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Why One Kickstarter Success Story Thinks Kickstarter Might Be Unethical

"A Kickstarter will challenge your core beliefs and morals."


Independent game developer Steve Swink raised more than $100,000 last year on Kickstarter. But in a talk on Monday at the Game Developers Conference, he questioned whether the benefits of Kickstarter outweigh the toll it takes on project creators.

“A Kickstarter will challenge your core beliefs and morals,” Swink said in his talk before a packed audience of developers. “If you’re going to do a Kickstarter, you need to determine to what degree you’re willing to bend those.”

He opened with a crowd-pleasing bit, tiredly reciting how great Kickstarter is into the microphone while advancing through a series of slides with more sinister text, suggesting that running a crowdfunding project had led him to overstate and deceive to get more press and backer attention. In 2012, less than a third of all Kickstarter gaming projects were funded successfully.

Furthermore, Swink argued, developers who want to succeed must cash in on their friends, family and professional networks, even though it’s possible they’ll ultimately fail to deliver on backers’ rewards. Just yesterday, for instance, a game funded to the tune of $53,000 two years ago was put on hold, with no release date in sight.

Succeeding on Kickstarter, he added, means trading in on one’s respect and reputation.

“It seems like an inevitable consequence of that happening,” Swink said of appealing to his personal contacts for more money, in a Q&A after his talk. “I felt like that was happening, so I kept backing away from that, but at the same time I felt like I had to keep doing stuff like that. Every minute of every hour of every day that you’re doing a Kickstarter, it feels like you should be doing more. … It’s the never-ending nightmare.”

The topic of projects not delivering on what they promise comes up often, but Kickstarter CEO Yancey Strickler defended the system when he spoke to Re/code’s Liz Gannes earlier this month, calling the company “staunch defenders of our reputation”:

Obviously we want every project to succeed, but not every one will, and that’s the nature of the creative process. You’re not buying something, you’re supporting the creation of it.

Long term, I want people to have the confidence that when they come to Kickstarter, they’re coming to a trusted platform, and it’s being run by people who really care. You also want people to look a little closer if something feels off. They should look at the comments and see what other people are saying. Really, where the system shines is when you’re raising money, you have the eye of the Internet upon you. If you try to fudge some facts, all it takes is one Reddit thread to uncover that.

However, it’s not that project creators who never deliver are trying to be irresponsible or intentionally withhold those rewards, Swink stressed. It’s that they don’t know in advance the amount of time and money a Kickstarter project takes, so it’s easy to spend all of one’s funds before the work is done. To articulate this argument, Swink paraphrased Socrates, who said wrongdoing originates in ignorance.

“If you do dumb stuff that hurts yourself or others, it’s not because you’re an evil a-hole, it’s because you didn’t know any better,” he said.

The silver lining to it all, Swink said, was that despite the psychological pressure of running a campaign, he now has a freedom that he wouldn’t have had otherwise.

“Now I won’t have to get a real job,” Swink said. “Now I get to make my game.”

That game, Scale, does not yet have a release date, but is available for preorders online. The Kickstarter trailer for the game is embedded below.

This article originally appeared on

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