Kickstarter is a great place to put your project out there and see if the public would like to help you achieve your goal of making a game or a gadget or album. We have posted a few articles about fun Kickstarter projects in the past. The one we’ll be discussing today, however popular it might be, is unfortunately sketchy to the max.

You may or may not have come across this particular “project” over the last few days. It’s been making its rounds on several sites and through the social sphere. It is the story of McKenzie, the 9 year old daughter of Susan Wilson who “love[s] computers, video games, apps, and role playing games – especially Magic the Gathering and Borderlands 2 that I get to play with my Dad (because my 15 & 16 year old brothers are too mean to play with me).” McKenzie, with a hefty dose of help from mom (let’s be honest – all mom), set up the Kickstarter to help her pay for tuition to a RPG camp this summer because her brothers were mean and said she couldn’t do it.

“Mean older brothers say she can’t so my daughter’s proving she can do what they can’t – BUILD HER OWN RPG game AND pay for it!”

On face value, this project seems innocuous enough. A girl wants to go to camp, but right from the start things are amiss. Part of the third rule of Kickstarter is: “No “fund my life” projects. Examples include projects to pay tuition or bills, go on vacation, or buy a new camera.” So from the get go, we have a violation of the Project Guidelines. As it turns out, and is displayed for everyone to see, this family has already paid for the girl to go to the camp. The project is, for all intents and purposes, a means for the family to recoup the loss, which goes against their own statement that Kenzie will pay for it.

Recouping their losses

Supporters of this Kickstarter would argue that the ultimate goal here is for the girl to make a game as a result of the camp, and true enough, by pledging $10 you will get a copy of whatever game will be created at the end of this camp. However, it still stands that the $829 was being raised exclusively for the camp tuition. They aren’t looking to buy software or hardware (although it is stated that the girl wants to get a laptop to work on the game to replace her iMac).

This “AND pay for it” statement is an interesting one when thinking about this particular Kickstarter. In an update, the mother states that “I’ve exposed my kids to the great potential in the world and now I’m trying to get them off their asses to work for it. Yes, dreams can come true, but they don’t just fall into your lap.” In this particular situation for McKenzie, literally all of this money has fallen in to her lap. Whereas larger Kicksarter projects do tend to take a lot of work to manage because there are teams and development involved, this one is simply someone trying to pay a bill through the exploitation of well known – and topical! – tropes about siblings and gender. This story is mostly an appeal to emotions.

Coincidentally, these same “mean brothers” in another one of Susan’s Kickstarters (about selling capes of all things) apparently played Magic: The Gathering tournaments with McKenzie in their house on a “fairly common” basis. In that Kickstarter, family unity was used as a means to help bring in potential donors. With this one, it is divisiveness among the kids. Why exploit them in the first place? One of the pledge rewards is that the boys will personally call you to apologize for being mean to McKenzie. For real?

Spread the word but don’t spam

What brings an extra bit of sketchiness to the whole ordeal is that there is an quite a bit of bad juju surrounding the actual intentions of the project. Trying to get some money to pay for your kids’ tuition is one thing, spamming every news outlet you can find is another.

Here is another KS guideline:

Sharing your project with friends, fans, and followers is one thing, but invading inboxes and social networks uninvited is another. Spamming makes you and every other Kickstarter project look bad, and it puts your project in jeopardy of being suspended. Don’t do it.

Here are just a few of the tweet-spams she sent out (right click and hit “open in new tab” to see the whole thing):

The Spamming

Surely Ellen and Lena Dunham will help spread the news of poor McKenzie’s mean older brothers! And adding “Help?” to some of the tweets is a nice touch. But it just doesn’t sit well. I suppose for a family that may not be able to afford it, spreading the news any way you can is not a bad idea. It’s not like these people are millionaires or anything.


These people are millionaires. And they were looking for $829 to pay back a camp bill as a lesson to their daughter to work hard. Susan Wilson is as she puts it “a FORTUNE Top Ten Female Entrepreneur (2009)” According to her bio as Founder and CEO of The Judgment Group:

Prior to starting The Judgment Group, Susan was a founding member and the Executive Vice President of a technology startup that raised $12 Million in venture capital, became, and was sold in 2000 to the copy giant Kinko’s for $100 Million.

I have zero problem with someone of affluence creating a Kickstarter if their project is of the scale that needs crowd-sourced funding, but in this case, come on. Again, if the lesson is to teach the children that through hard work you can do anything, then having other people pay your bills that you could readily afford (and have already paid) probably isn’t teaching that lesson. Maybe a lemonade stand or chores set up around schedules that McKenzie had to clock in and clock out of (like real life!) could have helped in this lesson quest.

In all actuality, Susan’s personal story sounds like one that could teach this lesson well enough. She writes in an update: “I don’t come from money. My mom was a cop and my Dad painted cars. I went to public school my whole life and as the first person in my family to graduate from college, I had to figure most things out for myself.” She has gone to Harvard and is the head of at least one business. Maybe teach your kids about those struggles?

So that’s the story

I am not a parent, and I don’t want to try and come off as though I am telling other people how to parent, but as a casual observer to this story, it’s got a stink. I do not have any doubt that the McKenzie wants to go to this camp or that her teenage brothers were jerks, but at the end of day this all just seems shady. Maybe “shady” is not the right word. “Greedy,” possibly? It simply reeks of a situation where a girl’s siblings made fun of her one day, and her parents found an interesting way to exploit that story by making this project and penning it as though McKenzie wrote it (when that’s clearly not the case). Beyond that, there just so happens to be quite a dialogue currently about women in the gaming and tech space, and the premise behind this story scratches that itch for many. It’s working out for them, though, since they have pulled in $22,000 as of this writing.

Also, I do not know these people personally. They are all probably pretty good folks, I don’t know. This project simply smells.

In the end, whether or not this project gets pulled because of violations of KS terms, it will serve as a good reminder to do some research on whom is putting together the thing you might be donating to. Be cautious, friends!

Update 3/28/13:

It’s been about a week, so let’s see where things are standing.

Most successful Kickstarter campaigns keep their backers up to speed on things through written updates and videos. There have been several written updates to this campaign, but this is the first visual one.


This eleven minutes is mostly filled with Kenzie browsing Google for images of Naruto characters and discussing that world. Mrs. Wilson attempts here and there to steer the conversation towards game related topics, but with little result. You can’t blame the girl, really. Getting any kid to speak about anything is like pulling teeth.

More interesting is the site they have created called PinkieSquare, which at this moment looks like it is trying to find artists to work on the game as well as kids to beta-test and “experienced [gaming] experts” who are “interested in volunteering to mentor, participate in Q&As, blog, etc.” That’s basically all that’s presented on the page right now. We’ll see where that goes.

The internet has, of course, dug up other things about the family, including past projects. The other project put up on Kickstarter by Susan was about capes, but the family also tried a couple on IndieGoGo. One was a project selling phone cases with the branding of the cases being “Life-Case.” It turns out that these cases are actually the Incipio Stowaway Credit Card Case that you can find on Amazon for $21. Their asking price was $40. The other IndieGoGo campaign was started by the father of the family and was titled “HELP Me Get These Kids Off Video Games & Hunting for REAL Treasure.” with the goal of “[allowing] me to take 5 local teens and go searching for artifacts and buried treasure on shorelines and underwater up and down the east coast.” Unlike Kickstarter, IndieGoGo doesn’t care if you are doing “life-funding” projects, so these are barely newsworthy, but these are the topics being discussed about Reddit and such. Mostly, it seems like folks are upset about this image from the treasure hunting campaign. It again shows one of the parents writing on behalf of the daughter, and has since been removed:

Ghost writing

“Girls rule and boys drool” doesn’t really play well with the story behind this game making Kickstarter campaign.

The campaign at this point has mostly plateaued. It was around $22k last weekend and remains in that domain right now. We’ll keep updating this story if new things continue to pop up.