Following my previous post on an odd-looking Kickstarter video game project, I emailed Kickstarter to get a better understanding of what I was seeing with that particular project.
I asked: In what situations is it possible for pledgers to not appear within reward levels?
Kickstarter support says: “Sometimes backers elect to receive a reward level that differs from their pledge amount. In many cases, they select No Reward, because they wanted to just support the project with nothing in return. This would not make them appear under any of the public reward tiers, though they’re still backers on the project.“
I also had a look at a few other projects and there is a very small proportion (at least in the projects I looked at) of backers who don’t appear in the reward tier figures. It would certainly make things more transparent if Kickstarter listed the number of No Reward backers and some kind of figure regarding what they pledged, because these kind of ‘invisible’ pledges could certainly be used to manipulate an unsuccessful Kickstarter into a successful one. You’d have to be watching closely to see that it was one or two No Reward pledges that pushed a project over the line, but it should raise questions if a first-time backer or known friend appeared in the last few hours to drop 5 figures into a project.
I also asked: Is there any checking done by Kickstarter that backer accounts for a project are separated, or not some kind of sock puppet from a single source? Are flags raised if the same financial details are provided for different Kickstarter accounts on the same project?
Kickstarter support says: “Kickstarter project creators are not allowed to pledge to their own projects under any circumstances.“
That answer didn’t really satisfy me, so I did a follow-up question: Just to follow up about project creators not being able to pledge to their own projects, how do you look for this kind of behaviour? At the very least in the project I linked there are a number of funny accounts, including one with a surname that is the same as the project creator. Do you look to see if backer financial account details are shared across accounts in these circumstances?
Kickstarter support says: “Right — the account pledging cannot be linked to the project creator.“
So I’m still not sure what is checked to see that the pledging account isn’t linked to the project creator other it isn’t coming from the project creator’s account. Admittedly, that could be hard to do given that family may wish to back a Kickstarter (as they appear to have done in this case) and they may share financial details, but just because it is hard doesn’t mean there shouldn’t have something in place. If all a project creator has to do is create a new Kickstarter account if they want to back their own project, then that’s a very short step to take.
It may appear that the original project is no big deal despite looking odd – after all, it only took in $1651, which is hardly a fortune – and I have no evidence one way or the other about the legitimacy of the project (although it doesn’t look like this title has yet been released). The reason I wonder about it is because if simple manipulation works at this low level with so few backers, then it has the chance to work very well when hidden by a larger volume of backers and involving much larger sums of money.