A while back, if asked what my favorite video game cite was I would have said The Escapist in a heartbeat. With shows from Bob Chipman, Jim Sterling, James Portnow and Dan Floyd and their various artist, I could not have been happier with the sites line up. In fact, I was so happy I did something I’ve rarely ever done: I turned off AdBlacker. Even though I hate ads I wanted to make sure that these great content creators were going to be paid for their work. But as of right now, none of them are at The Escapist. Instead, they’ve taken to Patreon, and I think we’re all better for it.
While most people who try talking about “ethics in games journalism” today are really more interested in harassing women, people of color or anyone who liked “Gone Home”, there always was one question that I felt had some weight behind it: can you really give an honest review to a product when it’s makers are playing your bills? While there is still some debate around this topic, on a purely consumer front it is somewhat difficult to ask that we believe in the integrity of a game review when right before it we’re watching an ad for the game in question. With so many of the ads on game sites being for games, and knowing how petty some developers and publishers (let’s be honest, it’s mostly the publishers) can be, it’s easy to see how a negative review could lead to ads being pulled, meaning lost revenue for the site. Whether or not this is the wide spread epidemic some say it is is unknown to me. But the fact is, the Patreon model makes this irrelevant.
Back in May, 2013 Laura Kate and two others founded indieHaven, a news and review site focusing only on indie games. The site is still going today, funded totally by Patreon; they make $0 based off of ad revenue. Unfortunately they only make around $55 a mouth through their 15 backers (I will be making a post promoting them, by the way). While this may not seem like something to boast about, let me ask you this: how long do you think IGN would last if their core audience when down to 15 people tomorrow? You need to regularly be pulling in thousands if not millions of views to make a living off an ad based platform. While I’m sure no one at indieHave would object to making more money, the fact is the Patreon model allowed them to create the content they want and give it to an audience who wants it regardless of the size of that audience. This is the kind of thing the game journalism industry needs more of.
But as much as I love the work the team at indieHaven are doing, I wouldn’t say that this is “the Future of Video Game Journalism” if they were the only example I had. Asking the entirety of games journalist to work for $55 a month would be unsustainable, I get that. Luckily not all creators have the rotten luck indieHaven has (for real people, go help there guys out. They deserve it), and have found a rather large audience willing to contribute. The Extra Credits team uses the platform to fund their “Extra History” show (one of their only non-gaming related shows), and are making $11,000 a month. Greg Miller and his team (who all quit working at IGN) are making over $20,000 for their “Kinda Funny” webshow, and Jim Sterling is making over $10,000.
The fact is, most of these are outlier and likely not indicative of the averaged Patreon user, but this platform gives creators an avenue to make a living while only being answerable to those who want the content. This means that creators can focus on creating the content they want rather than trying to trying to make that content marketable.
This is, in my opinion, where the future of video game journalism should be headed. But as it is with all things, the system isn’t perfect. Just like with the ad-based model, limited views and followers means that consistently creating quality content isn’t enough to make a living off this model as the indieHaven example shows. And speaking as someone who can hardly afford the games I play, it can be hard for some of us to give cash where as watching a 30 second commercial allows us to contribute to our favorite creators in some way. The way I try to handle this is by spreading information about my favorite creators and letting others know about their Patreon campaign, but this doesn’t always help. My promotion for Laura Kate and Chandra Free’s Patreons when largely ignored, but my promotion for Bob Chipman and Jim Sterling (two rather well known figures already) are still getting views.
This model isn’t perfect, but I do feel it is better than the currant ad-based system most games cites are working with today. Not only does it free the content creators from the fear of losing ad revenue, but it also makes the experience better for us on the consumer side, as no one likes sitting through ads (unless I’m watching movie previews in the cinema. Those I like). I’m sure there are other advantages and disadvantages I didn’t talk about, so feel free to discus in the comments.