Kickstarter is an amazing thing. It's as revolutionary as ebay was to selling in the way it brings people together, giving us the opportunity to connect directly with artists, inventors, filmmakers, musicians, board game designers, videogame designers, fashion designers and a whole host of creative people who just need that break. It cuts out the need for bank loans, home remortgages and uncomfortable Dragons Den style pitches where the whim of just a few people can decide whether someone's creative vision is fulfilled or abandoned. Instead it throws that vision out to the entire world and we choose collectively what we would like to see. A far more elegant and democratic process and one we can actually feel like a little part of.
It's not just the homebrew designers that are pitching either, elder statesmen from the videogame world are also asking for our support. Tim Schafer, Charles Cecil and David Braben have turned to the crowd-funding model and in an industry where recognised names are few and far between this is like seeing Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg or James Cameron abandon their big studio backers and turn to Joe Public instead. When Cliffy B blogged that the games industry was going to consist of either enormous blockbusters or smaller independents he must have had crowd-funding in mind, you may not like him but when that guy speaks you have to listen (although I get the impression that if you were in the room with him you would have no choice BUT to listen).
While I would love to see these big directors take on smaller projects (I have often heard stated that limitation encourages creativity) I can't get Prometheus, Warhorse and Avatar out my head, films that were as bloated and headless as washed-up corpses and this is where my worries about Kickstarter begins. Well-meaning gamers could walk away feeling burned when projects fail, or even worse, succeed badly.
Kickstarter are very open about the failure of projects and have a clear policy about what happens in these cases. The most straightforward is where a project fails to meet it's target in the allotted time frame. In this case pledges are not charged and the project ends. While this is a shame, I have heard that some game developers have considered this a blessing in disguise. If an idea is not good enough to excite the imaginations of the kickstarter community in it's most open and loose beginnings then it may need to be seriously reconsidered or even ditched.
How about when a project makes it's target but fails to meet it's own development deadlines and eventually tanks? Kickstarter state that in this case they have no liability and the project owners must refund all pledges. This makes sense but if all the money has been spent then what happens next? At the very best this may frustrate people about the Kickstarter ethos but at worst will we see lawsuits? Those that have pledged £5 to Elite: Dangerous might be a little peeved but hopefully happy to write it off in the spirit of adventure but those 6 backers that have pledged a whopping £5000 might be a little less laissez faire. There is also the potential for a game to simply be a terrible, unfinished mess. Just look at Aliens: Colonial Marines. This is especially the case when a project begins to fail.
Ultimately I can see the optimism about Kickstarter waning this year as projects falter or even fail. It happens, and this is where I hope gamers have been reading the Kickstarter FAQ. A pledge alone does not entitle you to any ownership of a project, it is no guarantee of quality or even results and it is certainly not a pre-order, it is a gamble. It's each person stating 'I believe in you' and becoming part of a small community of backers with a shared love of artistic vision. It's an opportunity to become a modest patron of the arts but not get carried away in thinking that in we are in any way going to receive anything good or even anything at all. Take the plunge in good faith but do it knowing that you are throwing caution to the wind.