Penny Arcade whipped up a tempest of reaction with its Kickstarter, titled “Penny Arcade Sells Out.”
People like cool things. People like to hand money over to fund cool things. This is the premise behind Kickstarter. I think most people would have been fine with this ten years ago when Penny Arcade was a struggling upstart just trying to stay afloat.
The trouble is that the Penny Arcade of today is a thriving Internet-based business with so much influence that they can shift the dialog in the gaming community with a single tweet. They run conventions that rival the legends of E3 and GDC. These are no lightweights. Penny Arcade is as influential in the world of gaming as any legendary newspaper was in the heyday of the medium.
Penny Arcade is not necessarily undeserving of a spot on Kickstarter, but it wasn’t needed. There’s no objection to using Kickstarter to fund new webcomics. Kickstarter even gave them permission. There’s no conflict of ethics or policy here. We would be ok with this if it were ten years ago.
But this isn’t ten years ago. This is ten years now, and you know what Penny Arcade is without looking it up. You’ve probably even clicked one of their ads, which are carefully selected by the webcomic’s proprietors. They have a power over their advertisers not granted to fledgling webcomics.
So why did they do this?
Kickstarter was not, as far as I’m aware, in dire need of the substantial commission it would receive from a successful funding. And people are not, as a matter of principle, against giving Penny Arcade money to continue operations. People do this in the form of print purchases all the time.
So we’re ok with it, conceptually. But we’re not dealing in concepts. We’re dealing with a real example of a webcomic that grew and thrived on its own merits, and even funded itself on the same model in the past.
The problem is that they don’t need this now. They’ve already demonstrated a capacity for independently creating something that’s functionally identical to Kickstarter in their Child’s Play Charity, which has raised almost four million dollars this year to be donated to hospitals in the form of games.
So Penny Arcade is in no danger of failure, and they already have the technology and mind share to handle this on their own. The issue is not a matter of deserving, but a matter of necessity.
Kickstarter’s reason for being is to fund new and innovative projects, not enable existing businesses to transition to new business models. Penny Arcade’s creators need a better reason than they’ve offerd for using Kickstarter over any of the myriad general purpose donation solutions, or even something made in-house.
A return to their roots as a donation-fueled enterprise is great, but why Kickstarter?
Michael Robinson writes about games and technology at Digital Scofflaw