GameStick delay underscores the gamble of Kickstarter

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PlayJam, which got Kickstarter support for its GameStick console, has delayed release of the portable device to its backers to early June from its initial April target.

The GameStick sports a USB stick that plugs into your TV, providing the guts of the gaming system. When not in use, the GameStick sits inside the controller that comes with the system.

PlayJam representatives said unexpected demand caused the delay. “The main production run has gone from a few thousand units to tens of thousands of units,” PlayJam recently said on the GameStick Kickstarter page. “This has meant that we have had to change production methods and move to high volume tooling.”

PlayJam planned a run of about 1000 devices, but with the higher demand must wait for production molds to be built that can handle mass production. The company also said the high demand will force the company to change its shipping plans from sea to air.

Reactions to the delay from backers are a mix of consumer frustration and supportive understanding.

“At the very least they should ship by plane the 6000 units for the backers,” a backer going by the name of Leugim said. “After all, why should we be affected by success of it?...I just want my gamestick.”

“Congratulations,” said backer Nikolay Ivanchev. “You've just ruined everything.”

“Shame about the news, but I can live with it,” said Simon Dick. “It's not as if Kickstarter is like placing an order on Amazon.”

Kickstarter crowd expectations

Independent gaming consoles are finding a boost from Kickstarter funding. The Ouya is already shipping to early Kickstarter backers and headed to retail stores in June. InXile's Torment: Tides of Numenera game set a record recently, raising $4.1 million on Kickstarter for development.

But Kickstarter has been trying to get project backers to think less like Ivanchev and more like Simon D. The company wants backers to understand they're supporting a startup, not buying finished merchandise from an established operation.

“It's hard to know how many people feel like they're shopping at a store when they're backing projects on Kickstarter, but we want to make sure that it's no one,” Kickstarter said in a September blog post entitled “Kickstarter is not a store.”

As far as Kickstarter is concerned, it’s providing a service where creators and audiences can “work together to make things.” You check out Kickstarter, you see a product or piece of art you’d like to see in the world and you contribute to that vision. Anything else on top of that is gravy.

But there's more to it. Kickstarter is filled with all kinds of cool things you’d like to get your hands on. And the producers typically promise a model from an early production runs in exchange for financial support. Many projects, like the GameStick and Ouya, drew contributors who clearly expected something in return. Kickstarter may not be “a traditional retail experience” as the company noted in its September blog post, but it has become a kind of retail destination—if one offering delayed gratification.

Unlike Amazon, Best Buy, or Target, however, paying into a Kickstarter project is a risk. The people behind these projects may hit obstacles they didn’t anticipate. Take, for example, the Pebble smartwatch. This Kickstarter project sought to raise $100,000 and ended up with more than $10 million. The windfall was accompanied by many backers who believed they were buying a product.

Lesson of the Pebble

But as ITWorld columnist Kevin Purdy, an early Pebble backer, recently noted, problems happen. “All you can really do is hope the makers somehow make good for you,” Purdy said after his Pebble Smartwatch died after a week of use. “And then toast your not-so-great luck, and hope the makers learned something.”

Purdy wasn’t alone with his problems. A thread on Pebble’s support forum dubbed “The dead Pebble thread” contains more than 20,000 comments. Another thread discusses problems getting the watch through German customs. Another covers screen discoloration, while yet another reports battery drain issues. In other words, a small company is now dealing with Apple-sized quality control headaches, with many people complaining it’s taking weeks to get customer support.

Pebble’s early woes and GameStick’s delays highlight the risk versus reward proposition of Kickstarter. You may get a really cool product in the end, but part of the experience is watching a company grow through its trials and tribulations as it tries to turn a dream into reality. And there’s no guarantee they’ll succeed.

This story, "GameStick delay underscores the gamble of Kickstarter" was originally published by TechHive.

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