Equity-Based Crowdfunding Could Be a Community Management Nightmare
Note: I’m making a lot of assumptions here. This is just my gut reaction to the equity-backed crowdfunding news. The eternal optimist in me says everything will work out, but there are going to be some bumps in the road.
Fig is an equity-based “Kickstarter” platform for gaming. It’s being started by some of the biggest names in the Indie scene in games that have made the biggest splashes on Kickstarter. Ultimately, it’s the next logical jump for crowdfunding and it’s smart of these crowdfunding superstars to maximize to try and capture the early market.
At this point, there are more questions than answers. Aside from what the legal ramifications look like if/when a project fails or flops, there is a more subtle challenge: community management.
If a community manager’s role wasn’t difficult enough, they are going to have to adapt to a community landscape where everyone starts with an unequal share of voice. You’ll have investors who all contribute different chunks of cash with different levels of equity. By nature, you can’t treat requests and voices the same. They have real skin in the game and are (presumably) looking for a return.
How is this different from the current Kickstarter model? Again, the difference is subtle.
Since funds raised on Kickstarter aren’t technically “true” investments, developers can still make the final calls on their game. In parallel, community voices can join in unison to make requests that are then translated through the community manager. Developers don’t need to make good on those requests, but they want to do right by their fans a marjority of the time.
“If a community manager’s role wasn’t difficult enough, they are going to have to adapt to a community landscape where everyone starts with an unequal share of voice.”
With an equity-backed model, developers are giving up control of the final calls. They’ll need to make sure they are meeting the terms of their investors. In parallel, the community is now divided into “classes” of investors. A majority of the community voices requests will matter less and the percentage of investment will matter more. The development team might internalize these requests as more of a demand.
In my experience, having different “classes” in a community makes it implode. While communities might have those coveted “influencers” or “whales,” the thesis for any online community is that everyone starts with equal voice. It mirrors the same ideals the Internet was built on. Things go south quickly if that delicate balance is upended from the beginning.
The role of gaming community management is evolving into something more political. While social issues have been something they’ve been dealing with for years, investment-backed voices are something new. The good news is that the gaming industry is no stranger to change and I have no doubt things will smooth out after the initial excitement.