Why I’m Not Okay with the Penny Arcade Kickstarter

Web comic site Penny Arcade started a Kickstarter campaign last week, the goal of which is to raise several hundred thousand dollars to remove ads from the web comic’s site. The creators of Penny Arcade, Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, say that once the site isn’t dependent on ad money, they’ll be freed up from that side of their business — and that will leave them free for more creative endeavors.

Kickstarter as a service was formed as a way of making such creative endeavors possible. Its spirit is one of helping artists — not necessarily starving, but certainly without the financial means of investing in their big ideas — to realize projects that they otherwise couldn’t. In gaming, Kickstarter has been used to fund lots of innovative indie titles, projects with big names attached to them (like Double Fine Adventure) that can’t get funded through the usual corporate machine, and reboots of series beloved by creators and fans alike.

But with Penny Arcade’s Kickstarter, something is different. Something feels…off. And that’s not to say that I have anything against either Penny Arcade or the general idea of Kickstarter. I’m very positive on the latter and respect as well as criticize the former. But this is a situation that seems at odds with the spirit of Kickstarter, and perhaps even goes against Kickstarter’s own guidelines for what the service is meant to fund. The first of the service’s guidelines outlines that it is meant to support projects with a definable creation:

A project has a clear goal, like making an album, a book, or a work of art. A project will eventually be completed, and something will be produced by it. A project is not open-ended. Starting a business, for example, does not qualify as a project.

Kickstarter declined to be interviewed about its guidelines or its approval process, through which Penny Arcade’s project was required to pass. Unfortunately, that means I’m left to my interpretation of what Kickstarter is, as we were unable to have anyone at Kickstarter tell us why they thought Penny Arcade’s proposal met the service’s guidelines.

My trouble with Penny Arcade’s use of Kickstarter for this “project” stems from one of need. Penny Arcade is a successful, ad-funded business with its own line of merchandise and two successful annual conventions. That it spends a lot of time vetting ads for its site is part of that business model, and part of the way Holkins and Krahulik choose to run it. And an ad-free site in and of itself is not a bad product. From Penny Arcade’s perspective, using Kickstarter provides the ability to see what kind of demand there is for that product by asking people to pay for it (and, as was fully expected, the project has already surpassed its original $250,000 funding goal). All of that is fine.

But Penny Arcade doesn’t need money from Kickstarter, or to crowdsource new projects. It simply would prefer to remove ads from its site for one year, at the cost of a huge amount of money. But it’s choosing to gather that money not through usual business channels, but through Kickstarter — and in a way, it’s taking advantage of the Kickstarter culture and drawing away users who would potentially give funds to more needy projects.

Other businesses hoping to kick ads from their sites would offer paid subscriptions or ask for donations with that goal in mind. They would sell their users a product, or ask for their fans’ charity in supporting them. Most other businesses would have solved the issue in a completely business-like way: They would have hired someone to handle the ads if it was taking up so much potential creative time.

Penny Arcade has these options, but by choosing Kickstarter, they’ve found a way to have cake and eat it. A Kickstarter campaign means Penny Arcade can take money without having to actually sell anything (like subscriptions), and therefore doesn’t have to provide anything other than an ad-free site. It also doesn’t have to take donations and thereby deal with the prickly psychology of asking for money while also selling merchandise. This way, Penny Arcade gets to ask users if they want to give their money and gauge the popularity of the idea, and also gets a high-profile way to ask for money without having to actually provide much in return.

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14 Comments on Why I’m Not Okay with the Penny Arcade Kickstarter

Eddie

On July 23, 2012 at 3:22 pm

I would have to agree with all of this, its a concerning precedent, and its not even like the adds on their site are that bad

Peggle20

On July 23, 2012 at 6:40 pm

What’s most upsetting about the PA kickstarter to me is that worthier projects like, say, Defense Grid 2 get a fraction of the funding of these jackasses. Faugh.

Please plug the DG2 kickstarter, GameFront! Seeing as how you’ve just plugged one that you don’t approve of, how about evening that karma up with one that’s actually out to create a kick ass PC game? It’s actually surprising how few gaming-related sites have done so (only joystiq and rps to my knowledge). Kickstarter over-saturation?

R.J.

On July 23, 2012 at 7:57 pm

I have to agree with this. For the most part, Kickstarter is a decent thing, but it doesn’t seem like PA should be using it for this. It’s cool that they want to try going ad free, but they are successful enough that they don’t really need their readers chipping in like this. I’m even more concerned about how it doesn’t even seem to fit the qualifications for Kickstarter. A website operating in perpetuity seems like the definition of open-ended. If starting a business doesn’t count as a project, then how can continuing one be any different?

pooleboy87

On July 23, 2012 at 9:31 pm

I want to start this out by saying that I really really like Penny Arcade. I enjoy their comics, I appreciate their charity, and I think it’s intensely amazing that they’ve turned PAX into what it is.

That being said, I largely agree with what you’re saying. I mean, I’ve NEVER minded the ads on the PA website. They’re really not intrusive at all. So I don’t even think that the reasoning behind the Kickstarter is all that solid. They don’t need it, and regardless of whether they’re taking money from other projects or not, it makes me uncomfortable to see it.

But what bugs me the most is the shift that I’m suddenly seeing in Kickstarter in General. I’m seeing it quickly becoming a means for a money grab, and that’s not what it’s supposed to be. For example, I just pulled up a couple of Kickstarters in my area. In the first page there was one individual asking for what amounted to a business loan (wanted Kickstarters to fund their cooking supplies and merchandise) while another wanted money for a press tour…which included an “incident fund” and walking around money.

These things just don’t seem to be in the vein of what Kickstarter is about. It’s a little ridiculous that they’re allowing people to essentially begin Kickstarter campaigns that offer no creativity, no return to what’s being given, and are simply a replacement for actual investors, or a way to get some quick cash as long as you can come up with some vaguely compelling idea.

Kickstarter better get a handle on it quick, or else it’s going to quickly become over-saturated with what amounts to online panhandling.

Aedelric

On July 23, 2012 at 11:12 pm

The Penny Arcade site has adverts? I never knew. (Hugs his browser ad blocker)

I never knew their were so many foolish people willing to throw their money in the bin, over Penny Arcade of all things!

Veee

On July 24, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Good to bring items like this to the forefront, I always viewed Kickstarter as a creative project circle not really an escapist solution to your existing company. Pretty crappy if this starts to become a norm, honestly as it’s been noted their solutions were numerous without having to pull this card and milk the public out for their cause.

Sad too because they have their good moments as well, I wont be supporting games like this though when there are tons of other projects that deserve the support more. It’s not like PA was going to collapse and this was an attempt to save it from ruin, it’s just pretty shameless.

Jer

On July 24, 2012 at 7:59 pm

At the bottom of their kickstarter page – report this project as invalid project – don’t let this happen – this is wrong pure and simple – this isn’t a project.

Xenos

On July 27, 2012 at 6:00 pm

I wholeheartedly agree with this. Its fine for them to ask for donation to support or improve the site but that’s not what Kickstarter is supposed to be about, they should have instead used PayPal’s donation system or something – ANYTHING – else.

McBride

On July 27, 2012 at 11:27 pm

I like Penny Arcade, but I agree with you 100%. I’m fine with them asking for donations and stuff too, but don’t do it through Kickstarter. If Child’s Play can’t be used as a venue for fans to complain about Mass Effect, they should also respect the rules of Kickstarter and not use it in such a fashion.

Lionel

On July 28, 2012 at 4:17 pm

What this article fails to mention is that Jerry, and Penny Arcade as a whole, is one of the big reasons Kickstarter has become so popular and why so many projects have been successful. There have been projects that next to no one knew about, and then Jerry would tell everyone to check it out, and the donations would skyrocket. So, saying they’re taking advantage of the culture is pretty silly, because they’re one of the biggest contributors to it.

JC

On July 30, 2012 at 10:15 am

Nice article, diplomatic but also pointing out that this is in essence wrong.

Basically a kickstarter to remove adverts from a website? If anything the article is to kind and soft on the bizarreness of this kickstarted being either attempted or allowed.

Being paid to not host adverts on their site will allow them more creativity? Pull the other one.

Also as another comment mentioned, since bringing attention to a very bad example of a kickstarter project how about bringing attention to a good one, or a roundup of a few good ones.

Veee

On July 30, 2012 at 1:51 pm

“What this article fails to mention is that Jerry, and Penny Arcade as a whole, is one of the big reasons Kickstarter has become so popular and why so many projects have been successful.”

So what you’re saying is they should be compensated additionally for the time they’re already compensated for through their ad network when they get massive traffic and hits to those articles via redirects and citation backlinks? Regardless of directing community there it’s not owed to them to have this approved, where was the point established that without kickstarter their project would fail? PA is a thriving company reaching out to do conventions, editorial, comics and merchandise and they do it successfully.

“There have been projects that next to no one knew about, and then Jerry would tell everyone to check it out, and the donations would skyrocket. So, saying they’re taking advantage of the culture is pretty silly, because they’re one of the biggest contributors to it.”

And here’s where you jump the shark and skip the point, no one has a problem if PA wanted to fund a new project or hell even a new game. Instead they’re seeking to earn some vacation time for a year and remove ads from the pages for as long as the public will keep buying into it as they already noted.

On top of that they’ve obviously seen some of the issues from the community as they keep trying to dogpile on new incentives to make it less about the original goal which still remains. Try to stick to the topic though instead of rallying off about how they’re owed this, no one in the industry is owed anything, that’s why everyone continues to push forward.

Salgood Sam

On September 19, 2012 at 3:48 pm

The false proposition here is that Kickstarter or other sites like it were exclusively only for projects that had not chance of sustaining themselves commercially. That’s not true. What it was designed to do is help in those cases potentially, but also simply allow creativity to engage an audience with less risk

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9nk2aGWzcKY

And that’s pretty much what Penny Arcade is trying to do. Maintain what they perceive as a purity of their efforts in exchange for less work and risk via audience support. You may not like what Penny Arcade offers. To honest i’m sort of neutral, talented guys i think but i’m not a gamer so i don’t go there much. But there is an audience for that, like it or not. Kickstarter is allowing them to have a more direct relationship with them this way. And yes save them some risk and effort.

Men Toms Classic Shoes

On July 6, 2013 at 2:50 am

Daily shoes Summary is definitely starting to feel somewhat outdated