Kickstarter plans to shift the popular crowdfunding platform used by a number of prominent tabletop creators to the blockchain next year, marking the company’s move into the controversial world of crypto.
In a December 9th post entitled “The Future of Crowdfunding Creative Projects”, founder Perry Chen and CEO Aziz Hasan announced that Kickstarter would develop an open-source protocol built on a public blockchain. The crypto-based framework will be created by a new independent company, with Kickstarter expecting to move its website onto the blockchain sometime in 2022.
The platform’s new foundation will “essentially create a decentralized version of Kickstarter’s core functionality”, Chen and Hasan wrote. The tools will also be made available for other developers - including rival crowdfunding platforms - to use in their own infrastructure.
Kickstarter’s creators say the front-end experience of using Kickstarter for project creators and backers will remain the same, but claim that the behind-the-scenes shift will allow users to “benefit from its improvements”. Those “improvements” were not specified in the announcement.
Blockchain is perhaps best known as the technology behind cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, as well as NFTs - non-fungible tokens - that have garnered no shortage of criticism and controversy in recent years.
The crypto concept is based on the idea of a decentralised, typically publicly-accessible database of digital information recorded in a chain of ‘blocks’. The structural nature of the blockchain means that information is accessed securely via unique cryptographic signatures - making it impossible to replicate or hack - and isn’t controlled by a single central entity.
NFTs have made recent headlines as the result of their growing presence in the world of art, where millions of dollars have been traded for ‘original’ works - including images, YouTube videos, GIFs and 3D models, ranging from original artwork to popular memes - that can nevertheless be freely replicated and shared like any other image or video on the internet. (In short, an NFT essentially provides the owner with a unique digital token that ‘proves’ they ‘own’ a specific work, without stopping the file that contains the work from being copied and distributed by others. You can right-click and save an image ‘owned’ by its NFT holder like anything else.)
NFTs’ popularity has been leapt upon by both individual creators and major companies looking to cash in on the trend, with tabletop publishers no exception. Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons owner Hasbro announced in the spring that it was looking into ways to grasp the “substantial” opportunity it saw in NFTs. Meanwhile, Zombicide, Blood Rage and Marvel United publisher CMON announced in September it would partner with NFT startup Monsoon to offer “digital collectible items, cards, artwork and games” via an NFT trading platform.
Despite NFT proponents often claiming that the sale of the digital tokens is good for artists by permanently attaching their name to their work’s digital presence and ensuring financial remuneration from each subsequent resale, a number of artists have seen their work turned into tokens and sold without their permission, with money going to the pocket of the person who created the token rather than the original artist.
Other long-cited ethical concerns around NFTs include allegations of the blockchain platform being used for money laundering and tax evasion, enabled by the anonymous nature of cryptocurrency, and the artificial scarcity invoked by selling ‘ownership’ of a file that can be easily replicated. The security of the blockchain doesn't protect against traditional scammers, either, with the number of reported scams rising alongside the technology's ubiquity.
That’s on top of the devastating environmental impact of NFTs, caused by the staggering amount of energy needed to ‘mine’ the cryptocurrency - usually Ethereum - used to pay for them. (‘Mining’ cryptocurrency from the blockchain - identifying each string of code that represents a unit of currency - is a predominant way of acquiring the currency.) The New York Times estimates that mining a single Bitcoin requires roughly the same amount of energy used by a household over nine years. The environmental impact of cryptocurrency now outweighs the energy usage of entire countries, according to analysis by Cambridge University (via the BBC).
Kickstarter said that its own crypto platform would be built on Celo, an open-source platform that claims to be the first carbon negative blockchain. However, Celo’s claim of carbon neutrality is achieved at least partially via carbon offsetting - in other words, the company’s blockchain still uses energy, which is then supposedly counteracted by partnering with environmental organisations that plant trees, protect rainforests, support farmers and invest in other such initiatives to ‘offset’ the initial usage.
Kickstarter’s announcement sparked harsh criticism from tabletop creators, artists and users of the platform on social media, who condemned the platform for its plans to embrace the world of crypto. Several board game publishers and designers told Dicebreaker they were considering moving away from using the crowdfunding site as a result of the planned move to the blockchain, while a number of prolific backers said they would no longer support projects on the site in light of its crypto-based future.