What do you do with a big idea, but no resources to make it happen? As the news anchor never tires of telling us, we're deep in the clutches of a bleak recession which means fewer bank loans, less investment in new or unusual industries... Generally less opportunity for inspired but financially limited talent. A miserable outlook at best, if we were to believe the doomsday news bulletins. Testament to the resilience of the human spirit, though, when things get really bad the optimistic among us are pushed to find creative solutions to the big problems. Enter Kickstarter. Amanda Palmer - a musician, artist and spokesperson for the 'crowd sourcing' movement even before it became digitalised - once described the Kickstarter mission as "(a) few thousand people all trusting each other IMMENSELY", a wonderfully succinct review of the honest community ethos behind the popular crowd funding website.
The trend of crowd funding has emerged from the rubble of the global economic crisis, allowing the people of the internet democratically decide which projects are worthy, exciting and have enough potential to be worth their no-strings-attached donation. Anyone with an idea and an internet connection an post a project, appealing to fellow users to pledge a certain amount to help make the project a reality. As long as the project meets or exceeds its fundraising goal, the money pledged is donated directly to the project and a light bulb idea becomes a reality. No Dragon's Den, no bank manager, just good old egalitarianism for the digital age.
The modern, buoyant ideal of the 'start-up', evoking young people with genuine motivation and bright ideas, owes a lot to Kickstarter. Founded by Perry Chen in 2009, Kickstarter has made possible some of the most extraordinary inventions of the last few years funded entirely by an appreciative, curious and supportive audience. Of course, donators are advised to use their discretion as Kickstarter claims no responsibility for the project proposals to which they play host. There's been some controversy too; after raising half a million dollars to fund the production of a genetically modified organism, ethical issues meant the site discontinued support for 'synthetic biology' projects. Some other projects have been cancelled due to fraudulent claims or inappropriate content. Generally, though, Kickstarter is far more noteworthy for its successes than its failures.
One notable success of the crowd sourcing age, though, is the independent film industry. So many films have benefited from this financial leg up, in fact, that a full 10% of the films at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival were Kickstarter-backed; films with artistic integrity and the potential to become modern classics, which would likely never have seen the light of day without the backing of generous public donations. The same goes for graphic novels. They don't take millions to produce, but Kickstarter funds so many of them that, according to Publisher's Weekly, Kickstarter is now the world's second largest publisher of graphic novels. Kickstarter is a haven for artists, but it funds plenty of other projects - notable among them some highly successful technological projects, from 3D printers to Smartphone watches.
Of all the diversity that Kickstarter has to offer, which projects caught the public imagination the most? Every once in a while, a project crops up that so inspires funders it can raise millions... sometimes, millions more than the creators would have ever anticipated. Have a look at the ten most enormous Kickstarter project successes of 2013.
10 Camelot Unchained - $2,232,933 - May
Camelot Unchained is one of many successful independent video games funded by Kickstarter backers. The creators - and backers - of Camelot Unchained wanted to build an interactive world to which all the players could contribute. The creators drew on the world of horror fiction and horror films for inspiration, pulling together ideas from H.P. Lovecraft and H.R. Giger, and designing a game in which the whole game play is essentially alive.
While players of Camelot Unchained fight each other - divided into several different opposing "realms," all jockeying for dominance - they also have the challenge of dealing with their environment. The terrifying monsters players encounter are in fact other players, who died and metamorphosed into the demons that haunt the surface.
Game development is expensive, and Camelot Unchained hoped to get $2,000,000 in backing. They exceeded that by a handy margin, pulling in $2,232,933 from 14,873 intrigued backers.
9 Zombicide: Season 2 - $2,255,018 - March
A tabletop game that pits players against zombies, Zombicide: Season 2 is a sequel to the first Zombicide game (Kickstarter funded in 2012). Meant for between 1 and 6 players, Zombicide lets each person take on the role of between 1 and 4 survivors, collaborating with his or her teammates to kill as many zombies as possible. The more zombies players kill, the more skills they learn, and the more zombies start appearing; the zombies are controlled by a few rules and a set of cards.
Zombicide: Season 2's Kickstarter project includes 3 different items, a standalone game and two expansion packs.
How well did Zombicide: Season 2 do? They were aiming for $25,000, but they overshot their goal... just a little! The final tally came in at a staggering $2,255,018 in pledges from 8,944 backers.
8 HEX MMO Trading Card Game - $2,278,255 - June
Created by the same people team behind World of Warcraft Trading Card Game, HEX blends the trading card and massively-multiplayer-online game genres.
HEX isn't a product - it's a free-to-play online game, mixing the collectible and strategic aspects of trading card games with the storytelling and community aspects of MMO roleplaying games like World of Warcraft. The game puts players into an original fantasy world, using the digital advantage to give the game an aspect that would be impossible in a standard trading card game.
The main selling point of HEX? The game attempts to do something completely new in online gaming, and it's built by hard-core gamers. The crowd certainly liked the idea; the creators were aiming to raise $300,000 but the game took off and ended up raising $2,278,255 from 17,765 backers.
7 3Doodler: The World's First 3D Printing Pen - $2,344,134 - March
3D printers are the almost sci-fi inventions that let you print objects, but you need a computer and 3D modeling skills. The almost incomprehensible 3Doodler lets anyone draw in the air using the same technology as many 3D printers - buy it's in the shape of a pen.
The 3Doodler melts ABS plastic and extrudes out of the tip in a fine thread, where it cools and hardens quickly. This lets would-be artists "doodle" a 3D object almost as easily as they would 2D ones. Yes - it's as cool as it sounds which is why, after trying for $30,000 to go into production, the creators ended up earning $2,344,134 in pledges, from 26,457 buyers.
6 Elite: Dangerous - $2,583,840 - January
Frontier Developments, based in Cambridge in the United Kingdom, proposed an epic space game, 'Elite: Dangerous', which gives players a ship and 100 credits - and the rest is up to them. Players can trade, pirate, bounty hunt, or assassinate their way across the galaxy, manoeuvring between the three superpowers of Independents, Federation, and Empire in the core of the galaxy - and the anarchy that reigns in the outskirts. 'Elite: Dangerous' puts players into a dog-eat-dog world, letting them explore a complex universe on their own or with their friends.
This is a sequel to the world's first open-world game, "Elite." One of the most successful 1980s games, it's unclear how many "Elite" players came back to support this one. Still, of a GBP 1,250,000 goal, they pulled in UKPGBP 1,578,316 - over $2,500,000 in USD - from 25,681 fans.
5 Wish I Was Here - $3,105,473 - May
"Garden State" creator Zach Braff wanted to continue filmmaking but he wanted to forgo the creative restrictions from traditional funding for his film "Wish I Was Here."
Following a struggling actor through home-schooling his children - with plenty of chaos along the way - "Wish I Was Here" was written by Zach and his brother Adam. They overshot their $2,000,000 goal by a neat 50%, pulling in $3,105,473 from 46,520 backers and attracting plenty of free publicity for the project in the process.
4 Reaper Minatures Bones II: The Return Of Mr Bones - $3,169,610 - October
Sounds like a niche product? Well, that's perhaps why they only asked for $30,000. But they got - unbelievably - 100 times that! Bones II pulled in $3,169,610 from 14,964 backers.
3 Mighty No. 9 - $3,845,170 - October
Gaming fans the world over know and love Mega Man, the icon of Capcom. What happens when the legendary Keiji Inafune and an all-star team, all veterans of the Mega Man franchise, band together to produce a classic Japanese-style side-scrolling video game updated with the latest technology and new ideas?
They call it Mighty No. 9... and the fans loved it. So much that the project pulled in $3,845,170 - more than three times the hoped-for $900,000, from 67,226 backers.
2 Torment: Tides of Numenera - $4,188,927 - April
Torment is a single-player character-based role-playing game with a rich story and a stunning game world. Unlike so many action-based games, the real selling point of Torment is the story - it's interactive and the player's choices make a real difference, allowing them to play again and again and discover new paths.
Hoping for $900,000, Torment's developers instead got an incredible $4,188,927 from 74,405 backers.
1 The Veronica Mars Movie - $5,702,153 - April
What happens when you unleash the fans of a successful TV series on Kickstarter? Almost $6 million is what...
Following a teenage girl private investigator, the Veronica Mars show was a cult hit. Moguls didn't believe it was popular enough, though, to make the follow-up movie that fans so badly wanted - those decision-makers are no doubt hanging their proverbial tails between their legs now.
With exclusive custom-designed T-shirts and plenty more as perks, this project was the most successful project on Kickstarter in 2013, and one of the most successful projects in history: by the time the pledge drive closed, the project - which had set a $2 million goal - pulled in $5,702,153, from more backers than any other project ever before.
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