I’ve blogged a lot about Kickstarter, from the Kickstarter we ran at Phoenix Online for Cognition, to my submission for a Kickstarter panel at PAX East, to the incredible ride that was the Double Fine Kickstarter, the one that changed everything. I’ve overall found Kickstarter to be a fantastic thing, a great way for independent, creative projects to get their start, to get support, to make things happen for people & groups who otherwise might not be able to pursue these projects.

Which is why the Penny Arcade Kickstart to remove ads from their site pisses me right the hell off.

Let’s take a few quotes straight from the Kickstarter guidelines, shall we? (All of these are taken directly from the Kickstarter help and guidelines.)

What is Kickstarter?

Kickstarter is a new way to fund creative projects.

Who can fund their project on Kickstarter?

Kickstarter is focused on creative projects. We’re a great way for artists, filmmakers, musicians, designers, writers, illustrators, explorers, curators, performers, and others to bring their projects, events, and dreams to life.

The word “project” is just as important as “creative” in defining what works on Kickstarter. A project is something finite with a clear beginning and end. Someone can be held accountable to the framework of a project — a project was either completed or it wasn’t — and there are definable expectations that everyone can agree to. This is imperative for every Kickstarter project.

We know there are a lot of great projects that fall outside of our scope, but Kickstarter is not a place for soliciting donations to causes, charity projects, or general business expenses.

1. Funding for projects only.A project has a clear goal, like making an album, a book, or a work of art. A project will eventually be completed, and something will be produced by it. A project is not open-ended. Starting a business, for example, does not qualify as a project.

Now let’s talk about what Penny Arcade is doing. Of note, I’m not going to link to their Kickstarter page. If you want to find it, it’s easy to find. Their goal amount of $250,000 was to remove one ad from their site for a year. You might notice that there is nothing creative about this goal. In fact, there was no new creative content promised until they reached $325,000 (which they have) at which point, backers will get….a 6-page strip. PA’s strips/pages are 3 panels long, so that makes this about 18 panels, so that’s about…2-3 pages of a regular comic book which, again, was only promised for an amount above and beyond their target.

They won’t even remove ALL ads from their site (for one year) unless they hit $1 million. And even then, it isn’t actually ALL ads. Certain parts of their site and certain content they put out will still have ads attached no matter what. And they openly describe that this money overall is for paying business expenses for this one year, and that if it’s successful, they’ll do it again next year. It’s worth noting at this point that they also have considerable success and income from their two (soon to be three) PAX conventions, as well as selling t-shirts, prints, and more on their website.

And it’s also worth mentioning that their rewards are insulting as well, including such gems as ($1) “Gabe will shout out your name as he chases a duck,” ($5) “Gabe will think about you during sex,” ($300) get one of the two PA guys to follow you on twitter for a year or get 1 lb. of coffee roasted by one of them (all of these are standalone rewards), ($7500) arrange your own travel to their office and be their intern for one day. It goes on.

PA ran this comic over a year ago. I’d say they forgot about that if not for the fact that yelling at ducks is listed as a reward here, too. At least they brought the price down.

So why does all this piss me off. Well, it’s (a) not a creative project, (b) it’s an open-ended project, (d) it’s to cover business expenses, and (d) their rewards are insulting to their supporters and fans. Oh, and (e) in their pitch video, they outright state “Remember when we had to run the site on donations for two years? We thought it was called begging, but it turns out it’s called crowdfunding.” Well, f*** you, too, buddy.

Kickstarter is a wonderful thing, and provides fantastic opportunities for creative projects. This Kickstarter flies in the face of everything that the site is intended for and should represent. The PA Kickstarter should not have been allowed to go up as it is or should have been taken down when people pointed out the obvious violations. But it was allowed, and it hasn’t been taken down, and there’s no reason at this point to think it will be. Apparently PA discussed this “project” with Kickstarter before it launched and it has their approval. This really, honestly saddens me and while the “project” is called “Penny Arcade Sells Out”, I can’t help feeling it should’ve been called “Kickstarter Sells Out.”

I don’t begrudge PA for wanting to try funding their business through donations from the fans. If they want to, go right ahead, guys, but do it somewhere else, somewhere where that’s not flying in the face of the guidelines and spirit of the whole thing. Have a donation link on your site, use GoFundMe or IndieGoGo (I’m not entirely sure IndieGoGo allows this sort of thing either, but a brief look doesn’t turn up anything that says they wouldn’t). Don’t use a site that is meant for everything that this “project” isn’t and soil the name and reputation of everyone else who uses it in the process.

Has Kickstarter been abused before? Yes, of course. Have people used it who didn’t need it? Also an obvious yes. But not on this scale and at this level of visibility. And at least companies like Double Fine who used Kickstarter were doing so for legitimate projects, actual definable creative endeavors.

And finally, am I saying all this because I’m jealous? No. Why? Because there’s no point, PA is not a company I could dream of “competing” with. Our Kickstarter raised 1/10th of the money theirs has so far. Would it have been great to be able to raise as much as they have? Of course it would be! Duh! But I know that wasn’t even a remote possibility for us. If I’m going to be jealous of someone, I’m going to be jealous of someone on our level (like, for example, our frenemies over at Infamous Quests who raised over $60K recently, now those guys I am legitimately envious of/happy for).

This “project” is going to make its ride into ranks of successful Kickstarters, and I’m pissed about it. That’s all. I don’t recommend anyone to support the Kickstarter campaign being run by PA, because it’s a load of BS. But I’ll still encourage you to check out other, legitimate projects on Kickstarter, and consider donating to those who are both running legitimate creative projects and who could really use the support.


4 thoughts on “Kickstarter Sells Out

  1. The fact that KS won’t spike the project definitely gives it a whiff of selling out so they can get cozy press from Penny Arcade. Not sure how that’s going to work out for them. There isn’t a more passive-aggressive organization out there than PA.

  2. Indeed. I appreciate a lot of the things PA has done for the culture around video games, but a lot of things they done I also have more personal objections to. This is definitely one of them–the whole thing comes off as them trolling Kickstarter and their fans alike to see what they can get away with.

  3. Kickstarter also gets a handy cut of the profits–for a high profile company like Penny Arcade, it’s no surprise they are willing to sell out. I feel exactly the same way as you do, and for exactly the same reasons.

    Also, it’s good to be one of your frenemies. 😉

  4. Solidarity! I am glad to at least see their total donated amount has slowed down.

    Hehe, yeah, I realized today that frenemies really is the best term for it! 😉

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