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David Zax

A View from David Zax

Maybe Kickstarter’s Just Not That Into You

Quality doesn’t always rise to the top in Kickstarter, as elsewhere. Creators should stay Zen about it.

  • March 1, 2013

Eric Johnson over at AllThingsD calls our attention to a “breathtaking” game, the pleasingly literally titled Throw Trucks With Your Mind, on Kickstarter. The game, beloved by those who try it, uses a NeuroSky headset to enable you to control objects onscreen with the sheer force of your mind. Multiple people who’ve played the game say it’s about as close as you’re going to get to feeling like a Jedi. Sounds like a winner, right?

And yet the game has only scored, as of this writing, roughly half of its $40,000 goal. The project has 12 days to go, but unless it catches a wave of popular support—totally a possibility, admittedly—it seems quite possible that it won’t get funded. Of course, Kickstarter is full of projects that, it would seem, rightly failed to meet their goal. BuzzFeed has amusingly rounded up 37 of the “saddest” examples here. Indeed, a survey last year showed that about 41 percent of Kickstarter projects fail. But it seems that Throw Trucks With Your Mind genuinely deserves to rise above that graveyard.

There are a number of things the makers of Throw Trucks With Your Mind might’ve done to strengthen their pitch. Johnson singles out a lower price ($80 ain’t cheap), and a stronger video. I’ve lamented the fact that the DIY-friendly Kickstarter increasingly is home to videos with a pitch-perfect PR sheen; indeed, these videos regrettably seem to be a prerequisite for success (see “The Most Successful Kickstarter Project Ever”). While it captures something of the game’s magic, Throw Trucks With Your Mind has a merely serviceable video, to be honest:

Something of a cottage industry has sprung up online solely dedicated to advice on how to get your Kickstarter project funded. Pitch blogs, says one. Offer “meaty updates,” counsels another. To judge from this thread on Quora, many people now have come to see a Kickstarter campaign as something you need to plan out as elaborately as a wedding. One user talks about a “Kickstarter pre-launch” campaign that involved “tapping in to social networks and forums to get the early word out.” It used to be that Kickstarter helped build your audience for your product. Now you have to build an audience for Kickstarter.

All this advice is well and good, but folks launching a Kickstarter campaign would do well to remember the first lesson of making things: Not everyone will like them. Indeed, perhaps not even enough people to make your product viable.

There seems to be an assumption that Kickstarter is different, that the normal rules of pitching and of success are somehow suspended on that site, a Shangri-La in which quality and novelty inevitably rise to the top. The reality is that Kickstarter is just a marketplace like any other. Sometimes quality rises to the top in a marketplace; sometimes it doesn’t. The highest-grossing movie of last year was “The Avengers,” raking in over half a billion dollars. That doesn’t mean it deserved a Best Picture Oscar.

The wisest assessment of the lackluster response, thus far, to Throw Trucks With Your Mind comes from its creator himself, Lat Ware. He told AllThingsD, with a virtual shrug if not a literal one, that if the project fails, he’ll simply take it as a sign the market’s not there. “I will start work on something else,” Ware said.

Good for him. The best response to a Kickstarter failure isn’t to mull or mope. It’s to keep creating, to keep working on something you’re passionate about, and to hope that one day, the market will agree with your assessment of your project’s worth.

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