Art of the Genre: The Pillaging of Kickstarter?

Art of the Genre: The Pillaging of Kickstarter?

The Good of Kickstarter... The Order of the Stick
The Good of Kickstarter... The Order of the Stick

The pillaging of Kickstarter… Dramatic huh? Well, it might not exactly be the case, but I’ve seen a couple shocking trends happening out in the world of Kickstarter that disturbed me enough to talk about it here in my regular Kickstarter postings.

You see, Kickstarter at its very base level is about money, and that’s not a bad thing because it takes money to make cool things happen. Kickstarter, as a platform, helps thousands of independent minded artists, writers, musicians, inventors, and all other manner of creative people connect with fans to create projects that they love. How can that be wrong? Well, it’s not, but unfortunately corporations have now discovered the power of Kickstarter, and what was once a grass roots movement is quickly changing into a large scale money grab.

To illustrate this, I’m going to take you all through a couple of examples that I’ve seen in the past few months. First off I’m going to start with this little ‘Honest Man’s Kickstarter’ that introduced me to Kickstarters in the first place, the initial art recreation project by former TSR artist Jeff Dee. Dee, a forward thinking guy, was understandably put out that TSR threw away all his original art from his work on Dungeons & Dragons from 1979-1981. Who could blame him, right? So he goes to Kickstarter and asks folks to help him recreate those original pieces of art, as well as add some new ones if pledging was high enough. Jeff asked for $2,500 to do this and received funding to the tune of $5,750, which is a great thing to see for a guy who struggles with bills as much as anyone else in America today.

I was so inspired by Dee’s Kickstarter that I not only wrote about it here on Black Gate, but I decided I would do one as well, mine being a old school illustrated adventure novel with former TSR and Wizards of the Coast alum Jeff Easley. Jeff, who’d spent 30 years in the RPG industry as an artist just to have art directors across the board tell him he was done in today’s marketplace, and I believed he deserved a chance to reconnect with fans and see what Kickstarter could offer. For our project we asked for $2500 to create the illustrated novel and received final pledging to the tune of $8726, which again was a great success for two struggling people in this industry.

During my personal Kickstarter’s 30-day campaign, I was joined in a shared time frame by Rich Burlew’s Order of the Stick Kickstarter. Rich had run a free webcomic and website for Order of the Stick since 2003 and had released over 800 comic strips each Friday since his debut nearly a decade ago. Rich isn’t a wealthy guy, he’s just a creative person who wanted to share his talent and humor with the world, and when he finally came to Kickstarter to ask his fans to help him reprint his comics, the outpouring was enormous. Rich’s request to do a single reprinted comic was $57,750. What his fans finally ended up giving him, $1,254,120.

Now I’m sure many of you scoring this at home see that as an absurd number, and believe that Rich is off someplace sipping cocktails in his new villa on Grand Cayman, but I’ve broken down the numbers so you might better understand what happened in his Kickstarter, why I supported him, and why those numbers are brilliant.

When you back Double Fine, you aren't backing a independent artist, you are supporting a company.  Still, its a small company, and they probably need money like most small companies, but when does it turn from small companies to medium and then to mega corporations?
When you back Double Fine, you aren't backing a independent artist, you are supporting a company. Still, its a small company, and they probably need money like most small companies, but when does it turn from small companies to medium and then to mega corporations?

Amazon, who owns Kickstarter, is going to take 10% off the top in fees, so roughly $125,000 from Order of the Stick. The U.S. government is going to want their share, probably 25% or higher, so take away another minimum of $313,500. Rich also needs to fulfill all the incredible things he gave to his thousands of backers AND reprint all his comics with a significant backstock which was his goal in the first place. I’m going to say this is at the very least another $250,000 since his initial goal was $57,000 for a single comic collection reprint run. Ok, so that leaves $565,500. Now, since Rich had worked for free to bring out Order of the Stick for 9 years, let’s divide that sum by a weekly working basis of 468 weeks of unpaid labor. That equates to $1208 a week in back income over the past 9 years that Rich received for all his creative entertainment. Would you deny a man who worked for nothing other than your entertainment that kind of money? I’d hope not, and it’s why his fans flocked to support him in such numbers because of everything he’d put in to making their Friday’s a little more fun.

That, ladies and gentleman, is the power of Kickstarter. And because of Rich, who supported 20 other Kickstarter projects with pledges of his own, and kindly promoted each and every one of them during his Kickstarter run with links, the Kickstarter marketplace was all the richer for it. Rich gave back, and his support of my Easley Kickstarter brought in an extra $3000 in pledges because he cared enough to talk about it with fans. Kickstarter should be the type of community involving independent artists who help one another live their dreams, but of late, that is changing.

Enter Double Fine Adventure… During both my Easley Kickstarter and Rich’s Order of the Stick campaign, a video game company called Double Fine and 2 Player Productions launched a Kickstarter for an adventure video game called Double Fine Adventure. This company, out of San Francisco California with over 40 employees and multiple gaming titles under their belt, decided that they could get some money using the Kickstarter model to produce a game. Their goal? $400,000 to both produce the game and film a documentary of the process it takes to make it. Their final donations total, $3,336,371 plus roughly $100,000 in ‘premium’ donations to be added outside those numbers.

Brain Fargo, the CEO of inXile has had a hand in the creation of all these games.  Will he make a great game, damn right, but should we be worried about what his success in the model might lead to?
Brain Fargo, the CEO of inXile has had a hand in the creation of all these games. Will he make a great game, damn right, but should we be worried about what his success in the model might lead to?

Ok, so herein lies the rub. Double Fine is a company. Double Fine already makes computer games and they have a slew of employees, a marketing department, people to answer their phones, and evidently a movie quality documentary crew to help them with all facets of production videos. What in the world did Double Fine ever do to deserve over 3.3 million dollars from a grass roots platform? You tell me, well other than being a company with deep enough pockets in the first place that they could produce a superior looking Kickstarter campaign video. And Double Fine not only drew over three million dollars from the Kickstarter backer base [which to me is not an unlimited well], but they gave absolutely nothing back. They supported exactly zero other projects and talked about no other projects during their 30-day Kickstarter run. When it was all said and done they threw an online party, blew horns, tossed confetti, and then went about their work week with a smile.

In the words of David Deitrick who witnessed this with me, “it is like watching an 18 year old enter a 12 and under swim meet and take all the 1st place trophies.” Double Fine has no place being in Kickstarter, but once the proverbial cat was out of the bag, inXile Entertainment comes rolling in with Wasteland 2. [BTW, I supported both Double Fine Adventure and Wasteland 2, and I strongly suggest taking a look at Wasteland’s project, its awesome]. This computer gaming company from exclusive Newport Beach, California [the setting for the WB network’s OC drama from a few years back] busts out an even more professional Kickstarter video that literally had me laughing with wonderful industry nostalgia and asks for $900,000 in backing. At the time of my writing this they are steamrolling at $1,205,000 with 31 days to go…

Again, another incredible use of the Kickstarter model, and I’m sure Amazon couldn’t be happier because remember they get that 10% cut! You might be wondering how many other Kickstarter projects has inXile funded? Yep, you guessed it, zero. [Zero at the time of my writing this article. 18 hours after I posted this they had backed 8 projects… I’m liking that even if I had nothing to do with it.] [Note II: inXile, as of March 21st has now tried to initiate a new policy on Kickstarter called ‘Kick it Forward’ in which 5% of all profits from Kickstarter based projects go back into the Kickstarter site as pledges to later projects on the site. Nice move, Mr. Fargo!]

So, as companies, do they come, then grab, and then go home? If so, then that, my friends, is what I mean by the pillaging of Kickstarter. However, could they be bringing in Kickstarter backers none of us ever see, by the thousands? Certainly, but only Kickstater can translate those numbers so you are either going to be a glass is half full or glass is half empty. In my case I’m waiting to witness, but have any of you ever heard of trickle down economics? You know, the ‘if we make the rich richer then they’ll spread that wealth down to the middle class’. Well, on paper it made sense in 1980, and today there is an incredibly shrunken middle class and a the richer are richer than ever.

OK, I’m going to add something in here that gets lost along the way in this post. This isn’t a bash against Double Fine or inXile, it’s a wake up call about what their participation could mean to the platform. I mean truly, I’ve linked to inXile‘s Kickstater and new that ANY press is good press. If I was really trying to bash them I’d have not mentioned names. Instead I’ll reiterate what I said in a reply comment below: You are also fooling yourself into thinking such company funding is a good thing for the platform as a whole. If you believe that Bioware or Blizzard hasn’t had a meeting concerning Kickstarter then you’re living in a dream world.

Currently, big companies pay for development, but the more success these smaller companies have with big numbers, the closer we are to a World of Warcraft II brought to you exclusively by Kickstarter.

Suddenly, instead of people supporting corporations on the front end with direct sales of product, we’ll be financing the back end just so we can help other folks buy the games appearing on the shelves. Imagine that! What a world it will be where there is no cost at all to a company to produce products, and again, if you think people in suits aren’t really considering this you’re well… see above.

My father-in-law, a preacher, got back from a corporate church meeting in Boston [yes, all churches have a business model and a home office someplace] and what was their topic of choice? Crowd-Funding through Kickstater to boost church income across the U.S. So where does it stop?

The only reason stuff like this hasn’t happened sooner is that there was a stigma attached to such fundraising that big companies didn’t want attached to their brand, but that is changing as fast as you can say Wasteland 2. The more legit Kickstarter funding becomes, the more you can see the next Chevy Trans Am coming to you from Kickstarter because, you know, a lot of people asked for it.

At some point, if this continues, the platform will break and companies will go back to doing what they always have, but the little guys and gals, they’ll just have to keep on dreaming as there will be no place as awesome as Kickstarter to help bring great ideas to life.

Now granted I can’t and don’t fault these companies for their ideas, or their success, it’s awesome, but isn’t there a better place to get capital than a platform where you’re basically competing with toddlers for what candy is in the cookie jar? And if you must do it, wouldn’t it be nice to lend a hand to the other players if it costs absolutely nothing to do so?

It’s uncertain how all this will finally shake out, but I fear for the platform, and yet I know there are still incredibly wonderful people and projects out there that need help to achieve their goals, no matter how small they might be in comparison to those of Double Fine or inXile.

So here is my advice. Back the projects you love, no matter the project creator, and if you go to Kickstarter, and truly I hope you do, watch the video of the project that interests you and look not for production value but for the passion in the person’s voice, and the honesty in their face. Scroll down the page to the bottom right of the screen where it talks about the person putting the project out and see how many projects they themselves have backed. Once you’ve done that, you can make a far more educated decision about who really needs your money.

Kickstarter is a blessing, but you need to clear away the marketing machine and be weary of wolves coming in sheep’s clothing. Also, if you’re looking for a project from a person that could use your support, I suggest the Grognardia offering of Dwimmermount. It’s truly another single man makes good grass roots success story.

If you like what you read in Art of the Genre, you can listen to me talk about publishing and my current venture with great artists of the fantasy field here or even come say hello on Facebook here. And here’s a view of my current Kickstater

Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

I disagree with you strongly enough that I registered to leave a comment. While I agree it would have been nice if either DoubleFine or inXile had promoted other projects, that doesn’t mean they should be excluded from Kickstarter.

I’m not sure how much of a PC Gamer you are, or how much you follow the industry, but neither of the games they proposed would have been made using the traditional publishing model. It was parodied in inXile’s video. Fans have clamored for the types of games they’re producing for years but game publishers want to play it safe and crank out another Halo/CallofDuty clone.

I’m glad there’s a place these developers can turn to that allows them to satisfy niche fans, and I would much rather reward the developers directly than have some middleman who watered down the product take half off the top.



I completely disagree with you. First of all, the tone of your post comes across as similar to what you will often observe coming from the original core group of fans of a musician that finally makes it big. That is not a good thing.

More importantly, I think you are turning a positive into a negative and misinterpreting what is happening. The projects on Kickstarter are not competing in a zero-sum game over a set number of dollars. More likely than not, these video game companies brought many people to Kickstarter that had previously not heard of it. Some of these people will be intrigued by the site and probably will fund other projects, thus growing the overall pool of money available.

Finally, I completely fail to understand why you think it is so horrible that a small company uses Kickstarter. The money they raised will keep 40 people gainfully employed and not mooching off the rest of us in the already long unemployment line. Capital is increasingly difficult to raise these days and I hope other small companies, along with individual artists and writers, can take advantage of this and find success.



The difference between Rich Burlew and a company is that companies have to be careful about what projects, charities, etc. they endorse. If I was in their shoes, I would probably have not endorsed any other projects either – at least as a company.

Your analogy is flawed because Double Fine and inXile brought peanut butter with them and probably left more in the cupboard than they took out.


Nor do you have proof that they ‘stole’ funding from other projects on Kickstarter.

We shall have to agree to disagree. You appear to view Kickstarter as a community for atheistic artists, whereas I see it as a great new tool to empower individuals, companies, churches, etc. by allowing them to circumvent traditional restraints on acquiring capital, thereby making a more dynamic and creative society.


I have proof they brought some more peanut butter; all you have to do is check InXile’s profile on Kickstarter to see that they’ve funded 8 other projects on their themselves. Your entire article here seems like little more than sour grapes because you only got a measly $8726 instead of the million+ these guys are bringing in.


>>Currently, big companies pay for development, but the more success these smaller companies have with big numbers, the closer we are to a World of Warcraft II brought to you exclusively by Kickstarter.<>Suddenly, instead of people supporting corporations on the front end with direct sales of product, we’ll be financing the back end just so we can help other folks buy the games appearing on the shelves. Imagine that! What a world it will be where there is no cost at all to a company to produce products, and again, if you think people in suits aren’t really considering this you’re well… see above.<<

Consumers, instead of being nothing but consumers, beholden to whatever a company can (or will) produce, becoming something akin to investors in the product by helping defer the up front costs of a product, and the company having to be more responsive to where the actual demand lies is a good thing.


With all that said, I personally dont see kickstarter as a massive phenomenon lasting very long…all it will take is one, or two, big projects to go sour for the balloon to burst.


Ack, this got whacked from my post:

>>Currently, big companies pay for development, but the more success these smaller companies have with big numbers, the closer we are to a World of Warcraft II brought to you exclusively by Kickstarter.<<

That is a bad thing?


This is an interesting analysis, but I don’t believe it to be an accurate one. You’re basing a large amount of your statements on base assumptions and large, sweeping, generalizations. Not all companies have a mountain of money to do with as they please. And the assumption that the well of money available to Kickstarter is static is outright wrong.

Ask any indie game developer who has a project on Kickstarter what they think of the Double Fine Adventure project, and they’ll say that they love it. Look at their funding charts, and you’ll see massive surges around Feb. 10th (I REALLY wish I still had the images I was looking at a couple weeks ago). The reality is that Double Fine, InXile, and all the positive press surrounding their projects have brought a massive amount of traffic to Kickstarter and severely increased that so-called well. Now, more people than ever are aware of Kickstarter and backing projects. Double Fine’s project had a net positive effect on the entire site. Keep in mind that a significant majority of the money they earned was not from previous Kickstarter regulars, but people who never even knew the site existed before. New blood means a deeper well.

Second, your assumption that these are well-off companies who don’t need our money is unfounded. Double Fine has 40 employees, yes. They’re also stuck in limbo, with no real capital of their own. The current developer-publisher model is broken. Mid-sized game developers like them are kind of like contractors. They work contract to contract to pay the bills, and ultimately that’s all they do. They can’t self-publish, and the vast majority of all profits for anything they do goes to the publishers. Look at what happened to Obsidian Entertainment recently. They had to lay off a large number of employees because just a single project was canceled by their publisher. They didn’t have much money even though their latest game sold millions because their publisher at the time, Bethesda, only gave them a single payment for the job with no profit sharing or royalties. This type of thing is happening all over the industry.

For these types of developers, they can’t self-fund, it’s impossible. If publishers wont let them make the games they want to make, such as traditional 2D point and click adventure games, the only way to get that done is a site like Kickstarter. Let the fans decide whether they want a game or not, not the big publishers. To me, it doesn’t get more indie than this, whether it’s one guy, ten guys, or forty behind it. For what it’s worth, the adventure game funded by Kickstarter is only going to have a small team of 5-10 people working on it.

I appreciate what you’re trying to say, “big time companies are moving in and stealing money from independent artists!” I’d be concerned too if that was actually happening. But these companies are neither big time, nor are they stealing money from anyone. They’re groups of people with smart and creative ideas about what they want to do within their medium, that nobody but their true fans are willing to fund and make happen. If that isn’t indie, I don’t know what is.

On a side-note, one of the founders of Obsidian is considering doing a Kickstarter to fund a dream game of his that no publisher would fund. If he goes through with that, I will back it in a heartbeat. Chris Avellone is a genius.

Also, you say that InXile has funded zero other projects, but that’s false. They’ve backed 8 so far and may continue to back more. At least click on their profile before making these statements, please?


I always have great respect for what you do on this blog, and your Art of the Genre posts have for a long time been my favorite thing here, but I must say I disagree with your assessment of this situation on Kickstarter. Also, there are some factual errors and false assumptions which I feel are misrepresenting things.

First, inXile is not Interplay and has nothing to do with them, nor access to any of their resources. The only thing they have in common is Brian Fargo, who no longer works for Interplay. Posting up all of those classic successful Interplay games (Bard’s Tale, Fallout, Baldur’s Gate, Planescape Torment, etc.) and saying inXile was part of their creation is straight out false. Again Brian Fargo is the common element in many of these, but just because he once worked for Interplay doesn’t mean his new company has access to any of the resources or royalties those titles generated.

Also false is the assumption that all game developers are somehow sitting on mountains of cash to do whatever they want with. I’ve worked in the industry on the development side and have seen some of what goes on when a development company deals with a publisher. In the traditional funding model, the publisher funds the development, and after the game is done a lot of the income from game sales goes toward paying back the publisher. In a lot of cases it’s hard for a dev company to just break even, let alone turn a profit. And this is why creative concessions are made to appeal to the mass market to maximize profits.

In addition, the publisher funding model severely constrains creativity. Development companies have to sometimes follow very misguided creative decisions to please their publishers and continue funding.

You say “Kickstarter should be the type of community involving independent artists who help one another live their dreams” – well, this is exactly what inXile is trying to do! Wasteland 2 is the type of game they really want to work on and the traditional funding method was not making that possible. Being part of a company doesn’t make a person into a soulless borg entity with no passions. These are game designers, coders, writers, and artists just like any other who are trying to make a living at what they love. And they want to operate independently of publisher influence and have complete creative control. This is exactly what Kickstarter is designed for. They aren’t exploiting the platform and aren’t going to ruin it for the little guy.

Also, you mention in reply to one of the comments that inXile is not having an open dialogue with fans about the game, and this is also false. Are you aware of the forums they set up specifically for this purpose? They have been extremely active and the devs have put up polls and discussion threads to gain feedback from the fans and backers.

And by the way I’m fully in support of looking out for the little guy. I have spent a long time as a freelance artist struggling to make ends meet. I’m not freelance now but part of a tiny 2-man startup company making tabletop RPG books. A small operation like ours could seriously benefit from the Kickstarter platform, but I don’t feel that opportunity would at all be threatened by larger companies like Double Fine and inXile also using that platform. We are all trying to do the same thing – make the kind of games we are passionate about.


I joined Kickstarter to fund DoubleFine Adventure for two reasons:

1. I love adventure games and no-one funds them any more. I funded to get something I want.

2. Ages ago an acquaintance gave me a bootleg copy of Grim Fandango, which I played and enjoyed bunches. Since bootleg copies are no doubt one of the reasons the adventure games market crashed and burned, I owed a little recompense.

I’m now more likely to fund other Kickstarter simply because I have an account.


Scott: Thank you very much for considering my thoughts and clarifying that caption. I do understand your reasoning behind the original caption, I just felt it needed some clarification for those who might not know the history behind that. And I really appreciate the offer of exposure for the startup company I’m part of, if we pursue a Kickstarter campaign. If I could email or message you directly about that I’d prefer it since this is my personal online handle and I like to keep professional and personal identities separate when possible.

I’m really excited about the possibilities of the Kickstarter platform for projects of all kinds, so this is why I comment so passionately about it. I’m glad it isn’t construed as a flame, as I really have great respect for what you are doing here. Looking forward to your posts as always – keep up the great work!


Scott, I could debate your whole article point-by-point, but instead I will just focus on one line you wrote that really pissed me off: “What in the world did Double Fine ever do to deserve over 3.3 million dollars from a grass roots platform?”

They didn’t things just for the grass root platform, both Tim Schafer and Brian Fargo earned the love and devotion of countless fans for the massive ammount of entertainment they provided in over 20 years of fantastic games, like Monkey Island and Fallout, that people still love and play to this day.

If Rich deserves over 1M for making comics during 9 years, both those legends CLEARLY deserve at least the same, not an arrogant and misguided post of someone acting as self-entitled “kickstarter jugde”, imposing imaginary rules of conduct and saying what’s right and wrong.

Kickstarter comunity is made by people, and is quite obvious that Fargo & Schafer did more for those people than any other project so far, so don’t go blindly saying that’s because of video production or even worse, underserved.

Bill Ward

You might be interested in this, Scott:

“It occurs to me that we can harness the power of Kickstarter in a more meaningful way,” Fargo wrote in his latest Kickstarter.

“Fan funding is bigger than me or Wasteland 2 as I have remarked before. The development community has come together to support us in ways that I didn’t think possible and our power as developers will ultimately come from us sticking together. Both gamers and developers have so much more strength than they realise.”

[…] yes, I’m trying to keep up with my Kickstarter theme each Saturday, but as I’m releasing a new Kickstarter myself, and its progress will be tracked right here on […]

[…] Although about a post-apocalypse, Wasteland 2 wants to see Kickstarter prosper.It’s been a very interesting two weeks since I posted up a little article on Saturday in my Kickstarter spot here on Black Gate. Usually, all my Kickstarter posts are met with a HUGE lack of readership or interest, most posting no more than two hundred reads, so I decided it wouldn’t be horribly impactful to post an article I titled The Pillaging of Kickstarter? […]


“I look great care in crafting that sentence as I did. I’m very pleased it solicited a reaction strong enough for you to post here, which is the reason I write in the first place”

Assholes often get strong reactions, nothing to be pleased about unless of course you are an asshole.

[…] had some excellent discussions here about cloud funding, starting with Scott Taylor’s “The Pillaging of Kickstarter” last March. There’s no question that cloud funding sites like Kickstarter are here to […]

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x