Tim Schafer, Kickstarter and You

Before you get excited, two things to keep in mind. First, Tim Schafer is an interactive entertainment legend. He is his own brand and his own reputation for quality in a way that few people ever are. If you’ve never heard of him that only means you have a giant, gaping hole in your database of important cultural knowledge. (And you’ve missed out on a lot of fun.)

Here’s Kickstarter on Kickstarter:

Kickstarter is the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects. Every week, tens of thousands of amazing people pledge millions of dollars to projects from the worlds of music, film, art, technology, design, food, publishing and other creative fields.

You know you’re reading marketing hype when you read the word amazing (or excited). You know a web site is super-serious about its marketing hype when it uses all the colors of the rainbow to format its text. (Click here, then on the link at the top to “learn more”.)

Tim Schafer likes making very smart and very comic adventure games. The greater gaming industry likes making routinely dumb and routinely disappointing crap. Because of this mismatch in interests, Schafer and others like him have had a very hard time getting funding for projects they want to pursue. At least until a few days ago, when Schafer put a proposal up on Kickstarter seeking to raise $400,000 over the course of a month.

He achieved his goal in eight hours. He raised One Million Dollars in a day. Currently the total is $1.37 million and rising.

Now remember: this guy is a legend. And whatever Kickstarter is all about, nothing helps sell a project like celebrity, which Schafter has in spades even if you’ve never heard of him. And while plenty of people have used Kickstarter to get their own projects off the ground, it’s not at all clear that all of the potential legalities — including frivolous or hostile lawsuits — have been beaten out of this or any other crowdfunding system. This is cutting edge stuff, which means it’s both cool and risky. (And I’m willing to bet Tim Schafer has a lawyer making sure he’s protected six ways.)

Still, it’s pretty impressive, and all the more so because it directly connects a creator with the audience that person would clearly like to reach. If Tim Schafer can get advance sales of a game sufficient to enable completion of that game, then he’s in business for the rest of his life. No more funding hassles, no more percentages off the top, no more publisher beating him to snot and running off with his IP, no more time spent raising money like a bottom-feeding politician trading a tattered soul for one more term. Just a straight-up trade: we give you some cash and you make us laugh.

Since most of you reading this post are writers, I know you’ve already gotten bored with Schafer and are wondering if you can fund you own, smaller projects in the same way. This list of smaller projects would suggest the answer is yes. But remember: if it blows up in your face for some reason it’s not my fault. Do your homework, protect your copyrights at all cost, and don’t promise something you can’t deliver. Your credibility is more important than whatever you think is more important than your credibility.

Update:

Very good comments here on a related thread. Covers many of the concerns I have while underscoring how this model allows creative people to avoid the gatekeeping inherent in third-party funding. My biggest concern is simply that a weasel could raise money then pocket some or all of the cash by saying the project failed for any number of reasons. Kickstarter disavows any responsibility to vet projects, and leaves the risk squarely with investors — which again underscores how important your personal credibility is in this weasel-infested marketplace we call the world wide web.

– Mark Barrett

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