You can’t really blame anyone else but Newgrounds, the black-and-gold hub for Flash movies and games, for getting in the spot they’re in. As founder Tom Fulp puts it in his plea to potential supporters, “expenses have grown while our traffic has stayed the same and ad revenue has gone down.” Having scared away virtually every ad network on the planet with the site’s dark themes and, at times, even darker content, Tom and the Newgrounds crew are now hoping that its fans will be willing to support the site directly through a new $25 “supporter” option that will remove ads from the site for a whole year. Sound familiar?
I covered Newgrounds earlier this year when they underwent a massive redesign and mentioned that I’d been a member there for nearly twelve years. So, naturally, I was obligated to help my alma mater in their time of need. But my contribution aside (the site does run much faster without ads), there are some questions I had for Tom. The clear problem up front, as it was when I was a teenager submitting Flash cartoons to the site, is that the site’s audience is mostly teenagers with few means to move money around. “I really have no idea how effective this will be but every bit helps.” Tom told me.
But still others raised concerns about Newgrounds’ business model altogether. Despite its iconic automated portals for uploading movies, games, and more, Newgrounds is still years behind in integrating social media options and making the site friendlier for devices that no longer support Flash. Poster Gerkinman brings this up:
Newgrounds dedication to the flash format is only going to damage the site more and more over time as mobile platforms take up more of the webs browsing space. Then theirs the fact you can embed youtube/vimeo videos into facebook/tumblr for quick and easy sharing, and for watching the content within a container. Newgrounds requires you to click a link that will bring you to an external site, which is something people stopped wanting to do years ago, its clunky, its unintuitive, and its completely backwards. Social media is the most powerful force of traffic online, and Newgrounds through its very nature as a flash content based site completely blocks it.
Another key factor is a lack of video content. Sure, Newgrounds was built on Adobe’s Flash for content, but the site is capable of so much more, based on how many ad dollars Newgrounds isn’t making when creators monetize their own work separately on YouTube, a site that works on virtually every platform with an audience that’s immensely larger. Newgrounds is capable of being a larger, transmedia brand, but it seems that isn’t a huge goal at the moment.
While the site isn’t getting a heart transplant through this campaign – heck, you can’t even the option to support the site unless you happen to read the news post in a small block on the home page, for now – I asked Tom about why here and why now? “We’ve always tossed the idea around for a pay option but this past year is when it really became a focus.” Tom said. I even reflected on Penny Arcade’s recent Kickstarter campaign that was a bit of a flub. “[Web programmer Rob Rosenbaum] had started on [the Supporter feature] before the Penny Arcade campaign so that didn’t inspire it, although it was inspiring to see how well that campaign did. It’s always tempting to try a similar Kickstarter but I don’t know if we would get the same sort of results. I’m saving Kickstarter for a last-resort measure at the end of 2013, if we can’t afford the $100k file system we’ll need to buy. I like how the PA campaign had stretch goals and I’d like to try that even with the supporter system if enough people come onboard.”
Finally, on the topic of enhanced content for Newgrounds Supporters, Tom wasn’t commital, “We likely will add more perks for supporters. I never liked the idea of focusing development on a small group of paying users but we really do need to make it as attractive an option as possible. Also, the people who become supporters will now have a much better experience on Newgrounds and I think they’ll see it was a good value.”
In the twelve years since I signed up on Newgrounds, I’d never committed a dollar despite the hundreds or thousands of hours I spent there watching movies, playing games, or posting in the forums. I think it’s a clever little tweak to their formula, but long-term, the site’s gonna need far more than Supporter badges to keep ahead of the rising tide.