A few thoughts on the personalisation of crowdfunding campaigns

Crowdunding art by individual creators is an amazing thing. But we need to be honest about what we're supporting - and stop with the blackmail. 

Crowdunding art by individual creators is an amazing thing. But we need to be honest about what we're supporting - and stop with the blackmail. 

Hey so let's talk about crowdfunding.

I've been wary of crowdfunding in games for a while, (I wrote a piece back in 2011 about the Double Fine Kickstarter that is now, sadly, deleted because that blog sucked and I got rid of it), but hey, it's here to stay.

Over the past year or so, however, there's been a curious change in the way Kickstarter and other fundraising campaigns are approached. They've become increasingly personal. They've turned from a plea of, "let me do this thing free of creative restraint", into, "help support me while I make what I love".

I'm specifically talking here about writers in the games space, artists, musicians and other creative types who have started relying on Patreon and GoFundMe campaigns for various endeavors. It's interesting the trend has changed from merely supporting a product to supporting a personality and all they embody.

(This is symptomatic of the larger move to personalities in general and the growth of media publications founded on personalities, but that's another discussion for another time).

On the one hand, this is great, right? Plenty of writers and other artists put a huge amount of effort into their social media campaigns, and if they find a way to get something out of that, especially financial support, then that's incredible. It shows the benefits of the crowdfunding system – by building up an audience willing to pay directly for the art you create, you've established an ecosystem of your own.

No creative constraints, just a direct relationship between you and the people who consume your art.


But I'm growing a little wary of what's happening in crowdfunding at the moment because of this. And to note, I don't think anyone is doing this out of malice, or that anyone has any bad intentions. I just think there are some ancillary effects coming out of the personalization of crowdfunding that is irking me the wrong way.

And to be clear, I haven't processed all of these thoughts just yet, and I'm still working through them. This blog post is part of that.

Over the past couple of months, or perhaps half-year, I've seen a growing number of posts about Kickstarter campaigns with a very desperate plea for survival in them. For specific writers, this has gone beyond "support my work", to "support my work because I need to pay rent". At the same time, I've seen a number of posts on Twitter asking users to support various campaigns with the understanding that if various projects don't survive, a very specific and powerful voice will be gone or at least, won't have the funding to operate as they see fit.

I get it. I get how difficult it is to make money from doing what you love, what you're born to do.

But at the same time, this is irking me the wrong way. Shouldn't work be able to stand on its own? When I see these posts, I feel a very specific pressure on me to support these projects because  hey, if they don't, someone's going to be homeless or at least will have fewer housing options available to them.

But this changes the nature of the crowdfunding relationship. It goes beyond simply, "support my project", to "support me", and the work itself becomes just a macguffin. It's almost as if the person advocating the crowdfunding campaign believes the work is irrelevant. Really, it's about supporting the person and making sure they're comfortable, and whatever work they happen to make is just a bonus for allowing them to be creatively free.

So when I see people posting Kickstarter campaigns, or Patreon campaigns, and saying, "support this so this person can eat!" it raises the stakes. This isn't about work anymore. This is about helping a person in need. Doesn't that change the relationship of what's happening here? If this person is really in a bind about living expenses, why are we bringing work into this? Why not create a specific donation campaign to help people with their living expenses instead of using the work as simply a secondary feature of the campaign?

Of course, then we'd have to discuss the nature of doing work as an artist and reasonable expectations therein. I'm wary of this growing notion that because I am an artist, and create work that people like, I should be entitled to a living wage. This motivation, I believe, is fuelling a lot of these crowdfunding campaigns, and we can see that in the rhetoric alongside their supporters – "so and so does great work, and they deserve a living wage. Help them!"

This isn't selling a product to someone. This is, for better or worse, emotional blackmail. Ought we expect that our community will support us to gain a living wage for the work we do?

This, then, raises all sorts of questions about the amount of work we do and what people paying a living wage should expect. I don't have answers to those questions, e.g., how many pieces should a writer funded by the community be expected to produce every week or month, etc.

The other problem here is this – what if I don't think a particular piece of work is worth supporting. I must admit I feel a twinge of guilt whenever someone links to a crowdfunding campaign for a personality, and I simply don't like what they do. Does liking their work even matter, now? Should I be contributing to artists' survival even if I don't think the work they do is particularly good, rewarding, or contributes much to artistic discussion?

Is their right to a wage simply all the motivation I need to support them?

My instinct is to say, well, no. I don't believe I should support a crowdfunding campaign just because that artist exists. But it's interesting to see the dialogue around these crowdfunding campaigns change – and I expect this will continue for some time.

However, I do wish we could tone down the dialogue around personalities. I understand how hard it is to make money from writing, drawing, creativity in general. But once we start selling art with the pretext of, "I need you to support me so I can survive", we've changed the relationship then. It should be about the quality of the art. And after all, if I'm supporting low-quality work, I'm not doing anyone any favours.

I haven't figured all of this stuff out. I love the fact I can start a Patreon right now and prove to myself if I really have an audience that is willing to pay for my work. And I'm so glad others have chosen to do that, even if I don't particularly like what they do – I'm glad they have people are willing to show their support.

But I just hope we're all honest about this, and support the work we actually love – and not feel pressured into paying for things we don't really want nor need.