Penny Arcade: "What we're asking for is fair"

Penny Arcade discusses the implications of the new Kickstarter campaign to wipe out ads

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"

Robert Khoo

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"

Robert Khoo

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.

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Latest comments (17)

Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game5 years ago
I can't see any problem. The only people who will pledge will be users of the site who don't want to see ads. It will therefore only be successful if the PE community care enough about no ads to generate the money, and anyone who doesn't pledge is unlikely to get upset if targets are hit and they don't get to see ads.
if it fails it shows the community would rather live with the ads than pay, which is also fine, at least PE will know that for sure.
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Sam Brown Programmer, Cool Games Ltd.5 years ago
If ads are the only issue I will be quite surprised if this hits its target, simply because the people who care about not seeing ads tend to care enough to use adblocking extensions in their browser.

However, some people (like me) will see it in the traditional Kickstarter manner - namely giving money directly to the creators of something you enjoy. So maybe there's hope yet. ^_^
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Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd5 years ago
It clearly contravenes Kickstarter's own guidelines.

If Kickstarter don't do anything about it, they'll be making enormous problems for themselves. They'll be flooded with other sites who want their business expenses paid without delivering anything.

If PA want to offer an ad-free service, they can do this by offering subscriptions.
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Show all comments (17)
Rupert Loman Founder & CEO, Gamer Network5 years ago
I prefer the idea of a scalable subscription model. So it's $50/year to go ad-free but when they hit 30k subs it goes to $30/year (for all) and (for example) when they reach 50k subs it's $25 each and so on. I reckon as the price comes down it'll keep bringing new people in, and also there's community incentive to get your friends to subscribe. Gives PA a way of increasing profit too. Even if they do hit their targets first time around, it'll be tougher next year, and if you have to revert to an ad model after coming out and saying you don't like ads - or spending a year not working with advertisers - it may be tougher to get back to where they were.

But it's all a moot point if this really is against KS T&Cs...
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Mike Kebby Marketing Manager, Green Man Gaming5 years ago
They're not solely offering ad-free though, it's the implications of no adverts that gives them the extra time to create much more new content and comics. They've said this themselves, the less time they spend on generating adverts, and meeting with clients, the more time they have for more reader-centric endeavours.

I use ad-block like many others, so it's a non-issue for me, however, if they are promising much more new content (like Lookouts etc.) then for hardcore PA fans this is a good thing.
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Mike Kebby Marketing Manager, Green Man Gaming5 years ago
Also - In regards to Kickstarter's T&C's, the PA team did meet with them before launching the campaign, so they must have reached some sort of agreement on this.

How this changes Kickstarter's perspective on this in the future will be interesting to watch though.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game5 years ago
Also, whilst PE has quite good credibility, we all know how advertising interfered with Gamespot editorial policy a few years back, so being ad free not only frees more time, it eliminates the clash of interests of being open and not upsetting your sponsors. That adds value that an ad blocker can't.
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Robert Aiking Product Manager, InnoGames5 years ago
I always rather enjoyed the ads on Penny - the guys indicated that they were to be seen as recommendations, because they were choosing which games to advertise based on what they enjoyed.
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Emily Rose Freelance Artist 5 years ago
I barely noticed the ads to be honest, sometimes they are things i'm interested in too, this is a shame personally, but that's democracy - if people want it they can vote with their wallets.
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Taylan Kay Designer / Lead Programmer at Black Gate Studios, Nerd Corps Entertainment5 years ago
I don't mind ad-free content, and I actually think it is a great thing for the independence of game journalism. However it goes against the Kickstarter idea of directly funding creative projects, rather than creative people or a business model. The whole idea of the pitch is to show people the end result they will be getting. I for one will not be pitching in for a vague promise of "we will be more creative somewhere down the line".

As somebody else said earlier, it is not just about PA but also the implications of this for other Kickstarter campaigns. I won't be surprised if more and more people come out after this, asking to have their business model subsidized, which can end up diluting the ability of the KS platform to deliver on creative promises. PA could have indeed asked for subscriptions for ad-free content. They were probably drawn in by the easy publicity of Kickstarter campaigns, but I feel they might be putting the entire platform at risk by exploiting it this way.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Taylan Kay on 12th July 2012 4:56pm

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Sean Lane Artist/Animator, Sneaky Games5 years ago
I'm in complete agreement with Robin, this is not solely an issue of, "if you don't agree with the campaign don't pledge." I don't even like Penny Arcade and have never found it funny or well drawn, but I am fully aware of the power of the strip and the two creators, as well as the impact of PAX. When an organization of this caliber sets up a Kickstarter not to create but to fund something that is already well established, it is not healthy for the integrity of Kickstarter and other projects that are, you know, actually creating.

I don't mind the Kickstarter fatique of many developers coming out of the woodwork and wanting to see if they can get funded for a new game, but this one is a joke. Just take a gander at the arrogant prizes, this is not healthy. I suspect the only reason Kickstarter would allow this kind of funding is simply for the publicity of having Penny Arcade on Kickstarter.

And what is even more disingenuous about this particular Kickstarter is that the $250,000 goal only actually removes one of the ads. They actually want you to give them a million bucks to remove them all. So the goal is nebulous and this ensures they can take some money and run on the $250,000.

You guys are claiming that you get content out of this, but no you do not, not on the base $250,000 level. So there is a Kickstarter goal set for absolutely no content. You must reach $325,000, over the goal, to even get one 6 page comic strip.If you want another 6 page strip, you have to up the ante to $550,000.

I hope those of you pledging read the fine print and realize that this is basically a Kickstarter to remove one ad at the top of the page, no more no less.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Sean Lane on 12th July 2012 6:38pm

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Petter Solberg Freelance Writer & Artist, 5 years ago
Kickstarter's a great idea until backers start demanding refunds or direct influence in project development. "Oh, well, I pledged $100,000 this time around. I might do it for the next project also, but only if...". When will we see the 'bad guys' infiltrate the Kickstarter campain? How fool-proof is the crowdfunding system really?

One thing is terms and conditions and fine print. There's also the ethics to consider.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Petter Solberg on 12th July 2012 7:56pm

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David Radd Senior Editor, IndustryGamers5 years ago
As the Kickstarter page notes, there are rewards for backers depending on the amount they give, so it's not like people will get nothing other than an ad free experience. It's almost like an injection of merchandise sales to help fund them.

Plenty of established and somewhat established companies use Kickstarter already. I trust people can read the fine print on what they're offering and can make their decision based upon what they want.
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Wayne Gibson UK Marketing Manager for 5 years ago
They should setup a 'Sponsor' system like Rooster Teeth has or some sort of yearly subsciption package with varying degrees of advertising used depending on the plan with added benefits. These could be reduced and/or priority on PAX tickets, special comic prints signed by the PA staff sent out to top lvl sponsors etc. Simply put they are now an established business/brand in the gaming industry and really should be behaving like one in reference to business practices. In my eyes it just seems like a very lazy way to milk the teat of their fanbase.

Kick Starter at its core seems to be designed essentially to get projects off the ground which would normally have problems acquiring traditional means of funding. PA has 2 successful conventions, a charity, a website a successful brand of merchandise etc. I dont see why they need Kick Starter. If any other gaming site tried to do this most if not all the people supporting PA right now would be screaming bloody murder.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Wayne Gibson on 12th July 2012 8:25pm

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James Verity5 years ago
this type of scheme should have never got on Kickstarter.... PA make your visitors Subscribe... plus how about you use some of the money you get from your games etc. you sell instead of just p****ing it up the walls...
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Craig Bamford Writer/Consultant 5 years ago
This isn't a bad idea. But, no, it shouldn't be on Kickstarter, and in the long run I believe it won't be good FOR Kickstarter. The real projects are going to get drowned out by people trying to replicate PA's dodge.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 5 years ago
Hmmm. Given that I'm eternally broke and hell, wouldn't mind being able to pick products I like, I'll take some of those freshly discarded ad dollars if they don't want them...
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