothers -- a successful act from the 1960s -- went viral, telling the story of how the recording industry never paid him money he was owed.
Now, with help from Reddit & Breadpig founder Alexis Ohanian, Chambers is raising money for a new album on Kickstarter, called Lester's Time Has Come Today. This is being done in association with Breadpig, which has helped a number of content creators sell their goods, while also doing social good as well.
The music industry may have screwed Lester Chambers for decades, but we the internet public can right their wrong.
Thanks to the open internet (things we fought for against SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, etc.), sites like Kickstarter and other innovations that are being worked on by entrepreneurs right now, we have the opportunity to do right by artists and cut out those who'd mistreat them. We have the opportunity to create solutions that will support artists in the digital world.
The money will actually go to Lester via Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, an organization that provides financial help to career musicians who are struggling financially, due to age, illness or disability.
In looking over this, I'm reminded that earlier this year, during a debate with Jonathan Taplin, Alexis similarly offered to help struggling career musicians launch Kickstarter campaigns, and was mocked for his offer. It raises questions, yet again, as to who is actually helping musicians out these days? The people whining about how copyright laws must be enforced... or the people actually setting up and creating new services to help musicians make money?
from the early-excitement-can-lead-to-disillusionment dept
We've been unabashed champions of crowdfunding and platforms like Kickstarter for quite some time now, though we've also tried to temper some of the hype. A little over two years ago, for example, we used the story of the open social network Diaspora as a possible warning for some of the initial excitement about projects. Much of that comes from just knowing what entrepreneurs go through: the initial idea is exciting, but things change over time, and expectations change... and some projects fail. When you're dealing with investors, that's one thing -- they're sort of designed to expect such a thing. But crowdfunding had a different vibe. Because people got so excited in the idea and really (quite literally) bought into it, we worried that as some projects failed, it might lead to a serious backlash.
It may be a coincidence that we highlighted this risk with Diaspora (one of the first Kickstarter projects to go really "big") a couple years ago... but it's possible that our worries are coming true. Last week, I saw a report from Liz Gannes at AllThingsD, which suggested that the Diaspora team was focusing on something completely different, a "collaborative web remixing tool" called Makr.io. The team definitely went through some significant hardships so it's not that surprising that they've shifted gears. Given that story, it's hardly a surprise that they're now officially "handing control of the project over to the community." They claim they'll still be playing an important role, but it seems pretty clear this is an effective withdrawal from the project, which never really caught on the way some people hoped.
And, of course, this isn't just limited to Diaspora. Bloomberg recently had a (well-timed) story highlighting how an awful lot of successful Kickstarter projects, at the very least, don't meet their deadlines to actually make or ship a product. This has turned at least some people off to the service, which (again) is unfortunate.
Of course, these kinds of platforms are only a few years old, and of course they're going to go through growing pains. I hope that, as they continue to grow and find success, at least there's some greater recognition -- and public admission -- of the potential risks involved, so that they don't take people by surprise, and that people understand that as much as they love an idea, execution is the truly hard part. Investing in the idea is great, but there's a risk involved that the end result won't match the snazzy video that the team put together for Kickstarter in the first place.
Kickstarter has become a powerful tool for artists and creators to take their future in their own hands and succeed or fail by their own merits. While a Kickstarter based business is not a guaranteed success, it is one of the many powerful tools for that purpose we highlight here on Techdirt. Much like any other business model, running a successful Kickstarter campaign takes a lot of work and a lot of speculation about what your potential fans and backers expect. With all this in mind, it is great when people, who attempt a Kickstarter, share their experiences, whether good or bad.
I was driving across Seattle's 520 bridge on a beautiful, sunny afternoon on the third day of our Kickstarter campaign, dazed and confused, and momentarily considered hitting the red "abort mission" button on our whole Kickstarter. Fifty-five hours into our campaign and we had only gathered 11 percent of our funding goal.
It was this moment that he realized that he needed to figure out why it was not going as smoothly as he expected. While he lists a number of reasons for why the campaign was struggling and what he did to turn it around and eventually succeed, it was his first discussion point that took me by surprise. One of the reasons he felt his campaign was not succeeding was that many people thought the campaign was "too polished."
A week into our campaign, we were surprised to see dozens of comments online from people saying: "Look at that game, look at how expensive their video looks... They don't need our money." Meanwhile, our company bank account was getting dangerously low.
As I sought out reasons as to why our campaign wasn't resonating, I realized that people were put off by how polished everything looked. This was disappointing because, yes, in fact, we worked extremely hard to make everything as professional as possible.
This has been one critique of Kickstarter we have seen come up from time to time. If potential backers feel that the person asking for money doesn't really need it, they will complain and withhold their money. This is an unfortunate attitude for people to take because it really doesn't matter who you are and if you "need the money." What matters is that you are using the campaign to connect with fans and get the money needed to succeed where you need to.
Initially, I was frustrated at the "too polished" complaints, especially when I remembered the late nights and weekends Craig Cerhit put into our video content. I often thought about the rich guys on Kickstarter intentionally making rough-looking webcam videos to appeal to peoples' charitable instincts and subsequently pull in six or seven figures in pledges.
Based on what I have read about running a successful campaign, having a quality campaign video is one of the primary ways to reach your goal. Even Kickstarter tells people that having a good video is helpful in making a project successful. If your video is utter crap, people will lose interest. But is there really such a thing as having a too polished video turn off fans? Honestly, there is no reason why it should be an issue. Having a high quality video shows off the love you have for your project. That is the important thing to convey to the public and especially to build a report with them. Something that Ryan learned as the clock was running down on the campaign as his team prepared both a new video and a Livestream event on the last day.
Instead of focusing the team on Kickstarter success or failure, we decided to host a Livestream party for the final three hours of the campaign and just have fun regardless if we hit our funding goal. Too distracted to work on the game, the team started prepping food and activities for a big online thank you party for the community. At the time, over 7,000 people had pledged a total of $355,000 towards our game. We wanted to thank them, even if we failed and didn't receive the money.
What transpired what something I was dreading the entire month: dozens of articles with headlines like "République May Miss Kickstarter Goal." While I was anxious about that negative press, it was calling renewed attention to our campaign, which we smartly prepared for: we uploaded an entirely new debut pitch video that reviewed all of the news from the past 30 days (PC & Mac announce, David Hayter & Jennifer Hale), showed new gameplay footage, and addressed all the feedback we got from the community. We slapped a "New Video!" sticker on the top of our page, welcomed all the new and returning visitors, and crossed our fingers that this time they would pledge.
What happened in that last day was an amazing turn around for Ryan and his team. They managed to complete the goal of $500,000 and then some. An excellent ending for what looks to be a great game.
So what exactly turned this campaign around? Ryan and his team did a whole lot of prep work prior to launching but all that prep work did little toward the final goal. What Ryan learned and highlighted in his other points was the importance of engagement with the community in order to connect.
The final three-hour Livestream was the best idea we ever had. We don't know if the 4,500 views sparked increased pledges, and we didn't care -- it was all about connecting and celebrating with the thousands of dedicated backers and enjoying the victory together. By the time the clock struck zero, we were at $555,512 and hugging each other.
A little over two years ago, we wrote about singer Marian Call and the fact that she did a bunch of experiments that helped her connect with fans and give them a reason to buy. As we noted, what she demonstrated is that it takes a lot of experiments to figure out what "works" for a particular creator and their fans. Some ideas will fail, and some will succeed. Since that time, I've checked in here and there on her career and it seems to be going great. I'd missed, however, that she launched a Kickstarter campaign last month, and thankfully Aaron deOliveira clued me in, thanks to a blogpost on Popehat about Marian Call's Kickstarter campaign, which has a few really cool features. So many artists are doing Kickstarter campaigns these days, that there's usually not that much to write about with them. But Marian (not surprisingly, given her willingness to test out "crazy" ideas, decided to take things a bit further with Kickstarter, and turn it into even more of a game than it normally is.
That is, she created Marian Call's European Adventure Quest, in which she effectively "gamified" Kickstarter, such that the more she earned, the more levels would be "unlocked." The main idea was that she would tour Europe and record a live album, but the more she raised, the more places she would visit and the more cover songs she would do (she usually does originals, but people have requested covers, and she was worried about the licensing fees if she didn't raise money in support). She's even got some nice retro video game graphics to show her progress:
The campaign is actually just about to end (within a few hours), but it just recently surpassed $55,000, which means that she'll be performing and recording "Particle Man" by They Might Be Giants... and she'll be doing it live at CERN, which is so awesomely appropriate.
One of the things we get concerned about, at times, is that people get so focused on how others have been successful with things like Kickstarter that they stop being additionally creative on their own and merely copy others' projects. But Marian is showing how you can continue to be creative above and beyond the basics of Kickstarter, and do so in way that is fun and better connects you with fans (while also getting those fans to support you in a big way). It's always great to see these kinds of inspiring examples.