I’m a big fan of Penny Arcade. I like pretty much everything they do, from the comics and their various spinoffs, to Jerry Holkins’ blog posts, to PAX, to Child’s Play, to the video games. I may not think everything they do is superb (for example, I don’t share their enthusiasm for Lookouts, and I usually pass over their various video offerings), but I still blindly support them because I’m a fanboy.
Still, there’s something about this whole Kickstarter business that I can’t quite get behind. I imagine their ironic description of the Kickstarter as essentially begging for money for money that they don’t need is supposed to be an attempt at transparency, but it’s as almost as if there’s a smug grin behind that explanation, and slowly you think, yes, they actually are just looking for extra cash for free. I guess that’s my problem with it: they don’t need the money and they know it, and if the “project” gets funded (which, at $215,000 in pledges with 33 days to go, it most certainly will be), the “experience” that they’re selling will only be a marginal, almost negligible improvement over the current one.
Yes, the rewards tiers are meaningless, but they’re meant to be funny, I guess. It’s somehow less funny when I see that twenty-five people paid $500 of real, honest-to-God cash to have Tycho retweet them. It wouldn’t be that bad of a waste if that $500 actually went toward something worthwhile, but at the end of the day, it’s still just being used to remove an amazingly small number of ads on the site. Anyone who has Adblocker has probably never even realized there were ads on Penny Arcade. Of those who do see the ads on a daily basis, I imagine very of them have complained about the ads, since there are only two banners on the homepage, and they’re generally for things that Penny Arcade’s audience enjoys (tabletop games, video games etc).
Which brings me to my next point: Holkins once said, I believe in a blog post about League of Legends, that Penny Arcade never displays banners for games they don’t like. While some of these games (like League of Legends) don’t need the exposure, smaller games, like the indie title Splice, need all the help they can get. Getting rid of advertising space on a site with heavy daily traffic like Penny Arcade could cripple a lot of these smaller projects. But of course, that’s hardly Penny Arcade’s problem. Their kind-of-acidic suggestion that “we will send out nice cards come Christmas time” to advertisers burned by the loss of their ad space says it all.
They’ve attempted to justify this Kickstarter as more than just an ad removal fund by saying that some of the money will go into funding additional Penny Arcade side projects (which is probably where all of the money should’ve gone, but hey). The day the Kickstarter was announced, they took a bit of a licking on Twitter and other places, so even though they will undoubtedly make a ton of cash from this thing, they’ve begun to roll out some of those additional projects as stretch goals, presumably to satisfy the haters. New series of Lookouts (bleh) and Automata (score!) that run alongside the uninterrupted thrice-weekly Penny Arcade strip seem like very promising prospects, until you realize that they’re each merely six pages long, and it somehow costs an extra $100,000 to $200,000 to make them. At $825,000 in pledges, they revive a defunct podcast. The money required unlock these stretch goals does not seem proportional to the effort required to create them, especially since they claim they can cover most of the site’s operating expenses with the $250,000 minimum.
The Penny Arcade Kickstarter is the very definition of a frivolous Kickstarter, but hey, I don’t really have a problem with other people throwing money away on it; I just won’t be supporting it myself (and miraculously, I’ll still be the recipient of the ultimate end product: the ad-free site and additional miniseries content). And they plan to run it every year. I just hope it doesn’t establish a precedent of thriving companies petitioning the Kickstarter community for free money.