Kickstarter has looked back at a year that gave us Pebble, Oculus Rift and Ouya, while making a crapload of money for them along the way.
One of the side effects of crowdfunding is that, despite initial exuberance for the concept, product development and delivery delays gratification somewhat. We also suspect the exuberance will come in waves, as people throw money behind projects then wait to see what will result beyond the initial merchandise hit.
We are yet to see the results of the big software success in crowdfunding, but that should change in coming months with everything from smaller successes like the Banner Saga through to big titles like Planetary Annihilation and Wasteland 2 coming ever closer to release. But even though we are still waiting for these projects, 2013 stands as a year in which some truly significant crowdfunded hardware projects hit the market.
These make appearances in what has become Kickstarter’s annual roundup of its success. Last year saw the Pebble smartwatch hit wrists and get out ahead of the massive players in the gadget market, while the Oculus Rift showed that the future of reality can rapidly evolve from Gaffa tape, screen and bits of circuitry into a mass produced, reasonably priced prototype in rapid time.
Both of these products would not exist in their current state if not for crowdfunding. Not only did the use of Kickstarter drive the move from concept to production, but for both companies it set the ball rolling on something much bigger.
Pebble has just announced a new line of premium smartwatches at CES, further reinforcing the companies cult status. It’s existing e-ink based design is still considered to be one of the best bits of wearable tech to make it to market so far, and shows no sign of flagging in popularity.
Oculus’s achievements are even more remarkable, with the company moving from garage based dream to serious player in under a year. Not only has it picked up some of the most significant figures in the games industry along the way, notably the founders of Scaleform, but it has also achieved the unthinkable and lured John Carmack away from id Software. With serious venture capital funding behind it, Oculus is now set to be one of the most significant new technology companies in years, and it likely wouldnt have happened anywhere near as quickly without crowdfunding.
Other products have been less successful in their implementation, but have still delivered what was promised. This is one of the inherent risks of crowdfunding, which in our minds is best considered a kind of faith-based philanthropic tool. Probably the biggest of these products was the Android based Ouya console, which despite the enthusiasm of backers turned out to be exactly what we expected it to be - a proof of concept device, one that makes for a great media box but suffers from a poor lineup of suitable games. A few years down the track Ouya may well be considered an iconic product in a world where we are streaming our games around devices in the home, but for now it is somewhat of a white elephant.
All told, with almost half a billion dollars spent, expansion into new markets like Australia and a controlling mindshare of the crowdfunding market, Kickstarter isn’t going anywhere, even if our enthusiasm has slowed.
What will be really interesting this year is how much local action we see on crowdfunding sites. With international heavyweights like Kickstarter and Indiegogo competing against local, less known sites like Pozible and the charity focused Chip-In, we expect to hear more and more local information about crowdfunding in 2014.