Penny Arcade Wants $250,000 To Start Ditching Site Ads

Sorry, Magic The Gathering banner ad atop the website for the popular online comic strip, Penny Arcade, the folks behind the site would rather you weren't there. PA founders Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik started asking for $US250,000 on Kickstarter today to ditch the banner ad, saying they would prefer to be paid directly by their readers, not by advertisers.

"We want to sell out, and we would love to sell out to you," they say on their Kickstarter page.

In an accompanying video Holkins refers to an earlier era when Penny Arcade was funded by reader donations as the best era of the site, an era that felt "pure". He says it would assure the site maintained a "direct relationship with the reader."

The site's in-house reporter, Ben Kuchera echoed the call for an ad-free Penny Arcade on Twitter: "Hey guys and girls, let's take advertisers completely out of Penny Arcade," he wrote. "I'd rather work directly for you.

For $US250,000, they say they'll be able to eliminate their site's top banner ads for all of 2013. For $US525,000, they'll cut all front-page ads. For $US999,999 they'll eliminate all advertising.

The money raised would compensate for lost revenue from ads. From their FAQ: "Advertising paid for rent, wages, health insurance, utilities, all the normal stuff that you pay for when you have fourteen souls working together. That money keeps the lights on while we do the things people expect from us: thrice weekly content drops, two annual shows, the scholarships, Child's Play, etc."

Penny Arcade's Holkins and Krahulik have legions of fans who adore their comic strip or flock to the massive twice-yearly PAX gaming shows, the largest public conventions (for video gaming and other forms of gaming) in the US each year. They also have critics who dislike their aggressive humour or object to their handling of controversies, including the notorious Dickwolves incident last year.

The byproduct of the mixed feelings about Penny Arcade appears to be both a rush of funds into the PA Kickstarter and a flourish of criticism about the effort. Of the former, the Kickstarter has already earned $US62,000 toward its first $US250,000 goal in just a few hours. Of the latter, frequent Penny Arcade critic Courtney Stanton tweeted citations from Kickstarter's terms of service that implied the project broke the crowd-funding site's standards.

The most salient part of Kickstarter's rules may be the part of their FAQ that states: "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. Learn more about our project guidelines."

Would the payment to Penny Arcade to keep the site going for a year in lieu of ads violate that?

"We spoke to Kickstarter ahead of time to make sure," Penny Arcade business manager Robert Khoo told Kotaku. "What it came down to was to pretend that no Penny Arcade existed, and what you were doing [by paying into the Kickstarter] was paying for a new comic strip for one year. The only difference is that we were coming from the flip side of that coin. Projects like this are already on the service, so we really didn't see this deviating from that."

If one of gaming culture's most popular sites hits their targets, they'll be ad-free. Visitors to their site will only see any signs of the the next Magic: The Gathering game elsewhere. Maybe in a Penny Arcade strip. Or in a Penny Arcade news article. But only if they think it's worth the attention.


    I really enjoy the PA site - I suspect the lovers outnumber the haters by a significant margin.

    I have ad blocker, problem solved.

    Considering the fact that there is no end product here, you think the rewards would be decent... apparently not.

    Shameless cashgrab

      It's pretty hard to call something a cash grab when your substituting one source of revenue for another, and the end product is an ad free PA. Yes you run ad blocker, but there are plenty of people out there that don't.

      I don't know about you but I run ad blocker because I hate ad's, not because I have a problem with the people who create the content I consume getting paid. This is a good way for me to support something I love without having to put up with the general unpleasantness of advertising.

      if you have an ad blocker than it's arguable to say that you're technically stealing from Penny Arcade (or any other sites that are advertising funded). Well done jackass.

        Pttth. No it's not.

          Well, yes, it is. Advertisers give their money based on the assumption someone will see the ads.

            How does that make it stealing? Sure advertisers give their money assuming someone will see the adds, but that doesn't make ignoring them stealing, if you walk around blindfolded through the city are you stealing from the billboard advertisers?

        Spot on

    How did Kickstarter even allow this? Some people have too much money to waste. Seriously $10 000 for lunch with 2 people and you have to get there yourself. They want $1 million to make their site ad free. How much have they even made from ads anyway? Terrible just terrible.

    They're not afraid of asking for the big bucks are they?

    I've been reading penny arcade for years, but there's no way I think they deserve that kind of money. I just don't see the value. Good luck to everyone who does though but they ain't gonna see a cent from me.

    What a joke.

    Instead of people simply ignoring banner ads at zero cost, they're asking to be funded by viewers rather than advertisers. Oh, and of course they couldn't afford $250k of their own money, considering they don't sell clothing, games, books, artwork, convention tickets, or anything else that would make them money. Oh wait...


    This is not a project. They are seeking to pay ongoing business expenses. Clear breach of Kickstarters terms and conditions.

    Yeh, this really goes against the spirit of these types of things. Kickstarters are there to help get ideas off the ground that we would otherwise never see due to people not having enough the funds. Helping to fund an already HUGE website(aka business) so that they can run ad free? No thanks guys.

    Money from ads sounds like free money to me already. I've hardly ever noticed the ads so I'd doubt I'd even notice if they're gone.

    Ugh. No thanks. I'd rather put money towards a worthy kick-starter project, like Brawl in the Family's book.

    *rant* That, and Penny Arcade isn't funny most of the time *rant end*

    It seems like a joke to me? I'm still not convinced it's real, it seems like their snarky sense of humour in full effect.

    I can understand not wanting to be associated with slimy advertisers, but it just seems a bit strange. Here's something that we provide for free already, but now we want you to pay for it, you'll still get (basically) the same thing though, only now it costs YOU money instead of advertisers.

    That sounds like the opposite of what it should be, much like how MMOs start out as a PAY-to-play service and THEN go FREE-to-play, this is the opposite.

    I still don't really get it?

    I think I'm about done with PA. I'll still visit their site because that's where Extra Credits lives now, but this kickstarter just reeks of arrogance. They could have made a subscription model and I'd be fine with it, but this is just them offering an opportunity for people to buy favours. You want Gabe to follow you on Twitter? NOW IS YOUR CHANCE. ONLY $300.

    They have a successful business and this is them just shamelessly cashing in on their popularity under the guise of venture capital to make their site 'better'. BECAUSE APPARENTLY HOSTING ADVERTISEMENTS JUST SAPS THEIR CREATIVITY SO MUCH. I thought this was why they had a business manager? Sure, Gabe draws some of the ads but that's his job.

    Between this, and the misguided attempt to "fix" gaming journlism via the hugely pretentious PA Report... my patience for these guys is wearing thin.

      They should have got Luke Plunkett/Brian Ashcraft in on some of that PA Report action.

    Not that I'm a huge fan of Penny Arcade, but I think a lot of you guys don't understand the inevitable decline of the value of advertising on free sites like PA, or Kotaku. With every passing month, these ads become less and less valuable, and so sites have to gather more and more page impressions. Its not a pretty picture.

    You've pointed out one of the main issues with online advertising in your own posts here: AdBlocker, that among many other things (the sheer number of ads, the myth that they are 'targetted' etc) means that increasingly the marketers aren't investing in them. Why should they when people like you, their target audience, can just switch them off?

    There are a lot of people who work at Penny Arcade, like them or not, and those people should get paid for the work they do. I know that as a freelancer, I want to write for sites with a freelance budget, which not all sites can afford. On top of this, the idea of being paid directly by your readers at least in part creates an environment where journalists can be more independent. I see criticism all the time of games reviewers who are accused of being 'paid by the publishers' sometimes directly, sometimes in the form of advertising (ie. they can't/won't review a game poorly if the publisher buys advertising space). So here's your chance to avoid that.

    Further reading, I am not just making this stuff up:

      That is some interesting insight, I hadn't given much thought to the 'value' of website advertising (i personally just ignore it, rather than go to the effort of using ad blocker), but it still seems like a really backwards move to me.

      It just feels like they are trying to get people to pay for something that they already give away for free. There's not really any question of impartiality, they make fun of everyone and don't let people advertise on their site if they don't agree with the business/product so it wouldn't actually affect the content directly whether the ads are there or not. The ads don't hinder the experience of their content either, unlike some android games where ads obscure part of the screen.

      I've seen the kickstarter page and have seen what they are offering in regards to rewards for backers at different price brackets, but it feels more like a different way to advertise a sale of their merch. Almost like they are holding their content (which they have previously given away for free) for ransom (I do realise that if it doesn't get funded nothing will change).

      If some other company had done this you can bet your ass they would have made a comic about it and ripped them to shreds.

        I'm looking at this in a wider context. Beyond PA, if this kind of thing is successful, maybe KotakuAU could create a subscription model? Maybe GameSpot would have a member's only section free of ads, with an extra feature editorial each week that non-paying customers don't see. It's an experiment whose time has definitely come. I'm not saying all sites should be Kickstarted, and not saying PA are doing it all perfectly, but they are trying *something* and that definitely needs to happen.

        "It just feels like they are trying to get people to pay for something that they already give away for free." This is the problem--just because it "feels" like they are giving content for free doesn't mean that's how the business model works. Farmers give their cattle food for free, but the food isn't their product and the cattle aren't the customers. Farmers, like ad-supported websites, sell the cattle/readers to abattoirs/advertisers for money. They just use the articles/food to keep readers/cattle around in order to sell them on.

        If we can get away from this model, the readers might again become the primary customers whose needs/interests are foremost in the writers/editors' minds, rather than split between readers and advertisers.

          That is an interesting (and slightly disturbing) analogy, although I'm not quite sure it's entirely fitting. I definitely understand what you mean by keeping readers around with articles and then using their readership to attract advertisers to the site, that makes perfect sense. However what I'm still hung up on is the fact that the overall experience (for me at least) would be almost exactly the same as it is now, but I have to pay for it (in theory).

          There is talk about reviving the podcast, or doing more comics, which is great, but their kickstarter page is almost entirely populated by information about removing ads. The stretch goals are all 'locked' as if they haven't even thought about them yet, hell they even teased a half finished drawing in the latest update, that's not much to go on, let alone put money in for. If they were really trying to push the aspect of removing ads>freeing up people>those people can now work on creative stuff I feel like they should have put more effort into what exactly those people would be doing, what would be instore for people who visit PA if this is successful, instead of having a bunch of screenshots of their website with the ads cut out.

          I'm still not entirely convinced, but i'm definitely not against it either but it is very intriguing to say the least. If anyone could do something like this PA could, that's for sure, and it looks like they are well on their way to realising it.

        Yeah, haven't they already ripped into some people for abusing crowdfunding by drawing on their large installed fanbase? I'm SURE they have.

    I'm not a fan of P.A (I'm also not a hater), but amen to this. It would be great to see this lead to more direct funding in the future if it's a success.

    I've got no problem with PA asking their readers to support them, I just think Kickstarter is the wrong platform for it. PA doesn't need to be 'kickstarted'. Surely they could run a campaign on their site for donations and crowd-fund their revenue without using a service that is really meant for new and emerging projects that really need that attention.

    It feels a bit like Cadbury setting up shop at the local sweets fundraiser.

      Ditto. I think offering a subscription service and removing ads for sponsors would have been the smart thing to do. The fact they've gone this route with only vague promises of what rewards are to be offered indicates to me they had no confidence that a subscription service would be sustainable.

      I understand their reasoning for experimenting with crowdsourcing funds to replace their advertising revenue, but they're just gone about it the wrong way. I mean, they'll get the support they need so from a business perspective they'll succeed and be rewarded, but I think they're cashing in a lot of goodwill, and turning a lot of people off.

    I think a subscription model would work better, honestly. Maybe they could keep the basic comic up for free, but all the extras (PATV, Extra credits, the daily blogs, forum access) could go for $10 a year or something. I would pay it. Not sure if I'd put money on this Kickstarter though. The ads don't bother me. PA usually only hosts ads relevant to gaming after all, and they're not nearly as obnoxious as say, Kotaku's ads...

      Yes they should just do what IGN does with IGN Prime give free games and betas remove ads and other stuff. PA want to do this every year. Does PA even make $1million from advertising a year?

      That would make sense to me, paying for extra content. Keeping the thrice weekly comic going but adding EXTRA stuff on top. For me paying to just take ads away just doesn't seem like enough of a draw for me to invest money, but cool new, exclusive content does.

    What a bunch of wankers those PA guys are.

    I think if they want to do this, they should be upfront and disclose where the money goes, how much they earn etc. Investing in kickstarter makes you a stakeholder and as such probably deserve to know what's going to happen, at least that's how I've been treated by the ones I've invested in (Shadowrun, Wasteland 2, Pebble watch).

      Yeah, the fact that they've teased the possibility of a Lookouts comic at $500k but have stretch goals up to $1.4million is a bit of a joke.

    Meh, PA grew too big for their sneakers a long time ago, this is a further example.
    What's that old saying about pride before the fall? Because ooh boy that's gonna be entertaining when it happens...

    Penny Arcade can do what they like with their website and revenue stream; I stopped visiting their dick jokes a long time ago. However, I disagree with their use of Kickstarter to achieve their goal - especially when we all know they love to bash anyone who uses Kickstarter and have publicly demonstrated that dislike. For example:

    But, Penny Arcade are dicks. What did any of us really expect from them, anyway?

    I'm sorry but this is the dumbest idea for Kickstarter yet. Frankly if I was an advertiser on their website I'd pull my ads immediately out of spite for their arrogance.

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