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Blades in the Dark and Kickstarter Ethics

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Substandard Henchman
Validated User
So there's a bit of a kerfuffle with the Blades in the Dark Kickstarter stretch goals. Apparently many of these stretch goals, many of which haven't been delivered 3 years on, were to be free work done by 3rd party authors for exposure. However, they were listed next to a monetary value for the stretch, which could easily give the impression that at least some of the funding for the stretch was to be dedicated to achieving the stretch goal. Now people are asking John Harper, who ran the Kickstarter, where the stretch goals are and the financial structure (or lack thereof) of the Kickstarter is becoming more obvious.

By accounts I have read, Harper was honest about the arrangement at the time, but it obviously wasn't advertised that way on the original Kickstarter. So, what do people thing about this? Having stretch goals that are next to a monetary value on the Kickstarter but which won't actually receive any funding from the Kickstarter?

These comments are illustrative. You can find them at the kickstarter here.

"Benjamin Brown on May 11

I mean, that's kind of the problem. By listing them as stretch goals with a financial target you bring them under your umbrella. I, and many others, backed and upped pledges to help you hit these goals specifically because they were so appealing and we wanted to make them a reality - this is the whole Kickstarter model. We directly pay creators to make the things they say they are going to make and avoid the vicissitudes

John Harper Creator on May 15
[MENTION=1043]Benjamin[/MENTION]: I'm sorry that I've given you that impression. I'm definitely not hoping that people forget about the stretch goals. I want them to exist more than anyone! In hindsight, I realize that I failed to communicate clearly about some aspects of the project, including stretch goals. I wanted creators to have the opportunity to make something for this project -- designs which they would have 100% ownership over, not beholden to me. I can see how that might seem like a weird POV, but that's how I thought about it at the time. Since my original agreements with the stretch goal authors weren't ironclad "work for hire" arrangements, they're pretty much on the honor system to be delivered now. My expectation was they would be motivated to deliver them because they 100% owned their work and had a fanbase beyond the KS as a potential marketplace. This has worked out well in a few instances, and badly in others. I apologize for not communicating clearly about this from the outset. I didn't know everything about running a KS and I made some mistakes."


Cosmic Enforcer
Validated User
Kickstarters are not a preorder, but a venture. I'm just glad when they get fulfilled. I understand that people get upset and they have a right to vent. I think it's to learn from your and other's mistakes and I'm sure John will learn from this, but I seriously doubt no malice was intended. He's given away works for years and years.


Registered User
Validated User
I didn't back this project, but I've backed other RPG Kickstarters, and the idea that this sort of thing might be "very common" as he suggests is really disturbing. Even with the best of intentions, it's a total devaluing of people's work in an industry where it's a struggle to make money as it is. And, as we've seen here, it's incredibly vulnerable to collapse.

The big question for me is, if the extra money generated was never to be used to pay for the stretch goals, what was it used for? The whole point of stretch goals is supposed to be "if we earn enough extra, we can afford to do x". If the stretch goals are free for the creators, that's misleading at best, and at worst starts to look like a straight-up con. Either that money was actually needed for the base product, in which case the initial target should have been higher, or it was spent on extras other than the stretch goals (which would just be bizarre... why not spend it on the thing people wanted?), or it just disappeared into someone's pocket. Any of those possibilities makes me queasy.

I really don't think any variation on the 'kickstarter isn't a preorder' argument excuses this. a) that doesn't give creators carte blanche to do whatever they want with people's money, and b) the platform has clearly progressed so far beyond that now, to the point where people's expectations are totally different. You can't have it both ways - this is commercial companies and big amounts of money, in a market where 90% of Kickstarters essentially are preorder campaigns, you can't keep excusing things as if they were tiny fan projects.
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Validated User
The stretch goals were a big part of the reason I backed this project. I may be wrong but I don't recall it was written "and we hope they are going to be done but no promise".
And having them listed as stretch goal, tied to a monetary value, means "if you support the project enough then..." when we are told now "but there was no contract, no arrangement". I call that misleading.

If anything, I learned something from that kickstarter, it's how to credit John Harper words. Having more money into the project actually didn't help at all to achieve more objectives (aka stretch goals). The project could have been funded just at exactly 100% and then everybody hoped for 3rd party authors to produce fan material.


One Shot Man
Validated User
It seems a little dodgy that John Harper isn't taking more responsibility for the stretch goals -- he's still saying "if they don't deliver them, I'll look for a replacement" when it's pretty clear they aren't happening, but I've gotten the core game I wanted and several really nice stretch goals. John also seems to either have bitten off more than he can chew, or lost enthusiasm, but that happens, you know? At least he is still committed to doing his part.

EDIT: Yeah, don't pay extra for stretch goals is my advice. If the core game is awesome, then fund it as you will, but don't dump a lot more money into stretch goals because it's a setup for frustration.
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Nick Bower

is weaker than
Validated User
EDIT: Yeah, don't pay extra for stretch goals is my advice. If the core game is awesome, then fund it as you will, but don't dump a lot more money into stretch goals because it's a setup for frustration.
I backed it specifically for the Jhereg supplement. Oh well.


Registered User
Validated User
I didn’t back it, but I was sorely tempted - and that temptation was down to the sheer number and variety of stretch goals. So I’m pretty sure he made more money than he would have because of them. As such I think he is fully responsible for delivering on them.


Registered User
Validated User
It is concerning that stretch goals that unlock additional funding for additional content aren't using that funding to pay for the production of that content. If not for this, then when is the purpose of locking that content behind a stretch goal? It would certainly seem morally vague to imply that there's a relationship here between achieving extra funding and producing extra content. In fact, it's borderline fraudulent IMO.

What, if any, involvement does Evil Hat have in this? They distribute (? publish?) Blades. Normally, Evil Hat are exceptional in that they pay their freelancers fairly and deliver on their Kickstarters time and time again.
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