Monday, February 23, 2015
First Up - The Patreon Thing
A few years ago Kickstarter really turned into a huge thing, especially for game companies. There have been hits and misses, but it does seem to have opened up some options for getting some projects done that would not have been done before this.
I think 2014-2015 marks the explosion for Patreon, as it seems like over the last few months a whole bunch of people with blogs and podcasts that I follow have felt the need to ask strangers for money - on an ongoing basis. They all are quick to note that it's only a few dollars a month/ pennies per post/ a dollar per podcast/ some other kind of awesome bargain. That's technically true, but if I throw in "only a few dollars per month" across 15-20 sites/blogs/podcasts that I like, well, it's not so minuscule an expenditure now is it? To me this introduces an element of competition between these sites where a potential contributor is only going to contribute $X to Patreon each month. I wonder how that will work out over time?
This isn't a new thing, but it's a new way of doing this particular thing but I have to say that I haven't noticed any particular jump in quality or awesomeness in the places that do this. There are some that seem to spend a fair amount of effort setting up a walled-off set of content for those who pay, but that changes things from the "tip jar" approach to more of a subscription model and anecdotal-ly it does not seem to last all that long. I see it as changing the relationship from "hey we're all doing this for fun" to "I am a customer" and I have not seen that to be a positive change in really any case I can think of offhand.
In contrast, Evil Hat uses their Patreon program to publish new adventures and in that case it works like a sort of ongoing Kickstarter. I like that approach as there is a tangible result from their approach. I haven;t always been bowled over by the results, but I like the general idea.
I suspect the reason an optional payment approach works is because if payment was required most people would move on to another site/blog/cast. The barrier to entry is zero, and there's always another hopeful hobbyist out there. Some get noticed, some don't, but there is just so much that if you're going to charge for your stuff it better be notably better than what's out there for free.
To clarify, I am rarely against people trying to make money off of something they like to do. If you can do it, why not? I'm just not convinced this is a truly workable approach for anything other than the tip jar type of funding. Maybe that's enough in some cases, but it seems pretty limiting to me. Traditionally making money making something and then selling it for a profit. A lot of these creative efforts revolve around a game or some other property that is owned by someone else, so you can't make money directly from the effort. Patronage programs allow for an end run around that. I can't make and sell a Star Wars book or game my self, but I can make a Star Wars podcast or Warcraft YouTube channel or a Trek blog and stick a link to my Patreon page up at the top and try to make some money that way.
As for me, well, I'm not signing up for any kind of Patreon anything for now. I get the occasional fund raiser drive to get new microphones for a podcast or to upgrade a server for a site I like, and I have contributed to them in the past. Maybe it's having a specific, achievable goal that makes the difference for me. The constant year-round open-ended request for money that is Patreon though, no, I'm not a fan of that.