Editor’s Letter: Penny Arcade and the Abuse of Kickstarter

Editor’s Letter is a series of ongoing articles on the state of PSLS, its future and the future of the industry as a whole.

The idea behind Kickstarter is a beautiful one – it’s about the democratization of investment, about allowing the man in the basement with the dream to create an everlasting toothbrush to put his theory to the test. It’s not an iTunes preorder page.

Back in the summer of 2012, mega-popular games comic site Penny-Arcade took to Kickstarter to raise enough money to not have any ads on the site for a year, ultimately drawing in $528,144. It was a controversial move, especially as the site sells a lot of T-shirts and other merchandise, has comparatively lower overheads and runs immensely popular expos every year. But I wasn’t opposed to it: ads can be annoying, they do take up website space, and they don’t make as much money as they used to. But now, sadly, the site has taken it too far, completely defeating the point of Kickstarter, insulting their fans and the industry.

PA have launched another Kickstarter, less than a year after the first one, for a podcast. Ok, fine, depending on the type of podcast, money may be required – actors, equipment, flights etc… although it doesn’t seem like ‘Downloadable Content‘ uses such things.

The money they’ve asked for? $10.

They are openly saying that they don’t actually need money, they just want it. If just one person had pledged $10, they would have been able to make the podcast perfectly fine, unlike actual honest-to-goodness projects like Ouya or Double Fine’s game, where every dollar was desperately needed.

Penny-Arcade is using Kickstarter to get money out of people because they are large and popular, but that’s not what Kickstarter is for. It’s to help ‘kickstart’ the little guy who can’t normally get money. Large and popular organizations don’t need Kickstarter to squeeze money out of people because that’s already what they do.

In the Q&A segment of the KS, it says:

Why is your goal only $10?

We basically wanted it to be pay what you want. People have been telling us to make this stuff for years, it was never about the goal. 

Dear god. First off, it’s not ‘pay what you want’, because you only receive podcasts if you pay $10 or more. Pay what you want starts at $0.00 or $0.01. Secondly, if people have been telling you for years to make it, then make it, you’re already planning to charge for it. Kickstarter shouldn’t be used as a hyping platform for established brands, because then what’s the point? That’s what iTunes, Amazon and Google Play are for.

Kickstarter shouldn’t allow this, they shouldn’t allow projects that ask for ludicrously low sums like $10 as it shows they don’t need investment. But they do allow it, of course, because it’s already raised $62,650 and KS gets a cut. Penny-Arcade fans may say that it doesn’t matter, and that they’re the ones choosing to support the page. Sadly, projects like this being approved is what could end Kickstarter, as investors see the dissolution of the beautiful idea.

‘Investors’ are being called on to buy products rather than to help ensure they can be made. The floodgates have been opened, and if Kickstarter doesn’t reverse this trend it will be just another retailer with every large company using it to shovel their wares while the little guy is once again left wondering what happened. Kickstarter is not a market, or a marketing tool, it’s a platform for funding creation.

Honestly, I’m too tired, too sick, of the avarice that grips this industry to be able to write succinctly and end with a bang. If only there was someone to help me: