[Editor’s note: The following article reflects only the opinions of its writer and does not constitute any official position from iSlaytheDragon.]
I get it. It’s a joke. I mean, it’s not a great joke, nor an original one…even for Kickstarter. I laughed when I first saw it. It’s cute and sort of clever. I thought it was a fun “wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more,” at the expense of the Internet’s leading crowd-funding web site. But it’s gone too far and has way over-stayed its welcome. And it needs to stop.
Of course, I can’t stop this whole fiasco – and it probably won’t die on its own, judging from creator Zach “Danger” (*sigh, yawn, hackneyed*) Brown’s antics with his goofy “update” videos and utterly pointless appearance on Good Morning America – not sure if that trip was at his dime or ABC’s. And oblivious backers just add heat to the stove with their ridiculous contributions. I understand the funding has fluctuated quite a bit because of mock pledges being rescinded. Still, the project has raised over $45,000. In a week. For a side dish.
I’m a board gamer and, like many others, have followed the Kickstarter phenomenon since the hobby began its foray into the crowd-funding source. It’s a fascinating trend. Not only is Kickstarter important to the gaming industry, but it’s been clear that board games have profoundly influenced the site, itself. Many fantastic games that would never have gotten a shot with established publishers achieved success with Kickstarter. Some board game projects have proven models for other Kickstarter schemes – even non-gaming related. And board games overall continue to rake in an inordinate slice of the Kickstarter monetary pie.
Even though I follow Kickstarter, I’ve never backed a project and not sure that I ever will. Through my work here at iSlaytheDragon, I’m happy to promote projects with prototype previews and reviews of finished production copies. However, I’m personally not sold on Kickstarter and am very wary of projects there, even those created by established companies with a good reputation. I need to spend my limited budget on games with somewhat of a known history so that I can be reasonably assured they will fit my personal tastes and gaming situations. I can’t afford waste.
That’s just me. I know the appeal Kickstarter has to thousands others, and that’s fine. Just because I personally don’t use it, doesn’t mean I think it’s harmful. It’s not and it can be wonderful. But this Potato Salad campaign only entrenches my aversion to it. Kickstarter Guru Jamey Stegmaier has a wonderful post on his blog about how this PS project is harmful to new Kickstarter creators. I’ll go even further and say it’s harmful to consumers who are sitting on the Kickstarter fence, like myself. It doesn’t matter that it started as a joke and any reasonably clear-thinking person understands that.
So indulge my momentary “old man, get-off-my-lawn” spiel, and then I’ll have a little fun with the project below.
This PS campaign is detrimental to Kickstarter. It may be getting the site a lot of free press right now. But those new eyes will soon drift away, probably never to return. And of the 100+ copycat culinary projects launched this past week, who knows how many of them are brand-new to Kickstarter? Or for that matter, how many are even serious? Anyway, who cares? As soon as their uninspired attempts to piggyback on another’s fame flame out and burn, they’ll be gone for good, too. Instead, this whole affair is turning off the Kickstarter fence-sitters.
First off, Potato Salad clearly proves that Kickstarter’s vetting process is either worthless or doesn’t take itself seriously. Seeing the copycat projects launched, I’m inclined to believe there is no vetting process [I believe this has been confirmed – someone may correct me if I’m wrong]. I’ve always suspected as much. While I understand such opinions are often in the “eye of the beholder,” there have been some pretty frivolous, and some downright offensive, campaigns that really should never have been approved. So whenever I see a new board game on Kickstarter, quite frankly I have to go into it already thinking negatively. Basic research always allays most concerns, but even if it isn’t frivolous or offensive, there have been too many poorly thought, haphazard, and incompletely tested projects. The lack of quality control makes those on the fence wary.
Potato Salad also entrenches Kickstarter as a haven for bandwagon backers. There seems to be a strange mentality with a lot of projects that people won’t back it unless others are. It’s sort of akin to political elections. Many people won’t vote if they don’t think their vote makes any difference. That translates somewhat to Kickstarter as backers are leery of lending support to a failing project. On the other hand, if a project is very successful, oftentimes it becomes wildly so as more and more people pile on, thinking they may be missing out on something. Before long, a project has blown its funding goal by astronomical proportions, which can cause its own problems as a victim of its own overwhelming success. Well, Kickstarter fence-sitters could care less about group-think. Personally, I see such trends as indicative of the system’s fragility and inconsistency, and that translates to questionable product quality.
Beyond that, the PS Project just leaves a sour taste in my mouth. It was intended to be a flippant joke with little effort and no creativity. It’s insanely bizarre what it’s become – like one of those strange dreams that you wake up from and try to figure out what in the world just happened. Zach Brown spent the amount of time it takes to type, “Basically, I’m just making potato salad,” and, “It might not be that good. It’s my first potato salad.” And now he’s been on Good Morning America and is the first link that pops up when you Google “potato salad.” Meanwhile, worthy projects upon which their creators spent months of effort go unheeded. But no one said life is fair, and I won’t argue it even should be.
So why exactly do people give this prank their money…even one dollar?! To be part of a community, as some backers have said? Supporter VaporStarter commented, “For me potato salad is more than a dish, it’s a connection. Feelings of love, joy, family, and friends.” Brown himself opined, “Potato salad is just a vehicle that brought us all together. We’re all craving interaction and feeling like we’re a part of something bigger. Potato salad isn’t controversial, it isn’t mean or snarky. Potato salad is lawful good — something incorruptible that we can all rally around.” Queue stirring orchestral music? You need rubber boots to walk around that site – and it ain’t because of piles of potato salad. He’s taking the joke too far and that part isn’t even funny. At this point, it’s clear he’s a Saturday Night Live or The Onion wannabe trying to cash in on his inexplicable, overnight recognition.
There is no community. There was no forethought to create anything as such. When this issue first started going viral, he originally said he hoped to get maybe $60. Why? Since when does it cost $60 to make potato salad? And if that was the case, why was his initial funding goal $10? He never explains his reasons – because he didn’t have any logical ones. Then when he gets his 2 minutes on national television, he mumbles something about doing the most good that he can with the money. But then has no clue what that means and says he’ll be asking the “Internet.” Wow. At least he’s up front in one update, writing, “I have no idea what’s realistic anymore.” Yeah, no kidding. Backers throwing money wastefully at a campaign with no forethought or direction? While certainly not a first, it’s still a turn off for Kickstarter fence-sitters.
If it’s not community, then perhaps people are helping make PS to be part of an internet joke? Nonsense! You don’t have to spend money to get in on viral laughs. Two years ago, Chuck Norrisisms spread like fire and thousands got involved with their own witty catchphrases. No one paid money to get in on that action. Last year, 35,000 people signed the official White House petition to get the government to build the Death Star. No cost to have a bit of fun in that one. And just this week, Facebook, Twitter, and Internet meme-dom exploded with innumerable jokes at Brazil’s expense in their historic loss to Germany. My favorite was German chancellor Angela Merkel photo-shopped in place of Cristo Redentor overlooking Rio in majestic victory. Now that’s funny…and free to participate! Viral pranks, hoaxes, and jokes are legion on the Internet. Why waste even a dollar to fund someone’s one month of fame to “be a part of it?” It is truly mind-boggling.
I’m not saying he should donate all the money to charity. And I’m not advocating for all the real needs in the world. And I’ll spare everyone another rant about this is why most of America is in debt and our country trillions of dollars so. Paying a dollar to get a giggle for such banal humor is absurd. “If you can make me laugh for a few weeks, I figure I should toss some money your way,” is one backer’s reasoning. For weeks? Really?! Should toss? Seriously?! Oh, for the love of all that is good and decent! What I am saying is he should stop now and give everyone their pledges back. It has run its course, and if he keeps it to supposedly make a potato salad and somehow celebrate such a mundane thing of no significance, then he is a shill and a two-bit one, at that.
So now that I feel better and know that nothing will change, anyway – I thought I’d help the guy out. Obviously what this insightful, heart-warming, and stunningly professional story lacks are board games! Think of it! He’s truly missing out on a veritable gold mine by not offering potato-salad themed games as stretch goals. Since I know that takes some planning, I thought of some suggestions for him.
- Tubers – a role-selection game in which choosing different potato varieties to make potato salad gains specific benefits. Will you be the ordinary red, eccentric Fingerling, healthy sweet potato, or the exotic Royal Blue?
- Starch Age – gather your workers and place them in various tasks all along the potato salad journey; from planting, growing, and harvesting your original potatoes; to researching new recipes; to gathering other ingredients; to preparing your dishes; and ultimately running your own potato salad Kickstarter campaign!
- Spoiled in the Kitchen – a cooperative game where every player assumes the identity of a specific ingredient trying to come together to make potato salad; but beware! Someone is Vinegar, the traitor, setting out to ruin the whole dish.
- Potato Salad the Card Game – gather various ingredients of different point values through card drafting and set collection to create the best recipe.
- Potato Salad the Diced Game – because every game needs a dice version.
- Peels of Glory – the most famous potato salad nations battle it out for world supremacy; German, American, Brazilian, Czechoslovakian, and Syrian.
- Russet Hour – a fast and furious game where you fulfill deli contracts by racing around town to pick-up potato salad ingredients and deliver them to the right eateries.
- Sprout – the micro game of potato salad made with baby potatoes.
- Recipe – combine the best ingredients for powerful culinary combos in this tableau-building game.
- Root of All Evil – the Cthulhu-themed potato salad game.
- Night of the Living Spuds – the zombie-themed potato salad game.
Well, those may not be that funny. But at least they’re free.
Thanks for writing this, Jason. I got a surprising amount of backlash on my blog post about Potato Salad. Actually, the surprising part wasn’t that I got backlash–the surprising part is that some people seemed to think that the project isn’t a joke, but rather some brilliant, carefully calculated viral campaign. Or even that we should just take Zach at his word, which has consistently been that he just genuinely wanted to make potato salad. Really?
As of yesterday, there were 496 copycat projects in the food category. As Tony from BoardGameQuest pointed out on my blog, a category that he once loved to browse on Kickstarter is completely unusable. And I tend to agree with you about the impact it’ll have on new backers and on people who were on the fence about Kickstarter.
I did want to clarify one point (“there is no vetting process”). Kickstarter changed their vetting process so that it’s not 100% human-run. Now they use a computer algorithm that checks all the things the humans once checked to see if the project can automatically be approved or if it needs human approval. One of the things it looks for is if a creator has started a Kickstarter project in the past. If not, there’s a very good chance that project will need human approval. That’s why I greatly suspect that Zach’s project was approved by a human (someone at KS who thought it was cute and wouldn’t go anywhere). but now Kickstarter is stuck–they can’t not approve the copycats, because they’ve already set a precedent that these types of projects have a place on Kickstarter.
I contacted Kickstarter to request an interview about that subject (and the subject of people placing giant pledges and then retracting then a few minutes later, just for fun), but they declined. I somewhat suspect that they’re working on a solution, and we’ll hear what it is on their blog next week.
Thanks, Jamey – as one of the best board gaming operations to use Kickstarter, I do value your insight. And double thanks for clarifying the vetting process. Your thinking certainly sounds logical to me. I mean, if a human DID approve it, I’d have to give that individual the benefit of the doubt – indeed, who WOULD HAVE thought this would get as absurd as it has?!! It’s Crazy…
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