Candied, crushed sago't gulaman
Penny Arcade, the little video game webcomic that could turned industry influencer, began a Kickstarter last week to bring back their old 2006 “Downloadable Content” podcast and make it a regular pay-what-you-want feature. Their massive clout and presumably a wealth of resources available to them notwithstanding, what really makes this endeavor a controversial issue is their decision to set their goal to a measly $10.
Penny Arcade’s actions baffle me to no end. Here they are, with one of the most popular gaming-related websites around, in charge of several games conventions, and run a successful charity. And yet here they are, on Kickstarter again, asking for money to fund… a podcast.
Sure, some podcasts cost money to produce — many of the best podcasts are live-recorded, with professional equipment. Kickstarting a podcast isn’t unheard of either. But this is Penny Arcade we’re talking about. They don’t need the money.
To further drive the point home, all they’re asking for is a measly ten dollars, proving that this Kickstarter means… absolutely nothing. They say on the page that they’re using the Kickstarter to “gauge interest”, but that could just as easily be done, I don’t know, on their own site?
As I write this, the project’s been funded to the tune of USD 84,515. That’s nearly three and a half million pesos. To fund a podcast. And the thing about Kickstarter is, they can’t just funnel that money towards charity– it’s against the rules. I have no idea what they’re going to do with the money (the reward tiers are asinine, completely going against the ten-dollar goal; the stretch goals are absurd as well), but this whole affair just plain stinks.
Penny Arcade’s the real deal. Back in the early 2000s, they were pretty much the little gaming webcomic that could. Tycho and Gabe, through hard work and wry antics, became the posterboys of a burgeoning Internet-based gaming scene. Through the years, they’ve scribbled and lampooned their way into the hearts of the gaming-conscious masses and what do they have to show for it? A decade’s worth of comic strips, two annual conventions, three licensed video games, a charity, a reality TV show, etc. etc.
They are stand up guys.
Their latest stunt though. Man. Dodgy at first glance. But if you really think about it: it may seem dickish… but it’s not. They didn’t lie to their backers. It’s all on paper. They didn’t shoot a video of their kid playing video games and tell the world that said kid needs money to make video games. The parameters of their project are all up to Kickstarter snuff. What they did was just use this incredibly popular crowdfunding site and transmogrified it into a pay-what-you-want platform. They kept the goal at $10, with the assurance that even if only one dude backed them, the podcast will be made.
Basically, they never needed your money. They just wanted it.
But that’s totally up to you if you want to donate, isn’t it?
The problem here doesn’t lie with Penny Arcade. They are not at fault–they may be self-contradicting oppressed nerd stereotypes who’ve grown up to be asshole bullies themselves, but they didn’t do anything wrong here. They worked well within the regulations of Kickstarter. They submitted all of the necessary paperwork, sacrificed all the necessary virgins. They stated their intentions clearly with very little cackling. So stay your dung pies, young Undead (I have been playing Dark Souls extensively these past few days).
The problem is the people’s relationship with Kickstarter. When it was just starting out, the Internet’s collective consciousness set this precedent that Kickstarter will be the indiest of all indie things. A bohemian bazaar where the 99% can help each other reach their goals. Look at my crazy quilt made of stitched up cats! It’s going pretty well but I need more cats. Pay me so I can hunt cats and finish this quilt. You’ll get an extra-furry section if I reach 50 buuuuucks~
Bottom line: Kickstarter has always been a capitalist construct. It’s not a guerrilla faction staging precision strikes against corporate avarice. That’s a fantasy we’ve concocted for ourselves. Seeing all of our old vidya revived by their old developers wound us up and touched all of our pleasure bits. Things we wanted to see streamed across our monitors, making us view the site as some kind of startup Messiah. It’s not. It’s a buzzword. It’s a soapbox. Sure, Kickstarter has done a lot of good for indie devs, but when Terms of Services violations, baldfaced lies, and Zach Braff seep through, the cracks start to show.
Calm your tits, girls. It’s not that big a deal. When Kickstarter came out, it had that hip and indie vibe. It promised to cut out the middlemen, the businessmen and producers behind the capitalist machine. Through the site, you can give a leg up to whichever down-on-their-luck upstart you think has the most potential. You can be part of someone’s success story, be one with a community, and enjoy the fruits of someone else’ labor at minimal cost. Everybody wins.
Likewise, Penny Arcade has thrived on this sort of imagined community. Like Job said, it’s the gaming comic that could. It’s our comic. We made Gabe and Tycho internet celebrities, avatars for the ideal gamers. We kept checking their weekly updates. We held writer Holkins and illustrator Krahulik on our shoulders until they could give up their day jobs and dedicate the rest of their forever making us chuckle mildly. We did that.
Because if we’re completely honest, what is groundbreaking about three-paneled buddy conversations that end with a punchline? Don’t get me wrong– I love me some PA, but precisely because it is unabashedly exclusionary. They drop specific video game culture-based jargon like peanuts for you and me to gobble up, and we enjoy it. We get it. We’re in on the joke.
That’s the internet fallacy at work right there, gentlemen. Just because we can talk to each other across timezones doesn’t make us a community. Just because we were with PA from the start doesn’t meant they owe us anything. Least of all an imagined ethical code about asking and receiving money.
Kickstarter isn’t the first business that’s tried to scam people out of chump change. Middlemen or not, this is capitalism, son. It’s about taking risks and investments, the bear and the bull, the boom and the bust.
And the folks at PA are ballsy enough to admit that they’re looking for a handout for nothing. Whether or not they make any money, they’ll probably still do the podcast. Despite this, people still give them money. Penny Arcade is literally receiving the love they (or we) think they deserve.
Is it unseemly? Sure. Is it wrong? Not really.
We already talked about how video game websites can get their fans, the people who actually consume what these sites are producing, to keep them afloat in the previous Co-Op Ed. This whole thing with Penny Arcade’s podcast Kickstarter is just the logical extension of that. Obviously Kickstarter itself has no problem with what Holkins and Krahulik proposed seeing as how the campaign has been approved and is still up and running. Of course, the folks at Kickstarter getting a 5% cut of the total funds probably factors into it!
Frankly speaking though, I don’t see anyone being coerced into handing over their money so that “Tycho and Gabe” can shoot the shit about whatever. If the Penny Arcade loyalists find that giving $10 or $10,000 is absolutely worth it, I’ve got no problem with that. Let them do what they want with their own money. The guys at Penny Arcade were just business savvy enough to identify the hype a Kickstarter would bring plus the surplus of cash that they get to keep to fund other projects (and probably pay some bills and the 13 or so employees they have).
Kickstarter actually had a post on their blog tackling the recent issue with the Zach Braff and Veronica Mars campaigns, and it brought up some good numbers showing how these high-profile Kickstarters actually helped bring more attention and money to less popular campaigns. Stuff like this happening apparently has a trickle-down effect! I find this a better business model than relying on ads where the content dictators are faceless corporations only concerned with the bottom-line. Let the people decide.