Note: This post originally went up on Google+, but since I can no longer set it (or rather can’t figure out how) to public. I reprint it here.
Pardon me while I get some tap dancing out of the way. I have spent quite a few hours trying to find words to express these thoughts without specific citations of companies and people, out of maybe a naive or anxious fear that in straight calling them out, I lose some opportunity in the future.
I suppose the benefit to occasionally feeling like I’m often on the outside looking in is that I don’t know opportunities at a distance, so I’m less shocked when I don’t have them.
Having said all that, here are some thoughts.
1. There is a model of industry development that I frankly find abhorrent – it’s the model where price points are absurdly elevated to create an atmosphere of rarity or exclusivity, so that a feeling of missing out can be exploited – you don’t want to miss your one/only chance to have this thing, so do please fork over more than a few dollars. If there’s a flaw in the crowdfunding model becoming more of an accepted practice, it’s that FOMO is the fuel rather than a passionate excitement for production (not to say people aren’t thrilled to be making a thing, but the number of happy makers is smaller than the number of consumers who want to feel included).
2. Continuing from that point, as price elevates, it seems reasonable then to question – where does this money go? As someone who often gets paid out of crowd-raised monies, I know that money goes to production and shipping costs, with the remainder usually becoming a birthing pool for future material. However, that deals with the money going out. Let’s question the money coming in – in a crowdfunding model, how are tiers determined?
While I’m sure there is a formula, as well as I’m sure that sometimes it also comes down to “making it up”, I think it’s important to look what the price point suggests to the potential customer. Let’s step out of gaming.
Cars. Car manufacturers have long had certain prices associated with even their most basic models for years – it’s why we can mock Kia and Bentley as ends of a spectrum – and we can with some manner of comfort ballpark a range of dollars for a certain type or size of car. This expectation is prevalent and not really questioned. We can apply this same idea to gaming – we can roughly ballpark the cost of a book based on its size, cover, art content, binding, etc. This expectation can help us as consumers when we stand in stores or look at digital shopping carts.
So what happens when our expectations collide with elevated prices and a fear of missing out? Dissonance. Static. A variety of emotions. We look at a higher price and assume higher quality, when quality is tied to production, not sales point – you can score a sweet deal on an expensive item and the item doesn’t suddenly degrade. So why pay more?
3. Here’s where we start dealing with the human element. There’s a level of vanity involved. We’re often told to value ourselves highly and not to settle for lower income. But there comes that tipping point where the perceived value is unattainable – I believe my work to be worth a thousand dollars an hour, and it reduces the number of people able to afford that, which can send a message to the people who can’t afford it that I’m something of a jerk with an inflated sense of myself, or that there’s something wrong with them because they don’t value themselves like that or can’t afford it.
In this way, we create barriers, not bridges. Going beyond the social element of inclusivity, there’s an economic consideration to be made. If few people have access to a thing, how is that supposed to help expand the population of people with access to it? The assumption they’ll share is based on the assumption that the people are connected to each other somehow (all part of the same group in addition to the group of owners).
Economics too often becomes a barrier for consumers – they can’t afford things like conventions or products so they don’t spend that money, which can lead to fewer available sales, because the people who can afford things already have them.
With fewer sales, people can either reduce prices to hopefully draw in people, or raise them, thinking that higher prices will make up for the population decline – but that’s the barrier. Raising prices just expands and cements that gap between those that have and those that don’t.
4. From another side, that barrier of expense can create scarcity among creators and producers, since only a finite number of people can work on expensive products. Sure, yes, there’s a nice boost from being known as a “company person”, but there too comes a point when this barrier creates an echo chamber – the haves against the have nots can so easily turn into the people who “get it” (whether that’s product or the concept of what people are trying to do) versus those that don’t. The more you cement that barrier, the more distant you appear. And distance from audience is seldom reparable through a few chummy tweets or a smiling selfie.
The echo chamber is a dangerous place. It is the influx of new people that drives creativity but adding not just criticism but motivation. And I’m saying this as a guy who at times is part of a small echo chamber himself. Think of how the barriers established by price and production and FOMO can exclude people from thinking they can even reach a similar level. The great giant named companies didn’t start out as the behemoth but at some point there’s a conversion, a metamorphosis into something that is not, and cannot be what it was before. Gone are the shoestring budgets and gone is that hunger when high prices were the dream. A new reality comes in as one of the haves, not the have nots. And quick is the erosion of the idea that they’ll “remember how they got there.” It’s smoke. It leaves on a good breeze too quickly.
5. Combine these things together: the expense, the discouragement, the FOMO, the barriers, the distance, and it’s easy to see the jagged edges where very few people finish what many people start.
The upsetting part for me is that this challengingly simple to fix. Not easy, but a series of simple steps:
Shift the focus of production to consumer growth, not income – offer a greater number of reasonably priced products more frequently than single high ticket items. Either that, or change the production schedule to take longer with fewer products. Let time be the arbiter of quality, not expense.
Pay people fairly – Receiving better wages does wonders on this whole system, making them able to afford more things, as well as be encouraged to do more work.
Shed some ego (remember: this is me saying this) – This includes all the things from name reliance to virtue signaling to micro-managed solitication of feedback that discounts criticism. The only way that barrier between consumer and producer recedes is through resolute focus on WHY people do what they do, and HOW they can do it better, not what they gain from doing it.
Jettison some fractious thinking – To think that the more successful do not in some way have an opportunity as well as a responsibility to be more active beyond being up on a pedestal as “things to be like”, is to discredit the potential people have to genuinely affect change and growth through creativity. A rising tide does lift all boats, and if someone has the ability to shift ocean currents, then how self-absorbed must they be to see people wanting to improve yet hold back potential aid?
I just don’t get it. I love this industry. I love making things. I love helping people make things. I don’t know when so many other elements like politicking, popularity contests, and division came around, I guess I was out that day.
If we can’t go back to how it was, then let us go forward to where it could be if we make some bridges and raise some tides.