Kickstarter as an entity and as an abstract concept is great. It has transformed media creation into a business that almost resembles an old fashioned bazaar, with people hocking their wares directly to the consumer with no middleman. Penny Arcade’s new Kickstarter campaign is appropriate then. It is attempting to cut out the king of middlemen: Advertisers.
On Tuesday, Penny Arcade opened a Kickstarter program to fund its operations for a full year so that it can forego revenue from advertisers. As of this writing, with only half a done past, it’s raised $100,000 towards an ultimate goal of $250,000. “I think we had assumed it wasn’t possible to do it this way anymore—to operate a site at this scale without advertising dollars—but it occurred to us that we’d never actually asked,” reads its message on Kickstarter, “People often want to know how they can support the site in a way that doesn’t involve t-shirts or looking at advertising, and I think we may have a way. What I’m saying is that we want to sell out, and we would love to sell out to you.”
Penny Arcade is a strange beast here in the year 2012. At the beginning of the century, there was Penny Arcade the comic strip and that was pretty much it. Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins made three very funny comic strips about video games every week. Today Penny Arcade is a business whose tendrils spread over every facet of the video games industry. They make games like Penny Arcade: On the Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness, comic books like Lookouts, host massive charity events like Child’s Play as well as conventions like PAX, and they even have their own gaming news and culture commentary site called the PA Report. Culturally speaking, their ubiquity is a bit like Nintendo’s was in 1990. Like it or not, Penny Arcade is synonymous with video games for a many, many people.
It’s hard to say whether there’s inherent nobility or admirable business practice in this decision. Advertising as it has been known for the past 2 centuries is becoming outmoded at speed. The Internet and how information is shared between peers has rendered pictures or videos of a product or service—whether in a magazine or as banners on a web page—largely ineffective in the classic sense. People have evolved as consumers and creators of culture to look past advertising—ad blindness is real—and this is why businesses have been spending less and less on advertising.
It’s not just important for game industry businesses to take note of Penny Arcade’s decision, but all businesses really. It isn’t doing something transgressive so much as trying to find a way to future proof its business.