I got an email from White Wolf around Christmas time, letting me know that they had the release of another game-line in the pipeworks; Mummy: The Curse. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not on some inside track, I’m sure thousands of people got the same email. However, I had been looking forward to news about this gameline for a while now; it’s the first line from the World of Darkness series produced by Onyx Path, who are a group who have a truly nebulous relation to White Wolf that I’ve been trying to figure out for a little while now, and I’m quite excited to see what they can come up with. That, and Mummies are cool.
So, I cracked open then email as quick as I possibly could, to find a link to a Kickstarter, showing me all the various rewards and bonuses I could get for funding this project to completion. Now, normally, I’m quite a fan of Kickstarter. I’ve pledged to quite a few projects that I’ve either really wanted to see made or at least really wanted to get an early version of, and I really like the idea that creators can now cut out the middle man and go right to their potential audience/customers to get their funding. Great stuff. And I was completely ready to crack open my PayPal account to pledge £20 or so and (hopefully) get me an early version of the Mummy PDF or something along those lines. However, then I saw the rewards and was largely stopped in my tracks.
Firstly, and most importantly, if I want to get a copy of Mummy: The Curse, even a PDF copy, I have to cough up $25, which is pretty much just the same price I would be paying if I simply wait for it come out on DriveThruRPG (a great place to go to pick up your pdfs, by the way). Sure I’ll get some wallpapers (woo, like I don’t have enough of those already), and I guess I’ll be listed as a “Cultist”, but really it feels a bit stingy. Surely, if Onyx Path/White Wolf want our support in getting their project off the ground, they could at least give some real benefit to all those people who are going to be supporting them from the beginning and pledging their cash without even seeing anything of the finished product. Instead, WW/OP seem to be taking a cynical standpoint, only giving as much away for a pledge as it would actually buy that supporter once the product is out. It’s not even an early copy; at least it doesn’t say so if it is. This doesn’t feel to me like the creator/audience feedback loop that I’ve had from Kickstarter in the past, where a person who really isn’t sure their product is going to exist at the end of it is asking for help from their audience, but also giving that audience a bit of special treatment in return for their investment. This feels like something very different, and it was only later on, when I was thinking the idea over in that classic zone of ponderance, the shower (and yes I just invented a word, so what?), that I really hit upon what was bothering me.
What’s bothering me is that whether it’s White Wolf or Onyx Path funding the project, this isn’t a creator saying to an audience “we really need your help to get this thing going” it’s a big company, a company I actually like, but regardless a company none the less, basically saying to their prospective audience “we’re not going to take a gamble on this line guys, if you want it, put your money down in advance, cover our costs and then we’ll give you a product; a product that 5 years ago, we simply would have put into circulation for you to buy off of our own backs”. It’s asking supporters to shell out well in advance, for nothing more than the same product they would have got anyway, and you can bet this item would end up being produced regardless of whether this Kickstarter had met its goal or not. I mean, the delivery date for the product is February 2013; they can’t be using this money in order to support the writing of the book. It’s clearly already there. What they’re asking is for people to put their money on the table so that they as a company can be sure they’re going to make back their costs before really putting their hat in the ring with this product.
And what’s so wrong with that? On one level, nothing I guess. White Wolf isn’t the biggest company in the world, it’s not like we’re talking about Microsoft or IBM here. They’re probably struggling the same as most people in the current economic climate (don’t’cha just love hearing that?). Why begrudge them a chance to make some money without as much of the risk? I think my main objection in this area comes from the feeling that, to me, Kickstarter is about getting things off the ground that, without the support network of fans and interested parties, would never see the light of day. Big business wouldn’t touch some of these concepts because they just wouldn’t make enough money, or at least they don’t think they’d appeal to a large enough audience. But with Kickstarter that’s okay, you can go right to the people who want this thing and get your funding, and then everyone feels they’ve put a little something in to get out something they wouldn’t have had before. This Mummy Kickstarter really doesn’t have that same feel to me. This book would have come out regardless. Yes, it may have taken longer and people wouldn’t have got a lot of the little benefits that come from it, but they’re not asking for help to get something new and innovative done. They’re just using up the goodwill of their fans to avoid some risk themselves.
But then, what do I know; the Kickstarter just hit $75,199 out of $30,000, making them over 250% funded and they still have 7 days to go. Maybe I’ll just go take another look at the rewards…