When “selling out” is just turning up the volume

The recent spate of celebrity Kickstarter campaigns has led to a little backlash in the crowdfunding community. You can understand it: for many people, Kickstarter feels like a lifestyle choice: it’s an alternative, opt-out way of sticking it to the man while still being pretty mainstream. Watching Zach Braff, Kristen Bell or Rob Thomas — people who are already inside the system — find huge success on an alternative platform feels a bit like your favourite indy band signing to a major label and selling out.

If you look at it the other way around, however, this is Kickstarter’s big moment, and everyone kvetching about the pernicious influence of celebrity sounds uncannily like the audience when Dylan went electric. “Judas!” they cry, ignorant of the revelations that are about to unfold.

Personally, I don’t mind individual celebrities using this avenue. For a start, they often aren’t as inside the system as those on the outside like to believe. And then, of course, there are the small matters of rights and control and autonomy: none of which creators are likely to get through traditional means inside their industries.

However, while celebrities are essentially individuals with a super-charged audience, I have to say that I am not a huge fan of crowdfunding projects that come from already-existing companies. What relationship did Warner Bros have to do with the Veronica Mars campaign? What if major corporations started outsourcing their R&D spend to no-risk Kickstarter projects? That would feel like pollution.

Still, there is a continuum. At one end of things you have the big businesses of the world, but at the other you have the little shops and creator-run companies. And in a way, helping the little guy is exactly what Kickstarter and the alternative economy of crowdfunding is meant to enable.

And that’s where Pixel Press comes in.

Pixel Press is the work of Roundthird, which looks like a long-established software company in St Louis. The project has a simple premise: it’s an app that lets you draw your own platform game levels onto a piece of paper and then zoink them into your iPad and play them.

A piece of paper! Into your iPad!

Imagine a version of Mario that’s been bred with Solipskier and you’re heading in the right direction.

My initial reservations about Roundthird — why would I need to help a 10 year old software company raise money for a product — were alleviated when I looked closer at what they do. They don’t look like a BigCorp. They’re the indy band, and although they may be going electric they’re not exactly selling out by trying to raise money for their project.

And to be honest, more than any of that, I just love the idea: it’s simple, a bit dumb and looks like it could be a lot of fun, especially for kids. I should thank my friend Chris Phin, who pointed me in its direction.

(An aside: Do kids still play 2D scrolling platform games? I have no idea.)

So, as my second pick for the year of giving dangerously, I threw in a pledge for $35. I want to see this project succeed, and I am excited to mess around with their system to see what I could build with it.

Still, as I put the money in I am not sure whether this project will make its ambitious target. A hundred grand is a big target, and about halfway through the campaign they have raised $43,000. This feels like it could go to the wire.