The Average Gamer

What’s Up with that Penny Arcade Kickstarter?

Earlier today, the guys behind games webcomic Penny Arcade announced a Kickstarter. They’re asking fans to pledge enough money to run the site for a year. In return, they’ll remove the ads from Penny Arcade. Here’s the Kickstarter page. Much of my gaming Twitter feed was up in arms about this. Not to pick on Joe specifically, but his tweets below perfectly encapsulated what many people were saying.

The Penny Arcade Kickstarter – What’s Really Happening?

Penny Arcade announced a Kickstarter to remove ads from their site. People are pissed.

Storified by Debbie Timmins · Tue, Jul 10 2012 17:56:22

I don’t understand. Has anyone actually been calling for the (unobtrustive, generally well targetted) ads to be removed from Penny Arcade?Joe Martin
Because, they say they don’t need the money, so it can’t be that. But the user experience doesn’t seem like it’d improve THAT much…Joe Martin
This seems like "We want to stop taking $$$ from companies and take it from YOU! We don’t need to, but you should be happy about this."Joe Martin
It would make sense if they were going to create radically more content, I guess. But that point is so buried it seems like an afterthought.Joe Martin
The thing is, they are trying to create radically more content, after a fashion. They’ve just done an appalling job of explaining this and Joe’s right. It does feel like an afterthought.. The Penny Arcade team have focused on the benefit to themselves, and tried to pitch it as a benefit to the end user. Mike Krahulik (whose alter-ego is Gabe in the strip) has been responding to tweets about this for much of the day.
@cwgabriel I would be excited to help produce X, something you couldn’t do if you rely on ads. I am not excited to convenience your
@cwgabriel Focus on new content, downplay ads as the goal. Get people excited for new things without hiding it behind ‘door number 1’.mu
@cwgabriel If dropping the ads was a bonus, and was *treated* like the bonus, I would be more inclined to helping. Now I am waiting to see–mu
@cwgabriel — what the unlockables will even be. I go to KS to help support ideas that excited me. Don’t leave me in the dark about
@kismesister those projects are built into the drive. We will be producing a lot of extra content. those are the un-lockablescwgabriel
By unlockables, he’s referring to these “stretch goals”. 
Key point to note: all of the extra content is hidden after the original $250,000. There’s an original strip based on some of their existing characters at $550,000 and a podcast revival at $825,000 but the rest are kept a secret. To me, this is just silly. Perhaps they’ve spent too much time thinking about “gamifying” things and forgotten that people need to know what they’re striving for. Right now, unless you really love the Lookouts characters or miss the DLC podcast, there’s little incentive to invest. Where’s my benefit?
It’s not even $250,000 to remove all ads, if you look at the wording. It’s $250,000 to remove just ONE ad.Joe Martin
Kickstarter projects only get funded when they reach their original goal, in this case $250,000. Should the fans only raise this much money they will be paying to remove a single ad from the site, with no guaranteed extra content. To me, this violates the entire spirit of Kickstarter. Even their Kickstarter video focuses exclusively on removing ads, with no mention of extra content. One of my favourite games for a while was Guild Wars, which I discovered through the ads on Penny Arcade. Removing these wouldn’t even be a benefit to me.
@cwgabriel Would an ad-free Penny Arcade include the videos on PATV?Adam Bell
@ladambell no PATV is a separate deal. we can’t really change that.cwgabriel
Some see video pre-rolls as incredibly annoying and intrusive. These will not be removed at all under this scheme.
To their credit, I can see why removing ads would be a big benefit to Krahulik and his writing partner, Jerry Holkins.  
yes advertisers have tried to influence us in the past. Some have gotten angry when we lay into them in a comic. we can deal with it but…cwgabriel
it would be cool if we could avoid it all togethercwgabriel
we have not been influenced by advertisers but it’s difficult. taking money from a company and tearing into in a comic the next day sucks.cwgabriel
this only replaces ad revenue. that accounts for a big chunk of our operating costs but not all of it.cwgabriel
Kickstarter is… well… a place to kickstart projects. It’s seen as a hub where projects that would otherwise not be able to get the money and attention they need can go to get exactly that. Penny Arcade have been a viable business for years now and replacing ad revenue for a year, every year, seems more like a violation of Kickstarters very own guidelines – “A project is not open ended” and “No ‘fund my life’ projects”
Even so, the project has been approved by Kickstarter, presumbably due to the new content. This seems disingenuous to me given that main funding goal makes it merely a project to remove one ad from the site for a year. Regardless, the team are taking the feedback on board and have released more a teaser for the Lookout strip.
thanks for the feedback. we are gonna make some of the new projects visible. here is a peek.
Seeing as Krahulik asked for feedback, I did exactly that.
like I said this is an experiment. So I appreciate the feedback.cwgabriel
@cwgabriel The annoyance for me is that you guys have pitched it as "remove ads from our business" not "help us kickstart new projects"Debbie Timmins
@cwgabriel It LOOKs like your size allows you to break rules that other projects must follow. Doesn’t appear in the spirit of Kickstarter.Debbie Timmins
@weefz we didn’t break any of the rules. We are trying to fun our comic for a year.cwgabriel
@cwgabriel I know. It’s the way you’ve pitched it. You’ve hidden all the new stuff so it doesn’t actually look like funding new projects.Debbie Timmins
@weefz that’s our fault and we’re fixing that. You’re right.cwgabriel
Quite apart from the shock at seeing someone say “You’re right” on the internet, it’s good to see that they’re addressing the negative response. Hopefully more details on the unlockables will be revealed soon. 
Something people may forget is that Krahulik has been known to do creative work on the ads they run, which must take at least some time from their original content. In a post from 2007, Krahulik also explained that their policy was not to run ads but to run recommendations. They would insist on judging a game’s merit before accepting ad revenue. I don’t know if that’s still the case in 2012 but it’s certainly a noble goal.
I don’t want to spoil some of the un-lockables but if we aren’t making projects for advertisers we are free to make projects for you.cwgabriel
@cwgabriel @daedalusleto PA will get made, with or without kickstarter funding. Other Kickstarter projects won’t.Jason
@TheClowbog this particular scenario including a year of PA strips, no ads, other creative work will not happen without KS.cwgabriel
@cwgabriel If you can make the extra work happen with the KS money, which is replacing the ad revenue, then you can make it with the ad $.Jason
@TheClowbog but right now the extra work is for publishers I’d rather it be for fans.cwgabriel
One side-effect that may get lost in this is that Krahulik and Holkins apparently won’t to do any more of their Penny Arcade Presents comics – the additional ones that are sometimes commissioned from publishers.
Shame. Some of them, like the Splinter Cell Chaos Theory Spy Manual were great.
At the time of publication, the Penny Arcade “project” has raised over $106,000 or almost half its funding goal.
Why would a creative site NOT want to work directly for their fans?cwgabriel