Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Why I can't support Penny Arcade Sells Out

I think that generally, Kickstarter is a brilliant service that provides a much-needed funding source for projects that wouldn't have any startup finances at all. The problem is the recent spate of high-profile projects that have been breaking records, which have brought the Kicktsarter process to the attention of people who just want their ongoing costs to be covered rather than bringing something new to the table.

I think that's the main problem I have with Penny Arcade Sells Out. They're not starting anything with this project, and they're not going to do anything new with the money. They're just replacing a revenue stream, which seems to miss the point of Kickstarting something. The admission that they'll have to do this yearly just underlines how far away from the real point of Kickstarter this is.

And how much money will this take away from other Kickstarter projects? How many people will be spending $15 or $25 to Penny Arcade that they would have otherwise spent on projects that are actually creating something new? Gabe in particular has been emphasising on Twitter that nothing's actually going to change in terms of the content of Penny Arcade, so this is literally a $1 million ad blocker. You can get those for free, by the way.

There's been some implication that by replacing the ad revenue with crowdfunding, Penny Arcade will have more time for other projects, but I don't see how. I wouldn't have imagined that Gabe and Tycho are spending a lot of time moderating and approving advertising content; if they are, then what do they have business management people for?

I'd also like to know what their current advertising income is, and how it compares to the Kickstarter goal. Are they ripping people off, charging two or three or several times what they currently make on ads, or is $1m a bargain? Considering how many of the ads they run are seemingly for Penny Arcade's own side projects, what percentage of their advertising rotation is actually external business?

I don't remember the last time I took particular notice of an advert on any webpage, unless it started playing sound at me, or expanded to fill my screen when I rolled a mouse over it - which none of Penny Arcade's ads have ever done, to the best of my memory. They're mostly unintrusive and usually relevant to my (or at least PA's core audience's) interests. They only have two ad locations on the entire site, and one of those isn't even on the page with the comic strip.

If they wanted to do a Kickstarter for the Automata project, or the Lookouts project, or any of the other stretch goal bonus content, that'd be fine (although they'd probably need to do more than six pages each, and it would require a print run, if they wanted to justify the kind of money they'd undoubtedly ask for).

I can't help but see the Penny Arcade staff watching the total climbing and asking each other, "can you believe people are falling for this?"