When the Kickstart Doesn’t Work: Fixing Crowdfunding’s Pitfalls

Not every crowdfunding project is successful, and that can lead to a lot of frustrated backers. But  industry groups can help worthy projects succeed by vetting them on Kickstarter and similar services.

Celebrated speculative fiction writer Neal Stephenson feels bad about what happened with his sword-fighting videogame, CLANG.

“The team had considerable incentives—emotional and financial—to see CLANG move on to the next round of funding,” he wrote in a post on Kickstarter last week. “They showed intense dedication and dogged focus that I think most of our backers would find moving if the whole story were told. I will forever be grateful to them. In the end, however, additional fundraising efforts failed and forced the team to cut their losses and disband in search of steady work.”

CLANG earned more than half a million dollars in funding back in 2012 and drew interest from numerous gamers, but the project never got past the prototype stage and became a black mark for a popular cult figure. And its financial backers were left empty-handed.

Stephenson’s situation is common enough that Kickstarter recently added new requirements to its terms of service for creators whose projects fail. “If a creator is unable to complete their project and fulfill rewards, they’ve failed to live up to the basic obligations of this agreement. To right this, they must make every reasonable effort to find another way of bringing the project to the best possible conclusion for backers,” the company states in the new terms. To meet their obligations, creators are  required to explain to backers how funds were used and why the project could not be completed, and to return any unused funds.

“This update reflects the best practices we’ve seen from our community to get the best possible outcomes from challenging situations,” the company stated in a blog post.

Associations as Curators

The situation highlights a problem inherent in crowdfunding: Results aren’t guaranteed, and trust can be tough to build. Even a brand name like Stephenson’s isn’t always enough to ensure high standards or a successful resolution.

That problem has led some organizations to step in as third-party curators of crowdfunded projects. A few trade groups and professional societies, including the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), AIGA, and the International Documentary Association, host their own pages on Kickstarter, which the company has allowed since 2011. Kickstarter’s biggest competitor, IndieGoGo, uses a partner system with similar goals, drawing particular success last year with a Giving Tuesday campaign page.

IGDA has come into its own on Kickstarter, a popular platform for game developers looking to fund their projects. But games are notorious for their failure rates. One particular mess was Yogventures, a game whose failure led to much second-guessing from industry insiders.

“Many of our members, affiliates, and partners rely on several popular crowdfunding platforms to build their communities and financially support their work,” IGDA states on its website. “As a service to the IGDA developer community, we curate a list of noteworthy projects on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. We allow IGDA members to request that we include their projects in our curated lists.”

IGDA is careful to emphasize on its Kickstarter page that the association is not recommending the projects but merely suggesting that they’re worth learning more about.

Have your members tried crowdfunding to finance their work, and have you helped them along in the process? Offer your take in the comments.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!