The Gassy Gnoll: Kickstarter and Shakespeare

This is an unusual article for this series, not because I’m ditching the gnoll for the moment, but because I think it shows that there are some things left to be hopeful about in the world. I don’t know if you read WIRED magazine these days, but there was an article by Jonah Lehrer this month called “Cultivating Genius” that made me consider the correlation between the old patronage approach and today’s Kickstarter phenomenon. In a down economy with job woes beating down the door, we need all the hope we can get – and if Shakespeare was alive today I bet he’d have a few of his own Kickstarter projects kicking around!


Kickstarter (Photo credit: Laughing Squid)

Once upon a time someone would come up with an idea for a play, a scientific theory, an archaeological dig, and they would gain patrons who would sponsor their work. It was typically the rulers, nobles, and the very wealthy who would use such patronage as a way to show their support for the arts, for certain political or scientific ideals, or to simply show off their wealth to other wealthy people. The Roman Catholic Church and other religious groups would sponsor the creation of religious arts and architecture. Some famous artists receiving support included Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, an Shakespeare to name a few.

Now today, with the Internet, we live in a fabulous time. People around the world are sharing ideas freely and each of those plants a seed in someone else’s brain to create more and more ideas. eBay, even though I’m not much of a shopper, is one of those brilliant ideas like Craig’s List that put people in touch with one another to trade more than ideas – now people sell damn near anything and can usually find someone who wants it. It’s the world’s biggest garage sale every day.

By now you’re wondering where the heck I’m going with this, so bear with me. People have ideas. The Internet offers a way to share those ideas with the world. But not every idea can be done without capital. Maybe you don’t have a complete product, but you have the start of one and you know that if you just had a little more capital and knew you had a market that you could launch something amazing. That’s where we come back to the patronage model.

What if you could take your partially completed project (or even a completed project that just needed some spiffing up) and put it out for the world to see so you could ask one question… Would you pay to see the final product? You put your virtual hat out there and say “put in what you can and if we get this much money we’re off to the races”! Now you have a group of people who want your product badly enough that they’re willing to put some money on the line for it. It might not be much. Maybe $5 here, $25 there, $100 from somewhere else. But it proves that the idea has merit to *somebody*.

Now we’ve taken that eBay model where you’ve not only connected to people willing to pay you for your product, but who are interested in its development. Maybe a little collaboration will happen and you’ll get ideas for how to make it better. Maybe the project will take off and you’ll end up with more than you bargained for – but hell, isn’t that what we all dream about? A way to support ourselves by sharing the fruit of our passions with the world?

Image representing IndieGoGo as depicted in Cr...

Image via CrunchBase

The patronage model is less now about the rich and powerful and more about “power to the people.” Kickstarter and IndieGoGo aren’t the only games in town however. Look at Open Design and Rite Publishing, who have been using the patronage model for quite a while now themselves. They don’t need to market to everybody – but their target audiences for those projects are extremely engaged and interested in not only funding such work, but contributing ideas to make them better along the way.

So if you have an idea for a game supplement and you have moved it as far along as you can without getting some outside help and finding out if anyone is interested in your final product, I’d seriously suggest that you ride the wave of personal patrons looking for projects to support. We may not be the “Angel investors” of the business world with millions of dollars to throw at a project, but I know I’ll be happy to throw a few bucks your way if I have it and am engaged by your proposal. And odds are there are others who feel the same way.

Not everything is going to stick of course. But if you can come to the table with a compelling video and description of what you’ve done and where you want to go, you’re going to find someone willing to listen. Keep that free exchange of ideas open and who knows where you might end up. If you’re willing to share your story and your thoughts with your backers, they’ll spread the word and share the love. Heck – if a web comic about stick figures can raise more than $1 million to get a bunch of books back into circulation, the world may very well be your oyster. Shuck it!

(Yes, I’m among those people who contributed to the insane Kickstarter project from Rich Burlew, the creator of The Order of the Stick. It just closed and raised more than $1,250,000 in its run. I’m excited to see these books see the light of day, but it just goes to prove the power of a little passion, a good idea, and a few people willing to sponsor it!)

My hope is that this movement towards personal patronage continues for a long time to come. We’re better as a people when we collaborate towards a common goal. The truth is – we can do whatever we put our minds to as a people. And a good idea is hard to keep down when it has help. Hope springs eternal.

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