Crowd funding has been a buzzword in the start-up world for years. For most entrepreneurs, though, it was virtually mythological: While it was certainly possible to fund an idea through donations by potential customers, there was no real way to reach out to a broad audience.
Then came Kickstarter.
Over the past three years, the funding platform has raised more than $323 million for over 10,000 projects. In most cases, the funding is a fairly low number – less than $10,000. And more projects fail to meet their funding goals than those who succeed.
But every now and then, a product or project will tap into some cultural zeitgeist and explode out of the gate. The site's top 10 projects, in fact, have pocketed more than $32 million. And there's no sign of an impending slowdown: The second biggest project just wrapped up less than two weeks ago.
Here then, is a look at the 10 most lucrative funding efforts in Kickstarter's history.
10) TikTok+LunaTik Multi-Touch Watch Kits - Scott Wilson and his design studio MINIMAL had one of those ideas that everyone wonders why they didn't think of it first. The company took the seemingly obvious concept of using Apple's iPod Nano as a watch and created a well-designed product from there. While others had already put out cheap straps letting people create their own "iWatches," Wilson's band was sleeker, used high-grade hardware and matched the look of the Nano. The product is expected to be commercially available by the end of 2012 or early 2013.
(Amount sought: $15,000. Amount raised: $942,578)
[MORE ON CNBC.COM: 10 Notable Google Acquisitions]
9) Sedation Wars: Battle for Alabaster – Video games have had their fair share of success on Kickstarter, but most board games haven't been so lucky. This was the exception. A two-player survival horror game, Sedition Wars is the planned first installment in a series of titles from renowned game designer and miniature figurine designer Mike McVey. It's scheduled to be out this November.
(Amount sought: $20,000. Amount raised: $951, 254)
8) Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra album – Amanda Palmer isn't a name that most people know. So how did she raise over $1 million to cut a record? Well, she's hardly a rookie. She was the lead singer of The Dresden Dolls, which gathered a cult following in the early 2000s after releasing two albums. She's very active with her fan base online. And she's married to celebrated author Neil Gaiman, whose fan base is even more rabid. The album/CD is due in September.
(Amount sought: $100,000. Amount raised: $1,192,793)
The Order of the Stick and others
7) The Order of the Stick – This self-published Webcomic has been around in paper format since 2005, but artist Rich Burlew ran out of copies of the early books and found it too expensive to print up another batch himself. He took to Kickstarter, hoping his fans would be willing to front the cost. With the promise of bonuses like magnets featuring their favorite characters, they ended up blowing past all expectations.
(Amount sought: $57,750. Amount raised: $1,254,120)
6) Elevation Dock – As widely praised as the iPhone and iPod Touch are, it's hard to find someone who has something nice to say about their charging docks. There are plenty on the market, but most have flaws. Designer Casey Hopkins came up with an alternative that mimics Apple's minimalistic design philosophy, but lets the phone dock regardless of whether it's in a protective case. Designers had hoped to start shipping the product in April, but as yet it's still not available.
(Amount sought: $75,000. Amount raised: $1,464,707)
[MORE ON CNBC.COM: Too Many Start-ups to Survive?]
5) Shadowrun Returns – Shadowrun started as a very popular role-playing board game in the late 1980s; the franchise has grown into a collectible card game, a series of novels and several video games in the mid-90s. Jordan Weisman, the game's creator, returned for this version and made the decision to go old school. "Shadowrun Returns" won't be a 3D graphic-packed video game like most titles on the market today. Instead, it will feature 2D graphics and eschew multiplayer for a more intimate experience.
(Amount sought: $400,000. Amount raised: $1,836,447)
4) Wasteland 2 – When it was published in 1988 by Electronic Arts, Wasteland was the first game to introduce a post-apocalyptic setting to the role-playing genre (which had previously been limited to worlds of swords and sorcery). It earned a core fan base, but was never made into a franchise. Brian Fargo, who was executive producer on the original and who retained the rights, resurrected the game on Kickstarter — and that fan base (and gamers who had seen the legacy the original game created in successors like Fallout) was eager to return to the Wasteland.
(Amount sought: $900,000. Amount raised: $2,933,252)
Which was the runaway success story?
3) Double Fine Adventure Game – Tim Schafer is one of the most beloved video game developers in the industry. Still, when he launched a Kickstarter for a crowd-funded old-style adventure game (something that has long since fallen out of favor with most publishers), it was a gamble. Kickstarter wasn't well known at the time — and asking gamers to put their money where their mouth was could have hurt that fan adoration. Instead, it not only blasted past its goals, but it also effectively put Kickstarter on the map.
(Amount sought: $400,000. Amount raised: $3,336,372)
2) Ouya – The video game console world is littered with the corpses of companies that thought they could steal share away from Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. Whether Ouya succeeds at that won't be known for a while, but more than 63,000 people are willing to bet it can hold its own. The Android-based gaming system has plenty of big names behind it (including Jawbone founder Hosain Rahman, Digg founder Jay Adelson and Flixster founder Joe Greenstein), but publisher support has been slow. With the funding goal obliterated, the company is currently working to secure a retail presence in brick and mortar stores for its Q1 2013 launch.
(Amount sought: $950,000. Amount raised: $8,596,475)
1) Pebble e-paper watch – The runaway success of this customizable watch is still astounding. To put it in perspective, Ouya finished its drive with funding that was nine times higher than the backers had asked for. Pebble topped its request more than 100 times over. The watch is designed to connect to smartphones via Bluetooth, alerting you to incoming calls and messages with a silent vibration. It will also download apps of its own, turning it into a bike computer (displaying speed, distance and pace) or as a remote control for the music on your smartphone. It's due to ship in early 2013.
(Amount sought: $100,000. Amount raised: $10,266,846)
Email us at SmallBiz@cnbc.com and follow us on Twitter @SmallBizCNBC.