Kickstarting: You’re doing it wrong

Anyone who follows me on Twitter may have seen my various rantings last night about the OUYA console that I backed on Kickstarter in early July last year.

I know for a fact I’m not alone in my frustration – a recent Ask Me Anything thread on Reddit is filled with comments from irritated backers about the lack of communication from the OUYA team about shipping dates, and the absence of any transparency over what’s going on within the company right now. Even more concerning is their promise to release the OUYA for general sale through the likes of Amazon on the 4th of June. That’s a month away, and in that time they have to ship to 50% of their Kickstarter backers (according to their latest update – you will need to be a backer in order to view), and to the thousands that have pre-ordered after the Kickstarter campaign ended. In this update, they also said that…

“We successfully eclipsed 50 percent of units shipped and remain ahead of schedule to complete all shipments by the end of May”

Well… duh. Not a great achievement. If not everyone has received their pre-ordered consoles by the time retail units ship, something has gone very wrong with their production process. What is the point in supporting a project, if you get little (if any) advantage over general market customers? In my opinion, this is an extremely poor way to treat your early investors. It’s fantastic that the OUYA console will be reaching even more people through general release – but this should have been a secondary concern to fulfilling the existing delivery promises to backers, rather than compromising your delivery schedule. Delaying general release would also give more time for bug-fixing in the software/hardware – as it stands, they’ve lost the ability to use early backers as a beta-test, as there’s little to no distinction between the two tranches of consoles. Development and shipping logistics are difficult, and the majority of Kickstarter projects are run by individuals rather than businesses – take the time to get it right, rather than diving in head-first.

To me, all of this is a perfect demonstration of how Kickstarter should not be used. When you post a project, people are pledging money to support you, often paying over-the-odds to help an idea they think deserves to be brought to market. Kickstarter provides a less risky way for your average consumer to provide angel investments, and gives potential upstarts a platform to reach a massive audience of potential investors – a win/win scenario. By putting a project on Kickstarter, you are not offering it for sale, you are asking for people to come on board and be involved in the process of bringing your project to life – personally I find this very exciting! When I back a successful project, I expect regular updates on how things are progressing, as well as access to things like burn-down charts, details of early prototypes, voting on project direction and suchlike. While I realise this isn’t what everyone is after when backing a project, I think it’s a matter of courtesy to your backers to make this information available – treat these people as your investors, not future customers. You already have their money, so let them enjoy the ride with you, rather than keeping them in the dark. In the case of the OUYA, I’m almost insulted by the way I’ve been treated as a backer.

Sadly, the OUYA team are not alone in handling public relations in this way – almost every hardware project I’ve backed seems to be plagued by a lack of updates. Even something simple like the Twyst Winder (a project created by a group of high-school students near where I used to live in London) has only posted a single update since the project was successfully funded, and that was nearly a month ago. The Pebble Watch also seemed to become “too popular”, leading to (understandable) shipping delays, but the entire process was kept shielded from backers by a lack of communication.

However, the few software projects I’ve backed don’t seem to have this problem. Project Godus, for example, have video-streamed several of their internal meetings, published regular updates on how the game is progressing (including early gameplay videos), and shown off concept artwork and the like. While I’ll admit to not diligently following everything they do, I love having that kind of access to the project I’ve supported – I think this nicely captures exactly what Kickstarter should be, but sadly is not.