Kickstarter community head quits, apologizes for controversial RPG project

Illustration: James Bareham/Polygon

Kickstarter vice president and head of community Luke Crane is departing the company after launching, and quickly canceling, a controversial game project on the crowdfunding platform in February. Kickstarter confirmed Crane’s departure, which it described as a “mutual decision,” in a statement to Polygon.

The project in question was a tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) collection titled The Perfect RPG. Crane launched the campaign on Feb. 27, and it was planned to include work by game designer Adam Koebel. Best known as the co-designer of the popular Dungeon World game system, Koebel in 2020 broadcast a TTRPG scenario involving in-fiction sexual assault live on Twitch. His handling of that scene was widely criticized by viewers and fans, and ultimately resulted in the dissolution of the actual-play series in which it occurred. Koebel apologized and later resigned from his position as co-author on Modiphius Entertainment’s Dune: Adventures in the Imperium.

As the campaign for The Perfect RPG gained momentum on social media, the community questioned Crane’s decision to include Koebel as part of the project. It soon came to light that the full list of contributors had not been shared with other participants in the project. Several of them began to publicly back out, even as the campaign blew past its fundraising goal of $6,200. The project was canceled; the full list of creators was removed with the following explanation: “Redacted to reduce future harassment.”

Crane made his first public statement on the situation on Friday, in an update to that campaign:

When we began the Perfect RPG project, my only goal was to launch a small collection of micro-games designed by my friends and others whose work I respect in the community. On the day it launched, while the project was falling apart, I did not fully understand what was at stake and what had happened — in the shock of the moment my communications were insensitive and desultory.

So here and now I wish to unequivocally apologize to you, and everyone affected, for the harm I’ve done to the community with this project. I am grateful for your input over the last month, and have done my best to listen with an open heart. I thank you for sharing your opinions and feelings, and know that I have violated the trust you placed in me. I am sincerely, deeply regretful.

In creating the project, I made a series of missteps and miscalculations that added up to a gross oversight on my part and, accordingly, I am fully responsible for the current situation and its effects. So I would like to add some clarification around some of the particular points raised, in the hope that it will help the community as a whole move forward in a productive way: There was no deceit, deception or bad faith in any of my actions around the project. I understand that I should have disclosed the participant list to all contributors beforehand, and I feel terrible that my poor planning placed some creators in a difficult position.

Crane characterized his decision to list contributors in reverse alphabetical order, and by first name, as just one of his “missteps and miscalculations.”

“That came off as duplicitous,” Crane said, “for which I apologize.”

Kickstarter issued the following statement via email:

After a discussion about what is best for Kickstarter and our team, we came to the mutual decision with Luke Crane for him to leave Kickstarter. We recognize the many years of work Luke has done to help bring creative projects to life at Kickstarter and we are committed to ensure continued support for our team and for our backer and creator community through this moment of change.

The company also said that while Crane was head of community for the company as a whole, he had not been involved directly with the games side of the business for some time:

We’re proud to have Anya Combs as our Director of Games Outreach, who has been at the helm of that work for over a year now. We have the utmost confidence in the dedication, creativity, and commitment she has consistently brought to her work with the Kickstarter games community.

Gaming projects — including board games, TTRPGs, card games, video games, and associated products — account for roughly one-third of the revenue generated on Kickstarter each year. In 2020, that figure was up more than 32% year over year to more than $233 million.

Comments

"That came off as duplicitous," Crane said

It came off that way because it absolutely was intended that way. Crane still can’t just suck it up and admit he was trying to trojan horse his friend onto the project.

For anyone who hasn’t heard about this story, Crane’s original list of contributors was missing one name, and as far as I know one name only, Koebel’s. Later, when when he updated the list he went so far as to reverse the order of names so that Adam would appear at the end where people were less likely to see it. Then when writers started leaving the project he tried to claim that they were being harassed into leaving instead of being rightfully pissed with him.

Even if you don’t care about Koebel, this was dumb craven shit from Crane.

Seriously, if there’s an explanation for all of that that WASN’T ‘actively trying to obscure Koebel’s involvement, knowing it would impact both the contributors who would agree and the people who would back it,’ I would love to hear it! I suspect there isn’t.

So wait, this guy both worked for KS, and was trying to run a KS project?

Is this common (that a KS employee would try to run a project)? Seems like it would be a sort of conflict of interest.

Apparently it’s not just accepted but encouraged. From an interview with Crane from a few years ago.

Is it normal that Kickstarter staff does campaigns while they work at KS?

The leadership here encourages everyone to run projects. Some of my coworkers have run projects for watches, t-shirts, chocolates, mini-comics, films, bacon dinners and zines.

I can sort of get why they would do that, they want to keep Kickstarter in the news with big successful projects, and running those themselves is a way to do that. Still very sketchy though as you say.

It would be super helpful to see and be reminded of the side of the business from a KS creators point of view.

Is it really a conflict of interest? As long as they don’t get extra publicity etc, it doesn’t seem weirder than someone who works for eBay selling things on eBay, or someone who works for Amazon buying stuff off Amazon. "Dogfooding" your own creations is a pretty accepted thin.

Ever since KS gleefully promoted Andrea James, an activist (not a bad thing) who insults and posts the pictures of the children of academics she disagrees with (a very bad thing), the company’s "community" leadership as a whole has been sketchy to me.

Add to that their retaliatory firings of union-organizers in 2019. The whole company is not looking good.

more like Dickstarter lol

Coming to this very late, but Kickstarter has been excessively dodgy for years, but there’s been a kind of reluctancy to report on it because I think far too many people still have hopes for what it might have been, rather than what it actually turned out to be.

In my own experience, they absolutely provide no protection what so ever for project backers; Kickstarter will take the money but accepts no responsibility. I contacted them once, when the project "Shroud of the Avatar" was openly breaking Kickstarter’s ToS by planning to run a second Kickstarter to pay for the rewards for the first; all Kickstarter did was say "Our duty is done; we would hope backers and Kickstarters can work this out between them." In the end, the company went bankrupt, sold the assets off to one of the developers, and left some of even the physical Kickstarter rewards uncompleted and undelivered. Many of the rest were redesigned or substituted for lower quality "rewards"…

And these remember when "rewards" are not optional as per the ToS, you are supposed to budget to be certain to finish those at least. The final product can vary in pitched design, but rewards are supposed to be a direct, fixed purchase. Kickstarter however has your money, and doesn’t give a toss.

I think this whole thing is bananas.

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