Also: I expanded the ideas in this post into a short article for Fast Company, Kickstarter: Crowdfunding Platform Or Reality Show?
The web is flipping out today over the OUYA, a hypothetical new videogame console posted today on Kickstarter. It promises "A New Kind of Video Game Console," but it's really just an Android device with yet another 30%-take uncurated app store with free-to-play games strapped to a TV. They've raised 3/4 of their $950,000 goal in less than a day, which is impressive.
Like many Kickstarters, the details are scant, and many questions about the device and its role in the market are left unanswered. But to understand OUYA, we need to focus in front of the purported features of the nonexistent product, at the Kickstarter project itself.
I wrote a Gamasutra column a while back that partly characterizes crowdfunding projects on Kickstarter and elsewhere as fantasies. That is, what you're doing when you fund something like OUYA is not buying a new console that will be made and marketed with enough funding, but purchasing the entertainment value of expressing your support for such a hypothetical console. The fact that it's raised so much money so fast speaks more to our fantasies than the market reality. The risk is not that OUYA will disrupt the console market, really (how could we know?) but that the Ouya Kickstarter itself will fulfill the desire for the device. Baudrillard-like, we don't even need the actual disruption (or the games that would deliver it); the pleasure of participating in hypothetical disruption is sufficient.
More than sufficient, even. I've funded several Kickstarter projects (hello, Twine) for which I've still received nothing save Kickstarter updates. Others I funded and received months late and to considerable disappointment (hello, Pen Type-A) When faced with the reality of these products, they just irk me—not just because they're too little too late (if at all) but for even weirder reasons. We don't really want the stuff. We're paying for the idea, not the product. For the pleasure of desiring it. For the experience of watching it succeed beyond expectations or to fail dramatically. Kickstarter is just another form of entertainment.