By now, you’ve probably heard of the Penny Arcade Kickstarter.
Now the PA guys are asking fans of the site to contribute money to eliminate the ads. They claim this will free them from the shackles of advertisers’ needs and allow them to create more material for the fans, rather than material that they think will make a profit.
So far, the idea seems to have merit. As of this writing, “Penny Arcade Sells Out” has raised over $200,000 and is very close to its $250,000 goal of removing the leaderboard ad on its home page, as well as having a nice start on its $999,999 goal of removing all ads from the site.
It’s an unusual application of Kickstarter, which is usually used to fund products that don’t yet exist, rather than to supplement or replace income for existing commercial ventures. And some people aren’t sure what to make of it.
The thing is, the Kickstarter model isn’t just applicable to video games, media websites, and other business ventures – it’s really a format that’s been around for a while now and is just starting to gain significant prominence. It’s the proverb of “many hands make light work” adapted for the global Internet age.
In the past, video games were funded by a relatively small number of investors – possibly even just one. If you need $1 million to make your game, maybe you’d find four people willing to donate $250,000 apiece.
With Kickstarter, you can instead raise your $1 million by getting 10,000 people to each donate $100. Or by getting 100,000 people to each donate $10. Or some combination thereof, all of which is theoretically easier than getting a few people to contribute large sums of money.
The same holds true for media outlets, such as Penny Arcade and, to be honest, GAMEBREAKER TV. If they need $X to get by in a year, they can go to a few advertisers and hope that four of them each pony up 25% of X, for instance, or they can go out to fans and get smaller donations from more people.
The most obvious benefit is that, if each advertiser contributes 25% to the budget, losing that advertiser is a major blow – and some media outlets might find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to placate advertisers to keep their ad revenue, which hurts their credibility. Trust me, I’ve seen it happen firsthand at some of my previous workplaces.
Raising money in this fashion, as the Penny Arcade guys tell you, also frees them up to produce what they – and, conceivably, you – want, rather than what will simply bring in the most hits. Wonder why we have so many Guild Wars 2 articles on the site? Hits = money, and as long as that’s the case, a GW2 article will always get more attention – from our writers and our fans – than an EVE Online article that’s only likely to see a fraction of the traffic.
And, of course, everyone likes to see fewer ads. So there’s that, too.
While Penny Arcade takes a humorous jab at the notion of “selling out,” the crowdsourcing approach has actually been going on for a while, long before Kickstarter got into the biz, and not just with for-profit video game developers and media sites.
Wikipedia wouldn’t be what it is if a handful of people were responsible for updating it. It has thousands of editors. You could also argue that – at least before Citizens United – the funding of political candidates was also meant to be spread around so that many people could participate in the process and no one party, or small number of parties, could “own” a single candidate, similar to how a media site could be beholden to a single advertiser.
So it’s hard to say that Penny Arcade is doing anything truly original here – and, in many ways, it seems better than the alternatives. As long as a media site is up front about how much it’s looking for, what it hopes to accomplish, and what you, as a contributor, will get out of it, it shouldn’t bring out the pitchforks and torches and cries of “selling out.”
Now, how many V-necks do you think we could buy with $10,000?