Kickstarter has published a long-anticipated update to its previously announced plans for integrating blockchain into its foundation. The crowdfunding platform, heavily used by tabletop publishers and independent designers alike, wants to establish an advisory committee composed of creators and backers to help guide the process. Notably, NFTs will not be allowed on whatever technology is eventually deployed.
The announcement entitled “We Won't Make Changes to Kickstarter Without You” recognised the outpouring of criticism, anger and confusion that followed the original unveiling and attempted to address some of the larger questions floating around the sudden investment in crypto technology. Kickstarter hopes folding in public feedback will create the best possible use of the infrastructure that powers both cryptocurrencies and NFTs.
“These new technologies are tools that are only as good as what they're used to build,” the announcement reads. “It’s our responsibility to make sure they serve creators, backers, and the entire creative ecosystem, and that we are designing thoughtfully with full awareness of the challenges.”
Many creators and backers were concerned over last year’s surprise announcement and worried that their already planned projects would have to use a technology they don’t endorse. Kickstarter claims that won’t happen - any new tools will first be tested by an independent organisation outlined in its initial letter - and that all rollouts will exist first as proofs of concept available to willing users.
Critically, Kickstarter did not say that wide scale integration won’t eventually happen - the company will just be more transparent about what to expect and when. Using blockchain in the first place was ostensibly meant to open use of its crowdfunding platform to a wider global audience. Currently, a large number of heavily populated regions outside of North America and Europe - including Latin America and Southeast Asia - lack access to Kickstarter’s established user base and built-in marketing tools. The company is banking on a decentralised solution to several perceived problems - rebalancing how and where project funds flow, paying users to report bad-faith projects through "peer review", and more out.
The community is currently living through the precipitous and baffling rise of NFTs, alongside their myriad controversies and complications, priming them to react with skepticism, at best. Kate Bernyk, Kickstarter’s senior director of communications, told Dicebreaker that she and the rest of the company understand that they carry the burden of showing their community that this move is the right one.
This is why we’re focused on community engagement and ensuring the development of this technology is solidly rooted in Kickstarter’s values,” Bernyk said. “But to be very clear: we will never require our users to use crypto currency to launch or back a project, and we have no plans to allow NFTs on the platform at this time.”
The use of the phrase “at this time” is troubling, given how aggressive the push to adopt NFTs has become over the past two years. More celebrities are publicly flaunting their procedurally generated apes, punks and cats every day and Super Bowl LVI’s traditionally exclusive advertising block contained more cryptocurrency commercials than ever before. If Kickstarter is leaving the door open for future adoption of NFTs, it will need to address the rampant scams, theft and gross financial speculation baked into its identity.
Bernyk said Kickstarter is fully aware of and shares these concerns. She claimed that the independent organisation developing the blockchain protocol must share all of the values Kickstarter specifies in its benefit corporation charter, including a commitment to “accountability and collaboration” by working out in the open and keeping the protocol code open-source. As of publication, Kickstarter has not provided names or details about this organisation.
The initial letter said Kickstarter would rely on Celo, a blockchain platform that purports to be carbon-negative, as a means of tackling the technology’s other chief criticism - its massive environmental impact. Celo’s status relies primarily on carbon offsetting and carbon credits, two initiatives that have been heavily scrutinised as more financialisation schemes slathered with a heavy coat of greenwashing. Kickstarter did not mention Celo in the latest update but did claim it wouldn’t rely on carbon offsets alone. The announcement did not include details on any additional measures.
Kickstarter trusts that a blockchain protocol will address long-term problems and much-needed creator tools, but it has decided to found an advisory council composed of users and creators to keep the company focused. This council will help prioritise which problems and creator needs are addressed, along with pointing out potential harms any newly developed tools might cause - the blockchain protocol included. It’s unclear if this council will remain a permanent fixture within Kickstarter or if the work done by those chosen will be compensated in any way.
Kickstarter shook the support and trust of a significant chunk of the tabletop community in the wake of its announcement, pushing many notable names to explore alternatives such as Gamefound, Indiegogo and self-publishing. That move hasn’t hurt the company’s substantial revenue from tabletop projects ($21.1 million in January 2022 compared with $17.3 million in January 2021, according to Bernyk).
“We fully recognize that we should have told the story of why we are supporting a decentralised protocol better, and it’s on us to make it clear how this will benefit creators in the future,” Bernyk said. “We take our responsibility to tabletop creators very seriously, and we are committed to being thoughtful and transparent and involving our community much more directly as plans take shape from here.”
Kickstarter remained almost completely silent for two months, leaving many to assume no explanation would come. What finally arrived is a doubling down on toxic technology and reliance on a backer and creator-powered council to provide a moral framework for the massive company’s future. Users can take solace in a present lack of NFTs on the platform, but Kickstarter’s relationship with the blockchain is only beginning.