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Opinion: Full of allure, Kickstarter always a gamble

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Nearly five years ago, I backed the only Kickstarter project I’ve ever paid for. It may be the last.

With a $15 pledge, I was promised a copy of Springfield indie video game developer Pixelscopic LLC’s “Delver’s Drop” title and other perks, such as artwork, exclusive in-game content, music, and a supporter credit in the game and online. At DelversDrop.com, an online alias I use is present.

But the game itself hasn’t hit the market, despite receiving $150,745 toward a $75,000 goal on Kickstarter in early 2013. “Delver’s Drop” had an estimated release date in October that year, and as recently as June 2016, co-founder Ryan Baker told Springfield Business Journal the game was 70 percent complete and headed for completion within 12 months. Reached for this article, Baker tells me development work to avoid bugs and add animations continues to delay the project. There is no current estimated launch date.

“We appreciate the patience of our backers and their understanding of the difficult nature of developing a project that is as complex as ours,” says Baker, who’s also busy with his Springfield marketing agency Mighty Sharp LLC.

Backers received email updates about the game’s progress every month this year through July. Then communication stopped.

The game’s social media profiles are inactive, as are its user forums at Pixelscopic.com. Updates continue on the “Delver’s Drop” Kickstarter page, the most recent being a response in the affirmative to a question about whether the game’s development was ongoing.

When I backed “Delver’s Drop” on Kickstarter, I can recall becoming enthralled in the hype and the excitement of being part of something larger than myself. There were more than 4,500 backers, after all.

While I want to give Pixelscopic the benefit of the doubt – especially given Baker’s assurances – those feelings have all but faded now as other games have hit the market and my mind has focused elsewhere.

Granted, it was an inexpensive lesson, personally, but $150,000 is nothing to sneeze at. In crowdfunding, it’s “backer beware.” They’re a gamble, as a Kickstarter FAQ page notes: “Even with a creator’s best efforts, a project may not work out the way everyone hopes. Keep this in mind when you back a project.”

Further, Kickstarter does not offer refunds. Translation: The accountability is largely between the creators and their backers. As such, you’re betting on the future of the project and its creators.

In this case, Pixelscopic has two other games in its portfolio: “Moshi Monsters: Moshling Zoo” and “Moshi Monsters: Moshlings Theme Park,” both for the Nintendo DS, according to its website. The games are intended for kids, and by the look of reviews, they delivered in that regard. “Delver’s Drop,” on the other hand, seemed to be marketed more toward adults with its pixelated graphics and gameplay reminiscent of the 1991 title “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.”

Based on my experience and that of others, here are five quick tips you can take before backing a crowdfunding campaign.

1. Google the company and those involved. Find out about their past successes or failures to determine the viability of their new project.

2. Ask yourself whether you’re willing to invest in a product that’s not guaranteed to become a reality. If you’re not, don’t do it.

3. Consider similar products. There are likely others that do what the crowdfunding project is promising and have released a product. Check out that product first.

4. Take time to think about the project before taking out your wallet. Like me, you may have gotten caught up in the hype. Give yourself a day or two to calm down and then make a more informed decision.

5. Contact the Kickstarter creator with questions. Perhaps they missed something important in their summary of the project. Be sure to clarify.

Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites are great financial mechanisms for startups that otherwise may not have access to capital, as well as an interesting way to test the market to determine if the need for a product exists.

Kickstarter lists five current projects from Springfield – including Manuscripts, a startup that quickly eclipsed its $12,000 goal within one day of launching. I met owners Jesse Tyler and Giancarlo Ospina and personally held one of the books, which seem to be exactly what’s advertised on the Kickstarter page. Still, even with a successful crowdfunding campaign, they have to deliver.

With all projects, it simply should be a measured approach on the part of the consumer.

Springfield Business Journal Web Producer Geoff Pickle can be reached at gpickle@sbj.net.

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