If in doubt don’t back… or screw that and do back
There is one thing that annoys me, and that’s echo chambers: when a small community starts to adhere to a creed and keeps repeating it on the first occasion, with much congratulations and cheers and joy every time someone enthusiastically rehearses it. It’s just regular mechanics of community-binding, I know that, but well, I’m a bit rogue in this regard and I can’t but challenge these creeds eventually.
So, if you didn’t guess it, I’m speaking about the Sifting thread of KS games on BGG. In this thread, every single time someone asks a question like “I’m hesitant about backing game X, what’s the opinion on that matter?”, you immediately hear the usual chorus of voices repeating: “When in doubt, do not back!”. One user humorously suggested this should be carved in stone somewhere, which very much proves my point that this has become some sort of revered apophthegm.
Well, in principle, I think it’s a rather good one. It teaches restraint, it warns against the delusion of shiny KS projects which will elude you if you don’t grab them while they are here, all in all it supports a line of behavior I’m sympathetic with. The problem is, the more I think about it, the less I make sense of it.
Pear-shaped decision making
Let me try to rephrase it in terms I’m familiar with. In classical decision-making, pondering about a binary choice (back/don’t back) may end in two ways: when you have reached a confidence threshold, or when you ran out of time. Imagine you are in a shop and are hesitant between item A and item B; that the shop will close at some time is probably not what will make you stop pondering about a decision you cannot sort out. It’s the sense of urgency that you shouldn’t spend all day deciding between pears and blueberries, even though they look equally appealing and equally over-priced. You just think “screw it, no time for that!” and arbitrarily grab the blueberries.
So, KS is a bit of both. On the one hand, you don’t want to spend all day looking at “review” videos, on the other hand, there is a hard deadline. Let’s speak about the second option first. When you reach a deadline, you usually opt for the option that has the most in favor of it – simple. But it may not have *a lot* in favor of it – in other terms, you may be quite far from your confidence threshold. Here, I think “When in doubt, don’t back” makes concrete sense. It basically invites you to override the usual decision policy (at the deadline, choose the best option, no matter the confidence), and to implement a new one in its stead: not backing is the default option, if at the deadline you did not reach a decision, keep to the default: don’t back. I’m fine with this.
Squirrels go nuts!
But this is not quite akin to the situation I’m talking about. When I was living in Atlanta, I used to have squirrels on my balcony, and I was luring them inside the house with peanuts (not the most eco-friendly attitude when I come to think of it, but this is another story). And they were turning crazy, basically rotating feverishly around the peanut, at a given distance, always facing it, torn between the desire to grab it, and the feral fear to come closer. That’s always how I picture myself in front of an enticing Kickstarter campaign page. There is this game, how so desirable, but there is also the lack of money, the lack of space, the lack of time to play.
And I am not the only one. Many people feel that I guess. And when they come to the thread and cry out “I’m torn! Please help me decide!”, they are poor souls that deserve our help. Which means: don’t serve them your usual spoon of porridge morale, they are probably already fed up.
The thing is, we are biased. We know we love board games. There’s no doubt about this. But also, all the negatives are there (no money! no spare room for games! no time to play!) and they pull you just as strongly in the other direction. So, the value you start with, is the balance between a huge, fuzzy positive, and a huge, fuzzy negative. So it’s basically a spreading, indefinite thing, full of uncertainty. You could be absolutely anywhere in the decision space.
Crossing the confidence threshold
But this still doesn’t help our inner ravished chipmunk. What can then be done? Well, you can provide enough research effort to slightly overcome your initial bias and refine a bit your mental representation of the game. Except research effort is hard. Games are so pretty. Reviews are so laudatory. Videos are so lengthy. Rulebooks are so abstract and wordy. It takes time and attention you may not have to devote to research a game’s value, even though you’d love to. So, what can you do?
Well, that’s the nice thing with humankind. You don’t need to figure out things all by yourself. You go see a pal and ask: “What do you think of it?”. Which is precisely what these people do. Gather the research effort of others. And this, this is the right thing to do. Go to the BGG forums. Go to Solitaire Times. And when people do so, instead of serving them a sententious aphorism, just tell them about the damned game.