Should you back Kickstarter projects for the exclusive swag?
If you’re a connoisseur of innovation on the internet, you’ve probably backed a project or two on Kickstarter. The crowdfunding platform has paved the way for niche products that would have never seen the light of day under normal circumstances, and at least some of this success is owed to a fundamental of the Kickstarter platform: backer rewards.
For the uninitiated, when people choose to fund a project on Kickstarter, their donation is usually met with an original reward. For example, if you backed the Star Trek 3Doodler Pen Set, you could snag some limited edition pens with unique engravings not found on the retail versions. Many collectors and enthusiasts have rushed to back certain projects strictly in pursuit of these limited edition backer rewards, but is that really a good reason to support a project on Kickstarter? I won’t necessarily say no, but I would bring up these three points for consideration:
1: If you’re backing a project for the collectibles, you could be overpaying to begin with.
Kickstarter is commonly mischaracterized as a “pre-order platform.” That is to say, it’s easy to think a Kickstarter pledge is the same as placing an order for an unreleased product on Amazon. The truth is, you become an investor when donating to a Kickstarter project – not a customer. The money you’re donating is to ensure that the product can even exist to begin with.
Many Kickstarter campaigns will offer their product at a discount as a backer reward, but even then, you could still be overpaying. For example, take the original Fidget Cube campaign (yes, Fidget Cubes started on Kickstarter). One of the bulk backer rewards offered 80 Fidget cubes for 850 dollars – obviously an extreme example, but the biggest discount per cube originally offered. After all, that’s a little more than $10.50 per cube, which is far less than the anticipated retail value of $25. But nowadays, you can actually buy a fidget cube for less than that from the original creators themselves, which is to say nothing of the countless cheap knockoffs on the market. So sure, back a project if you want it right when it launches, but you can usually guarantee the price will eventually drop lower.
2: Other hardcore collectors are probably backing the project with you.
We’re generally outspoken against the “collecting strictly as an investment” mentality on Gemr, but with Kickstarter it becomes an especially tempting proposition. A once in a lifetime opportunity to buy a limited edition item sounds promising, especially when you consider the value of, say, 1st Edition Pokémon cards. Why wouldn’t you want to roll the dice on something that could be worth tons of cash someday?
Well, in order for an item to be worth something, you have to find someone willing to pay a high price for it. And as far as Kickstarter exclusive rewards go, all your prospective buyers are probably pitching in for the exact same reward tier you are. Sure, maybe you can count on a particular Kickstarter item becoming a massive hit that puts your limited edition collectible on the map, but many Kickstarter projects are crowd funded because they’re niche. And frankly, this mentality brings us to our final point.
3: All crowdfunded projects are a massive risk, even if they seem like a sure thing.
Look, there have been incredible success stories on Kickstarter. Exploding Kittens, The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Reboot, the aforementioned Fidget Cubes… we could go on. But on the opposite side of the coin are the massive Kickstarter failures. We’re talking projects that seem like absolute surefire hits with reliable names behind them and tons of funding at their disposal… that wind up crashing and burning hard.
Take the Ouya, the indie gaming console that promised to revolutionize the gaming scene. It remains in the top 10 of most funded projects in Kickstarter history, yet it crashed and burned so hard after release that I forgot it existed until I wrote this paragraph. While we’re on the subject of video games, also consider Mighty No. 9. It was a massively funded Mega Man style game from a bunch of people who worked on Mega Man, and even that fell way below the expectations of its backers. Heck, I actually kind of liked the game, but I doubt anyone’s gonna me pay more for my backer rewards than I did just to get them.
Backing a project on Kickstarter is a huge risk. Just getting a quality product in the end can be a small miracle, let alone one that takes the market by storm and becomes super valuable. That said, if you see a Kickstarter campaign for something that you genuinely, truly believe in, then feel free to put your money where your mouth is. Kickstarter remains an amazing platform for niche products to come to life, so go ahead and get your hands on that limited edition perk if you want it for yourself. Just don’t expect to be rolling in the cash because you got in on a special engraved product for $200.
In other words, back projects because you care about them, not because you’re hoping someone else will in the future.