The Cardboard Hoard: Breaking Down Kickstarter's New 'Honest and Clear' Policy
After years and years of well-intentioned but mismanaged campaigns, along with multiple cases of intentional abuse by Internet hucksters, Kickstarter has finally come around to making an honesty policy, which it calls “Honest and Clear Presentation in Projects.” Let’s forgive the length of time it took for them to publicize this — better late than never, right? — and dig into exactly what it sets out to do.
At the outset, it states:
Trust is the foundation for the health of Kickstarter’s platform and ecosystem, and transparency is one of the most important components of cultivating trust to build a healthy, vibrant community. Because of this, we expect creators to bring an exceptional level of honesty, openness, and candor to both how they present their ideas and how they run their campaigns.
Of course, without trust, nobody will back campaigns on Kickstarter, so it’s pretty clear that this entire focus is on keeping their revenue stream in tact. Self serving, naturally. But they are a business, not a charity, so it is an understandable view for them to take. Again — for the last time, I promise — I will point that the time to be transparent was from the outset, not ten years in. But they, of course, are talking about the transparency of their campaign creators, not themselves.
Kickstarter, with this announcement, is publishing a set of guidelines and rules to help ensure transparency and build — or in many cases, regain — trust. I’m going to break down my thoughts on this document with a series of bullet-points, first the ones I think are positive steps, and then the ones I see as potentially problematic.
But first, really briefly, some things to keep in mind. While games recently broke $1B in successful pledges on Kickstarter — with tabletop games accounting for almost 69% of that — these rules are site wide and not specific to tabletop games or even games in general. And a quick personal disclosure: I have backed 84 projects dating back to April of 2012, and have only been burned by one project to date — Dungeons & Dragons: A Documentary — which was a film, not a game. I have playtested and previewed multiple games that have gone on to seek funding through Kickstarter, as well as doing rules editing for more than one, but I have never been financially invested in a Kickstarter campaign or run a campaign myself.
No making assumptions about selling after the campaign, such as stating “50% off retail price” or “35% off MSRP”
No using superlatives, such as “the world’s best / smallest / fastest / first / etc.” or “the ultimate / unrivaled / revolutionary / etc.”
No setting an artificially low goal that will not allow the project to be brought to completion
No giving false impressions of support by misrepresenting press or media logos
No adding popularity badges like “Funded in 5 Hours” to campaigns
Must disclose any outside funding
Must disclose if you have past projects that are not yet completed
Must disclose any partnerships, and if they need to be secured
Must disclose if you need any third-party approvals before fulfillment
No use of renderings
No showing product packaging that has not been created
As for why I see those two as problems, if a creator pays an artist to create artwork for a game’s cards, and/or a box, there is no harm in presenting rendering that show a card being played to the table with a description of that card’s effect, or harm in showing a 3D rendering of what a box would look like based on artwork that has already been created. The only actual consequence here would be to punish smaller indie creators that cannot afford to have prototype copies printed with the finished artwork before they begin their campaigns, while not affecting the larger creators that use the platform as a pre-order system. This is antithetical to the spirit of Kickstarter, who has a mission statement that reads in part, “Kickstarter helps artists, musicians, filmmakers, designers, and other creators find the resources and support they need to make their ideas a reality.”
You may look at those two groups of bullet points and think that I am cheer-leading this new policy. But, while I do think it is a step in the right direction, I do see some fairly large problems with it. First, for a company that is talking about transparency and honesty, their use of both informal “guidance” and formal “rules” in the same policy is not a great look. Further, there are no clear and concrete repercussions laid out for abuses to this new policy, only the following two rather vague statements.
However, failure to honestly and clearly present your campaign may result in a range of actions, from your project being ineligible for promotion to account restrictions or even project suspension. - Guidelines
The following points are rules, not solely recommendations. Violation of these rules can result in project suspension. - Rules
More troubling still is the fact the two sections of this policy I believe are problematic are both listed under the more stringent rules section. While I’ve heard whispers that Kickstarter does not plan on enforcing those particular rules in the tabletop space — ahem, not exactly a model of transparency — I haven’t seen any written proof of that, so any creator that decides to use renderings or mocked up product packaging is doing so at their own risk. And mind you, this is a risk those creators would be taking right after many recent examples of creators having problems launching campaigns and having campaigns get suspended with very little information released on the reasoning behind the suspensions.
The final, and largest, issue I see is enforcement. If these rules are enforced fairly across the board — with the exception of the two I previously griped about — I see this as a big step forward for the continued health and success of Kickstarter. But if the platform decides to play favorites — and keep in mind it is in their financial interest to ignore their own policy with a multi-million dollar campaign from a creator like CMON — then I think this will just create a new set of problems and issues for Kickstarter and the creators that decide to use their platform going forward. Only time will tell how this will play out, but I’ll be watching with interest to see how the platform, and the campaigns of those who use it, evolves from here.