Is lateness failure?
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Kickstarter projects are great at a lot of things, but meeting deadlines isn’t one of them. This isn’t just a Kickstarter thing. All creative projects, whether they’re on Kickstarter or not, often take longer than expected. What’s unique about Kickstarter is that everyone gets to see how things are made and exactly how long it takes to make them.
A research project from a Wharton professor earlier this year sparked a conversation about how long Kickstarter projects take to be completed. The research found that just 25% of surveyed projects delivered rewards by their Estimated Delivery Date. In other words, many projects were late. (The professor also found that only 3.6% of surveyed projects failed to deliver. This got much less attention.)
Occasionally art is known for how long it took to be created. Sometimes for better (the Sistine Chapel) and sometimes for worse (Guns ‘N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy). But with few exceptions, the amount of time a creative work takes to be made has little relevance to its audience. If anything, the longer the period of creation the higher esteem the work is held.
The focus on lateness within Kickstarter brings three problems.
First, it incentivizes creators to take shortcuts to hit their deadlines. As legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto recently said, "A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.”
Second, it ignores what makes Kickstarter so unique: getting to watch a project come to life. The opportunity to see how something is made and to have a hand in its creation is a special thing. If a creator turns the creative process into a story they share with backers, delays don't have to be bad news.
Third, it presumes that Kickstarter is a store. Sure, it's unacceptable for a store to ship something late. But Kickstarter is not a store. The Estimated Delivery Date is the creator’s best guess at how things will go, and it’s made at a very early stage in the project’s life.
We at Kickstarter know quite a bit about lateness ourselves, funnily enough. Our original plans had Kickstarter launching in April 2008, but a variety of obstacles delayed the launch an entire year. Does this delay make Kickstarter a failed project? We hope not. Ultimately the creative process takes as long as it has to take.