Kickstarter and Fake Excitement

Yesterday, Zach Weiner (aka Weinersmith; he seems to use both names interchangeably) posted his Kickstarter campaign for Trial of the Clone 2: Wrath of the Pacifist. Of course I want it. Trial of the Clone was a hilarious book, and if anything I underrated it with my B grade. But still, there was something that I found really annoying about this campaign.

Trial Of The Clone Stretch GoalsWeiner explained that they were starting with six illustrations in the book, but “we’re letting you decide how many illustrations go into it”. As the funding passed milestones of $1000, $5000, $10,000, and so on, he added more illustrations to the budget. They were “stretch goals”, using the common Kickstarter term. The only problem is that the funding goal was set at $20,000. It had to hit five stretch goals just to get funded, so the real baseline was eleven illustrations. This way, though, Weiner got to send out updates every few hours yesterday announcing that another goal had been hit and he was “amazed by what a freakin’ awesome audience I have”. Even though his previous book raised over $130,000, Weiner claimed surprise that he could get a fraction of that this time. Perhaps he just thought his last book had driven his fans away, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that he was faking enthusiasm to encourage more supporters.

This is something that’s starting to irritate me. When Kickstarter first launched, the big success stories were projects that unexpectedly went viral, or people who had quietly built up fanbases for years but hadn’t yet asked for money from them. In those cases, the surprise and excitement is perfectly appropriate. But now that Kickstarter is mature, a new kind of project is dominating: Products by established creators, who can predict fairly well what results they’ll get. That is fine; Kickstarter is for everyone. But we shouldn’t expect them to follow the same model as the unexpected successes.

Right now, everyone seems to believe that you have to go through the excited motions of “the indie project that could” when crowdfunding. In fact, projects like Weiner’s are raising it to the level of (unintentional, as far as I know) parody: Acting amazed that a sequel is on track to do as well as the original, and pretending that we’ve donated enough to unlock stretch goals even before the planned minimum funding is hit.

Stop it. Tell us why your project will be awesome, send regular updates with jokes, production images, or whatever’s appropriate, and otherwise just get to work. Don’t act like your fans are easy to mislead.

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