May 20, 2015 by crew
A game or miniatures Kickstarter can be en exhilarating ride for all, and it is really easy to get sucked in to join the cheering! But as we have seen, kickstartering is risky business! What can backers do to minimize that risk, then? How do we spot the red flags waving?
Keep An Eye Open
One thing you should know that unless it is a project with flexible funding on indiegogo.com (where the money is paid and given to the creator immediately) or similar funding method on another site you can place a pledge without actually taking any risk up until the projects time is up. This is because you can change or even cancel the pledge at any point until the project funds at the end. This means you can grab that early bird pledge at once, and then do your investigating. Just remember to do any changes to you pledge before it is too late.
It has become a common practice to pledge a minimum amount like a single dollar to a given project, just to follow the projects progress and get any updates. Only then do you decide whether this is one you want to back near the end. Of course, this does not help to reach the goals, and if everyone did this, no projects would be funded at all.
First thing to do, when confronted with a KS project that you want in on, is to look it over properly. Take a step back from all the enthusiasm and cheerleading that usually is going on and look at a few things. Read the project information thoroughly; watch all the videos. If the creators come across as dodgy in the video or even in what they have written, that will usually be a hint to avoid this project!
Assuming the project does not seem dodgy, try to get a clear picture about the following…
- What exactly is the project for?
- Do the creators seem to have done their homework?
- Are the prices, costs and timetables that are presented realistic?
- Who are the creators? Are the creators unknown journeymen or grizzled veterans? Is it a single person or a company? Have you ever heard of them?
- What do they say about their ability to deliver? Are they or do they claim to have connections to people with experience?
- Any artwork and/or prototypes presented, does it look professional or amateurish?
- In the case of miniatures are they only showing off rendered images or actual greens/3D-printed prototypes or castings?
- What kind of materials do they say the games and/or miniatures will be made of?
Ask yourself: Am I satisfied that this project seems to be in order and that the creators seem to have a realistic grasp of going about how to produce it? Again, ask yourself: Can I afford to loose this money? If no, do not back it, whatever other people say. It is after all down to some diligence and your own gut feeling.
As rules of thumb, I have taken the words of the Immortal Emperor to heart…
Beware the Mutant, the Heretic and the Xenos!
‘What is a mutant project?’ I hear you asking. It is what I call a project where the funding goal seems a bit off in some way. This does not mean that there necessarily is anything wrong with it, of course. It is just that creators tend to run out of money much faster than they have planned for, unless they are really good at planning. Look out for the Red Flags of Danger +1, such as…
The Incompetent Project
Usually a creator can cover their actual incompetence by good presentation. Try too look through the glitz and enthusiasm and see what funding targets are set for the products, what they write about things in the Risks and Challenges and FAQ Sections. Does it seem like they actually have anticipated things that might crop up? Look at the funding targets and costs.
Inexperience coupled with naivetë or simple incompetence will often show themselves here, simply by having very little to say about risks, or betraying their lack of costing diligence for example by promising plastic miniatures (which have really, really, REALLY expensive moulds even though the plastic material itself is cheap) at very low funding targets. Are the shipping costs in any way realistic?
The Silent Project
If the creators do not respond to backers’ concerns in the comments or only reply with non-informative blather then STAY AWAY! It is a safe bet this creator will not be very communicative after the project funds either.
The Stalled Project
A campaign that stalls, or even looses pledges, might resort to throwing in extra free stuff to attract new backers. Who does not want more free stuff! Right? The red flag waving here is will the campaign be able to pay for all this extra stuff if it reaches its funding goal? Do the new strech goals seem hastily put together, or planned out in advance?
The Incomplete Project
Some projects have set themselves rather low funding targets, with the product only really becoming complete after several stretch goals are met. Is this goal artificially low just to make sure they get some money? Are the first stretch goals really not just stuff what needs to be in the base game anyway?
This incompetence is really not a danger sign IF said stretch goals are reached in short order. The Flag starts waving if the necessary stretch goals are not met, and you end up funding something that is only half-baked.
The Barely Funded Project
Imagine the end of a project is nearing and the project will just about reach it’s funding goal! Great isn’t it? It will be made! If it only just reaches its funding goal near the end that might in itself be a red flag waving! Do you really trust the creators to have all their ducks in a row, managing to fulfill the project with minimum funding?
The Bloated Project
Some projects go far beyond the creators wildest dreams, getting thousands more backers than anticipated. This too is a warning sign. Not that the project will fail and everybody looses their money, but rather that the project will be delayed and/or rushed. In some cases several years go by. Do you mind waiting? Would you have shoddy or disappointing merchandise instead? What if you get both? Expectations tend to run high and the higher they are, the harder they fall.
Beware The Heretic!
There is something to be said about burning heretics because they are out to burn you! When the money starts piling up, all kinds of scammers, scum and villainy will be rife! Kickstarter cracks down hard on projects that are reported and proven to be scams or IP infringements but then someone needs to recognise them as such and report them in the first place.
Last year the Kickstarter Company changed its project guidelines. It seems it is no longer necessary for a project to actually be about making anything new or even anything themselves. Combine this with KS also changing their project acceptance routines to become an automated checking program instead of actual people and you have fertile grounds for inventive people to get their dodgy project through the loopholes to try and make a quick buck off of the unwary.
Lets face it. Crowdfunding is relatively risk free pickings for the fraudulently inclined. Creators get to put their projects out there trying to get their hooks in the unwary backer. It is not as if the crowdfunding sites themselves do any background checks. How do we know if the creators even are who they claim to be?
There have been a few reports of scams taking place such as projects copied wholesale and launched on other crowdfunding sites by identity-theft style scammers while other projects have been run with seemingly no intention of fulfilling them. These are not easy to guard against. It is good to see that criminal charges are being brought to bear in the USA in test cases that hopefully will make it easier to take scammers to task in the future.
The Ponzi Pyramid
A Ponzi is a kind of pyramid scheme where payment collected goes toward earlier incurred debts instead of the stated current project. This kind of thing has happened several times on KS when a creator has had a successfully funded project but then run out of money before fulfilling it, usually because of incompetence or simply having bit off more than they could chew.
Still a dreamer, the backlogged creator launches another project to get out of debt, usually related to the first. The money from the second goes in reality to pay for the earlier shortfalls instead of the projects stated.
Then there is no money to pay for the second project which leads to a third project being launched, etc etc. Now, the creators might very well be trying to do their honest best and are not trying to scam anyone, but still, the result is backers loosing money and not getting anything for it.
Time is the biggest money drain! Delayed projects are the norm but the longer they are delayed the less likely they are ever getting fulfilled. Rule of thumb however; If a projects creator launches yet another project without having fulfilled (or even mostly fulfilled) earlier ones, you might want to stay away.
Nothing is more certain to spell doom for a project than if the creators are using an IP they do not have the rights to. If the creators promise to, say, make a Space Marine miniature, and are not Games Workshop, you know the C&D Banhammer will hit hard at some point.
I have not seen any KS project that is simply about reselling other companies’ existing miniatures…yet. However, other kinds of game paraphernalia projects have started to pop up that are (somewhat overpriced) reselling in some form or other. One gaming example is a dice of the month club type project where backers are to be sent a random set of gaming dice each month at a premium price.
The project creator is not a dice manufacturer, but a third party re-seller who is up front about sourcing product from several brands. There is not really anything wrong with this kind of project, it is not actually a scam as such, but potential backers need to be aware that re-sellers also get to make projects, and see them for what they really are; Overpriced re-selling.
There is a wholly separate set of concerns to be had if you are not in the same country as the project. Firstly, what currency is the project funded in? If you are used to pay in US dollars, and the project is in Pounds Sterling, you might get a nasty surprise when the pledge is charged. Exchange rates also vary slightly from day to day and might suddenly change significantly depending on international events.
The second thing to note is shipping costs. Be aware of projects that say things like international shipping will be charged at a later date. This usually means that the shipping costs will be high, because international shipping is really expensive!
Another thing you might want to consider is that if the international shipping is really low, that might be a red flag in itself. Have the creators really done their homework if they think ten dollars will cover shipping halfway across the world for a massive board game that probably will weigh upwards of 10 pounds before any stretch goals are added?
Your country needs you… (your money)! To get your hard earned, they levy taxes & duties as they see fit. If you live in the EU and the project is EU-friendly being shipped from a hub within the EU, this is not an issue. For all other international backers, ARGH! Those unwanted taxes and duties and fees will be a significant increase in the costs you can to nothing about. Other than pay up. Usually through the nose.
REPENT! The End Is Nigh!
What to do if you regret backing and want your money back? Write the creators and ask nicely for a refund. Remember that the creators are not obliged to do so (unless they have not delivered within a reasonable timeframe of their stated delivery date and even then, ‘obliged to’ does not mean they are going to. By that time, the cash will probably be spent.
If the creators deny your request, or as is more common, fail to respond in a timely manner you might want to look into getting a chargeback. This is reversing the charge on your credit card (or however you paid). Be aware that Paypal has a 90 day limit for such reversals (I believe this recently has been increased to 180 days). If you are too late, refunds will not happen and your money is lost. Credit cards also have a time limit for chargebacks and also different policies regarding such things.
Do not depend on getting any refund. Remember that consumer regulations really do not cover such pledges.
The End Times!
When due diligence is satisfied, it will all boil down to the following reflections…
- Can I afford to lose this money if this project goes belly up?
- Do I really want these miniatures so badly that I want to spend all this money right now for something I probably will not be getting for several months?
- When I get it, will it be worth the wait? That shiny syndrome sure looses its luster over time…
I find that usually the answer is not 42. The answer is YES!
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"Assuming the project does not seem dodgy, try to get a clear picture about the following..."
"What to do if you regret backing and want your money back?"