Veronica Mars, the low-rated but loved-by-its-ardent-fans television program, returns as a big-screen feature film Friday. And it couldn’t have done it without you.
Or more specifically, it couldn’t have done it without the 91,585 Kickstarter backers, who pledged $5,702,153 that might otherwise have been wasted on food, shelter, or charity so that a TV program that last aired seven years ago could return in movie form. And while opinion on the finished product may vary—”a film noir detective story that works for both devotees of the series and the uninitiated,” raves USA Today, “feels less like an actual movie… and more like an endless panel assembled for Comic-Con,” sniffs Variety—you can’t deny that Veronica Mars was a very successful crowdfunding campaign.
But it’s not the most successful. With Veronica Mars now arriving in theaters and Video On Demand, let's take a look at other projects that went out to the crowd, hat in hand, and came back rolling in pledges.
“Some say that space sims are niche,” game developer Chris Roberts wrote about his crowd-funded space simulator Star Citizen. “I’m not so sure.” $40 million in pledges—$2 million and change of it coming from Kickstarter—is the sort of thing that makes a guy re-evaluate what is and isn’t a niche product.
Roberts, the brains behind the legendary Wing Commander, just wanted a measly million or two to create a space trading and combat simulator video game for the PC. Roberts will continue to accept pledges—and add promised features—ramping up to Star Citizen’s slated release in 2015.
OK, we’re defining success loosely here. Canonical certainly had no problem raking in pledges for its high-concept smartphone that could double as a desktop PC when you paired it with a monitor and mouse. The ambitious project garnered $12.8 million in backing—why that’s enough to make two Veronica Mars movies!—and shattered the record for a crowdfunding campaign.
Unfortunately, Canonical’s goal was to raise $32 million. So the Ubuntu Edge isn’t going to get made—not in its proposed form, anyhow.
But that may not have been the point. Ubuntu Edge was about driving up interest in making Ubuntu Mobile phones, and that seems to have happened: Chinese phone makers BQ and Meizu both plan to produce Ubuntu phones that will launch sometime this year.
The Ubuntu Edge may have brought in more money, but Pebble actually brought its product to market. The company collected nearly $10.3 million in Kickstarter pledges—far more than its humble goal of $100,000—and delivered a real, live smartwatch a little more than a year ago.
Pebble hasn’t rested on its crowdfunded laurels since then: The company improved its software—the weakest part of its initial release—and came out with a new version that improved upon the original. Our wearable-crazy world is awash in would-be smartwatches at the moment, but Pebble remains at the head of the pack—at least for now.
Ouya promised a different kind of gaming console when it hit Kickstarter in 2012. You’d be able to download games digitally. The $100 console would support open development, removing the barriers between you and game developers. And you could hack the hardware to your heart’s content. It sounded appealing enough to get 63,416 people to pitch in a little less than $8.6 million toward funding that vision.
The reality? The version we tested was unpolished, with some design flaws and no platform-defining title. It’s an interesting first step, but just one of many if it’s going to cause the Xboxes and PlayStations of the world to lose any sleep.
Wish I Was Here
Zach Braff, the one-time star of Scrubs turned movie director, likely saw the money flowing in from Veronica Mars fans and had a big lightbulb pop up over his head. Braff wanted to make a movie called Wish I Was Here—a follow-up of sorts to 2004’s Garden State—and saw crowdfunding as the answer to the age-old problem of maintaining creative control over his picture. Some 46,520 people agreed, ponying up $3.1 million, albeit not without some backlash about established stars like Braff keeping more cash-strapped moviemakers out of the crowdfunding spotlight. (Kickstarter says your concerns are unfounded, for what it’s worth.)
Braff’s movie debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January, scored a distribution deal, and will arrive in theaters in July—though befitting a project that has already seen its share of controversy, not without some griping about how rapidly the makers of Wish I Was Here were shipping out rewards to their Kickstarter backers.
Form 1 and 3Doodler
Need another reminder of the insatiable appetite for 3D printing? Two of the most successful campaigns in Kickstarter history involve devices that print out multi-dimensional objects. The Form 1 brought in $2.9 million in backing, with the promise of a high-resolution desktop 3D printer powered by stereolithography technology. The 3Doodler took in $2.3 million by promising to put 3D printing right in your hand with a pen-sized printer. The $99 3Doodler is expected to ship next month, while the $3299 Form 1 (pictured to the left) has a June ship date.
All this crowdfunding would have been completely unnecessary had someone simply built a 3D printer that spits out money.
When the developers behind the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset turned to Kickstarter, they would have been happy to walk away with $250,000 in funding. By the time the campaign wrapped up in August, 2012, they had $2.4 million worth of backing to turn this gaming device into reality. It was a dizzying success—though not nearly as dizzying as using the developer kit for the Oculus Rift turned out to be.
Pono Music still has a month to go in its Kickstarter campaign, but it’s already blown past its $800,000 funding goal with $3.2 million in pledges. It’s a sign that people are interested in a high-resolution audio player that promises “studio master-quality digital music.” That rocker Neil Young is behind the project probably doesn’t hurt visibility either.
So many games
Does the name Torment: Tides of Numenera mean anything to you? How about Project Eternity or Double Find Adventure? Maybe Wasteland 2? If your answers are “no,” “huh,” “what,” and “c’mon, you’re making stuff up,” then you’re likely not a gamer, nor have you spent much time on Kickstarter. Those four titles have rung up $14.4 million total in crowdfunding from Kickstarter. It’s proof that while big-name publishers may only take chances on polished, movie-like experiences these days, there’s still an old-school appetite for the halcyon games of yesteryear. Also, gamers have a lot of disposable income, and you really should be nicer to them.