Thursday, 30 May 2013

In Defence of Kickstarter

There has been this misconception in the media that Kickstarter has become a haven for con artists, or worse rich people who have the money and contacts to do something about it but choose not to and would rather get money for free. Specifically the later since the Veronica Mars movie got funded and Zach Braff's second directorial feature "Wish I Was Here" also reached its goal. A lot of people have been saying that Kickstarter should be only for the desperate, those who can't rally the funds together to get their project made but that once you are making money, forget about it. Well, speaking as one of those desperate people who used Kickstarter to raise $30,000 for my web series MY LIFE AS A VIDEO GAME, I can safely say, that the people who say that... Really don't get that Kickstarter is about something more than that. Perhaps more important, it's certainly not a con.

Lets go back a few years, for starters to look at Anita Sarkeesians project "Women vs Tropes in Video Games", many people called her out as being a con artist because she raised over $150,000 for her project, a project that could have been done on a lot less... Like say, the $6000 she  asked for. People often forget that fact when criticising her and her campaign. She never asked for all the money that was contributed, she in fact only asked for a small sum, but people saw the merit in her argument, and the points she wanted to make. I also saw much of the merit, even if I do disagree with many of her points in her final product; her overall argument is a very valid one that even if I didn't agree with it, I would respect. People contributed money to her campaign because they believed in her cause. She not once turned around and said "Hey... Umm I actually need bazillion dollars for a million foot high green screen." She was very gracious as anyone should be for the funding she received. But more than giving her money, it gave her a following and community, good and bad... More on that in a bit.

Fast forward to more recent history and other campaigns. VGHS: Video Game High School raised over $270,000 for its first season. But like many projects even though they only asked for $75,000 they received a whole lot more. But also like many projects,  they either went over budget or Kickstarter was just the beginning of their funds. A way to Lo and behold; Kickstart their project into existence. The eventual budget for season one was $636,010, over double the Kickstarter investment. They invested a lot of their own money for sure, they had sponsorship deals etc. Now I've not looked into this too much, but I'm sure if you asked the team at Rocket Jump, what people had said, I'm sure you'd get trolls saying things like "Why did you go so over budget..." Or "What could you possibly have spent so much money on?" Or even "Bullshit! You're just saying that for tax/bragging/because you took a lot of the money for yourself/insert some other shite reason here". How do I know these questions? Because even I have gotten them. My Life as a Video Game raised $32,314 in total. Not even 1/8 what VGHS season one raised (let alone their record breaking season two campaign). And I STILL had detractors. 

But here's the kicker, I know what it's like for the Rocket Jump team because my own project wasn't entirely funded by Kickstarter either. I have invested to date a lot of money and I estimate I'll put in a lot more by the time the first season of this project is complete. This is money I have borrowed, or had to sell my car to get. While I am immensely grateful for the Kickstarter money it didn't cover all of it. And that's what a lot of people have failed to realise is that Kickstarter even when you reach your goal, is often just the beginning, even with money you will likely have to invest yourself too, there is the stress, the egos, the rage and the overall hell that comes with making a huge project like VGHS or My Life as a Video Game. The same knowledge can be said for even bigger Kickstarter projects like Veronica Mars or Zach Braff's Wish I Was Here, both of which will undoubtably require additional funding and heartache, blood, sweat and tears to be made.

Then there are those such as Ken Levine, who said in his own blog, that people will contribute their money to projects like Braff's or Veronica Mars instead of projects like mine. That's simply not true, for starters Kickstarter projects had more funding during the time Braff had his up than ever before. And no where is it mutually exclusive that you must contribute to one and not contribute to another. Now Levine, though a talented writer that he is and I'll always give props to one of my own, has clearly no clue what he's talking about on this subject. Yes, Hollywood will always try and take advantage of things, but that's the problem isn't it? That's why Kickstarter funds projects like my own, because when people do get involved when money-men get too involved in projects they want their say, studios want things done their way. Instead people like Braff and myself have gone on the record that we want this to be a community project, funded by a community that a community can follow and bring other people into the community. It doesn't defeat the purpose of Kickstarter and it never has, Levine has clearly never done a Kickstarter, so he has clearly no idea what goes into one. He says "support a Veronica Mars movie by buying ten tickets to it". Well without Kickstarter, without fans saying they want want and proving it so by helping make it possible there would be no movie to buy tickets for. And it's not like fans are conned out their money here, they offer it, and they've done it in the past long before Kickstarter was even around. Fans tried to bring back Star Trek: Enterprise for a fifth season raising over $1 million back in 2005 long before Kickstarter existed and a mere few months after YouTube was founded. For Veronica Mars, Rob Thomas came up with the idea because Warner Bros turned it down, but agreed to license it and give them money should they reach their goal and prove it's a viable movie. If anything projects like Veronica Mars and Zach Braff's Wish I Was Here, bring attention to Kickstarter and to other projects like mine. I won't deny there are dangers but the reaction is honestly actually a little insulting to me. Let people use their money in whatever way they see fit. Not to mention this isn't a charity drive, people are getting their returns, as I write this I'm in the process of sending out personal thank you songs, t-shirts and posters to my own backers.

And in spite of this, I'd go as far as to say Kickstarter is about far more than just money. Money can be gained from investors, from studios, billionaires who are drunk. But people like Zach Braff, Freddie Wong, Anita Sarkeesian and myself, went to Kickstarter for more than just money. This is about creating a community, getting people invested (quite literally in some cases) in your project. It also proves that people believe in you. People get back things from Kickstarter in the form of rewards, and they are helping people realise a dream. Together they become a community, they get updated on the project, they get told more and more about it and become invested in seeing things get made. I have backed a number of projects myself, including Braff's, VGHS Season 2 and ScrewAttack Gaming Convention's return. I am a part of those communities now. Kickstarter brings people together as a part of a project. I had very few fans and/or subscribers when My Life as a Video Game was launched on Kickstarter, when Brent told everyone about it, his fanbase came to the Kickstarter and it grew, more and more people joined the Facebook page. Over 4,000 of them are now on the Facebook page. Of whom only a small percentage are Brent's fans. This is thanks to Kickstarter a lot, because even though our fans came from one place they became our fans, they became our supporters and many more joined us.

Kickstarter is near and dear to my heart because without Kickstarter I'd have no community, no project and probably nothing that good going for me in my professional life. Because My Life as a Video Game and Leon Films, my company that produced it, are my full time job now and wouldn't exist without Kickstarter, without the community and the help they've provided financial being only part of it. I've had people who were fans, who came to help on set when we were desperate. We've had people send us encouraging messages which really have pushed me up when I felt down and like the weight of this project was going to crush me.

So to all who contributed and continue to, thank you. I believe in Kickstarter and I believe in those who help us create awesome shit in doing so, in spite of those who would hurl insult and berate. Kickstarter has helped hundreds of people, I'm just one of them. May they continue to help many more.