Do You Suffer From Kickstarter FOMO?

Internet Kickstarter Tabletop Games

iPhone Addicts by Flickr user aj82, used under Creative Commons LicenseiPhone Addicts by Flickr user aj82, used under Creative Commons License

iPhone Addicts.
Photo: aj82/Flickr/CC

I got an e-mail last week advertising an app that billed itself as “a geo-social app that is quickly becoming the answer to our society’s FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) problem.” The way it works is that it constantly updates you on all the things going on nearby, even sending you alerts so you know what time you should leave your house to arrive at a particular event on time.

I have to admit: I wasn’t aware of FOMO — at least, not the term. However, I’m quite aware of the phenomenon.

FOMO is the reason that I have a constantly growing list of books I want to read. I used to use HandyShopper on my Palm until my Palm was replaced by the iPod Touch and I never found a replacement app — at last count I probably had nearly a thousand books on my “to read” list. I did the same for movies I wanted to see, games I wanted to play, events I wanted to attend.

Of one thing I’m fairly certain: An app like that would not be a solution to FOMO. It would simply aggravate it. I know this because spending four years in a very small town in western Kansas was possibly the most FOMO-free period of my life. We had a small one-screen movie theater that only showed one movie per weekend, and it was a 90-mile drive to “the city” to get more options. Knowing that there just aren’t other movie options really relieves the stress that comes with “Oh, should I go see that movie? Maybe I’ll watch this one tonight and that one tomorrow.”

The other thing that helped was when we finally let our subscription to Entertainment Weekly lapse: I liked it, but frankly it was getting pointless to read about movies that wouldn’t be coming to our theater or TV shows that I couldn’t watch (we had no network channels available and we didn’t have cable). Reading the magazine every week only reinforced my FOMO — all these experiences other people are having! All these movies I want to see! Of course, it’s not just EW that has this effect: reading Wired can do the same thing, and even reading the posts of my fellow GeekDad writers can cause it to flare up.

Kickstarter Starred projectsKickstarter Starred projectsFor now, though, my biggest source of FOMO is Kickstarter.

There are new projects cropping up on Kickstarter every day. I find out about them when somebody tweets about something new, or when a hopeful project creator sends us an email asking us to plug their project. (We get a lot of these.) I frequently cruise the Board and Card Games section, and I like to poke around to see what projects are near me in Portland. Oh, and of course there are the emails that Kickstarter sends out, too, plugging their “Projects We Love.”

A recently-added feature now lets you follow other people on Kickstarter: you get an alert when they back a project, and if anybody you follow has already backed a project then that shows up at the top of the project page, just a little more peer pressure to kick in a few bucks yourself. Everyone else is doing it, you know.

Back in November, on DiceHateMe’s podcast about Kickstarter, board game industry analyst Richard Bliss mentioned FOMO (not by that term, but certainly with the same sentiment) as one reason he backs projects. He skipped a game that turned out to be wildly popular, and said that he really doesn’t want that to happen again.

I can sympathize — when I see a lot of people talking about a board game that I didn’t back and saying how great it is, it just makes me want to watch that category even more carefully. But, of course, you can’t back everything. There are just too many projects, and even if all of them turn out to be spectacular games, it’s unlikely that anyone can afford to buy all of them. In the past year I’ve spent much more of my board game budget on Kickstarter than in game stores — and a lot of those I’m actually still waiting for.

I “star” a lot of projects on Kickstarter — that image to the left is a snippet of my “Starred Projects” page — because those are ones that I’m considering backing. Only two days left to back a kid’s picture book about a 6-year-old who runs for president, written in rhyming verse! Two weeks left to back an expansion for Puzzle Strike! Lately, though, when I get the “48 hours left!” email, I’ve had to just let a lot of them go by, even ones that I think may be awesome games.

The thing is, we’re geeks. It’s in our nature to obsess and collect. We gotta catch ’em all.

But maybe I don’t need to play every game, read every book, see every movie. Maybe some projects are going to do just fine without my backing and I can just wait to see when the game hits stores and decide whether to buy them then.

Shifting gears just a little, there have been two articles recently about Kickstarter (specifically about videogame projects) which I’ve found pretty interesting. “The Ugly Side of Kickstarter” appeared on the Penny Arcade Report mid-April, and it’s a pretty critical perspective on these high-profile videogame campaigns. Ben Kuchera cautions people to do their research and be aware of what their money is going toward. As he puts it, “Raise $2 million and then figure out how to develop a game” is not a business plan. One particular difficulty with videogames is that quite often there isn’t anything to show for it yet — you’re banking on an idea, a vision, which the developers may or may not be able to deliver. “The unfortunate truth is that many backers of game projects are buying the ability to wait 18 months to play a mediocre game.”

The second article, on Rock, Paper, Shotgun, struck a chord with me especially because theirs is from the point of view of being a site that reviews things. Their “Kickstarter Dilemma” is knowing when to write about a cool-sounding project as opposed to reviewing something that is published and currently available to purchase and play. There are a lot of parallels to what I do here on GeekDad: yes, if we write about something we are basically suggesting that you should back it, that you should spend your money on it. We also get lots of emails about projects — and it’s hard to know if the ones we get emailed about are the best ones to write about; and for every post I write about a Kickstarter project, that’s time I could have spent writing about something else, a board game that you can go to the store and buy right now. And their last point:

This sounds horrifically arrogant, but the extent of RPS’ reach means that we can potentially alter the fortunes of KS projects we do post about. That’s a frightening responsibility as much as it is an exciting one.

This is the part about great power and great responsibility. While I certainly won’t claim that GeekDad is a tastemaker and that we have the power to make or break a campaign, we have found that there are enough of you out there reading GeekDad that a post about a campaign can make a big difference, particularly to some indie publisher who doesn’t have a huge PR machine behind it.

It’s why I like to tell you about smaller publishers and indie developers, but the truth is, sometimes I’m just guessing. I really don’t have any guarantee that a Kickstarter project is going to be awesome — or even that it’s going to get done. The one significant advantage I have over the folks at RPS is that with board games (as opposed to PC games), you can often play it before it’s done. Many board game projects are already at a playable-demo stage by the time they hit Kickstarter, and the funding is just going toward printing the thing up. The closer I can get to a completed version, the more comfortable I feel telling you about a project.

I don’t know if the Kickstarter bubble is going to burst anytime soon. (I hope it lasts at least long enough for you to sink millions into my board game project … at some indeterminate point in the future.) It seems likely that at some point some high-profile, highly funded project will fail spectacularly. But the best thing I can suggest is to shop carefully. Take a look at the project page and see if it’s believable, if the funding sounds feasible, if the people have a sound business plan. Don’t commit money you can’t afford to lose.

And if you can, lose your fear of missing out.

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