Kickstarting disaster: When crowdfunding backfires
A Kickstarter pitch for an old school board game wouldn't ordinarily make it onto the pages of Gizmag. But despite its initial success, Erik Chevalier's campaign for The Doom That Came to Atlantic City has been such an unmitigated disaster that it serves as an essential reminder to those thinking of backing crowdfunding campaigns that they do so at their own risk.
The campaign, created by Chevalier's company, game publisher The Forking Path, ended early in June of 2012, smashing its US$35,000 target attracting $122,874 in funds. At that time, The Forking Path was aiming to deliver completed copies of the product ("a Lovecraftian game of urban destruction" clearly referencing Monopoly) by November 2012, then five months away.
Come June 2013, with the game seven months late, Erik posted a campaign update (the 26th) stating that the aim was to release the game in the third quarter of this year. However, by the 27th update published last Wednesday, that had all changed. "The project is over, the game is canceled," Chevalier wrote.
Why? "Every possible mistake was made, some due to my inexperience in board game publishing, others due to ego conflicts, legal issues and technical complications," Chevalier added. "No matter the cause though these could all have been avoided by someone more experienced and I apparently was not that person."
But where did the money actually go? Chevalier mentions "paying to form the company," miniature playing pieces, software licenses, artists and, most remarkably, "moving back to Portland." Though Chevalier claims to have tried to secure additional funds, he failed. He is now looking for work in order to pay back the money.
The update prompted a backlash from angry backers in the comments section of his update, some of whom have reported Chevalier to various authorities. Others have called for a full list of accounts to explain in detail where the money has gone.
Meanwhile, Keith Baker, who, along with Lee Moyer, is one of the game's designers, has taken to his blog to explain the situation from his perspective. "Lee Moyer and Keith Baker are not part of the Forking Path," he writes. "Neither one of us received any of the funds raised by the Kickstarter or presales. I haven't received any form of payment for this game. Lee and I were not involved in the decisions that brought about the end of this project, and we were misinformed about its progress and the state of the game." The pair have been working on the game for more than 10 years.
We cover a lot of Kickstarter and crowdfunding campaigns at Gizmag. Though some technology news outlets turn their noses up at crowdfunding sites as sources of news, there's no denying that such sites are hotbeds of creativity, even if genuine innovations are outnumbered by copycat products and unremarkable ideas.
But Chevalier gets one thing right in all this. In a second "clarifying" update published last Thursday, he writes "I see Kickstarter backers, myself included, as pre-order customers and not investors in a corporation." In fact, Kickstarter backers are exchanging something for nothing except a pledge that they will, at some estimated date in the future or very possibly after, receive what they paid for – something which very often will not even exist when one commits one's money. This isn't investment. It's not even purchasing. It's whatever comes before early adopter on the continuum of high-risk ways to rid oneself of cash.
We'll continue to cover crowdfunding campaigns at Gizmag, but remember, we can only look out for and report interesting ideas. Given the vast array of things that can conceivably go wrong on a product's road to launch, our coverage of a campaign shouldn't be interpreted as an endorsement or even a recommendation. Let the buyer beware … in spades.
Are you a frequent backer of crowdfunding campaigns? How do you work out where to pledge your hard-earned? Let us know in the comments.