Update 28/03/2021: Luke Crane has now left Kickstarter.
A while ago I backed a Luke Crane project on Kickstarter. It didn’t end well, for reasons I have outlined elsewhere.
Now Luke Crane is running his Perfect RPG Kickstarter, a little zine of fun little micro-RPGs based around a droll little joke “Perfect RPG” concept. It’s a neat idea, but it’s kicked off more controversy.
I have not backed The Perfect RPG because Luke Crane has made it clear he doesn’t want my money, and I’m happy to go with that. But I figure since “Luke Crane Kickstarter controversy” might be a common search term in the near future, I’d throw up my view on what’s currently going on so people who make their way to these parts as a result of that needn’t feel like their time was wholly wasted.
So far as I can tell, the sequence of events is this:
- The Perfect RPG Kickstarter goes live.
- People notice that Adam Koebel is listed as one of the contributors to the project.
- People remember that Adam did a really shitty thing on a livestream a while back, and followed it up with apologies which many felt didn’t ring true or came across as somewhat self-centred.
- People ask Luke and other contributors about this.
- A non-zero number of those other contributors say “Wait, Adam Koebel is contributing to this?” and yank their contributions.
- Luke cancels the project hours after it opened.
There are some further wrinkles which may come up in whatever report on this has prompted your curiosity about this, which I may as well address.
Some have pointed out that in marketing e-mails sent out before the campaign, Adam’s name was not mentioned, and argued that the arrangement of the list of contributors on the Kickstarter page was a little sneaky: it’s done in reverse alphabetical order of contributor’s first name, not surname, which is a weird way to arrange such a list (alphabetising in the conventional order is more normal, alphabetising on the basis of surname is more usual) unless the point is to put someone whose name is “Adam” at the bottom of the list.
The suggestion being made is that this was a deliberate bid to try and obscure Adam’s involvement, though to be honest I’m in two minds about that. Being the last name on a list is almost as eye-catching as being the first, to my mind – and, ultimately, people did notice. A more effective way to obscure his involvement, at least in the short to medium term, would be to not mention it at all, or include it under a pseudonym.
Similarly, people complained about the way Luke was handling the redactions to the contributor list – editing the image with the list to remove names one at a time as people pulled their work. This was considered by some to be sneaky. However, given the rapid timescale during which things evolved, I think Luke can be forgiven for waiting just a little bit to see whether anyone else was withdrawing from the project before issuing any form of official statement on the matter, since commenting on an evolving situation is quite challenging. (Indeed, the news of the cancellation came in as I was writing up this article, so I sympathise there.) These criticisms of Luke I think are on shaky ground.
However, I feel like there’s more substance to the claim that is going around that Luke solicited contributions from designers for The Perfect RPG without levelling with them as to Adam’s involvement. Sage LaTorra, Adam’s former Dungeon World collaborator and one of the first designers to pull their contribution (being among the first three names trimmed from the list), has directly said he wasn’t told about Adam’s involvement, and this has also been corroborated by Vincent Baker and Meguey Baker of Apocalypse World fame.
This is the point where I can only conclude that Luke either simply did not do his research on his contributors and was wholly unaware of the previous issues with Koebel, or he knew about them, didn’t care, and – what’s in my mind the truly bad thing – blithely assumed that none of the other contributors would care.
Look, I get it. Expecting someone who has done a bad thing to vanish utterly from the world is expecting too much; one of the main points of evidence that “cancel culture” isn’t really a thing is that so many people who complain about being silenced and cancelled! do so very loudly on platforms which continue to welcome their contributions. If you feel like someone has genuinely apologised for the wrong they did, made what restitutions they can, and worked on themselves to grow past the person who did those things, then obviously you are free to give them another chance. You may be entirely right in doing so.
However: that is each individual’s judgement call to make. And it should have been self-evident to Luke that even if he, personally, had made that call in favour of Adam’s inclusion, at the same time it was not just possible but likely that other contributors on the project would make a different call. If you expect someone to share a platform with Adam like this, I don’t think it is unreasonable to seek their consent for this. Surely it’s better to have them go in with their eyes open, so they can be ready to chip in and help defend this decision when the inevitable controversy happens, rather than surprise them with this and potentially damage your professional relations with them?
Ah yes, speaking of “inevitable controversy”…
It would not be a Luke Crane Kickstarter without Luke Crane saying something grumpy which put people’s backs up. Luke made his cancellation of the project a backer-only update, but the text has been widely distributed online, it contains absolutely no sensitive backer information, and I think it is important you are able to see his exact words, so here’s someone who reposted it.
Now, this is mostly a good statement. It is direct, to the point, involves no obfuscatory language, and is extremely clear about what is happening: namely, that the Kickstarter is shutting down, it will not be relaunched, and the material will not be republished in a different form.
The bit which is causing controversy is where Luke says that, in addition to designers withdrawing, other designers “were harassed to withdraw”. (The designer list has been pulled from the project page with a note saying that this is to prevent further harassment.) Some are understandably reading this as Luke trying to put the blame for the whole thing on people being shitty on Twitter to his contributors, rather than on himself for including Adam without keeping his other contributors in the loop.
Given the way things get heated on the Internet, it’s not unlikely that some form of actual harassment and dogpiling happened. At the very least, if all the contributors had actually only received polite queries given in good faith (ie, not persistent sea-lioning) about whether they knew about Adam’s involvement, without undue dogpiling, then frankly that’d be a very lucky outcome.
However, let’s be real here: it’s 2021 and we are well aware these days of how the Internet works. Such harassment of contributors to the project, whilst wrong, was surely predictable as a result of Adam’s involvement in the project. To imagine Adam’s presence in the project would pass entirely uncommented-on would be staggeringly naive; to imagine that everyone who was outraged by this would save their ire for Luke and Luke alone is similarly naive. To be clear, nobody sensible should be directing anger at the other contributors over this – but the presence of people who are not at all sensible has become an unfortunate constant of the Internet.
The other contributors deserved the chance to judge for themselves whether they wanted to be in the crosshairs for that sort of flak. Had they known about Adam’s involvement, they could have not only made their own call as to whether they felt happy to have their work appear alongside his, they could have also prepared their response to the wider world – scheduled a holiday from social media, written a piece about how they feel that it is legitimate to give Adam a second chance and they aren’t taking questions on this thanks, decided to contribute under a pseudonym to avoid the controversy altogether, whatever.
If you are going to ask someone to involve themselves in a project which is clearly and foreseeably going to have controversial aspects, you need their consent to do that. If you don’t do that and then they end up being targeted by a social media shitstorm, yes, 90% of the blame is on the people who are crossing the line from legitimate discussion into outright harassment. But a chunk of the remaining blame is on you for putting them in that position in the first place.
A last thought. The Perfect RPG rapidly, in the short span of time between it going live and it being cancelled, became one of Kickstarter’s “projects we love”. This may or may not be connected to Luke still being the Head of Games at Kickstarter. Nonetheless, it feels to me like that if a person works at Kickstarter in a position where they have any authority over projects, or any capacity to promote projects using Kickstarter’s systems, or any other enhanced level of contact with people at Kickstarter, and they are also running Kickstarter projects as a project creator, that is inherently a conflict of interest. And where potential conflicts of interest exist, it is not enough to do the right thing, the right thing must also be seen to be done; enhanced transparency is called for, as is visibly stepping back from certain roles if there would otherwise be a conflict of interest.
Once again, a Luke Crane project has caused controversy. Once again, the project lies in area of Kickstarter that Luke has direct influence over as a result of his position, and where any complaints would presumably be heard either by Luke or people that Luke has friendly professional relations with. If that’s a bad assumption, no information has been put out to contradict that assumption.
As I said in relation to the Burning Wheel Gold Kickstarter, I feel like if Kickstarter must allow people with positions at Kickstarter to run projects at all (and given the inherent conflicts of interest involved I kind of don’t think they should), then those projects should be expected to be absolutely exemplary in their conduct – a model of above-board best practice for the rest of the Kickstarter ecosystem to follow.
Certainly, if the Kickstarter Head of Games is running projects where, as project owner, he’s behaving in an incredibly contentious way, that’s going to create the impression that you can get away with doing that as a project owner.
That can’t be right.