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Blades in the Dark and Kickstarter Ethics


Active member
Validated User
I'll just repost John Harper's comment on Reddit:

- I helped out my friends on KS projects (without pay) by making stretch goal content for them. They returned the favor on the Blades project. It was friends helping each other out. This was not "for exposure." Working for exposure is bullshit.

- This was the default for many RPG kickstarters. I can think of more than a dozen that worked this way. It didn't occur to me to explain the idea of friends doing favors, since none of the KS projects before me had. It was a blind spot. I'm sorry about that.

- All the stretch goals will be fulfilled. Either by the authors that promised them, or failing that, someone else. Nothing has been dropped.

- Yes, they're taking a long time. The delay in completing the core game definitely delayed the extra content.
- Six stretch goals are available now: The Leech, The Spider, Ryan's Maps, Vigilantes, Scum & Villainy, and Blades Against Darkness. I am totally willing to pay authors if that will expedite the work for anyone.

- To everyone who's frustrated: I feel the same way. I'm sorry for causing that feeling.

- To anyone who feels cheated: If there's anything I can do now to make things right with you, please let me know.


One Shot Man
Validated User
This makes me feel better; he should totally post it on Kickstarter, where his backers are, and not on another forum that I never read.
But you know, I don't think this issue is ever going to go away, especially with indie RPG's. It's more like waiting for the next novel in a series than the next issue of a comic book; there's only one guy working on it, and if his girlfriend leaves him and takes the dog, there's a going to be a productivity hit.

Aaron Friesen

New member
The creators of the stretchgoal are only a part of the issue, misleading the backers is the other part.
I just don't understand how it's misleading. It was just "hey! If we reach this baking number, this person it's gonna do this thing". I don't see what's misleading about it.

Maxen M

Somewhere off to the side
Validated User
This makes me feel better; he should totally post it on Kickstarter, where his backers are, and not on another forum that I never read.
Yeah me too, wish I'd thought to look for it there earlier. That thing about being willing to pay contributors if they need it seems relatively significant; "I'm not paying any of these people, but I'm willing to if it will help them work" is quite far from shrugging his shoulders about it.

I just hope he and others will bare this in mind with future kickstarters.

Michael K

Social Justice Dragon
Validated User
Is that really a common thing, people offering to do stretch goals for free?

I have backed dozens of RPGs and supplements over the years and have not once read nor been told that any stretch goals would be done basically for free and by friends; all stretch goals I can recall were linked to a specific monetary tier (the KS makes this much, we do that; this much, we add this, and so on) and the implication for me was that the money was actually involved in creating the stretch goal (paying authors, artists, that sort of thing).

Could anybody point me to examples or is there any other creator here who could chime in, because this has me very much confused.
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Registered User
Validated User
The way he's trying to weasel out of misleading backers by laying the blame on "everyone else was doing it" makes his "I'm sorry" ring rather hollow to me.
There is no "weaseling out" in his statement - he is saying to him this was simply an understood part of the process and that is why it never occurred to him to make it explicit. That's not "weaseling out," that's explaining his thought process and then apologizing for the that thought process leading to a failure of communication.


Registered User
Validated User
I just don't understand how it's misleading. It was just "hey! If we reach this baking number, this person it's gonna do this thing". I don't see what's misleading about it.
The misleading part was where he failed to emphasize that they’d be doing it for free, whenever they got around to it, as a favor for him. As Harper said in the post quoted above it apparently never occurred to him to explain that.

Had backers known how tenuous the arrangement was they might have reconsidered backing. I don’t think many would, but the fact that they weren’t told is a legitimate grievance.


Registered User
Validated User
I know I would have reconsidered. I was under the assumption that we'd be, as backers, getting PDFs of all those alternative settings.

Maybe I didn't read closely enough, but that's generally how these things go on Kickstarter.


Trilemma Adventures
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 stood out specifically to me was that there was no financial relationship between these stretch goals and the Kickstarter they were a part of. That there should be such a relationship is heavily implied by having these goals next to a specific monetary funding level.
The way the stretch goals were listed/advertised with the alternate setting beside the monetary value was amazingly misleading.
This is coming up a lot, and I think it bears pointing out that the mapping between revenue and expenses is only direct and intuitive in the simplest cases.

When you buy a car, the markup on the base model and any extra options (e.g. 'the sports package') are staggeringly different. But those profit dollars are not poured into the development of new and better spoilers, they go to keeping the dealership's lights on, along with every other dollar of profit.

The relationship is especially complicated when there are huge fixed costs. For example cell phone networks charge monthly fees, instead of a $1000 one-time payment to buy in, even though that would be a better match for their costs.

The success of Blades campaign (and the existence of Blades itself) is largely the result of years and years of unpaid work on John's part - its balance sheet starts off deep in the negatives if you take that into account. As the sales climb, the per-book 'profit' mostly goes to backfilling that hole. When you hit big round numbers, you take some of that money and divert it into stretch goals as a marketing expense.

I don't really know John's numbers, but I can talk about my own: I run a modestly successful Patreon, but if I work out the hours I've put into writing, illustration, hosting expenses, software expenses, spreading the word, etc.— over its lifetime the payoff is maybe.. half minimum wage?

When I run a Kickstarter to sell a compilation of my output so far, the biggest expense line item could well be a retroactive bump to that hourly rate, but it's very unlikely that my KS will move enough copies for the profit to bump to be anything meaningful, since there are so many hours to amortize it across.

As the hypothetical final KS revenue climbs, the per-backer net revenue is mostly going into that bump. Occasionally I hit a 'big round number' and incur a stretch goal as a marketing expense, but it can't represent the full net revenue since the previous 'big round number', otherwise.. why bother?

(I mean, unless of course you're not running the KS as a business. Many RPG Kickstarters are deliberately managed like labors of love, and come out in the red but with a cool product. Which is fine.)
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