Published on May 30th, 2018 | by Ian Goodwillie0
A Tale of Two Kickstarters
Some people view supporting a Kickstarter as pre-purchasing a product or service. That’s incorrect. It’s speculative investment, and there is an inherent risk in that.
Kickstarter is an interesting tool. It allows people developing any variety of projects to reach out to their prospective markets for support through investment. It could be a music project. A board game. A toy. A comic book. Pretty much anything as long as it’s legal. But when you invest in a Kickstarter, and invest will become a key word towards the end of this story, you are taking a chance. And a risky one at that. It’s a risk with no inherent guarantee of delivery.
This is a tale of two very different Kickstarter campaigns with two very different outcomes.
July 10, 2016. That was the day I came across the Kickstarter for a board game based on the Evil Dead franchise. And I am a sucker for anything related to the Evil Dead franchise. My basement geekotorium features an Evil Dead/Bruce Campbell display filled with books, toys, comic books, trading cards, DVDs, BluRays, VHS tapes, art, and just about anything else I can get my grubby little hands on related to the man and story. A board game was a natural fit for the collection so I backed it that day.
The company behind the campaign was, and kind of continues to be, Space Goat Productions based out of Washington state. Their website boasts a variety of high level collaborations and projects. And this one was a licensed project so it seemed like a safe bet, right?
A lot of other people felt the same way. As of August 10, 2016, the project was fully funded, eventually raking in $722,622 USD in support. Their target was $70,000 USD. The campaign added and opened a seemingly never-ending series of stretch goals that grew the project exponentially in scope, quality, and extras. As the support ballooned so did the size of the game and the undertaking to develop it.
June 21, 2017. I’m always on the lookout for interesting toys when I walk into large scale big box stores, specialty shops, garage sales, and comic cons. It’s just my nature. So when I was perusing Kickstarter one day, I found the campaign to support Animal Warriors of the Kingdom Series 1 Action Figures. This was a unique intellectual property developed by the Kickstarter’s creator for a series of 4-inch scale toys, comparable in size to the G.I. Joes of the 1980s.
And they looked good.
As looked into the project further, I found that this was the second attempt by Spero Studio out of Louisiana to fund this project through Kickstarter. The first attempt failed in July 2016, in part because the prototypes looked like crap. The concept was there but the execution wasn’t. The 2017 iterations were an obvious and vast improvement.
I had no ties to the company, the project, or the intellectual property like I did with Evil Dead but I respected the fact that the developers had gone back to the drawing board and returned with an improved product. That tenacity plus the quality of the second offering inspired me to back the campaign. And as of July 21, 2017, the project was fully funded, raising $75,674 USD against an original goal of $65,000 USD. It wasn’t the juggernaut the Evil Dead campaign turned out to be but it was a success nonetheless.
May 3, 2018. In my left hand, I hold one of these projects, completed and glorious. In my right hand, there is giant wad of nothing where that completed project should be.
Just over ten months after backing Spero’s second crack at a Kickstarter campaign for Kingdom, I have my completed action figure in my hand. I only gave enough money for one but it was well worth it. The packaging is great and the figure looks fantastic. On top of that, the estimated delivery date listed on the Kickstarter pledge is November 2018. They exceeded that delivery date by several months.
The estimated delivery date for the Evil Dead game was November 2016. Guess what isn’t in my right hand? What? No, the board game. Get your mind out of the gutter.
In and of itself, that estimated delivery date should have been a red flag to me when looking at backing the campaign. They gave themselves three months to complete a project that had grown exponentially in scope throughout the Kickstarter. The Kingdom crew gave themselves damn near a year and a half. One of the greatest engineers in Starfleet, Montgomery Scott, once told Geordi LaForge, and I am paraphrasing, that you promise longer timeline than needed then get the project done faster. That’s how you look like a miracle worker.
Spero got that.
Space Goat did not.
In what is quickly closing in on two years since the end of the campaign, Space Goat has been somewhat open about their staffing issues and ongoing problems with production. These issues were detailed from another angle in a November 2017 piece from Bleeding Cool that accused the Space Goat’s founder of sexism and abusive behavior. Generally speaking, these kind of alleged behavioural issues tend to cause problems in product development.
That’s a polite way of saying don’t be a dick if you want people to help you get the job done. Sorry. An alleged dick.
The project continues to languish. Updates are infrequent though they do still appear from time to time. Still, it’s hard to say where the project is even at. The rule book has been edited and updated multiple times. And even though the box was at least one aspect of the project backers thought was put to bed, it has gone through a redesign. This constant backtracking eats up time and resources.
Ultimately, Space Goat was damned by their own Kickstarter success and their apparent inability to manage it. They got too much money too fast which opened up way too many stretch goals that drove up the costs of development and production as well as complicating the entire process. It became something far bigger than they could handle and the appearance from the outside is that the stress of it all is causing huge internal problems. Following the Evil Dead Kickstarter up with a Terminator board game Kickstarter, a license many believe the company diverted significant funds and efforts from Evil Dead to acquire, has not helped the situation.
And here we are. The story of one Kickstarter has come to a close with a beautiful final product in hand. The other Kickstarter is starting to have a feeling of finality around it but not for the same reasons.
In their April 30th update, Space Goat offered more lamentations and excuses which led to a request for more money from backers through a separate crowdfunding platform and concept that’s more like buying shares in the company. House of Geekery quite accurately summed up the feelings of backers towards that in a May 3, 2018 piece titled, “When a Failed Kickstarter Becomes a Scam.” The founder of Space Goat appears to have stated that if they don’t get enough money through this new campaign, the company is going under and all our investment money is going with it. While the situation may not be that bleak, it isn’t far off. And their May 24th update has confirmed that this final attempt to raise additional money has, apparently, failed. That’s not a shock given that Space Goat is looking less and less like a good bet all the time. The likelihood of this game being released is equally good.
There’s that sense of finality I mentioned.
Was Space Goat up to something nefarious in this situation? Was this all a plot to steal money from unwitting backers? Is their leader a criminal mastermind? That’s all highly unlikely. It’s more likely that they tried to take on too much with too little experience on how to pull it all off, bleeding cash and time before completing any of these projects. Spero had one focused project and they delivered on it perfectly.
In the end, there is a lesson to take away from this. A lot of people view supporting a Kickstarter as pre-purchasing a product or service. That’s incorrect. It’s a speculative investment, and there is an inherent risk in that. Those people behind a Kickstarter are supposedly obligated to deliver on the promises in the Kickstarter and are supposedly obligated to provide a refund if they don’t. But who is enforcing any of that and how, especially if there’s no money to refund? When a fully backed Kickstarter doesn’t deliver, that damages the crowdfunding concept as a whole. People get nervous about backing a new project when they’re out money on a failed one. I’ve passed on a few thanks to this experience.
The thing to remember is that for every backed and failed Kickstarter there’s a dozen successes. Thanks to a great experience with Spero Studios, that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.