Some say it has been the biggest shakeup in the boardgames industry since the 70’s.
The initial idea by Perry Chen was to help throw a late-night concert to coincide with Jazz Festival while living in New Orleans in 2002 . Within its first week, Kickstarter had its first 2 successful projects, one for $100 and one for $37. In recent years it has created an immense impact in the boardgaming industry and this year alone has drawn in over $2,000,000 for game related projects. More and more, developers are asking direct help from the public to join with them and back their games.
Kickstarter has been the biggest news of 2011 on Purple Pawn and our Kickstarter rundowns are always popular. The biggest ever Kickstarter success; $171,805 for the game D-Day Dice in December triggered an explosion of interest, sending shockwaves into the gaming community.
We thought Purple Pawn readers would like a peak behind the scenes of this funding site to find out more. I recently spoke to Yancey Strickler – co-founder of Kickstarter, fan of helping out projects and all round nice guy. I spoke to him about the creation of Kickstarter, what is in store in the future and if it is going to be an American-only service for ever (scoop: No it isn’t!)
First of all Yancey, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us here at Purple Pawn. Kickstarter.com is now becoming a viable alternative to funding initial capital of board and cardgame developers. We know that you guys originally started with the idea of independent music and video crowd funding but when development of Kickstarter.com started, did you plan it to fit in this multi-platform gap as it does now?
Yeah I think so, I mean from the very beginning, the focus was really on applying this approach to creative projects and making it possible for the kind of things that don’t find traditional money, to be able to find support directly from their audience. So we always had this focus on creativity because that’s the world that we come from. I was a music journalist before this and my partner Perry was working in arts and music and this is true with everyone on our staff here.
What we saw was that typically, creative ideas are not big money makers. The idea is just to make something in your head exist in the real world, you just have an idea of something you want to make happen – the world as we saw it when we first started working on this back in 2002 – 2005, didn’t really work that way, the way you would raise money to do things were traditional methods like record labels, film studios or publishers. Those places are really looking for things that will be hits and what that means is that anyone that doesn’t really fit that preconception of what a popular work could be is ignored. So we wanted to create a space where an idea could exist just because you wanted it to and where communities would have a say in bringing what comes to life
When we first started we didn’t have a lot of terribly firm ideas about how all of this would be used, we started with about 10 or 12 categories, pretty much the same ones you see now – we didn’t have any subcategories at the beginning – but there was for instance the games category, the art and music and film. We definitely saw that as being part of this world but we were very honest with ourselves at the beginning, we didn’t know where this would go; we didn’t know which categories would be huge hits, who knows what categories people don’t care about at all? So we were committed to really paying close attention to how people use the site so we could try to shift with what people wanted. And we still take that approach. Games have become a really important part of Kickstarter – we are not at all surprised by that, it’s definitely exciting to see all the different communities that have been able to use Kickstarter to produce their work.
Thanks to this community, Kickstarter just recently got its one millionth backer, and over 100 million dollars has been raised so far, this is exactly the kind of proof to show how well you guys have done since you started. At what point in the history of Kickstarter did you guys think “Wow, this is really going to work…” What defining moment or successful project really made you think that Kickstarter was on the map?
There have been a lot of moments, and there’s been sort of stepping stone of exciting things since the start. My own personal goal was to have a project that would be funded within the first month of the site launching. We launched the site without a robust plan, we started only inviting our friends and their friends, and that was all that we did. Within the first week there was two projects that got funded, and that was really surprising, one was for $100 and the other for $37 and it really worked! About two weeks after we launched ,there was a project from a woman called Allison Weiss which was a music project, and she just made this video that has really defined the template for pitch videos ever since. It was just her in her kitchen, very low-fi, very simple but who she is really came through, you really fall for her, and that personality and that way of pitching an idea and yourself was just really exciting –on the first day it raised its goal, and at the end it made four times its goal! We really hadn’t anticipated that happening. That was definitely a moment where you could really see the potential of the platform and how people would use it. Since then there have been many more projects like it that have pushed us father and more high profile or done really creative things.
To be perfectly honest we have a really sincere love for every project that launches – I mean we look at everything that launches on the site. Our staff have backed well over 2000 projects and we really do care about them, I mean we’re huge fans! Watching every project and every video you really learn to respect just what a bold move it is, to say “I’m going to do this” – putting it out there and asking people to come with you. I mean it’s not a simple act, that takes some real courage and some real conviction, and we really have such a deep appreciation for that
As you say, Kickstarter is very geared towards around personal stories of genuine people kind of like helping out the little guys, but as the son of a salesman, what would you think if an established or big corporate company just used the site as simply another product marketing avenue?
We don’t allow these kind of corporations to use the site, we don’t allow any advertising or sponsorship, we tell companies if they would like to create an account and back a project like anyone else they are welcome to, but nothing beyond that. I am not opposed to people using Kickstarter to market their work, I would say quite a few film projects we have on the site, are projects that are already made, they are looking to raise money to get themselves into theatres – using the Kickstarter project as dual purpose to raise awareness as well. Our belief is that so long as someone is offering rewards and they fulfil them and people choose to back them, that’s ok, that’s up to them. Our commitment to creators and people who are creating things and artist of all stripes is very real. We generally don’t like Kickstarter to be used to say start a business – but quite a few of our projects actually end up as businesses because they became so successful. We are pretty malleable but the commitment to individuals and creating a place that is made up of just people, not corporate entities moving large amounts of money around but people committing small amounts of money to each other: I think is really powerful . To me having a million backers is even more exciting than having a million dollars, for more than a million people to have gone through this process and taken what is a pretty big leap by supporting someone directly I think is really exciting and not just for my own self-interest and the company I co-founded , but I think it says something good about society. Even in the midst of a long a deteriorating economy people are still generous and want to be a part of things. There is this greater idea of helping people out and that art still has value in the world and I think that without something like Kickstarter it would be easy to feel more despair about that, especially at this moment in time when as money is in short supply. I think that is a really strong endorsement about what we have been doing.
People around the world are now homing-in to kickstarter.com. If people want to fund a project, that’s fine but if they want to start a project they need obviously to have a US bank account? Why is this, are there any barriers that can change and do you think something will happen in the future?
So the reason why we are limited to project creators only in the United States is that we use Amazon flexible payment system to process all transactions. This means that when you start a project, you sign up for an account through Amazon that allows money to be transferred to your business account. We used amazon because the time the site launched they were the only ones that had a product that would work with us. PayPal was not compatible and a lot of people had an issue with our model –the idea of charging people at a later date, lots of funds, from a lot of credit cards suddenly being transferred to a single account at once, this being someone who probably hasn’t received money before – brings all kind of fraud alerts. People are just puzzled by this in that world. But amazon is, I believe, the world’s largest retailer, lots of people have accounts and the checkout process is very simple. So we’re very glad to work with them, I think it has been really really important to Kickstarter. Amazon has yet to clear the red tape to make their service available around the world, having to deal with regulation, bureaucracy and the like. We are not going to be a US only site for ever – we are looking this year at beginning the process of making Kickstarter available in more places. So I think that you will be seeing changes of where Kickstarter’s available within the year. We are also really appreciative of everyone’s patience in waiting for us to open up more, I realise that the limitation of where Kickstarter can be used has certainly been a big reason why there have been 80 knock off sites that have started up around the world – but that’s been good for us to focus on doing this product right and just figuring out the right way for Kickstarter to work. As any start-up will tell you, scaling up to start internationally is really a big order, you know, it’s a real difficult thing to do. We’re taking our time to do it the right way to feel great about where we eventually be.
Well I’m sure that little spot of news will get a lot of people in the International community excited. Just picking up what you were saying, many other crowd funding sites exist: from indiegogo.com, to rockethub.com etc. Some of these are internationally accessible and do not have the single country limit, yet Kickstarter is still the most popular. Why do you think kickstarter.com is the number one site and as successful as it has even though you have all of this other competition?
I think that all of the other sites out there look and behave exactly like Kickstarter, functionally there might be a slight difference or two, but certainly they all look the same. They are all riffing off our ideas, the templates and the vernacular and the language we have created. I think it’s always hard for an imitation to succeed an original. I don’t know, I think that Kickstarter is the most well-known by far, over a million people have supported a project on Kickstarter, so there is a lot of comfort with using it and there are a lot of people that are aware of it. I think when people think about raising money from the web they instantly think “Kickstarter”. We have looked at where the money goes in terms of all these kinds of sites, and we estimate that about 90% of all the money that has been spent has gone to Kickstarter projects. People are certainly free to choose other platforms, and unfortunately if you are based outside of the US you are forced to, but there is no question that going to Kickstarter will get your project the most eyeballs. It will put your project on a really reputable site that people are really excited to use, hundreds of thousands of people will come and visit you every day – we see it in the success rates, 44% or projects succeed on Kickstarter. Other sites are not willing to release the numbers on things like that but they are all far, far less in comparison. So with us I think you have the best chance of success about getting your idea out in the world and building a real audience around it, there really is no comparison in what you are able to do in the site. In terms of “why specifically us” I don’t know, I think that we spent a lot of time thinking about Kickstarter and how it works, I mean you can look at the site now and think “oh it’s all so obvious how it all works”, but those were real decisions that myself and Perry and Charles really agonized over – the design of the site that was put together by Charles was incredible. I think it also helps that we come from this world. We made this not because we wanted to have a start-up, I don’t think any of us had a core interest in that, we really believed in this and wanted to see this happen, we were making it for us and our friends. So I think all those things together communicate something; that when people come to Kickstarter they get a sense of who we are, we care about this because we have a great team, and we care about art and culture and want it to be easier for people to make things.
Its’ really nice to see the community spirit on Kickstarter, people talking to each other in each specific project; it feels like it is creating its own culture. It’s almost like the online hangout for some people now. If this is the case, what do you think the “average” kickstarter.com user would be like? Where would they come from, what ages would they be, what would be their general outlook on life?
To be honest I can’t tell you the question, we haven’t done a demographic survey of our users, typically companies do that for marketing and advertising which we don’t think about very much. My sense is that it is a highly varied group of people, it’s hard for me to generalise or even to give any kind of demographic data, each individual person has their own outlook on life and I think Kickstarter does a good job at bringing a huge range of different people to connect together.
What kind of things have you got in the pipeline for future Kickstarter users? Are you simply going to continue in the way you have done so far, or are there some interesting things around the corner?
I think it’s just continuing to iterate on the product. I mean there are lots of little things we would like to add – by in large, the Kickstarter site you see now; project page, backing projects and all that – is pretty set. There are certainly ways that we can improve upon it and we plan to, but there are no big announcements that are in the pipeline. You get great feedback from creators all the time. From just talking to people about the site – we listen really carefully to that. One thing I just wanted to mention during our conversation was that Purple Pawn did a survey of gaming projects about 6 months ago, it was about successful and failed projects – asking each creator maybe 5 or 6 different questions, and I have to say that I learned as much reading that as I have anything else that I have read about Kickstarter. I found it fascinating hearing about how people were building their projects, I mean a lot of people were buying advertising to push the project and I didn’t really have the sense that that was happening before. So I’ve really very genuinely enjoyed your coverage and how you have worked directly with the community. Cindy Au who’s our community manager here, she’s a big game person and spends a lot of time working in that world –with board, card and video games. She was at a boardgame convention here in the States about a couple of month ago, she told us that at one of the events, a few people came up to her and said that the boardgame world hasn’t changed since the seventies until Kickstarter. Kickstarter has completely reconfigured how you make things and how you build an audience and how you get something out there and that’s thrilling to me. That’s one of the coolest things I’ve heard, because I love what an impact it’s able to have in very specific communities. There have been, I think, about 120 boardgames that have been created on Kickstarter and that’s just wild to me. Just board and card games alone have seen 2 million dollars in pledges – that’s pretty insane, it’s a hard thing to imagine. So communities like Pawn and the community you support and service I think is just awesome, that’s really what we care about – I love those smaller worlds where there’s a certain language and a way that people do things. For Kickstarter to be a way to support that and to help more things exist is just the coolest thing in the world – that is all this is supposed to be and so I have been really excited to see what it’s done in the board and card game community.
I see you guys are a fan of Cards games too, did I see on the website evidence of you guys all playing a card game recently?
Ha-ha, yes I believe we were playing Cards against Humanity!
That’s super cool and gives the boardgame community loads of hope! Thank you so much for spending the time to go through these with us Yancey, very kind of you to do so and its been really great speaking with you.
It’s been my pleasure Sam; thank you again to yourself and everyone at Purple Pawn.
this year beginning the process
What an excellent interview. Really enjoyed reading this–thanks!
Great interview, Sam. It proves why PP is one of the few gaming sites I subscribe to and read religiously.