Pono Kickstarter Update

The Pono Kickstarter closed today, netting the third largest amount ever at $6 million.

While it’s still the only Kickstarter project I’ve funded, or even paid attention to, and it certainly had obvious advantages over rank and file projects, I think it’s a good example of how to approach Kickstarter funding at any scale. Or at least it seems to be from what I’ve read about such things over the past month or so.

It was obviously easy for the Pono team to add new rewards and new artists that had name recognition, but they did so in a well-paced manner that seemed appropriate to the project. There wasn’t a lot of fanfare or publicity involved, and I think that was in keeping with the overall tone. Welcoming, positive, maybe even a bit corny at times, but never slick or overbearing.

Updates were also regular, at 27 over the 30-day run of the project. Most of the updates were informative rather than sales driven, and several of them took pains to answer questions that bubbled up in the comments — another smart move given how eager trolls are to destroy anything they can get their hands on. On no occasion did I take the time to read an update and find it pointless or pedantic.

A certain amount of marketing-savvy and pre-production must go into high profile Kickstarter projects, but even at a much smaller scale I think the same process applies. Have a few new rewards in mind at launch, and if backers come up with others that are doable be prepared to shift gears and respond. Stay engaged with comments and answer trolls and backers as necessary, but always in a tone that makes you seem like the kind of person someone would want to give money to.

– Mark Barrett

Pono Kickstarter

As regular readers know I have serious issues with Kickstarter, in large part because the site/service can so easily be exploited for nefarious purposes. As RPS finally (and to my mind belatedly) made clear after flogging the site endlessly, when you’re giving money to a Kickstarter project you’re not buying anything. Instead, you’re investing in something that may or may not happen, which means the people you’re investing in need to have a great reputation to go along with their great idea.

I’m genuinely glad there’s a way for independent artists and creators to bypass gatekeepers and raise money for small projects, and from time to time I’ve considered the possible utility of the site myself. That I’ve never backed a Kickstarter project before is less a sign of where my heart is than where my brain is, because I know my brain would be angry with me if I put scarce personal equity into something that never materialized. (I do that enough on my own.) Having said that, today I backed my first project on Kickstarter for reasons that have nothing to do with Kickstarter, and I think the project I’m helping to fund is something you might want to consider as well.

For years Neil Young has been griping about the quality of music in the digital age. It’s a complaint I’m not only sympathetic to, at some point in the recent past I noticed that I had simply stopped listening to music for enjoyment for close to a decade. When I tried to figure out why it became obvious that my enjoyment of music ceased when the MP3 file became the playback standard. To bring music back into my life I tried using iTunes, but that proved to be just as bad, in large part because (unbeknownst to me at the time) Apple’s default sampling rate for ripped CD’s was less than lossless. Only when I discovered FLAC and Foobar2000 and was able to get CD sound out of my digital library did I once again start hearing sounds that had gone missing.

I want to stress here that I’m not an audiophile or a purist. I don’t need an oscilloscope to know what I’m hearing. Instead, I feel it, and all I can tell you is that digital music has generally left me cold. Not cold enough to go back to the hisses and pops and turntable maintenance of vinyl, but cold nonetheless. So when I first heard that Neil Young was pushing for a new standard for digital music I was all for it. Unfortunately, if memory serves, that was also a decade ago. (Or at least it seems like it.)

Well, that day is here. Sort of. As I understand it the PonoPlayer is ready to go and Kickstarter is being used as much to sell/reserve initial/limited copies of the device as it is to raise money for future development of the accompanying service. Still, if you believe in high-quality music and supporting the artists who make it, I think it’s worth considering what Pono is about and whether you want to chip in. At the very least you can help demonstrate demand is there which might encourage the big-money people to get off their stuffed wallets and buy in as well.

As for the risks involved, I’m confident that Neil Young isn’t going to take my contribution and blow it on a new couch, or something worse. Although he might be tempted to sink it into an all-electric Lincoln Continental. (I jest.) Currently, on day one, the campaign is halfway to its initial $800,000 goal. Given that it looks like the 30-day campaign will be fully funded in a day or two, and that it’s backed by people who have reputations to protect, I think the risk of the project falling apart are pretty low. Not zero, but close enough for me.

– Mark Barrett

Kickstarter Caution

A reminder today that however intrigued you are by Kickstarter, it is by now almost certainly a festering cesspool of scams and con games designed to take your money and give you nothing in return. Consider this particularly clumsy example:

Asking for $500,000 in capital funding, the collaboration with Jam Entertainment (Anderson’s company) promised to deliver a challenger to EA’s popular NCAA Football video game franchise. Perks for investors included dinner with “co-owner” Jamal Anderson, a chance to play-test the game, or a signed helmet from former Ohio State greats Archie Griffin, Eddie George, or Jim Tressel. The promotional copy suggested the game would be different from EA’s offering, thanks to the participation of former college and pro football players, and would feature every college football team—including NAIA squads—and the highest-quality 3-D models ever seen.

That is, of course, if you believe the Kickstarter page, which asserts that the graphics actually come from the game. They don’t. In fact, the funding campaign was canceled earlier today, shortly after we spoke with Anderson. He told us he had nothing to do with the project and no connection to Dirty Bird Sports.

Kickstarter acts as a match-making service only. They guarantee next to nothing, and to whatever extent they police projects on the site they do so primarily to preserve their own reputation, not your bank account. If a scam or con game gets funded and ultimately bears no fruit for the people who ponied up money, Kickstarter still gets its cut. You get to feel like an idiot.

– Mark Barrett

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