Since its humble beginnings in 2009 as "Kickstartr," the New York-based crowd-funding platform has exploded into one of the most unique and controversial methods of fundraising in recent history. Today, the company claims nearly $1 million in project pledges each day, and Kickstarter recently made its first step into an international audience when it launched in the UK.

Still, outside the tech-friendly cultural mavens who like to talk about economic and financial disruption, the crowd-funding platform is not without its critics. A CNN report this month found that a 84 percent of Kickstarter’s projects were late to deliver their promised goods or services. The New Republic called the platform a reservoir for “useless” projects, and Gawker decried it for inciting “online panhandling.”

It is difficult to judge the true impact of Kickstarter on entrepreneurship and artistic patronage since many of its most ambitious projects have yet to be released. Will they fall in with CNN’s 84 percent, or will they ultimately vindicate the social utility of this popular new service? Here are some of 2012’s top Kickstarter projects to help you decide.

Amanda Palmer

Goal: $100,000

Pledged: $1,192,793

Backers: 24,883

Singer/songwriter Amanda Palmer, formerly one half of the Dresdan Dolls, took four years to put together a new band and write a new album. This year, she decided to step away from the music industry entirely and put her album “Theater is Evil” to Kickstarter, championing that “this is the future of music.” She easily surpassed her $100,000 goal, making nearly $1.2 million and topping music charts a few months later when the album was finally released. Problem was, she tried to launch a tour with equally “crowdsourced” (read: unpaid) musicians, telling the New York Times that she couldn’t afford to pay so many volunteers. She relented by mid-September.

Double Fine Adventure

Goal: $400,000

Pledged: $3,336,371

Backers: 87,142

Launched in February by video game industry legend Tim Schafer, “Double Fine Adventure” surpassed its $400,000 goal in less than 24 hours, ultimately netting more than $3 million. The project’s financial success proved an inspiration for other video game projects, which have dominated the top tier of Kickstarter’s most-funded projects ever since.


Goal: $950,000

Pledged: $8,596,474

Backers: 64,416

The video game console market has long been dominated by the “big three” hardware developers -- Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), Sony (NYSE: SNE), and Nintendo (PINK: NTDOY) -- whose iterative versions of the Xbox, Playstation, and Wii respectively have made game production a prohibitively expensive venture for many aspiring developers. The OUYA console wants to change that by wedding the experience of console gaming with the openness of Google’s (Nasdaq: GOOG) Android operating system. “Openness leads to creativity,” Ouya co-founder Julie Urhman told me this Fall when we spoke for a story on Android gaming and the struggling console market. “Openness for gamers themselves. It shouldn’t cost so much to play games.”


Goal: $100,000

Pledged: $10,266,845

Backers: 68,929

Pebble, one of the first in a new breed of so-called “smartwatches” that can sync up with the wearer’s iPhone, blew past its $100,000 goal, earning $1 million in just over a single day and ultimately becoming the most highly-funded Kickstarter project to date. A device that has become massively popular for its seeming simplicity, Pebble could be the first wrist-watch to combine the functionality of a smartphone with the easy access of wearable devices like the new crop of “life bands” that popped up this year.


Goal: $35,000

Pledged: $106,330

Backers: 676

The ArduSat didn’t blow past $1 million dollars like the other Kickstarter campaigns mentioned here, but the tiny satellite (weighing about 1kg) from NanoSatisfi could play a large role in the future direction of space research. Surpassing its $35,000 goal and ultimately reaching $106,330, the ArduSat project promised to let its supporters “participate in conquering” the “final frontier” of space in a more accessible way than becoming an astronaut. How exactly this will pan out remains to be seen, but I for one am more comfortable putting the future of space exploration in the hands of a handful of small drone-like satellites than I am handing the reins over to Red Bull.