Andrew Ducker (andrewducker) wrote,
Andrew Ducker
andrewducker

Neal Stephenson's Epic Fail

A few days ago I posted about my worry that Neal Stephenson's Clang kickstarter (raising money for an accurate swordfighting game) was going horribly wrong.

I then instantly realised I'd got some of my maths wrong, and made it private (although two people hit refresh fast enough to notice the post or its tweet). But it's been going round in my head since that point, and as I'm currently lying in bed recovering from yesterday's Stag Shooting/Drinking events, this seems like a good time to cover where I think he's going wrong*. The hindsight of the last few days gives me an extra advantage there, as the changes they've made since I wrote the original post seem to be helping them a bit.

Anyway - there seem to be two ways that people use Kickstarter:
1) To take advance orders. They've already done most of the work on their album/book but now they need to finance the final mixing/editing and the print runs, and to work out how many copies they should be producing. A Kickstarter allows them to presell the copies, and thus not take on a lot of debt, overextend themselves, and end up in financial trouble.
2) To finance a development project. They have a good idea, but haven't really done anything yet, because they can't afford to hire a development team until everyone puts in some cash.

The second is inherently riskier than the first, because development is a horribly variable business. You don't know how hard something is until you've done it, and unless you have an awesome management/financial team in place you've probably badly misestimated the effort involved. Less risky with a team who have produced good things in the past**, but even so a bigger risk than when you're funding just the publication.

Clang started off with an amusing video, but nothing to show what it was they actually wanted to build. It wasn't until a few days later that they gave any technical details (that they were using the Razer Hydra 6-axis controller, for instance. Which is an incredible piece of kit, but not something everyone has lying around the flat). It was only four days ago that they thought people might be interested in the technology behind the game. And it was only a couple of days ago that they finally posted a video of what they expect the game to look like when you play it. They really were expecting their backers to take an awful lot on faith.

_Some_ people see Kickstarter as supporting a project. They're happy to throw in a chunk of cash because they want a project to succeed. Most people, however, see a product they like, and buy it. They don't mind that they've bought it months before it will actually be produced - that's what Kickstarter is good for, paying for the product up front so that they can afford to construct it (and know how big their print run should be). You then sell better versions of it (or extra awesome versions of it/associated products) for higher amounts of cash, so that people can but the gold plated version and support you more.

Amanda Palmer, for instance, offered you the basic product (her new album) for $1. Or $25 for the CD. For double that you got an amazing vinyl package. For $100 you got an amazing art book. For $300 you got to go to a launch party where the band played. For $5,000 she'd come and play _in your house_.

But Klang didn't structure themselves around that. Instead you get the game for $25. And then for paying double that you get...a PDF. For treble you get _two_ PDFs. For quadruple you get all of that and..a t-shirt with their logo on it! At $150 they throw in a printed manual for the game. It's only when they get to $1000 that there's anything exciting in the rewards - an invitation to the company parties.

Some people, obviously, are willing to put money into a project that they want to succeed - and I think that's awesome. But most people, so far as I can tell, want to pay some money for a product, and if they're helping out with a project then that's a nice side-effect. I'm not sure what else the project could have offered, but the option of a physical version would have been a good start, as would a luxury edition with an awesomely designed box. Market segmentation is a fairly basic part of sales nowadays - offer a range of products so that people with more money can give it to you for, effectively, the same product. Additionally, johncoxon pointed out to me that there _really_ ought to be a pledge level that includes the motion controller, which in retrospect seems insanely obvious!

They finally offered a "Buy two for $40" a few days ago, and that's already garnered nearly $4000, so there's clearly an appetite out there. I wish they'd get their act together and tap into it before it's too late***.



*As far as I'm concerned, one of the most awesome things about the internet is that it allows me to tell people like Neal Stephenson how wrong they are.
**Like Tim Schaefer/Ron Gilbert's Double Fine Adventure.
***Kicktraq is an awesome way of watching the progress of Kickstarter drives. Clang's is here, and if you take a look at the "[Exp] Trend" tab at the bottom you can see the uptick from three days ago when they started putting technical details out there. The projections still aren't good, but if they can push their momentum up further then they can hopefully push themselves over the line.




Original post on Dreamwidth - there are comment count unavailable comments there.
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