There’s a part of every Kickstarter page where giant, leaping whales cavort among their merry waves of moolah.

This is the place where the $10,000 backer level lives, for those with the wealth and the commitment to drop that sort of cash. If you’re an average American, $10,000 is about three months worth of post-tax household income, but if you’re a Kickstarter whale, it’s a top-level treat tied to the project or producer you really care about.

By the time most of us have scrolled through the $50 product-and-poster levels, the $500 limited edition statuettes, the $2,000 in-game avatar, we’re wondering what else could possibly tickle the wallets of wealthy fanboys and fangirls. The answer is often a Big Day Out with the producers; an exclusive party or a dinner. For rich backers, the real treats are not so much tchotchkes, as memorable experiences.

So who are the Kickstarter whales, and why do they do it?

For some, backing a Kickstarter at the top level is a kind of thank-you. George Pantazis from Melbourne, Australia is a successful software developer. He said that his experiences playing one particular space-trading game back in the 1980s inspired him to pursue a career in code. Now, three decades on, he was able to back Elite: Dangerous at the top level.

“In a way, I wanted to repay my debt, for the sheer enjoyment Elite gave me for many years as a teenager. I would have to say the main reason I am in IT today was because of the impact Elite had on me at the time. So it’s a big thank-you.”

Pantazis will get to meet Elite creator David Braben in Cambridge, England, when the game is complete. He is also having a star system in the game named after him. “I wanted to meet David who at a very young age was able to program magic. But I’m just glad that Elite: Dangerous is now a reality after many years of rumors. Like-minded people who have also been affected by what I believe was a paradigm shift in games demonstrated that we wanted this game to happen and Kickstarter provided the platform for our collective voices.”

The whales serve a useful purpose for crowd-funders; dropping significant revenues for relatively little return. But they serve another function, as a focal point for the genuine gratitude many creators feel for the thousands of people who back them, even at low levels, like $5.

Dengler said that, when visiting studios, he is often overwhelmed by the many people who come to thank him. “At first I was confused because I was thinking, ‘You raised millions of dollars. I put in, whatever, $10,000. That’s a tiny percent of the project.’

“What I realized over time is they were using me as a stand in, as a proxy to thank their fans. It’s pretty wonderful because you realize you’re part of a group of people that have put up their own money. For them, that $10 had more value than the $10,000 I put in. You’re all a community, you’ve all come together, you’re making something happen, and that’s satisfaction. But then there’s the additional element of the creators coming back with genuine, sincere thanks and saying, ‘thank you’.”

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