Kickstarter Co-Founder Warns "Think Before You Stretch"

Kickstarter Co-Founder Warns "Think Before You Stretch"

Overfunding isn't the bonanza you think it is.

Kickstarter's co-founder and head of communications, Yancey Strickler, has a warning for Kickstarter project managers. "Are stretch goals a good idea?" Strickler asks, and his answer is, not really. They muddy the waters, by adding extra complication to what started as a simple 'back this and you get X' project. When a project gets overfunded there's a temptation to add extra stuff, as a reward for those who put in what looks like added bonus cash. Except it's not really bonus cash, Strickler points out. "More money means more backers and rewards to fulfil," he says, "and less margin for error."

The temptation is to expand the project beyond its original scope. Maybe it'll go to different platforms now, or maybe extra functionality will be added. Special rewards, like custom props? Absolutely! But the problem is that after a while the creator focuses exclusively on the stretch goals, ignoring the original product, because there's cash coming in every day and something's got to be there to justify all that money. The more goals, the more stuff; the more stuff, the more likely it is you'll have manufacturing problems, shipping problems, budget problems, scheduling problems. Then you have upset backers, and perhaps no cash in hand to satisfy the original demand.

Improving the project's end product, perhaps with higher quality materials or other improvements, can only be a good thing, Strickler feels. Or maybe the project can just turn an early profit; again, no bad result. "What should a creator do if their project is funded with significant time on the clock?" Strickler asks. "The same thing every creator should do: make an unforgettable experience for their backers."

Source: Kickstarter

Permalink

It's true: Everybody loves to help create new things but nobody likes stretch marks.

Maybe when adding stretch goals project leaders should also give a estimate to how much extra time the extra goal will add to the project so that there aren't any nasty surprises later.

It's depending on the context.

For example, with a hardware project, it's obvious that people are paying to get a physcal copy, and the required backing for that was calculated to be just enough. So yes, in that case, making ten times as many sales as planned, shouldn't mean that you can stretch it's quality upwards.

If 10.000 people paid $250 for an Oculus Rift devkit instead of 200 people, that doesn't mean that they have "extra" millions of dollars to spend on giving each units HD screens, because the extra money is all going to be spent on extra units. That's what the backers bought, and that's what they get.

On the other hand, with something like Double Fine, Wasteland 2, or Star Citizen, where the pitch is pretty much "Hey, start throwing money at us, and let's see what we can build from it in this and that genre", I think it's implicit in the promise that all the backer money will be spent on proportionally improving the game, and pocketing the money and pushing out a basic cheap work that barely fits the minimums of the pitch, would be a kind of fraud.

Asking people to think? R U SERIOUS BRO? I wish I was kidding, if people want it they'll just buy/fund it regardless.

Entitled:
It's depending on the context.

For example, with a hardware project, it's obvious that people are paying to get a physcal copy, and the required backing for that was calculated to be just enough. So yes, in that case, making ten times as many sales as planned, shouldn't mean that you can stretch it's quality upwards.

If 10.000 people paid $250 for an Oculus Rift devkit instead of 200 people, that doesn't mean that they have "extra" millions of dollars to spend on giving each units HD screens, because the extra money is all going to be spent on extra units. That's what the backers bought, and that's what they get.

On the other hand, with something like Double Fine, Wasteland 2, or Star Citizen, where the pitch is pretty much "Hey, start throwing money at us, and let's see what we can build from it in this and that genre", I think it's implicit in the promise that all the backer money will be spent on proportionally improving the game, and pocketing the money and pushing out a basic cheap work that barely fits the minimums of the pitch, would be a kind of fraud.

I think that it's important to remember that you can use more money just building up the core product: Enhancing graphics, refining mechanics and just generally tightening up the experience. What's been happening, and what I think is being advised against, is feature creep. The developers take the money and try to expand the scope of the project rather than trying to just make a really solid product at the initial scope. It's gotten Double Fine into trouble, and I think they should be serving as something of a canary in the coal mine of this particular front.

shirkbot:
The developers take the money and try to expand the scope of the project rather than trying to just make a really solid product at the initial scope. It's gotten Double Fine into trouble, and I think they should be serving as something of a canary in the coal mine of this particular front.

Except that Double Fine didn't have an earlier feature list to begin with. They had the idea of making "an adventure game", and sized it based on how much they received. It's not like they ever had any specific idea of a small adventure game that grew, they just chose to use the money for a rather grandiose project in the first place.

My friend and I have been talking about this issue for months now. Stretch goals are becoming a serious problem and it's going to blow up in a truly catastrophic fashion sooner or later.

Developers need to have a clearly defined scope for their project and work within that scope. Making the scope variable just endangers the whole thing and ultimately makes for an inferior end result.

mad825:
Asking people to think? R U SERIOUS BRO? I wish I was kidding, if people want it they'll just buy/fund it regardless.

More to the point, if people thought before they used Kickstarter, it would only have like, ten products on it at a time.

The entire existence of Kickstarter seems to play on the concept of "it seemed like a good idea at the time."

That's not to say crowdfunding is bad, but like stretch goals, odds are it shouldn't happen.

I think Star Citizen is one of those few projects I've seen that gets it right. Chris has stated since the beginning that his vision would require 20 million to be fully realized on day one, and that he intended to find funding the traditional way on top of crowdfunding, as well as iterating on it after its release brought in any other necessary funds he lacked. He even said he had plans that would account for any level of funding so he could shrink the project to match. Of course, then his project went off like gangbusters. Even then though, he had a plan that encompassed all that surprise funding, and only released stretch goals for every million dollars achieved. You might say that not all projects can expect that kind of success(and you'd be right of course), but then maybe not all projects should have stretch goals, especially when the project doesn't have a solid plan on what to do with the extra funding from the beginning.

That's actually why I pulled my money out of American's OZombie project. The single player game sounded awesome, and a million seemed like a decent amount to get that done. Then I read how there were actually two games, the single player and some sort of free-to-play MMO-like thing. Worse, the first and only stretch goal wasn't intended to improve the game, but to allow American to buy the film rights to his Alice series. Let me clarify. He wasn't asking for over a hundred thousand dollars in his OZombie project to make an Alice movie. He just wanted the rights so he could potentially make a movie. Or just to sell the rights to someone else, he wasn't clear. I didn't want some multiplayer game that would certainly eat up far more resources then the thing I actually wanted, and I absolutely didn't want some vaguely defined movie he wasn't even promising to make! When I pulled out of the project I left a comment saying I couldn't back something that was so fractured. I simply had no interest in the project as it was, and my trust had significantly waned. I checked back later and he had left a rather insulting and frankly slightly whiny post about how he didn't understand what people's problem was and that calling it 'fractured' (yes, he essentially called me out) was unfair. Yeah.

I still believe in American--I even funded his next project that promised to use the film rights to produce a series of animated Alice shorts--but my trust was severely tested and I don't quite look at him the same anymore. I guess that's the moral of this fairy tale. Always read the fine print!

Double Fine is probably the best of example of stretch goals gone wrong, while Star Citizen is the prime example of how to handle it well in the event of over funding. So many kick-starter stretch goals tend to change the core game systems instead of making the existing systems more robust. Those guys have stated serious concerns that since they've now surpassed 15 MILLION dollars all that extra money goes into sprucing up existing systems and content, because with essentially a AAA Game budget people now expect a AAA game out of such a small studio. The majority of the extra budget goes into detailed modeling and creation of new ships.

crowdsourcing is a new enterprise, so there are going to be hitches. Remembering that stretch goals aren't magic is important, although I remember the Project Eternity kickstarter (the only specific crowdfunding product I've ever really cared about), and reaching those stretch goals, even as a consumer, was like some sort of drug. Dangerous mojo there I'm sure.

Entitled:
Except that Double Fine didn't have an earlier feature list to begin with. They had the idea of making "an adventure game", and sized it based on how much they received. It's not like they ever had any specific idea of a small adventure game that grew, they just chose to use the money for a rather grandiose project in the first place.

I honestly don't know the entire story, so you may be more informed than I am. The only reason I used them as an example is that they've made games and know what they cost. Even if they didn't have a published features list, I assume they had some idea of what they were looking to make and that it cost something like what they requested. When they got the overflow of money, they expanded the game's scope, but overreached and needed to ask for more. It's my opinion that they could have spared themselves some headaches by just keeping the game at it's preconceived scale and using the money to refine what they'd already decided to make. Again, maybe I'm wrong, but that's what I got out of the various news snippets covering the story.

I think software stretch goals should include a delay. You know the old saying, just because one man can dig a posthole in 60 seconds, does not mean that 60 men can dig a posthole in one second. It's almost inevitable that as you add features to a game, it's going to take longer to make that game. Staffing up will only go so far in mitigating this effect.

shirkbot:

When they got the overflow of money, they expanded the game's scope, but overreached and needed to ask for more.

That was a ridiculous piece of journalistic sensationalism, when DF announced that Broken Age will be released in two parts to fund it's completion from the sales in January, and the entire internet reported that as them "asking for more money".

The thing is, that they didn't NEED to ask for more money. Even last month when they released the update that got interpreted that way, all they said was that to finish from the $3m budget, they would have to cut a lot of the content that they are planning right now, or delay the game at least by another year. AFTER they rejected both of these options, the remaining alternative was to fiddle around with the release schedule to have more new buyers before full release.

This is pretty much the opposite of what the current KS blog post is talking about, they didn't get bogged down in any specific "stretch goals" or "features", what they are working on is pretty much just extra story length that Tim wants to have, but they did keep their official promises flexible enough that even after finishing the funding time, they still had the legal and moral option of developing a smaller game, they just chose not to.

The problem is when you oficially promise everyone a Linux port, and then it turns out that you don't have money for it, so your project is going to fail. When you promise everyone "a story", and then months later you have to choose wheter it should be a short story or a long one, then the latter might be a riskier choice, but it's not exactly an example of "accidentally getting bogged down in stretch goals and backer rewards".

I've always disliked the strech goals. "Muddying the waters" is a perfect representation of how it feels to me.
Hell I didn't like it when Starbound did it.

It's pretty cool the founder of the site agrees.

Oh thank god somebody involved pointed this out.

What does a stretch goal do really? It makes your project more expensive with no definite increase in market. Sure you get more money upfront, but who is to say you wouldn't have gotten the same money with the smaller project.

If a kickstarter sounds really really awesome to a niche market that isn't being serviced by the mainstream publishers is that niche market really going to grow because you added 3 new characters to your game?

8 pieces of questionable peripheral addons to a product that was awesome doesn't make necessarilay make that product more awesome, especially commercially. But now you've promised them and now you need to divert attention from the main project to side bits when the project as a whole hasn't yet commerically succeeded.

This is so true. A lot of kickstarter projects have enourmous stretch goals, like "Multiplayer" or "Co-op", that have huge implications in terms of workload and game design. The idea that you can just take a given game, even one that is originally designed to be singleplayer and just "do" the multiplayer can almost certainly only lead to horrible results.

 

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here