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Tag: kickstarter

CollectorVision Phoenix: A modern, premium FPGA-based ColecoVision compatible retro console

Help CollectorVision reach their crowdfunding goal and make the Phoenix a reality!

Earlier this week, CollectorVision announced the crowdfunding campaign launch for their Phoenix console on Kickstarter. CollectorVision has in the past developed modern homebrew games for the 1982 ColecoVision videogame console, and in addition to that have partnered with OpCode games, developers of the ColecoVision Super Game Module expansion, which augments the system with more RAM and improved graphics capability.

I’m very excited about this system. ColecoVision was a great system, which died too young due to the videogame industry crash of 1983. It offered graphics nearly on par with the NES, a full year before the Famicom was released in Japan, and delivered home ports of early 80s arcade games that offered greater fidelity to the originals than was possible on the Atari 2600.

The Phoenix’s feature list is amazing: FPGA hardware implementation for 100% compatibility and fidelity with the original system, HDMI-out video, SD card slot, built-in Super Game Module and F18A enhancement hardware, 10 built-in ROMs of modern ColecoVision homebrew games, DB9 controller ports for original ColecoVision controllers, as well as SNES controller ports for compatibility with more common/comfortable SNES gamepads, and even a PS/2 keyboard connector. There’s even been talk of including an FPGA core for support of Atari 2600 games, much like the original ColecoVision’s Expansion Module 1 adapter for Atari 2600 games.

This is a dream system, and considering that, its price tag of $200 is very reasonable. Compared to the RetroUSB AVS system and the Analog Super NT, the Phoenix will fill a nice in retrogame preservation and it deserves to make its crowdfunding goal of $230,000.

To hit this goal, CollectorVision will need about 1000 backers to sign up. The kickstarter campaign is off to a somewhat slow start, however — three days into the campaign, they’ve only managed to secure $28,000 in pledges. Usually, a system like this would be fully funded in the first day, or even the first hour of the crowdfunding campaign going live. If the campaign received steady contributions every day at the level they have for the first 3 days, they would make goal, but it’s most typical for kickstarters to get most of their funding on the first few days, and the last few days. So I’m worried that they will not hit their goal. 

Perhaps retro gamers are wary of crowdfunding for yet another modern retro game console. People enthusiastically backed Ouya to the tune of $8 million dollars several years ago, and the recent AtariBox/Atari VCS crowdfunding was also successful in reaching goal, but only made $3 million dollars amid serious doubts about the current company calling itself Atari’s capabilities to deliver on what it has promised, and alleged mis-representation of their prototype hardware.

I don’t have any insider knowledge of CollectorVision, but everything I have seen from them about the Phoenix looks good, and I have faith that they care capable of delivering on their promises, if they can make their fundraising goal. Their hardware really exists, and all they need is capital for manufacturing. If you have fond memories of the ColecoVision and the early-80’s era of videogames, definitely check out the project, and consider becoming a backer.

AdapDesk kickstarter melts down

Last April, I backed a kickstarter for AdapDesk, a portable lap desk ideal for use with a laptop computer in bed or seated in a chair without a table. It was pricey, at $125, but looked like it was so well designed that it would be worth the money to have a quality lap desk.

AdapDesk

The kickstarter was successfully funded and my payment went through on May 13. The fundraising part of the kickstarter was very successful, raising several hundred thousand dollars against an original goal of $15,000. A short while later, I was sent a survey asking if I would like to order any extra accessories, and so I sent them another $26 for a cup holder and mouse pad attachment.

Delivery was originally supposed to happen, I believe, in September. This slipped to December, then to mid-January.

Two days ago, on 1/15/18, the AdapDesk team made an announcement. I was expecting to hear that they had shipped, or that they had to delay yet again. Instead, they announced that they have run out of money, and need more in order to complete their obligations to backers. Asking for $55 per desk ordered for air shipping to USA, this is 44% over the original cost (37% if you count the original shipping).

Overruns and lateness are very common with kickstarter projects. I don’t have statistics, but you hear about them enough to know that they happen. And certainly there is always greater risk when you back a project rather than purchase a product. I can tolerate lateness — better to have a product that is late but correct and good than to have something that has problems but is on time. And I have been fortunate enough not to be burned very often by kickstarters that fail to deliver entirely. Although, certainly, that’s part of the risk of backing a project.

This is a bit different situation. The project team want to complete their work and deliver, but they say they need more money to accomplish this. Giving them money is throwing good money after bad. There’s no way that they can guarantee that they will deliver with extra money — maybe they can, maybe not, but in spite of their assurances it’s not guaranteed.

Backers are upset about not getting their reward, and about being asked to kick in even more money to (maybe) get what they paid for. Understandably, and justifiably upset.

Some have been more understanding and are actually willing to put in the additional money. Others are upset, but still want their AdapDesk and will put the money in if they must. A few are disabled/bedridden and don’t have more money, but really needed their desk. But most of us are angry and want either our desk at no additional cost, or our money back.

Both are unlikely, if the AdapDesk team is out of money, they can’t complete the project and they have no money left to refund dissatisfied backers.

So there’s talk about legal obligations and criminalizing the project’s failure by calling it fraud.

Bad business isn’t necessarily fraud. Sometimes things don’t go well and a business fails, declares bankruptcy, and people don’t get what they’re owed. That’s life.

It’s interesting to see how different backers characterize their relationship to the project.

Some backers consider themselves investors. This is false. Backers do not own shares of the company, or of the project.

Most feel that they purchased a product. Even this is somewhat debatable. Backers were promised a reward for backing the project. In this case the “reward” is the product that is the purpose of the project to create. Thus, the “reward for backing the project” closely resembles pre-ordering a product before it is produced. Arguably, it is pre-ordering a product. But technically, backers contributed money to fund the project to produce products, and their reward for backing the project was to receive one of the produced products.

Whether AdapDesk failed to fulfill orders, or failed to reward backers of a project, the results are the same, and the AdapDesk team has failed.

When a project fails due to cost overruns or other reasons, backers lose out, much like investors in a failed business lose money on a bad investment. This is a risk of crowdfunding. The AdapDesk team has offered to complete the project if they receive additional funds, but there’s no way of telling for sure that they will be able to do so.

There’s probably not much recourse at this point for backers who are unwilling to contribute further funds and just want either their reward or their money back. Credit card charge disputes may be the only way to recover money, but whether those will succeed or not remains to be seen.

Update: AdapDesk’s page on Facebook has been taken down. AdapDesk also ran a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo, which has not updated its backers with information consistent with the messaging on Kickstarter, and people are beginning to ask questions. There’s a product listing on Amazon that looks like it has delivered, as there are reviews. Of course, reviews could be faked. Their web site appears to be just a rotating image gallery with a link to the kickstarter page. It’s hard to say still, but the inconsistent information between kickstarter and indigogo is suspicious. And the lack of information on their homepage, combined with their Facebook page being offline isn’t reassuring, either.

Update 2: As of 1/21, AdapDesk has updated its IndieGoGo campaign with the same information and ask of additional money from its backers. There is now a Facebook group for AdapDesk customers to connect with each other and talk about any developments arising out of this, including possible legal actions.

Update 3: Backers who paid the additional money to AdapDesk are starting to report that they have received their orders. In at least one case that I’m aware of, a backer only received a partial order: 1 out of 2 desks, and no storage bag. It’s good to see that AdapDesk are fulfilling orders, as there was a significant number of backers who feared that they would lose their money if they paid the additional amount. While it’s obviously an unfortunate disappointment that the project delays and overruns resulted in so many dissatisfied backers, at least we know now that the project wasn’t a scam.

Update 4: Today some kickstarter backers who did not pay the additional money to AdapDesk have reported receiving their desks! It remains to be seen whether everyone will get their desk; I have not yet received mine. I’m genuinely happy for anyone who receives their reward for backing the project, but I can only imagine how annoyed those who gave AdapDesk the additional money when asked must be feeling to see those who did not pay up getting theirs for the original pledge.

Update 5: On 2/20/2018, I received my AdapDesk backer reward. This was unexpected as I did not pay the additional funding that AdapDesk said they needed in order to complete the project. AdapDesk promised to deliver to all backers who paid them the additional money, but never said that they would deliver to backers who did not.

Obviously this was to incentivize the additional round of funding, because who would have paid more if they didn’t have to? But it was strongly implied that they couldn’t complete the project without the additional money they were asking for. I’m not aware how it is that they were able to ship my desk without me giving them the additional money, but I’m happy that I received what I was originally promised for the funds I contributed. Many backers are still waiting on theirs, including those who paid the additional money.

Reviewing the AdapDesk

Overall, I’m happy to have received something, and am not one to dwell on the poor communications and delays, although they did sour the experience.

I was expecting to receive an AdapDesk Standard, but received an AdapDesk Fully Foldable instead (it has a hinge in the center of the desktop that allows the desk to be folded small enough to fit into a backpack).

I didn’t need or want this, as I don’t plan on travelling with my desk, and wanted it for use around the house. The center hinge is locked into place by two rotating knobs. I was concerned that these knobs would bump into my legs when using the desk, but the desk is tall enough that this doesn’t seem to be an issue. However, the legs are not able to fold up when the knobs are in the locked position — they hit the knobs, preventing the legs from fully folding with the desktop locked open.

In use, the desk is well designed and functional. The biggest disadvantage is that the cup holder doesn’t have a bottom. It’s just a hole. If you use a cup with a wide mouth and a narrow enough base, it will sit in the hole and not fall through. If you use the desk on a surface like a floor or table, the cup can rest on that surface, and be held upright by the cup holder. But the cupholder would be a lot better if it had a bottom that could actually hold a container such as a soda can.

When breaking down the desk to put it away, you have to remove the accessory trays from their mounting points on the desk’s legs, and remove the plastic inserts for the slots on the desktop that are intended for holding pencils, pens, or small thin devices like a phone or calculator. You also have to remove the center lip that attaches to the desk to prevent things from rolling off it when it is angled. (I wish there was a better name for this, I’ll have to refer to the instruction guide later and see what it’s called.) So folding it up to put away takes a lot of steps and you can’t simply fold up the legs and leave the rest of it as-is. It would be a lot nicer if you could do this.

Since I had given up on receiving my desk, I had also gone out a couple weeks prior and bought a different desk, which I think is nearly as nice. It only cost around $40. it’s not perfect, either, but if I had to compare it to AdapDesk at $125, it’s certainly a better value, and of equal quality.

 

How are my kickstarters doing?

I thought it was about time I took a look back at the various kickstarter projects I’ve backed, and see how they’re doing. Over the last few years, I’ve heard so many negative stories about failed crowdfunding projects, tales of fraud and angry and disappointed backers, that I’d come to feel somewhat negatively about crowdfunding. But really, I think the projects I’ve chosen to back have done pretty well. Not all of them have been successes, but the rate of failure is less than my emotional “feel” for the rate of failure lead me to believe. And of the successful projects, quite a number of them have ongoing life beyond shipping the backer rewards. I feel good about this.

Here then is a list of every Kickstarter I’ve backed, and what happened with it.

Chip Maestero – An NES MIDI Synthesizer Cartridge – Delivered

This was the first project I ever backed on Kickstarter. It took much longer than expected to deliver. I was not surprised by this, and it didn’t bother me. I just waited patiently, and the developer came through. It’s really cool to have MIDI output capability to enable using the NES as a musical instrument.

The Jason Scott Documentary Three Pack – Still in process

This is the oldest kickstarter that I’m still waiting on, but it’s hardly surprising. Producing a documentary film takes a lot of time. Jason Scott works very hard on many different projects. Last I heard, he had to drop the Tape documentary for lack of content, but was working on editing as of last June. Since then, Jason has had a heart attack, and is currently producing a weekly podcast in an effort to pay down some financial debt, which I am a backer of. I’m confident the documentaries will be finished and released. From my experience, Jason is very scrupulous and hard working, and wants to release a first-rate effort, so I’m being patient and looking forward to viewing them when they are ready.

Code Hero: A Game that Teaches You To Make Games – Failed

This project ran out of money and went bust. Oh well. $13.37 well spent anyway.

Spriter – Delivered

I backed Spriter hoping that it would reach its stretch goal to fund development of GameMaker integration. GameMaker ended up using a similar technology, called Spine, for sprite rigging. To date, I still haven’t explored this feature, because my projects tend to be smaller and simpler than call for using Spine or Spriter, and I tend to focus more on programming than on graphic assets. I am not sure whether it has or not, because I haven’t used Spriter. But I’m glad it exists, and I’m glad that I funded it. Even after the Kickstarter project was delivered complete, it is still being developed.

Light Table – Delivered

Light Table was a fantastic idea for an IDE: Give the programmer immediate results, shrinking the feedback loop to zero, enabling instant iteration, and a more intuitive experience for programming stuff. I love the idea of seeing your code instantly interpreted and running, and not having to compile and wait. Light Table was completed, released, and is still being developed and supported.

Atari 2600 Star Castle – Delivered

This project was executed particularly well, and my copy of Star Castle was delivered within a reasonable amount of time. I don’t think it was strictly speaking on time, but it wasn’t long overdue, either, and the project communicated status updates in a timely fashion that helped to manage expectations.

Beautiful Vim Cheat-Sheet Poster – Delivered

Max is a friend of mine, and his little project exceeded his goal considerably. He did a nice job on the poster, and I really like it.

Tropes vs. Women in Video Games – Delivered

Anita Sarkeesian has been a major influencer since launching this kickstarter. The reaction against her project is infamous, and has helped to drive home the point that her work is very much needed. I’m proud to have contributed. Her video series Tropes vs Women in Videogames took a long time to produce, but was very well done. It’s aim to bring her Tropes vs. Women series examining various anti-women tropes in popular culture (movies, tv, etc.) to videogames was and still is much needed.

OUYA: A New Kind of Video Game Console – Delivered

The OUYA is now a dead system, but the project was a success. I received my OUYA and played with it. It was a tv-connected Android-based console, about the size of a baseball, and could play a lot of games. A lot of people used their OUYA as an emulator box, but there were a few good titles developed specifically for it, most notably Towerfall. The thing is, it was under-powered compared to everything else out there, most games are developed and launched for any and all consoles their developers can reach, so there was no exclusive “killer app” content that could compel gamers to buy one, and a lot of people who did complained about the OUYA’s gamepads for feeling cheaply built, and groused about every little thing, the way gamers do. I’m sad it didn’t survive in the market. I really liked the idea of an open console that is friendly to indie developers. Unfortunately the business model wasn’t successful, and the market didn’t appreciate it at all. I consider it a success, despite the fact that it couldn’t survive in today’s market, merely making it to market was an incredible accomplishment.

NeuroDreamer sleep mask – Delivered

My reward was shipped and received quickly. I didn’t pre-order the NeuroDreamer mask, but got a copy of Mitch Altman’s trip glasses, which I’ve used a few times. They work by using flashing LED lights and audio tones to induce an altered brain state, akin to meditation, or perhaps as a meditation aid.

SPORTSFRIENDS featuring Johann Sebastian Joust – Delivered

This project took a very long time to deliver, but I did finally get a copy of my Sportsfriends games. The one I most liked, BaraBariBall, was fantastic. I haven’t played the others.

Aaron Swartz Documentary – The Internet’s Own Boy – Delivered

This documentary is fantastic, and I’m proud to have backed it and to have my name in the credits as a backer. Well worth every penny and then some.

Project Maiden – a Zeldalike in Reverse – Delivered

I only backed $1 so didn’t get any reward, but I understand this project was finally delivered, taking quite a long time longer than expected. With creative projects like video games and movies, I am pretty lenient on release dates. I get that doing it right takes time and should not be rushed. I have never actually played this game though, so I have no comment on how good it is.

imitone: Mind to Melody – Delivered

Soon after making goal, I received a license key and access to the software beta. It works, and has been updated frequently. I haven’t used it recently, but it is neat software and still being developed.

The Stupendous Splendiferous ButterUp – Delivered

This shows how serious I am about bagels, I spent I don’t want to remember how much money on some butter knives that were supposed to make spreading cold butter on toast easier. In practice, I find that they don’t work, and were basically a waste of money. They are well made, but the design just doesn’t work well. Cold butter does not press through the holes the way it shows it working in their video. Live and learn.

Beep: A Documentary History of Video Game Music and Sound – Delivered

I received a DVD copy of the documentary, watched it, and enjoyed it. I thought it was well done.

GameMaker Language: An In-Depth Guide – Delivered

I got a copy of Heartbeast’s book. The project was completed within a reasonable amount of time, and he did a great job with it. He also produces tutorial videos on YouTube, and has branched into teaching online courses through udemy.

Joybubbles: The Documentary Film – MIA? In post-production?

I backed this at a level that got my name in the credits of the film. The documentary is currently in post-production, according to the website. However, the kickstarter page hasn’t been updated since 2015, so this one appears to be missing-in-action. I’ve written to the creator to ask what the status of the project is.

Insert Coin: Inside Midway’s ’90s Revolution – In progress

Latest update was posted mid-December, they are still working on the project and are targeting early 2018 for delivery.

AdapDesk: The World’s First Portable Work Station – Late, and at risk of failure

Expected for November, they are a few months late on this one, but were supposedly finally shipping this month.

I can appreciate that mass production isn’t easy. In November, they said that they intended to ship by late December, in December they announced a further delay would push delivery back to mid-January.

It’s January 15, and today they’ve posted a new update on the kickstarter to the effect that they are struggling and nearly out of money. Cost overruns have forced them to ask for more money in order to be able to ship the goods, to the tune of $55+ per customer, depending on where in the world they are. This represents a cost overrun of close to 150% over what they estimated for the project, and I don’t think I would have backed if I knew it was going to cost $55 more than the pitch. It was already a very pricey item at $125, but since it appeared to be very well designed and since it was something I can definitely get a lot of use out of, I thought it was worth it.

Since this is a developing matter as I type this, I’m not at all clear whether I’m going to get my AdapDesk, or a refund, or screwed, and who’s going to fund that additional $55.

In retrospect, it’s pretty clear that manufacturing small runs of a product is very risky and prone to delays and overruns, so backing kickstarter projects like this is obviously a gamble. If they had brought the AdapDesk to market in a more traditional way, and I could have bought one from a store once they were actually manufactured, I think I would have been happier.

Doing things the kickstarter way is more appropriate for raising funds for prototyping a new product, but maybe for experimental products the reward shouldn’t be the actual product — you don’t know whether the prototype will turn out to be any good, maybe it will be great but infeasible to mass produce at a price point you can predict at the pre-funded stage when you’re not even sure how many backers (and therefore orders) you’ll have, or maybe it will suck and not be something worth making more than one of. Maybe it should be something else: stock in the company that designed the product, a t-shirt or sticker that thanks you for your contribution to making the project possible, that sort of thing.

Using Kickstarter to try to create a product that doesn’t exist yet and take pre-orders for it, using the kickstarter “reward” as the means of delivering on an order doesn’t work out well. If you’re very experienced and good at design and manufacture and logistics, then sure, maybe you can do it. But if you’re good at all those things, then you probably didn’t need to use crowdfunding to begin with, and could have used traditional venture capital, business loans, credit, or what have you instead. And if you’re not experienced at those things, chances are good you’re not going to be able to get the credit, loans, or VC, and hey it turns out there’s a reason for that — investors are smart, and know not to throw money on an unproven risk undertaking by someone with not enough track record.

In commerce, getting what you paid for isn’t a “reward”, it’s expected.

Kickstarters often fail to deliver what is expected after successfully making their fundraising goal.

Kickstarters are a way to fund dreams that no one in their right mind would get behind as a business investment opportunity, and crowdfunding works because $20 or $50 isn’t all that much to some people. There are good ideas out there that can be funded by large numbers of people each with a tiny amount of disposable cash that they can just throw away. We understand, well most of us do, that we’re not buying success, we’re buying a chance at success, and that chance is less than 100%.

Since that’s the case, maybe the better way to thank backers is through rewards that aren’t predicated on the success of the project, but on the success of the fundraising. Kickstart a rocket to Mars. Make the reward be a “I backed the rocket to mars” sticker, not a ticket on the Mars rocket with a launch date printed on it.

AdapDesk is a great idea for a product. It turns out that bringing a product to market takes more than a good idea, some money, and a lot of work. It takes a good idea, some money, a lot of work, and then a lot more work, and then some more money. We’re at the point where they need that last bit of “some more money” and they’re out, and their customers are pissed. I hope I still get my AdapDesk, but I hope I don’t have to pay $55 to get it delivered on top of the money I already paid. I certainly won’t give them another penny, let alone $55, without an actual tracking number — and maybe not even then.

Make Professional 2D Games: Godot Engine Online Course – Delivered

I’ve watched some of the videos, and they are well done. I have yet to truly immerse myself in Godot engine, but I am very happy to support an open source 2D game engine of high quality.

Next Gen N64 Controller – In Process, Late

This project from RetroFighters should be shipping soon. Early word is that the controller is very good. Originally these were supposed to be delivered in late 2017, but a month or two delay is forgivable. For $20, a newly designed gamepad for the Nintendo 64 built to high quality standards is very impressive, if that is indeed what they deliver.

Full Quiet – A New Adventure Game for the NES & PC – In Process

Expected delivery date in late 2018, but we know how this goes… waiting and seeing.

NESmaker – Make NES Games. No coding required – Backed

Kickstarter is still in the funding stage. They’ve already hit their goal, so it will be interesting to see how far it goes and how many of their stretch goals they can reach.

NESmaker kickstarter promises every 80’s kid’s dream

NESmaker is a no-coding IDE for creating games for the Nintendo Entertainment System, currently being kickstarted by The New 8-Bit Heroes‘ Joe Granato. When they say you can make a NES game with this toolkit, they mean real NES games, that you can play on actual hardware. This is pretty amazing.

The story behind it is that some NES homebrewers are turning the tools they’ve developed for their own use into a product for anybody to use.

Normally, if you want to program for the NES, you need to learn 6502 Assembler, and get really “close to the metal” — which is not for everyone. With NESmaker, supposedly you won’t need to code at all, although you’ll be limited to creating “adventure games” (think top-down zelda-likes). They are hoping to raise enough money to enable them to create additional modules to enable users to make games in various genres.

Although the developers have been using the tool internally on their own projects for a few years, it needs more polish before it’s ready for general use, so they are running a kickstarter right now to take pre-orders and to raise the necessary funds to complete their project. This includes not only the NESmaker software, but the hardware needed to flash a game pak so you can put your finished game on a cartridge and play it on real hardware.

How cool is that?

How’s that kickstarter doing?

I’ve backed a few kickstarters over the last couple years… I guess 15 altogether. Since I’m a busy person, I haven’t exactly followed each project closely. I figured it was a good time to review the projects I’ve backed to see how they’ve done.

In alphabetical order:

Aaron Swartz Documentary – The Internet’s Own Boy

Still in production. I funded at the DVD level, and supposedly should be getting my DVD in March 2014.

Beautiful vim Cheat-Sheet

This one was successfully completed, a bit delayed but not too bad.

Big Blue, an underwater adventure game

This sequel to the videogame Ecco The Dolphin failed to achieve funding, raising less than 10% of goal. I guess the team is still trying to find a way to get a game developed somehow.

Chip Maestro – An NES MIDI Synthesizer Cartridge

This project completed successfully, albeit delayed by over a year. It was frustrating to wait so long, but the finished product was good. I didn’t get the feeling that Jarek wasn’t capable of delivering, just that his estimates for how long it would take to do the things he promised were overly optimistic, and the response was larger than he anticipated, which added complications.

Code Hero: A Game That Teaches You To Make Games

This one doesn’t seem to be as well managed as the others, with the main project website having difficulty remaining up, and delays in releasing updates. The primerlabs.com website is currently down. :(

The Jason Scott Documentary Three Pack

In progress. Jason has been doing a good job at keeping followers updated with the project. Jason did an amazing job on his first kickstarter project, Get Lamp, and the self-funded BBS documentary before that, so I’m confident that this project will be completed successfully, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the final results when they’re ready.

Light Table

I consider this one a success. Beta builds have been released, the latest 0.5.0 in August 2013.

Metal Savior

A game developer friend of mine recommended I back this one, but it failed to achieve goal.

Neurodreamer sleep mask

I received my reward (the “trip goggles” that serve as a sort of prototype for the sleep mask) for backing this one a long time ago, and just saw Mitch announce about a week ago that the sleep masks had been produced.

OUYA: A New Kind of Video Game Console

The fundraising effort for Ouya was a huge success. I received my console a few months ago. It’s

Project Maiden – a Zeldalike in reverse

I only backed this one for the minimum level, which gets my name in the credits. I figure if/when the game gets released I’ll buy it… but I see that he’s actually releasing it DRM-free, free to download, forever — a gift to the world. Really amazing, and I think if the game is as good as it looks that I’ll send him a rather large tip as a thank-you.

Looking at the project pages update log, it looks like Kevin & Co. have been working diligently and productively on this project. I’m really looking forward to playing this when it is released. Considering that the team only raised $12000 for this project, the fact that they’re releasing the finished product as a free, no-DRM download is amazing.

SPORTSFRIENDS featuring Johan Sebastian Joust

I backed this project on the strength of BaraBariBall, which I had the opportunity to play at the Cleveland Game Developers booth at Cleveland Ingenuity Fest in 2012. The game was quite playable and fun even then, and so it’s a bit disappointing to have waited this long and still not seen the game officially released yet. The release was supposed happen in October 2013, but has been pushed back. I don’t really care about the other games, I want my Barabariball!

Spriter

Still in progress, but they have been releasing beta builds and making strong progress for some time.

Star Castle 2600

Completed successfully. I received my game cartridge and downloaded the ROM to play on emulator. It’s a VERY difficult game in emulation. I would have liked a slower-paced version of this game.

Tropes vs. Women in Video Games

Anita Sarkeesian has been somewhat slower than expected at churning out her series of videos, to date having produced just four videos of the series so far, out of a total of 12 announced (7 of which were made possible by reaching stretch goals). The videos have been about what I expected in terms of quality and content, which is to say pretty good, overall. They have generated a lot of negative response from certain segments of the gamer community, which deserves more analysis than I’m prepared to give here.

The twelve topics announced on the kickstarter page were as follows (the bolded ones have been produced):

  1. The Damsel in Distress (parts 1, 2, and 3)
  2. The Fighting F#@k Toy
  3. The Sexy Sidekick
  4. The Sexy Villainess
  5. The Background Decoration
  6. Voodoo Priestess/Tribal Sorceress
  7. Women as Reward
  8. Mrs. Male Character
  9. Unattractive Equals Evil
  10. Man with Boobs
  11. Positive Female Characters!
  12. Top 10 Most Common Defenses of Sexism in Games

So, despite the four videos being released, it feels like there’s still a long way to go for this project to be completed. It would be nice to see the release schedule sped up, but not at the cost of quality.

Kickstarter… Good? Yeah, I’d say so. YMMV

Over the last year or so, I’ve read and heard about backers regretting backing one project or another because it was poorly managed and failed to deliver once successfully funded. And, to be fair, there have been some high profile projects that raised a lot of money and ended up failing. It seems that there is a danger with overfunded projects succumbing to scope creep, hype, and unrealistic expectations.

It’s definitely worth keeping in mind that fundraising success doesn’t guarantee project success. If you look at kickstarter projects like a pre-order system, I think you’re more likely to be disappointed. If on the other hand you look at kickstarter as an opportunity to give an inventor or creative person a chance at making something cool, it’s a different story. While a failed project is still disappointing, understanding that failure is a possibility and that fundraising success doesn’t guarantee project success, it can put things into proper perspective. Limit your contribution to what you’re comfortable losing, and hope for the best.

At some point I realized that, despite there being many projects out there that seemed interesting and worthy of support, I couldn’t possibly keep up with all of them if I wanted to, so I limited my backing to projects that I really wanted to see make it, and that I felt would deliver rewards that I would enjoy or find useful. I also begged off funding projects if I heard about them after they were already above goal, so as not to contribute to the overfunding leading to unrealistic expectations problem. I figured if the project was successful I could probably go out and buy the product when it became available.

Overall, allowing leniency on time, I’d say that the kickstarters I’ve chosen to back have been mostly successful. With the exception of Code Hero, I haven’t felt like I’ve been burned yet. Delays are disappointing, but understandable, and as long as progress is communicated regularly and honestly, I can live with them, within reason.

Redefining “success” for the Kickstarter bubble crowd, and why you shouldn’t.

So, this article has gone around and gotten attention. It’s an interesting topic, understanding the factors that contribute to a project raising its startup funding from “the crowd” successfully, but I want to take a moment to divert on to a tangent for a bit, and take issue with their definition of “Kickstarter success”.

This is important, because if Kickstarter is to succeed at changing the world, we need to make sure we don’t mistake “funding success” with “project success”.

Seriously, this is really, really important.

Funding success is, like, maybe the third or fourth step in a project — far from the final one. Project success is what really counts. You have to do the work. You have to deliver your product. Only then can we decide whether the project was a success.

Yeah, it’s really cool that people liked your idea enough and in such numbers that you got to raise enough money to hit your goal and actually collect that money. Don’t you dare think of the Kickstarter as “successful” at this point! The project is only beginning. When you deliver the product that you promised, then you can make a claim to success.

But finishing isn’t even success. Not really. If you completed the project, but went way over budget, or delivered so late that no one cared and everyone now hates you, your Kickstarter won’t be remembered as successful. If the end results are of poor quality, no one will call that successful. If you don’t set yourself up for your next successful project by building on the success of the last successful project, whatever success you do attain will be quickly forgotten.

It’s only natural for people to celebrate reaching an important milestone, but don’t confuse your funding milestone with the finish line. Stop calling funded Kickstarter projects “successful” until they are.

If you don’t? Well, you’ll be deluded. And the project owners will be deluded people with a big pile of money. And big, probably fragile egos.

You’ll feel like you had the meal when you merely looked at the menu. Getting your money up front, I’m sure, feels wonderful. But don’t let it go to your head. You need to show us results. I worry the exuberance everyone feels from a project getting successfully funded will make people forget about delivering the results and making a successful product. The focus will be on the run up and the party that happens when the “success” of reaching the funding target happens. There’s a long, not very sexy period of working your ass off that comes after this point, and if you allow yourself to get too high on the “success” of having all that money you said you needed to attain your dream, you might just forget about the dream.

And then we’ll have scandals and repercussions. And the good will of the crowd will dry up. You don’t want to ruin that trust, because once it is ruined, regaining it will not be easy. Please don’t diarrhea into that swimming pool full of money.

Crowd Funding

I became aware of Kickstarter a few years ago when hacker historian Jason Scott of textfiles.com tried to raise $25,000 to fund “The Jason Scott Sabbatical“, a year off from work to be devoted to a documentary project that ended up being Get Lamp. For $50 I would get a DVD copy of the documentary after it was finished, if he finished it. This was a big If, but I had seen Jason’s excellent BBS documentary and that was enough to sell me on the project.

To me, it was clear: I wanted to see a documentary about text adventure games. Here was someone who’d probably find a way to do it anyway even if he couldn’t raise the money, but it might end up taking years longer for it to happen without funding. I’d never spent even $20 on a major DVD release from a big studio film that already existed before, but I was happy to give $50 to Jason in order to have a chance at seeing what he could do with it.

Then I waited. And waited. Meanwhile, Jason worked his ass off and made a kick-ass documentary, produced a DVD, and I got it. Along the way I got many updates from him describing what he was going through, sometimes a video clip. The whole time I felt completely confident that his project would succeed, barring a plane crash or heart attack or something. And successful it was. I was so happy when I received my copy in the mail. It seems like yesterday, but it’s been a couple years now. It retrospect it feels like it happened so quickly.

When Jason came around again saying he’d produce three more documentaries for $100k, I gladly put up $250 to get a copy of each of them. If it doesn’t happen, I’ll be sad, but not for the $250. I’ll be sad because we won’t have our culture enriched by three amazing documentaries, and because it’ll mean that Jason’s been incapacitated somehow, and both of those things are worth being sad about.

Today, Kickstarter has become an increasingly popular way of raising money for various projects. It’s a beautiful thing, the internet making it possible for someone with an idea and drive to find a way to make a dream happen, for someone with vision to share that vision with people and find individuals willing to put their faith in it, and allow that person the means to work on achieving their vision without the undue compromise and loss of control that can accompany venture capital.

A few months ago, a major Kickstarter success created headlines when Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Adventure project went viral, raising over $3.3 million, or about 8 times their original goal. Double Fine’s success came due to Schafer’s reputation and track record (Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle), and the fact that he wanted to do a game project in an underserved genre that once was really popular, and apparently still is after all, despite the so-called “triple-A” industry choosing to ignore it for many years.

One way of looking at Kickstarter, at least for certain projects, is as a way of dressing up “pre-sales” and getting good marketing for a product that would have existed anyway. I avoid anything that looks like this, which is why I didn’t put any money into the Double Fine Adventure project. If and when it comes out, if it looks good, I’ll just buy it. If it sucks, I won’t. I prefer to put my money into projects that may not happen without my $10 or $50. But a lot of people didn’t feel that way, or their love for Tim Schafer’s work was enough for them. I’m sure a lot of them simply got caught up in the excitement and wanted to see how high they could push the total, too, because people are like that.

So it’s a time of exuberance and good feeling for Kickstarter. A time of irrationality, as well. There’s a manic party atmosphere surrounding successful fundraising drives, jubilance and celebration.

But what we normally think of as success isn’t just the raising the money part. It’s the doing it part. This takes months and years. And it’s never guaranteed to be successful, or be everything that everyone hoped.

It seems inevitable that at some point, there will be a high profile failure. Imagine Duke Nukem Forever as a Kickstarter project. Imagine a Bernie Madoff Kickstarter. Oh noes! So I’ve begun to notice a few people have begun to express concerns and doubts about Kickstarter, a creeping negativity. A dose of realism is a good thing, but I still think Kickstarter is a great thing and I would rather see many projects attempted and a good number of them fail than no projects attempted.

It should be obvious, but with all the exuberance it’s good to remember that there’s always risk in life, and Kickstarter projects are no different. But the possibility of failure shouldn’t dissuade you from taking a risk. You should normally only take risks that you can survive if the risk pans out and there’s failure.

Most if not all Kickstarters have backing levels that allow you to support a project at a tiny amount of risk. How much you’re willing to donate is a personal choice, and if you’re comfortable with donating the amount money, it should be with the understanding that it’s possible the project could fail. Is it still worth it to you for the chance to see it succeed? Then go for it.

Another obvious point: It’s a good idea to evaluate the Kickstarter proposal to get a sense of how likely it is that the proposal will result in a successfully completed project. Do research on the people behind the project and find out what they’ve done. If they have a track record that suggests that they can do it, it’s probably a safer bet that they will.

But a big part of the beauty of Kickstarter is that it allows people who have no track record, but who do have a dream and some ability, to get a chance to try to realize that dream, instead of getting sucked into a low-level peon position and soulless corporate slavery. If the person has no track record, but still presents themselves well, and somehow demonstrates that they are prepared and understand what they’re getting into, and if the project idea means something to you, it’s worth taking a chance on, at least a small one.

Kickstarter doesn’t take just anyone’s proposal, and they do a number of things to make sure the ones they do take on have a better chance of success. Kickstarter doesn’t just allow people to market their fundraising efforts for worthy projects, they provide guidance. I believe Kickstarter understands that in order to remain successful at funding projects, they need to guard their reputation and ensure that as many of the projects that get funded through Kickstarter do end up being completed, and have a realistic chance of it from the beginning. Still, there’s always that risk… so, no one’s throwing money they need in order to live on Kickstarters, right? If you’re comfortable parting with the amount, and you think the project would make the world a better place, then take the risk, I say.

Double Fine Kickstarter, wild success, and getting there first.

The Indie Game Developer scene is abuzz today with the massive success of the Double Fine Adventure project kickstarter, which met its goal of $400,000 in less than a day, and last I checked was heading over $650,000, with no sign of slowing down.

They still have 33 days of fundraising to go.

Holy crap!

To be fair, I’d say it’s somewhat debatable whether the Double Fine Adventure team can be called Indie. I suppose they are, in that they’re not EA, Nintendo, or Capcom, or another major player in the industry.

On the other hand, they’re definitely established people who have a track record, at least as individuals. Team lead Tim Schafer is a 20 year industry veteran, whos first game project leading ended up producing Day of the Tentacle. It’s not like this fundraising success is coming out of a vaccuum.

The question everyone wants to know is: Can I do this?

How repeatable is this? If I could do this, I could quit my job and spend the rest of my life making games, and things would be awesome. So would everyone. Which is why it won’t work. It’ll work for a few, the first few who make it, and who were prepared all along because they worked really hard to be where they were at the right time.

I know right now there’s no way I can do this. If I set up a “me, too” kickstarter, to fund my own game making aspirations, I’d probably raise a nice family of moths in a couple of months. They could fly out of my wallet when I took it out to show people how much money I’d raised.

Maybe I’d be surprised, but I doubt it — I just haven’t produced much of anything yet. It’s unrealistic to have expectations that people would get behind an unknown. I have to work to change that, and it will take time.

The upshot is, if you have already made a name for yourself, and have a lot of friends and contacts in your social networks, and a lot of fans, I’d say it’s probably reasonably repeatable. It’s like having your own personal mini-IPO.

It’s just that there are not a lot of people who can repeat this. There may also be a limited amount of money and fans to go around which will cap the amount of kickstarter success a project can expect to have.

I expect that in the next couple days, anyone who thinks they can pull off the same will try to do so, faster than you can say “meet me at Sutter’s Mill”. The ensuing gold rush will ensure that a lot of projects that haven’t had as much cultivation will be thrown up for the funding public to vote on, and a good number of them will fail to meet expectations. If too much of this happens, public faith in kickstarters could suffer, as projects fail to deliver or churn out Daikatana-level flops. For this reason, I hope that Kickstarter continues to be selective about projects that it backs, and only lets in people who really have their act together.

What it does indicate to me is that the writing is on the wall for publishers and producers. I see this as a good thing, as it should empower creative people to be free to create more and become more diverse in what they produce. On the other hand, there still needs to be some kind of filter on the market to enable the truly good products to be visible in the crowd. Producers and publishers did that, after a fashion, although mainly as a side effect of trying to maximize profits. What will take their place? The social web? Something else?

It will be interesting to see.

csanyk.com © 2016
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