How Kickstarter’s New “Launch Now” Feature and Simplified Rules Help Both Creators and Backers

5 June 2014 | 19 Comments

Two days ago, Kickstarter announced two important changes to their platform: Launch Now and Simplified Rules. These changes prompted a completely uninformed outcry, including this well-circulated article about how the new rules “open the floodgates to more frauds and scams.”

I’ve thought about and researched the new guidelines, and I actually think they’re better for both Kickstarter creators and backers. I’ll get to that in a second. First let’s look at the changes compared to the way things were.

Simplified Rules

Old Version: Kickstarter’s original guidelines said that you had to create something, but that “something” was limited in some seemingly random ways. For example, software, bath/beauty products, and self-help projects were largely not allowed on Kickstarter. You also could not use Kickstarter to fundraise for charity or offer rewards involving financial incentives or various federally regulated items like alcohol or firearms.

New Version: Kickstarter’s new simplified rules have been boiled down to three basic principles (these bullet points are a direct quote from Kickstarter):

  • Projects must create something to share with others.
  • Projects must be honest and clearly presented.
  • Projects cannot fundraise for charity, offer financial incentives, or involve prohibited items.

As you can see, these are still very much in line with the spirit of the original guidelines. They basically just lifted restrictions on a few types of items that they were originally wary about (like software, bath/beauty products, and self-help projects, as mentioned above), expanding Kickstarter’s market space a little bit. They also now allow creators to offer multiple units of hardware products to the same backer.

Conclusion: Kickstarter is a funding platform, not a product curation site, and the new change further exemplifies that purpose. These change will attract a few more creators who weren’t able to offer their products on Kickstarter, and just like with any other projects, backers will be the ones who determine if they want to pledge for those types of products. This is a minimal change that is completely within the original spirit of Kickstarter, and I don’t foresee any issues with it.

Launch Now

Old Version: Up until this point, a creator was required to submit his or her project to Kickstarter for approval before launching it. A Kickstarter employee would then skim over the page looking for any key issues and either approve it or reject it. If approved, the creator could then launch it at any time–even months later. When the project went live, the power was in the hands of the backers to report any red flags to Kickstarter.

New Version: Kickstarter has designed an algorithm that replaces the employees who had to review projects for approval. The algorithm looks for the exact same things they previously looked for (but without human error); things like “the project’s description, rewards, funding goal, and whether the creator has previously launched a project.” This algorithm activates the minute you start to enter content on your project page.

If your project passes the algorithm’s review (not just once, but on an ongoing basis as you make changes), you are eligible for Launch Now, meaning that you can simply press the Launch button to start your campaign at any time instead of submitting the project to Kickstarter and waiting 3-7 days for approval. There is no formal pre-approval process–it happens in the background as you edit your project page.

If the algorithm catches any red flags, you still have to get approval from a Kickstarter employee. And even if your project is eligible for Launch Now, you can choose to submit your project to Kickstarter for feedback and advice before launching.

Also, as was the case before, backers can submit concerns about a project to Kickstarter while the project is live.

Conclusion: This is the change that most people have been talking about, and I suspect that people are missing the point. This is a very good change for Kickstarter because of two reason:

1. The change makes it harder, not easier, for bad projects to launch on Kickstarter. Imagine that you’re a Kickstarter employee in charge of reviewing projects in a specific category under the old system. You get hundreds of project requests every day, and you skim each one looking for any red flags that jump out at you. You probably have a checklist of the top 10 problem areas to look at. After all, you’re human–you can’t catch every little thing, and your time is limited, so you can’t review every little thing. Bad projects are going to slip through the cracks.

Compare that to a computer algorithm with thousands of data points that constantly reviews projects. This software is significantly more likely to catch bad projects.

You might say that a computer isn’t going to have the intuition to “sense” when a project is a scam, and you’re probably right. But the real people who vet Kickstarter projects aren’t Kickstarter employees–they’re potential backers, and they’re still fully empowered to report bad projects.

2. The change makes it easier for good projects–or, at least, appropriate projects–to launch. I’ve heard from so many creators (new and old) that they had hyped a specific launch date to their fanbase, and when it finally came time to launch the project, Kickstarter hadn’t approved it yet. Why? Because Kickstarter employees are human beings. They go on vacation. They have good days and bad days, meetings and meetups to attend.

The new Kickstarter algorithm is on all the time. It doesn’t take lunch breaks. It doesn’t go on holiday. It will catch the bad projects and it will instantly recognize that your project is good.

Really, the only difference between the old system and the new system is time. Both systems review projects for the same red flags, but the new system does it so much faster. That’s great news for all the well-intentioned project creators out there who are ready to launch their projects.

***

I’ll end with a story from my personal experience on Kickstarter that illustrates why this new system is better. When I launched Viticulture on Kickstarter back in August 2012, it did really well within the first hour–people were discovering it in the “recently launched” section of Kickstarter.

But then a backer red-flagged one of my reward levels (one that did not meet Kickstarter’s guidelines), and Kickstarter immediately unlisted my project and removed it from the “recently launched” section until I deleted the faulty reward level.

Now, I should have known Kickstarter’s guidelines wouldn’t allow that reward level (it was for entrance into a Viticulture tournament with a cash prize). My other mistake was assuming that Kickstarter’s employees would catch any errors like that before approving the project. But they’re human, with limited time and a limited capacity for catching errors.

I’m confident that Kickstarter’s algorithm would have caught the mistake, which means that Viticulture wouldn’t have been red flagged and it would have stayed on the “recently launched” section.

Thus I fully support these new changes for well-meaning creators and backers like me. This isn’t a case of “anyone can launch anything on Kickstarter at any time now!” Rather, it’s a well-calculated evolution that modernizes and streamlines Kickstarter for all the good projects out there.

UPDATE February 18, 2015: Kickstarter reveals some data about how the new launch process has gone over the last 8 months.

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19 Comments on “How Kickstarter’s New “Launch Now” Feature and Simplified Rules Help Both Creators and Backers

  1. Hmm, was this a rule before
    – prohibited items:
    Resale. All rewards must have been produced or designed by the project or one of its creators — no reselling things from elsewhere.
    Could this affect board game products where they offer other games as add-ons?

    1. Dean: That’s a keen observation. I haven’t noticed that in the past, but it seems consistent with their past policies. You can’t just sell random stuff on Kickstarter. But selling your own products (including games) is fine as long as it isn’t the main feature. I’m not a big advocate of doing that because it skews the numbers for your funding goal, though.

  2. Jamie, in the last couple days I have said several times to friends and especially those who want to KS soon how great your blog is, and how *just one* of your KS Lessons probably saved my Kickstarter, which is right now going into its 3rd day at 198% of goal.
    That was the one about submitting as soon as possible, even before the fine details are ready – I actually launched with a pitiful video, a no-no, but otherwise I might never have launched – I have another campaign in draft form in the KS bowels that I never did submit because at the time I thought it had to be complete… (I personally wasn’t ready either, so I guess it was all for the better)

    Now that wisdom is worthless :-) LOL squared! That doesn’t reduce my debt of gratitude, alas!

    As a general thing I do not trust algorithms, but the several day delay and randomness and so on of humans was pushing too many to Indiegogo anyway. Though the capriciousness of KS staff in evaluating projects on their “magic” is *so* peculiar… I *do* wish there were clearer “rules”, otherwise it’s an open invitation for hip vapor rather than substance, which I guess is also part of the way things are and grow up kid and so on.

    On another tack and I do not want to get into details here, I am a bit chagrined as in the last two days I’ve learned too much already :-) in terms of it seems to be too easy to “game” Kickstarter. I did not and I will not, but it’s just a matter of time that other changes will have to come, because I must not be the only one who noticed. I should try to figure out how to contact you in private to share my concerns, but I am too tired right now, will go get some ZZs.

    Anyway, maybe someone reading this will drop by meanwhile and tack $9 in my campaign, to kick it beyond 200% – that would be nice
    Nite nite.
    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/yamaplos/stemginery-3d-build-learn-play-make-game-free2copy

    1. Thanks for sharing that link. I have limited computer access right now, but if you’d like to share this post on that thread to help people better understand what’s happening, that would be awesome.

  3. Thanks guys, I’m glad this was helpful. There seemed to be some confusion/fear when it was originally announced, so hopefully this will help people understand that it’s actually a good thing (in my opinion, at least!).

  4. I appreciate that you took the time to think through the changes before jumping on the “I hate change” bandwagon. Actually, I like you general positive attitude. Thanks for your thoughts on the matter.

  5. I agree, I think these are all good changes that will further support the good projects, and improve the quality of projects being implemented. Hopefully it will encourage others to utilize this platform, and drive more traffic to KS by having more variety of projects. I really want to see business move toward smaller independent publishers and start ups, because that is where the innovation is. I’m excited to try this new platform out!

  6. Are backers going to see it that way though? There are companies that continue to post new board game projects while they balk on the promises of dozens of old ones. Most people are going to read the headlines like I did and think, “Wow, Kickstarter is *lowering* its standards?” Even if that’s not true, I suspect fewer backers will trust Kickstarter as a result of this move.

    And as for publishers, will the “Launch Now” button literally launch your project immediately, or will you have the option to delay it once automatically approved? If you can’t delay it, then how do you prepare people for a launch? I want my projects pre-approved (whether by hand or automatically) so I can launch it at a specific time without concern that it will be rejected by an algorithm.

    1. Games on the Brain:

      How will backers see it the change? From their vantage point, nothing really changes. They’ll see the same exact projects as before, along with a few new categories. Kickstarter hasn’t vetted projects in terms of whether or not they’ve followed through on past promises, and they won’t do that now either.

      Yes, if the ongoing algorithm sees your project as eligible for Launch Now, you’ll see the Launch button on your project. When you press it, your project will go live. You’ll “delay” it by not pressing that button, but the nice thing is that the button is there for you to press whenever you’re ready (as long as your project remains eligible).

      I would recommend that you read the section about Launch Now again. It’s really important that people understand how it works to prevent any misconceptions from spreading.

    2. I agree that the changes are good. The problem is that many people will simply read the headlines and think that KS is lowering their standards. That may, in turn, make people less trusting of KS as a platform.

  7. Also, like you mentioned above, after the initial Kickstarter ‘approval’ you could launch at any time.. even months later… and during that time, you could make whatever changes you wanted to your project page and none of those changes would be reviewed by Kickstarter. So, you set up a temp page, get through the KS approval, then put in all your violating “scam” stuff and launch. You can’t do that now. That’s good.

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