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 $250,000 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 cartoonists had mocked the Kickstarter funding craze in a a strip in May 2011, but now say they see this as a variation on their old reader-donations model of keeping their site afloat.
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 $250,000, they say they'll be able to eliminate their site's top banner ads for all of 2013. For $525,000, they'll cut all front-page ads. For $999,999 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 U.S. each year. They also have critics who dislike their aggressive humor 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 $62,000 toward its first $250,000 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.