Re: gambling in hope
"does anyone else think crowd funding is just a new way of gambling,"
Not really, it's an alternative form of fundraising. Gambling involves a hope you'll get more out than you put in.
Traditional fundraising involves going to the bank, borrowing money from them, making the product, selling the product, then paying back the loans.
The ideal version of crowdfunding is selling to the customers, then making the product.
If the bank is doubtful of making their money back, having the customers pre-pay can skip the whole "prove you can sell something that doesn't exist yet" step for the bank. It can also convince an investor that a market exists, thus attracting other funding.
It does push the due diligence onto the customer.
In general I'll only put money down on crowdfunded projects if it's clear that the goods can be produced at the relevant scales required. There are some obvious candidates that scale perfectly well from making a few hundred sets to a few hundred thousand, such as card games. For books I think it's about 5k for a minimum run, again scaling fairly well. Board games can be a bit trickier, depending on what components are included, but again they are essentially cardboard print runs plus whatever counters.
However, with tools and tech products, there are things that you can produce effectively by hand or fully automated, and there isn't a middle ground. So you can get away with under a hundred orders or over 10k, but anything in between is going to be problematic.
The other issue is that people can be overly optimistic, especially if they've outsourced the production. Cost over runs, quality issues and getting sued can easily require doubling or tripling the RRP, so the nice engineer trying to give people a bargain won't slap on the expected markup, and is left stuffed when something goes wrong.
So you need to ensure you're paying enough that the creator has sufficient margin, on the assumption the goods will be of appropriate quality.
From personal experience flogging tat online, some people really don't believe in the last point. I've had stuff from CCGs going for pennies a card with buyers trying to haggle me down to a postage included total for less than the postage costs.