What the OUYA review highlights: the blurry line between backer and customer

There once was a time when very very rich people gave very very hardworking entrepreneurial extravagant geniuses a vomit-inducing amount of money to implement an idea in the hope that this arrangement might result in the entrepreneur becoming even more extravagant and her backer even more rich. To be fair, that time is still upon us, but now we also have Kickstarter.

I love the promise of Kickstarter. Rather than letting super wealthy ponces rule the future by practically dictating what the technology will be like when we get there, now regular, middle-class, still-rich-by-most-of-the-world's-standards ponces like me can chip in together and collectively breathe life into the ideas that appeal to us. It's got all the elements of something I could genuinely get excited about: democracy, the Internet, cool gadgets, my opinions, and sticking it to the fat ugly stupid fat capitalist oligarchs who hate technology and hate progress and hate democracy. In short Kickstarter is all that's good about the Internet in general.

Like I said, I like the promise of Kickstarter. What I don't like is how that promise has been exploited and eroded by the very entrepreneurs who seek to gain from it, in what I'd say is a pretty entrepreneurial way. Oh you entrepreneurs!

At some point Kickstarter turned into a preorder system. The little rewards in the right column stopped being "a warm glow from knowing you're bettering society," "the pride of having your name on the back of the box," or "a t-shirt you'll wear to death letting everyone know what an awesome, generous and handsome person you are" and started being "1 trinket," "2 trinkets" "4 trinkets" "8 limited edition orange trinkets." The potential extravagant geniuses figured out that people were more likely to back the product if the reward for backing the product was the product. It sounds like a reasonable proposition on first inspection, but the problem is in the ever increasingly blurry line between backer and customer. Because although the Kickstartee still communicates with what they and the website calls "backers", the majority of "backers" don't consider that they've backed the product, but rather bought the product.

And all this comes a frothy head when a Kickstarter "backer" who happens to be EIC of The Verge gives his "reward" to one of his senior reviews editors. See to me, and I'm not ruling out that I'm totally insane, that doesn't sound like something a "backer" would do, it doesn't sound very backerish to me. It does, however, sound like something a customer might do.

The question for me isn't whether David should have done a review of the OUYA. If I'd wanted to do that I would have vented in the comments one way or the other and pretended somebody cared about my angry white boy opinion. The question for me is this: what does backing a Kickstarter mean? Are we in backing a product committing to support a product in a meaningful way? Should Kickstarter stop the pretense of using the word "backer" in cases the rewards are so obviously not rewards at all but an exchange goods for money, that is, a purchase? Is it possible to have a true crowd funded model without it devolving into the preorder system we see before us, or is this inevitable?