A Fool and His Money: My Kickstarter Misadventures

Most lists of New Year’s resolutions include a vague vow to spend more frugally. This year, one of my resolutions was a much more pointed money-saving plan: no more Kickstarter.

i looked over my backer history with the popular crowdfunding site to discover, to my horror, that while complaining about being cash-strapped for most of 2013, i had spent over $650 backing Kickstarter projects. And what did i have to show for it?  A collection of goodies so scant that i decided to turn off the Kickstarter tap for the duration of 2014.

A mean Kickstarter habit is far more insidious than garden variety drunk-dialing in to late night infomercials, or impulse buying on Amazon to bring everything under the “free shipping” threshold. Kickstarter projects often represent dream projects that sound too good to be true, which you back with no guarantee of if or when the product will arrive. In some cases, the product can even be redesigned out from under you.

Intellectually, i knew the dangers of throwing my money into that deep, dark well. But now, after more than a year of backing, the hard data on my track record as a petty investor suggest i shouldn’t run out and become an angel investor just yet.

My Kickstarter history dates back to the project that put the crowdfunding service on the map: Double Fine Adventure, the second-ever project (and first video game) to crack the $1 million mark, and in a record time of under 24 hours. DFA closed out at $3.3 million, and they obviously couldn’t have done it without my $250 (or so they keep reminding me).

Merch from that project has been trickling in, making it my second-most successfully funded venture; to date, i’ve received a t-shirt, an autographed poster, and a digital code that lets me play half of the company’s unfinished game, Broken Age. i’ve also had access to the dev team through their backer-only forums, and have followed along with the making-of documentary. While at PAX in 2012, i attended a backers-only party and had a good time whooping it up with the Double Fine crew. Still outstanding are my PDF art book, and the full game on DVD or Blu-Ray shipped to me in a special edition box.

Another $35 got me a MaKey MaKey, a goofy little device that allows me to connect bananas, among other things, to my computer to use them as keyboard inputs. That, and the poster/t-shirt/half-game from Double Fine remain the only things i have to show for my $650 Kickstarter patronage, except for maybe mounting credit debt and a deepening sense of shame.

Some items, like the updated components for my favourite board game Alien Frontiers, are on a slow boat from China after missing a Christmas 2013 delivery estimate, and will arrive to me in pieces thanks to delays in manufacturing and a meticulous artist. Other projects, like Karaokards (the karaoke card game), Armikrog (the clay-based spiritual successor to The Neverhood made by evangelical Christians which i backed politically), and Kano (the Raspberry Pi-derived learning computer for kids) are still too fresh on my backer list to concern me. But others, like nuplug, give me pause.

When i backed nuplug™, it was a straightforward and no-nonsense extension cord that clipped under a couch. It would allow me to charge, for example, my Playstation controllers from the comfort of my butt, instead of being tethered directly in front of the TV, or at the end of a long USB extension cable draped across my living room floor. The product, which was supposed to ship last October, has actually been in stealth redesign mode and teevee infomercial trials, unbeknownst to any of the project’s backers.



Just this month, nuplug supporters received a long overdue update email unveiling the product’s new redesign, which was followed closely by another update apologizing for not keeping anyone in the loop about it. Estimated delivery date of October 2013 has come and gone, and still no sign of the nuplug.

A similar situation happened with the CapsulePen, a hexagonal tube with a swivel lid that could store horse tranquilizer-sized meds while masquerading as a comically oversized pen. The CapsulePen’s comments section is filled with angry missives from backers who have received their unexpectedly redesigned product, with many decrying the item as “useless,” and complaining of bait-and-switch tactics by the project owners. i didn’t back the CapsulePen, but was schadenfreudenly glad to find some sister sufferers.

Then there was Spellirium, the comedy trashpunk adventure game that launched a crowdfunding campaign on its own non-Kickstarter site back in April. It’s been nearly a year, with no sign of the next version of the game, and the lackadaisical owner making exc… oh—hang on a tick. Spellirium is my project.

Whatever happens with the projects i’ve already backed, i’m sticking to my hard and fast rule for 2014. Read my lips: no new backing. Except, of course, for Spellirium. i think i’ll go to the site and back it again, twice, just for fun. And you should too. i hear the developer’s really gonna come through on that one.