I’m a Kickstarterer. Kicker? Kickstar? Something. I have kickstat, is what I’m saying, and there’s a new development in the world of Kick kicking that concerns me.
Courtesy of Gamasutra and our own Mighty Kevin Carbotte comes this news nugget: Washington State has ordered Altius Management to pay $54,851 in civil fees, fines, and restitution, for failing to deliver backer rewards for its Asylum Playing Cards project.
The money is roughly equal to double what the project itself earned. Altius Management will repay $668 to the 31 backers who live in Washington, and the remaining $54,183 will be paid to the state of Washington itself. The decision was handed down July 22nd — a year after the state of Washington filed the lawsuit, and nearly three full years after the project was funded on October 31, 2012. Some backers have reported receiving their decks in June of this year — again, nearly three full years after the project funded.
I’m of two minds.
The first is that consumer protection for Kickstarter backers has long been overdue, and this is perhaps the first step towards that. Many is the project where there were rumours of the project creators absconding with the cash, or confirmations that they simply spent it poorly.
(The original project for The Doom That Came To Atlantic City, a Lovecraft spin on Monopoly spearheaded by Erik Chevalier, comes to mind. Even though the project was later taken up and successfully “delivered” by Cryptozoic Games, Chevalier has yet to refund the cash he received. More on this later.)
The second is that this makes creating Kickstarter projects much, much more dangerous.
Would Tim Schafer still have a job if these cases were more common a few years back? Or any number of smaller studios that depend on crowdfunding to get up and go? Having to work fees for legal protection into a Kickstarter may doom some worthwhile game projects before they begin.
But, then again, maybe they should.
But, then again, what is Kickstarter for?
That’s the real question at the heart of all this. In theory, Kickstarter is a way to invest in new business ideas, no different from any bespoke Wall Street executive in the season’s latest Yves St. Laurent. Businesses fail all the time, and risks are to be expected.
In practice, of course, it is a Future Store. It is a store where you can buy Future Things that have not come out yet, but will, if you buy them now, and maybe pray a little bit.
Which is fine. In fact, it’s a beautiful thing. I have three boardgames coming to me next month that would not exist without Kickstarter, and several more in my collection that have provided hours of entertainment.
But if Kickstarter continues to function as a Future Store rather than a democratized Y Combinator, we’re looking at two things, I think: additional consumer protection, and fewer projects.
The additional consumer protection is in the works. Remember Erik Chevalier and The Doom That Came To Atlantic City? He received a Federal Trade Commission judgement against him for $111,793.11 against him earlier this year. The order has been suspended because of Chevalier’s “inability to pay”, according to the FTC, and other language in the order confirms that he essentially blew backers’ money on things that weren’t the thing they backed.
So the Feds are paying attention, which is good for us consumers.
But with this comes the reality that firing up a Kickstarter project is no longer something you can do on a hope, a dream, and the breath of angels. You’ll need to set up various insurances and legal protections, if you want to do it well, alongside all the other prep work necessary to convince potential backers that, hey, this is not a hope, a dream, and the breath of angels, but a real product you can have in your hands in six to eighteen months.
And I wonder how many games this new reality will kill before they’re born.
Jesse Mackenzie is the Managing Editor for aybonline.com. He has backed eight Kickstarter projects. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and his opinions are his own.