Content warning: This article talks about suicide and depression
I remember the first time I ever backed anything on Kickstarter. It was Fate Core in early 2013 and I had no idea what I was even doing. There was so much excitement around the campaign that I wanted to be part of making something cool happen in gaming. I had a sense of ownership in what was happening and it felt good to be part of a community that supports ideas.
Flash forward to late 2018. I’ve got 158 backed campaigns under my belt and I’ve backed the spectrum of Kickstarter projects at this point. I’ve back games that are ready to send out rewards from the moment the money clears and others that have made big promises despite having not even started on the project. I’ve even had a complete failure where I will never have anything to show for my investment. Ultimately, I am always happy to take a chance on ideas that I believe in, no matter the outcome.
Investing in a Dream
Investment is an important word in the world of Kickstarter that I think gets overlooked too often. Despite what it has become, the intention of Kickstarter is to be a place to invest in business ideas. Someone shows up with a dream and tries to convince enough people to believe and fund that dream. If it funds, great! Move forward and make that thing happen! If not then the market has spoken and you know that you have some work to do.
Dreams can be fickle things as they bump up against the reality of making them come to life. Good intentions and ideas don’t always equate to a good business plan or understanding of the industry that you’re entering. Making game books, cards, and tokens can be complicated with a steep learning curve. If you inadvertently choose the wrong companies to do business with in creating those parts and pieces, things can get even more challenging.
It’s the oft-repeated story; someone has an idea and support from their friends and family. They bring it to crowd funding and other people love it too! The backers are excited to get what they paid for and you the creator want to give it to them. Soon money, lack of experience, mental health issues, financial challenges, defective proofs, and shipping costs get in the way of timely delivery.
Sometimes the results can be financial ruin for the creator, backers with nothing to show for their investment, and angry internet people looking for someone to punish. The Kickstarter entrepreneurs carry the burden of being the focus of these disgruntled backers.
The Aftermath of Failure
It sucks when you don’t get what you feel you paid for. I get it. Anger and the feeling of being cheated out of your money is an understandable reaction for many people. There are gaming Kickstarters that appear to have been scams without the intention of ever delivering. Those are incredibly rare in reality but they are used to illustrate the dangers of investing in crowd funded projects.
The reality of most of the struggling Kickstarters that I’ve seen is simply that people made mistakes. They over promised stretch goals, didn’t understand the real costs involved in bringing products to market, didn’t notice manufacturing defects, or just got their butt kicked by personal issues outside of their control. There are many non-sinister reasons that projects delay or fail.
This is when the angry people show up. The threats of legal action, outrage caused by the perception of being swindled, and sometimes even threats of violence. Cruel words are thrown around with the buffer of the internet to hide the effect of how those words land on the real humans at the other end. The internet shows its venomous fangs.
There are often real world consequences for the actions of backers. People are suffering major depressive episodes, suicidal ideation, and hospitalization because of the pressure of a funded Kickstarter. Their families are thrown into the chaos of a loved one’s mental health struggles over playing cards and game books.
I am part of a non-gaming related Kickstarter where the owner of the company took his own life this year. He actually apologized to his Kickstarter backers in his suicide note.
Think about that for a second. In his final moments of life he took time to let the people leaving hateful comments on the campaign know that he never meant to cheat them. Reading that in a Kickstarter update was a sobering and heartbreaking moment. I sat there reading the words of man that is gone forever posted by those that he left behind. I am left mourning the loss of a fellow dreamer that I will never meet, but cry at his passing all the same.
I’ve seen too many updates about the emotional struggles of the creators begging for understanding. Most people that respond to these posts are supportive and kind but not all are. Kickstarter removes death threats and racist language but there are still many comments left behind that cut deeply.
A Moment of Thought
I’ve been irritated and disappointed by the lack of communication in campaigns that I’ve backed. I have posted my disappointment in the way things were run and asking for updates. I know the feeling when you realize that the thing you were really excited about and invested in is never coming. Most of us work hard for the money that we have and it stings to lose any of it without knowing why. I have limited resources to invest in dreams and it hurts to feel like I wasted it.
That frustration shouldn’t be more important than my humanity. There is never a justifiable reason for me to dehumanize and attack a stranger because I didn’t get my dice on time or at all. Investing is always a risk and sometimes that doesn’t work out. There are actual people involved in these games and we all need to consider this when we interact with them.
I’m asking that we all take a moment to think about what we post in our comments and messages. Think about how what you write would sound to you or a loved one if you were on the receiving end. Consider that not everyone has the same level of support that you do or may be suffering from physical or mental health challenges. Take a moment to temper your anger with kindness. A sharp sword isn’t the only tool to create the world you want. Give people a chance to fail and survive it
Creators in Crisis
There are things that creators can do to help make most people feel supported and not taken advantage of. Communication is such an important part of the process. Bad news isn’t fun to give but it is better than not communicating or lying to your backers. If your project is running late tell them why, back it up with data if you can, pictures if they’re available, and in the most honest way that you can.
There might come a point where you realize that your Kickstarter is never going to fulfill. There are many reasons that might happen but your response should generally be the same. Tell your backers the truth, give them a breakdown of everything that happened in the process, what mistakes were made, and what you learned from the experience.
I recognize that not everyone will find themselves mentally or emotional capable of what might seem to the outside world like a simple and honest declaration of the facts. That’s OK. You aren’t a terrible human just because you’re struggling. You’re most powerful move, if you’re able, is to ask for help.
First, please get help for your physical and emotional safety. The Kickstarter will wait until you are strong enough to takes steps to address your situation.
Friends, family, or a trusted internet community can all provide a loving outside perspective and help with the work needed to recover from the situation that you’re in. You don’t have to figure out everything yourself.
If you find yourself without a community around you, that’s OK too. Today doesn’t need to be the entirety of your life. Reach out where you can and let the community find you. You aren’t the only person that has struggled to create art and failed. People want to share what they’ve learned and help point you towards the light.
Do your best and be as OK as you can with the results.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Kickstarter can be a wonderful platform where projects that otherwise might not be commercially viable have a chance to thrive. It’s not perfect, but we have the power to make it better.
More compassion, honesty, humanity, and understanding are a good foundation to build from. Remember that we are all people that love games and want to see our hobby grow and flourish.
What do you think we can do to better support creators that find themselves in crisis? How can we build better community interactions when things go wrong? Should there be more tools in place to support the Kickstarter community as a whole?
Suicide prevention starts with recognizing the warning signs and taking them seriously. If you’re thinking about suicide, please visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) in the U.S.A. or visit http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html to find help in your country of residence. The world needs you.
I’ve nibbled on a lot of Gnome Stew, but I made an account today exclusively to respond to this.
I’m a creator, and I struggle with major depression and PTSD, partly from the military and partly from the rest of my life. It’s ridiculously difficult just to get out of bed and function at a part-time Staples job; to go the extra mile and put my confused, fog-enshrouded brain towards a product… even as rewarding as it is, it’s nearly impossible to do most days. In fact, without the nudging, prodding, encouragement, and sometimes outright bribery of my peers, I find it impossible some days to motivate myself to do anything beyond exist.
Over the last month, in a fit of desperation, I reached out on a game design subreddit. I begged, pleaded for someone, *anyone* to be merciful, to lend me a hand, to work with me. I was tired of being alone. One person invested the time, energy, and effort in talking with me, believing in me, and I started for the first time in ten years to put work into a project – more work than I ever have. There’s still stalling, still stagnation, still hang-ups and obstacles, but for the first time I can remember, there’s actual progress.
I’ve said all that to say this…
I’ve tried to kill myself before (years ago). Since then, I’ve had fits and moments where I feel so legitimately worthless and useless that it seems I would be better off dead and gone. The only thing by the grace of God that keeps me going is the principle of hope. There is hope that life continues, that dreams will in fact be realized, and that the vision I have – the stubborn vision of dreams coming to fruition – will manifest in some way, somehow. It’s a sense I have in me stronger than anything, and it remains despite how the world and people around me just seem to endeavor to cooperatively crush my very soul.
It’s because of people like you that I gain a renewed vigor to keep moving forward, and I just hope and pray someday that when I’m finally putting the last pieces of the puzzle together and I’m ready to introduce my dreams to the crowdfunding masses, that what I produce will take the gaming industry by storm, and I’ll have a chance to show everyone, and myself, that it was worth it, that it wasn’t a waste of time, that I actually managed to contribute something valuable, and that I’m so thankful for the people that made it possible.
People like you.
Thank you so much for sharing your story! It is amazing that you were able to reach out for help when you needed it. I am so grateful that you are creating and putting a little piece of yourself out into the world.
The gaming world shines a little brighter for that gift.
While the thrust of the article is the depression suffered by KS creators, some thought should also go to those undergoing depression as a direct result of the failure of a particular project into which they have invested money, enthusiasm and anticipation.
I offer the following, which I have culled for participating in and observing a kicking of startings:
If the the updates are becoming perfunctory, or are videofests of prototype updates, start saying goodbye to any money you’ve invested.
If the comments are full of people loudly shouting down any less-than positive comments on delays, who are referring to the project starter by their first name, kiss your cash goodbye.
When the claque of the uninformed is propping up an absent or negligent project leader, that is a sure sign of trouble. The key is to start mentally prepping yourself for the announcement of project failure. Months may go by in which updates with no meat on the bones are issued to supportive comments from the claque. Use this time to adjust your own perspective.
And should the project eventually deliver? You win bigtime.
For examples of the above scenarios, see The Peachy Printer or The Call of Cthulhu “Horror on the Orient Express” and “Seventh Edition” projects. Those last two were saved only by the intervention of selfless “angels” stepping in to save what little remained of the brand reputation and all kudos to them. There are other examples in the history of game kickstarters where people stepped in to ward off total failure too, which says lots of positive stuff about the hobby’s movers and shakers.
Thank you for writing this, thank you for stressing the importance of getting support when things become too much. I hope many people read and utilize your words.
Thank you for not calling those who grapple with suicide “cowards” or those seeking help “just looking for attention”.
I’ve always been fairly ambivalent towards KS projects that are veering off the straight and narrow, and never felt the need to attack the creators, but i have seen plenty of vitriol from other backers. (Almost?) none of these KS projects set out to fail, they set out bring a dream to life and make people happy to take part in the project and ultimately receive their ‘reward’.
So many people fight about whether or not it is an investment, speculative, a pre-order, a shop, they’re entitled to the final product, etc
Some fail to acknowledge the base principle that it is a gamble, because KS projects do nearly always succeed to some degree, and so it largely doesn’t feel like a gamble, until that one project that you back turns out that it is…. you feel let down, angry, sad, deceived and financially hit, but how must the creator feel with all this and the weight of the pressure and stress on their shoulders. I’ve never been a project creator, but i’ve had that weight from similar failed situations and it is the worst feeling in the world.
I agree, meaningful and honest dialogue with Backers is essential in all circumstances, and if the creator can’t think straight and can’t pen a suitable update, then they should seek help from someone (anyone) who can write the update for them from their discourse together.
This is a wonderful article, and it should be required reading for anyone signing up for KS for the first time.
Thanks for putting it out here.