Crowdfunding websites are changing the way creatives and charities organise, writes Niall Kitson.
On 12 March the 'crowdfunding' website Kickstarter was deluged with donations following an announcement by the creator of detective show Veronica Mars that he was looking for $2 million to make a movie bringing back the original cast for one last spin. Two million dollars sounded like an ambitious target but the fans' sense of unfinished business after their favourite show was axed proved enough not only to meet the target, but almost double it. At time of writing with over two weeks left to go, the campaign it has raised $3.89 million.
Bringing Veronica Mars back wasn't just a function of having fans pitch in a dollar apiece - if it was the case then less than $60,000 would have been raised. Part of the the project's success rests in Kickstarter's graduated reward model, where increased donations get more elaborate incentives. In this case backers throwing in as little as $1 get a copy of the shooting script, while one lucky fan paid a minimum of $10,000 to land the role of a waiter in a bar scene and deliver a single line of dialogue.
The Veronica Mars movie will be cited for years to come as an example of fans being happy to put their money with their collective mouths are, but crowdfunded projects don't need to pull in big bucks to be successful.
Belfast-based game developers Iglu Media and BillyGoat Entertainment are using Kickstarter to finance its latest title, Roller Derby: Power Jam, for PC, Mac and mobile with a goal of £75,000. Iglu Media's Jonny Kane says Kickstarter is a good fit for the project as its intended market is the US and UK.
"We decided to go down the crowdfunding route for a few reasons," Kane says. "The Roller Derby community is very active online. We wanted to create a game that had their input as much as possible in the early stages of development and knew that the buzz of a Kickstarter campaign would help attract derby players and fans from around the world towards the game, and therefore have their involvement early on.
"The sport of Roller Derby is also a very grassroots sport with a real DIY mentality and we felt it would be fitting to develop this game and fund it with that in mind. The derby community that supports the project will become the biggest evangelists for the game when we go to market."
At time of writing Power Jam hasn't met its target. But Kane says he doesn't consider it any reflection on the strength of the project if it fails to meet its minimum requirement to trigger the release of funds. "I wouldn't take that as an indication there is no market - Kickstarter isn't for everybody. For example, it doesn't take PayPal payments. The feedback we have received by e-mail or through our Facebook page (over 1,000 likes in one week) indicate that the core market for the game is very excited about it. If we don't hit our target we will step back and analyse why and then work out the best way forward."
Domestically, crowdfunding website FundIt has been a resource for Irish creatives looking to raise money. FundIt has been successful in supporting everything from plays (especially Dublin Fringe Festival productions) to outdoor art installations (Smithfield's Art Tunnel) to graphic novel anthologies (Stray Lines). Dublin-based BitSmith Games also secured funding for its title Kú: Episode 1 for iPad through this platform.
Despite the obvious attraction of using this kind of open forum for donations, charities have been somewhat slow to embrace the crowdfunding model. Eoin Kennedy of PledgUp, a platform for managing online fundraising campaigns, has seen the likes of GAA clubs and the Zambia Housing Project leverage an online presence. As with Kickstarter and its ilk, PledgUp has a catalogue of campaigns to browse through, each with their own page outlining targets and results to date. Kennedy said making the leap from 'cash in hand' to online fundraising comes with a learning curve but can effective, especially when so many communities are feeling the sting of emigration eroding their traditional support bases.
"Most mainstream charities in Ireland would have utilised crowd funding in some shape or form through mycharity.ie or similar for sponsorship of events their supporters have run. In general they are good at raising funds from people they physically see but the real opportunity is for the wider diaspora who have moved to different cities or abroad who could be better positioned financially to help if it was simple and quick," says Kennedy.
"Many groups have underestimated the importance of proper databases or large communities. There is also a perception that online solution requires a high degree of technical understanding."
Both FundIt and PledgUp are working from small bases in comparison to Kickstarter's more international appeal, but the model is proven and easy to adapt to. Kennedy is optimistic that fundraising activities in general will become more sophisticated. "What will change significantly will the move to managing data and the importance of communities and databases," he says.
Niall Kitson is editor of TechCentral.ie