Mobile Games Website Uses Patreon, Things Get Messy

Mobile Games Website Uses Patreon, Things Get Messy

It's not easy to make money running a video game website. In June 2015, popular mobile outlet TouchArcade said it was having cash problems and asked for help, and lots of people did — including mobile developers. But recently, following a mixed game review, one developer decided to pull their funding. "We could load the site up with the same obnoxious advertising you see on most other sites these days," said TouchArcade EIC Eli Hodapp last year. "We could start doing sponsored posts, as we're always being asked to publish those. Or we could do a number of other really nasty things which have become 'normal' for sites trying to survive. The problem with all these possibilities is that they all come with the significant drawback of making TouchArcade worse for our readers."

Hodapp and TouchArcade turned to Patreon, an increasingly popular service to help fund creatives. (Gaming critics Jim Sterling and Greg Miller's Kinda Funny group helped achieve independence using Patreon.) Funding was a success, eventually getting as high as $US9127.55, according to tracking site Graphtreon.

TouchArcade never quite hit $US10,000, which the site described as "operating without worrying about needing to do anything crazy to keep the lights on".

Unfortunately, contributions have declined in the last few months, with enormous dips in both December and January. (Side note: not long ago, Patreon recalculated how funds are displayed, resulting in an across-the-board dip for how much it looked like most were making.) Most recently, the nearly $US1000 funding drop came as the result of one specific backer pulling out: a developer.

Mobile Games Website Uses Patreon, Things Get Messy

On January 18, TouchArcade reviewed 8-bit platformer Venture Kid as 3.5 out of 5, concluding the FDG Entertainment game was "entertaining, but unspectacular".

Venture Kid is unquestionably a decent game, a platformer that's entertaining enough if you were curious about it. There are far better retro tributes and original platformers, and Venture Kid never really gets past the "Hey, remember Mega Man" stage of being a good platformer.

Only a day later, FDG publicly announced it was pulling support for TouchArcade's Patreon, saying it was "not an easy decision" but deciding "it's not a good idea to support a game review oriented site as a developer and publisher" because "there'll always be a subtle feel of editors being biased".

The statement, penned by FDG co-founder Thomas Kern, claimed the move had nothing to do with Venture Kid's score and everything to do with transparency.

LONEWOLF, one of our new games was recently chosen as 'Game of the Week' and we've been very happy about it. Unfortunately, since we've been a Top Patreon supporter, the coverage had to come with a disclaimer explaining this fact, saying that journalism is in no way influenced. For many readers this goes without saying but we also heard multiple doubts and there's always this stale taste when positive news can only come with a disclaimer. In a subtle way it's discrediting our work.

One week later, our new game Venture Kid got a review score of 3.5 stars. Obviously a bad score, because the review didn't come with a disclaimer. So yeah - in this case, it was not necessary. We could go even further and say: this review makes an example that Toucharcade is not biased. And here's the dilemma on a different perspective. We believe Venture Kid is a fine example of a mobile action platformer and delivers a lot of fun at just $.99. We can't stop but having a stale taste when reading the review. Did it get a worse score to make an example ? Of course not, but we're not having peace in our minds.

Kern concluded by encouraging others to support TouchArcade's Patreon, but it set off a fiery back-and-forth between the community and the site's editors, including EIC Eli Hodapp.

Mobile Games Website Uses Patreon, Things Get Messy

Kern seemed to take the review personally, remarking in the TouchArcade comments for Venture Kid that he had to walk away "so [he] can stop crying".

Trying to push back on criticisms that FDG's move was vindictive, Kern said they previously "already had a 3.5 star review during our Patreon support".

"We continue to support Toucharcade with ads for new releases," said Kern, "a healthy relationship between dev and press. As Philipp [Doeschl, another FDG co-founder] says the market is tough for both developer and press and we need to do what is healthy for our business and relationships."

Everyone seems to have a point in this uncomfortable mess.

It's understandable why a developer financially backed TouchArcade — mobile games don't get the same level of coverage on other sites, including Kotaku. It's also understandable why Kern and FDG would want some distance between themselves and TouchArcade. And it's definitely understandable why TouchArcade would question why this move comes right after a less-than-glowing review.

I spoke with Hodapp about this incident, and while he expressed concern over the Patreon numbers, he said TouchArcade's financial eggs aren't in a single basket, and the website has been working hard to ensure it's making money elsewhere. In other words, Patreon dipping won't mean the end of TouchArcade.

The lesson here? Running websites and selling mobile games really sucks.


Comments

    Brave new world.

    Patreon/crowd-funding in general just needs to be as transparent as possible, when possible.

    The Sterling/Miller route isn't, for example. They regularly get chummy with other outlets at E3/PAX/etc /because/ their business models still cannot factor in such expensive and tightly-wound periods on the gaming calendar.

    But, thanks to PK and Kotaku for featuring this, there's a lot of shifting sands at the moment and anybody who says they have it figured out ARE LYING TO YOU.

    The lesson is not a lot of people give a shit about mobile games and a site dedicated to them is not a viable business.

      Apparently people do though considering how lucrative the mobile gaming market is.

        I think the issue is though, the mobile gaming market may not need an entire review site. Generally, mobile games are purchased in an app store with it's own built in review system. People seem happy enough with user submitted reviews.

        In addition, costs are low and download sizes are small so if I spend $1,29 on a 15MB file then don't like it, no big deal. There also isn't massive marketing for most mobile games, like a console/PC game or movie, so the general public isn't hyped and desperate for a review.

    Wait, Patreon money is basically a donation. No matter the reason that motivated it, NO ONE has the right to be upset when someone else decides to stop giving them money for free. I'm sorry, but I'm on the developer's side on this one.

      Where in this article is toucharcade being unreasonable or upset though? If anything it seems like the developers are. Toucharcade is just curious why the developers removal of support comes at the time after they gave the game an average review.

        Fair enough, maybe upset is not the word, but disappointed and a bit suspicious. Either way, not that person's place.

    Toucharcade is a great site. They provide in depth reviews on a lot of good mobile games, tech, etc. that is not really found on other gaming sites. The forums are quite active too, and so are the podcasts and other live coverages on the main site.
    So its pretty sad to hear that they might not be a thing in the future.

    Last edited 21/01/16 7:03 pm

    I have been going to the touch arcade website since I got my iphone 4, its a shame they have had to rely on this system, I hope they don't go away as it was the best way for me to find out about what games had come out

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