Two podcasts I listen to (Hypercritical & Build & Analyze) both mentioned the Penny Arcade Kickstarter, and I wanted to throw my change into the ring too.
If you’ve been living under a rock, you might’ve missed the Penny Arcade Kickstarter. It’s a daring plan - if readers want to see Penny Arcade without ads, they can put their money where their mouth is and donate.
The Kickstarter is done in increments, rather than an all-or-nothing bid: currently, it looks like Jerry & Mike will be removing the top ‘leaderboard’ ad on the Penny Arcade homepage. If viewers donate more money, they’ll remove progressively more and more ads until PA goes not only ad-free, but also Creative Commons licensed. Audacious.
Increments & Expectation
Both Marco & Dan said that they would have preferred Penny Arcade to do the Kickstarter in an all-or-nothing bid, citing possible confusion (customers who donate money might feel pretty crappy if only the leaderboard ad gets removed). I see their point, but I don’t think Penny Arcade’s primary goal was to remove all ads from their site, with Automata, Lookouts, & Strip Search being bonuses. If that was the case, those items would be bonuses along the way, rather than coming before all ads being removed on the site. Each of those projects is a fairly lengthy that is likely taking the place of advertising that doesn’t go on the main site.
A lot of the work Mike & Jerry do is creative comic strips for advertisers, known externally as ‘Penny Arcade Presents’. This includes the Zelda Skyward Sword comic, the Splinter Cell comic, and all the rest. They also do work for companies like the ESRB.
I think we can agree that the Penny Arcade team stays busy.
I think their true goal with this Kickstarter is to have the freedom to do their own original work. While Mike was breathless at being able to do Zelda artwork, I think he’s equally enthused about the possibility of having the time to do Lookouts.
Could a fan possibly be pissed that he donated $50 to remove all ads, only to end up with the leaderboard ad and an Automata strip? Sure, it’s possible. But I think that is a small group compared to the people who are donating not to remove webpage ads, but to direct Mike & Jerry to do their own original work. That’s why I backed their project.
I love the backer rewards they’ve done. Most Kickstarter projects use backer rewards as a preorder system; pay $50 to receive one iPhone accessory, $80 for two, $100 for two with a laser engraving on one …
The Penny Arcade backer rewards are pretty awesome, ranging from prints of their artwork to original paintings and appearing in a strip. But my favourites are the $2500 rewards, of which there are three:
Have Mike (the artist) look over your art portfolio, providing notes & opinions.
Have Jerry (the writer) do a ‘beta read’ of a work in progress, providing notes & opinions.
Have Khoo (the business dude) analyze your business plan, identifying areas of opportunity.
I love that reward range; for a relatively low price you can get somebody who very well could be a huge inspiration for you to look at your work. That is so cool; if I was an artist, I’d take out a loan to chat with Mike about my art. Same with Khoo if I had a business plan. As someone who writes, I’d absolutely have Jerry look at my writing, if I was proud of it (frankly, I’d be embarrassed to have him look at my ravings about Sony losing my credit card info).
One of the difficulties of using something like Kickstarter is that it presents a mixed message. Following the Double-Fine success, some people see the fact that they didn’t get the million dollars in a day as a failure (Double-Fine raised over $3million). That’s a poor comparison: people backing the Double-Fine game are pre-ordering a game. Early Penny Arcade backer awards are just jokes (“Gabe will think about you during sex”), until you spend $25 or more. You can’t compare revenue for an actual game and for a “remove ads” campaign.
Calling this anything other than a success is an incredibly short-sighted view on the situation. The success of this Kickstarter so far has freed up enough time for the Penny Arcade folks to do a 6-page original comic strip and provided enough money for them to remove the headlining, front-page ad on their website. If you don’t consider that a success, you aren’t hooked up right. At the very least, this is a blow to the advertising industry. If they don’t do this next year, Penny Arcade will still have a new bargaining chip: “We don’t need you as much as we used to”. This could be a flash in the pan, or it could be really, really interesting.
I really, really hope they make enough for the Strip Search web show, and I think they certainly can. So if you haven’t done so already, consider how much you enjoy Penny Arcade, especially their original stuff. If you like it, consider tossing in a buck or ten.