Why Penny Arcade’s Kickstarter Didn’t Work

Posted by on August 9, 2012 at 9:31 am

The Kickstarter’s been an interesting adventure, but it’s obviously way short of their intended goals.

With only five days left, Penny Arcade’s Kickstarter experiment to ditch their ad model and free up their time to work on Penny Arcade content looks to be coming to a somber, underwhelming finale. Despite the webcomic empire’s popularity, the epic fanfare, and coverage by Forbes and Fortune (our site excluded out of modesty), it’s been passed up left and right by other Kickstarters for the crowd’s dollar and has spent most of the month-long campaign barely matching the contributions of its first few days. There’s still a great chance that it’ll ramp up at the last minute and they’ll still walk away with at least three quarters of a million dollars, but the lack of excitement around the fundraiser is crisp in the air. It’s clear from here that there just wasn’t enough planning in this venture to reward the company the full million dollars they dreamt of. So what went wrong?

Horse First, Then Cart

The premise was bizarre from the get-go. Kickstarter rules explicitly state that funds and pitches are for projects, not for companies. We at FleshEatingZipper couldn’t open a Kickstarter and ask for a year’s worth of operation jelly (capital, is what I’m trying to say). As it turns out, they worked with the crowd-sourcing company to find a way to accomplish their real goal: do cool Penny Arcade-oriented projects for the fans instead of their advertisers at the cost of a million dollars a year. But instead of simply pitching those projects, they hitched their wagon to the premise of an ad-free web site and strung those projects along as milestones. What? Further confusion sets in when Gabe (Mike Krahulik, the artist) admits:

I think we really underestimated how many of you actually like our ads though. I’d say the number one piece of feedback I got about the Kickstarter was “I love the ads, don’t get rid of them!”

I have to admit that was unexpected.

It’s true that we work very hard to make our advertising as humane as possible. we don’t allow pop up style ads or full site takeovers. We ask for early copies or walk throughs of games before we allow advertising. We try and make sure that anything you see in those slots is worth clicking on. And you do click on them! Our “click through” rates continue to be miles beyond other sites. The truth is that our ad model works incredibly well. So why would we want to get rid of it?

The Rewards Were Lame, Penny Arcade Was Presumptuous

With a brand as popular as Penny Arcade, it seems like hitting their goals would be easy. Ouya just made eight and a half million dollars in their month-long campaign and they’re no one. So you say you need a million dollars, but install a $250,000 low bench so that even if you only barely make it, you still get to take home the bacon and whatever’s raised above that. That’s fair. But aside from everyone’s collective effort, how do you reward people who chip in at levels that don’t involve flying out to Seattle (on your own dime, mind you) and eating pizza with the Penny Arcade team? Well, at least initially, it was with gag rewards. For those who didn’t have much to contribute, throwing in snicker-doodles like “having Mike run around screaming your name at a duck’ and ‘Tycho will name your pet’ were downright insulting compared to other Kickstarters I’ve backed. Furthermore, they unveiled a chart that revealed stretch goals all the way toward $1.4 million, well beyond their goal. A bit presumptuous, no? To their credit, they backed up many of those lower tiers with giveaways like prints and copies of their latest Rainslick Precipice game. I’m sure if they’d simply powered through all that fundraising, all of these little gaffes would be quaint, but they didn’t, so they aren’t.

The Stretch Goals Were Off

On top of the initial rewards being a slap in the face, the stretch goals all seemed mis-sorted as well. For rallying your friends to collectively support the Penny Arcade, you got the opportunity to see Tycho (Jerry Holkins, the writer) in potentially embarrassing! cosplay at the upcoming PAX. Meanwhile, the six-page Automata comic will be made (being a lower-tier reward and a personal favorite) while the extremely popular Lookouts (perhaps the duo’s most popular sub-property) might not get a chance. Oh, and an Android/iOS app to read the comics, something they should’ve developed long ago, probably won’t be getting made at all because you didn’t help raise enough money! Let’s not even start on those presumptive million-plus stretch goals…


Look, this whole thing will probably blow over as the Kickstarter experiment that we all learned from, but there’s no doubt that there’s some disappointment hanging over the Penny Arcade office. The next goal should then be to recycle the intent of this Kickstarter into individual project. Hey, fund their Strip Search webcomic competition show and, as a commenter on the Kickstarter mentioned, you get the Blu-ray release free. Sell more Automata content, get a short film funded. I’d buy that. I don’t care if Penny Arcade is ad-free, I got my Automata content without pitching in a dime.

It’s by funding these individual projects that they should, in turn, become ad-free, not the other way around.

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