Tuesday's rather surprising announcement by Penny Arcade to 'sell out' has exploded into a massive discussion on just what is and what is not appropriate for Kickstarter. The team behind the largest gaming web comic on the net is seeking just shy of $1 million to completely eradicate all advertisements across the site.
That goal has many praising Penny Arcade for the idea, while many others see it as an ill-contrived abuse of what Kickstarter is all about. Series creators Jerry 'Tycho Brahe' Holkins and Mike 'Jonathan Gabriel' Krahulik, who were initially critical of the Kickstarter craze, have been active in parlaying against comments and criticism alike, saying that the open free time away from working with ad companies would give them more time for creative pursuits to make Penny Arcade even more enjoyable for its audience.
GamesIndustry International got in touch with Robert Khoo, Penny Arcade president of operations and business development, to discuss the implications of the new Kickstarter, as well as to discuss just what this means for media as a whole.
Q: Do you believe that this will be a successful venture or a viable way for gaming media to get funding projects, just like with gaming developer projects?
Robert Khoo: I honestly don't know how the campaign will do, but if it IS successful, yes - I think the implications it has on ALL media, gaming and otherwise, is pretty powerful. Penny Arcade has been really careful on how we handle advertising and the clients we work with, but I don't think many other places have that luxury. Having another option besides advertising to fund the creation of content and keep the lights on? It could mean a huge shift in the way everyone thinks about media.
"We feel strongly what we are asking for is fair, and I think the majority of our readers understand that we wouldn't take their trust for granted"
Q: Is Kickstarter going to become a blogger's best friend if this move is a success?
Robert Khoo: I think the blogger's readers/fans are the important part of the equation. Kickstarter is merely the conduit.
Q: There seems to be a bit of backlash, especially with the discussion ongoing through Twitter. Were you expecting such a mixed response?
Robert Khoo: Oh, absolutely. It's an incredibly complex discussion that invites debate, and the fact that Penny Arcade is pretty polarizing just adds more heat to the fire. But we feel strongly what we are asking for is fair, and I think the majority of our readers understand that we wouldn't take their trust for granted.
Q: What does this new move say about the need to perhaps overhaul gaming media in general? Ads are an important revenue stream for many sites - can this really be done for other businesses?
Robert Khoo: I think all media would benefit from being more independent. I think other businesses could do it with varying degrees of success (keep in mind, at this point, ours has yet to be funded, so who knows - maybe it won't work). I think it will depend on how strong the connection is between the consumer of content and the content creator. If outlets focused on that going forward? I think that would be pretty great.
Q:How financially driven was this decision?
Robert Khoo: It isn't financially motivated at all. We'd actually be making significantly less money this way, but we're banking that the guys that used to do advertising will pitch in in other revenue-generating ways.
"If you thumb through the comments in the Kickstarter, you'll note how many people use ad block. It's pretty crazy"
Q:Are advertisers making a sour deal out of revenue generation - are they simply not paying enough?
Robert Khoo: It has nothing to do with either of those, really. We just heard a lot of feedback from readers that hated looking at ads but wanted to support PA. We are just giving them this option, and they're voting right now to see if that's something that makes sense to them.
Q: Penny Arcade's site offers a very relaxed setting, and ads seem non-intrusive already. Why was the focus to simply remove them rather than create a model that plays positively to gamer needs?
Robert Khoo: Like I said - it spawned from reader feedback. It's true that our ads are non-intrusive, and we've always tried to do ads the "right way." But for many people, that isn't enough. If you thumb through the comments in the Kickstarter, you'll note how many people use ad block. It's pretty crazy.
Q:What does the future hold for Penny Arcade should the project get funded? This is a major opportunity to free up time for projects on a media hub that went from simply doing comics to running one of the best organized and gamer-friendly organizations on the planet. How can this grow the team even more?
Robert Khoo: That's what all the stretch goals are for! You'll see some familiar and some not-so-familiar things pop up in that list. So far what's been announced is the return of the DLC Podcast and story arcs for both Automata and the Lookouts. As for the folks that were working on advertising, they'll be shifted to creating rather than selling. For example, Jeff Kalles, one of our advertising people, used to be a producer at Nintendo and worked really hard this past year on Rainslick 3. He'd work on more games. There are plenty of places for us to go if this gets funded.