Hooked on Kickstarter: it’s just another way to shop online

A little over a month ago, a website tricked me into spending $285.

On a board game. A board game that doesn’t even exist yet; I’ll get to play it in September at the earliest. I also threw money at a movie that didn’t even have a finished script, a music album that had yet to be recorded and a weird-looking, multi-eyed cellphone case with lenses attached to make the camera shoot nicer photos.

Listen, I can explain.

I got a little addicted.

OK, a LOT addicted. And maybe I wasn’t so much “tricked” as convinced that I was getting the most amazing deals of a lifetime. Like that kid who traded a cow for some magic beans. As I recall, things worked out pretty well for him.

It might be time to admit that I could have a Kickstarter problem. The crowdfunding site, which allows artists, tinkerers and techies to ask the public to collectively fund their project, met my resistance for quite a while. In late 2010, I was asked to donate a few bucks for a micro-budget film. More to avoid the guilt from repeated emails than any real passion for the movie, I threw in $15. The emails continued, but the Kickstarter stalled far short of its funding goal.

It would be a long while before I pulled out my credit card again, but by the time another project interested me late last year, Kickstarter had become a hot hub for indie video game projects, comic books and gadgets like the Pebble E-Paper Watch, which stunned the tech industry by raising $10 million.

Filmmaker Rob Thomas got fans of the cult TV series “Veronica Mars” to pitch in $5.7 million for a movie version. Thomas celebrated the funding with a party with fans last month. The campaign itself was a party, with frequent personal updates from Thomas, videos from stars like Kristen Bell and prizes like T-shirts and stickers promised to “backers” of the project.

Which is about the time I got hooked. I was a “Veronica Mars” fan. I wanted to have a DVD of this planned movie and the warm glow of knowing I helped in a very tiny financial way to get it made. I put some money in.

I also got hooked on a zombie board game called “Zombicide” that my brother backed last year. The second season of the game, which is like playing a tabletop version of “The Walking Dead” TV show with lots of miniature zombies, was posted on Kickstarter. I opted to get the new prison-themed game, an expansion pack and the original game.

The devious geniuses at CoolMiniOrNot, the Atlanta publisher of the game, blew past their $250,000 Kickstarter goal almost instantly through fans of the original board game. Then they sailed past $1 million by offering lots of extra goodies, “stretch goals” that backers would get as more funds were raised. The numbers kept climbing. The free stuff kept piling up, as well as lots of optional survivor and zombie figures and other extras. Backers on message boards and comment threads breathlessly discussed what other items might be added and which optional items they were buying. It was a countdown that nearly 9,000 backers were watching.

By the time the campaign ended on March 31, CoolMiniOrNot had raised $2,255,018. I had pumped more money into the campaign than I ever expected, but I was thrilled with what I saw as a bounty of stuff that would begin landing in my mailbox in six months. It was thrilling. It reminded me of the early days of Ebay, when the last stage of an auction could mean victory or the stinging defeat of being outbid in the final seconds.

I began looking at other projects not as charity cases in need of a handout but as shopping opportunities. Kickstarter has become for me a kind of futuristic shopping mall where items that don’t exist yet are tantalizingly on offer. You can buy the future now, but it’s delayed gratification. You’ll have to wait a while and risk disappointment if what you backed doesn’t turn out to be as good as what you expected.

There’s also the heartbreak of funding something you really want and seeing the campaign fail. You didn’t lose any money. But, you still want the item. The makers don’t have the funds to make it for you.

The “Veronica Mars” Kickstarter inspired another filmmaker, “Scrubs” star Zach Braff, to launch a campaign for “Wish I Was Here,” a follow up to his movie “Garden State.” Unlike the “Veronica Mars” Kickstarter, Braff’s effort was met with a backlash even as it blew past its $2 million goal in three days.

Should celebrities, those who presumably have a good amount of money, be looking to the crowd to pay to make their dreams happen? The question, it seems to me, is beside the point and represents a misunderstanding of Kickstarter.

There are crowdfunding sites that cater to nonprofits and causes. Kickstarter it not that. It’s always been product- and project-focused. To me, it’s becoming a marketplace. Increasingly, funding a Kickstarter means you’re getting something in return for your investment, whether it’s behind-the-scenes access to a game or movie script, an early-bird discount on a gadget that’s headed for retail, or in my case, dozens and dozens of miniature zombies.

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