Penny Arcade Creators

For editorial operations like the one you’re reading right now, advertising is a necessary evil. But what happens if you cut the advertiser out of the equation?

That’s the question webcomic Penny Arcade (along with its game editorial site, Penny Arcade Report) aims to answer with a recently launched Kickstarter campaign to completely strip advertisements from its website.

“You remember when we ran the site on donations?” Penny Arcade illustrator Mike Krahulik asks in the campaign video. “We thought it was begging — we just didn’t know it was crowdfunding. We were ahead of the game,” he said.

Kickstarter has funded more than a few campaigns by webcomic creators over the past few years, but Penny Arcade isn’t like most other webcomics. Having published for 14 years, it’s one of the Internet’s most well-known comics. And when the Penny Arcade team makes a move, lots of people pay attention.

The site’s popularity and loyal fanbase also puts it in a unique position to conduct experiments like the Kickstarter campaign, which has some lofty goals. At $250,000, Penny Arcade will remove its top banner advertisement, and at $525,000 it will also remove all the advertisements from its homepage. But the real goal is $1 million, which, if reached, will allow Penny Arcade to remove every ad from the site.

To get there, Penny Arcade is offering contributors a bunch of rewards — some as small as a simple thank you and others as large as an in-person lunch with the creators.

While Kickstarter caps individual donations at $10,000, Penny Arcade also offers gifts for larger, off-menu pledges. Got $100,000 to spare? Penny Arcade will create an original strip featuring your likeness. That’s not the type of opportunity that comes around often.

Things are looking pretty good for the campaign so far. At the time this post was published, Penny Arcade  has already raised $162,446 from 2,319 backers.

So, while there’s little doubt that the campaign will reach at least some its goals, the big question is this: What will Penny Arcade do without the burden of advertisements and page views, web advertising’s ever-demanding offspring? The team has some interesting ideas.

“Why not populate the RSS with full comics and posts? Why not enable and even encourage apps, first- and third-party, for people to read it however they damn well please?” they proposed in the video.

The result is Penny Arcade as commodity: The content will just be free, and the team will be able to focus more on readers — not advertisers. Penny Arcade calls that selling out, but for loyal readers, it’s selling out of the very best kind.

“We intend to be a company that succeeds by making things, specifically things for [readers], and are orienting ourselves toward that goal,” the team writes on the campaign page.

While Penny Arcade has been a beloved webcomic for over a decade, some of the company’s most interesting moves haven’t been illustrated. In February, the site launched Penny Arcade Report, a games coverage site that’s scooped up industry veteran Ben Kuchera to head up coverage. The company also runs Penny Arcade Expo, it’s gaming festival series that attracts 70,000 fans a year.

Put in that context perhaps the company’s latest effort isn’t the biggest surprise. Either way, it will still be interesting to watch how a crowd-sourced web publication operates in our increasingly web ad-focused times.