In the first week of 2015, IGN veterans Greg Miller and Colin Moriarty left the gaming site.
For some time the duo – along with producers Tim Gettys and Nick Scarpino – had been working on their side project, Kinda Funny. It was essentially the four of them talking to the camera about everything and anything, except content that would clash with IGN. To fund this, the team had turned to new crowdfunding site Patreon.
Much like Kickstarter, Patreon lets consumers give creators money for content. But rather than donating a lump sum at the start, fans pay money on a monthly basis.
The day before we launched our first Patreon for Kinda Funny we were speculating about how much we'd make. We made $10,000 in the first day,” Miller says.
So not only does the audience enjoy our content. They were willing to support us knowing we had full time jobs at IGN. Most of them donated even though we weren't doing the content they wanted us to do.”
The team had a great deal of support, and wanted to be able to talk to their fans about games, films and comics, among other things. So they quit their jobs at IGN and started a second Patreon to fund a spin-off to Kinda Funny, the similarly titled Kinda Funny Games.
"I'd rather entrust my career to my audience than
some suits who don't care if I live or die, and don't
understand the games media."
Jim Sterling, The Jimquisition
The team are in esteemed company. Last year Jim Sterling of Destructoid and The Escapist fame turned to the platform to fund gaming website The Jimquisition, while the likes of freelance journalists Matt Lees and Cara Ellison also use the platform.
While initially nervous about Patreon, Sterling decided to take the leap.
The games media is a scary place. Layoffs happen pretty regularly. You can wake up one morning without a job,” he tells MCV.
I'd rather entrust my career to an audience that's been with me and supported me for years than entrust it to a bunch of people in suits who don't care if I live or die and don't understand the games media industry.
That was a big factor of me turning to Patreon, because I fear the money side is creeping more into the editorial side. As I said when I first announced my Patreon, I don't want to have to bring an episode of the Jimquisition to people thanks to the great taste of Mountain Dew.”
For freelance journalist Matt Lees, Patreon was a chance to be free from the monetisation cycle and to not worry about ad revenue.
Mostly it came down to fatigue from dealing with the traditional process,” he says.
Make a popular video. Make it a series. Get it sponsored. Get more views. Get more money. There's a horrid tendency to fixate on popularity rather than small but solid fanbases. The numbers you need to make real money on YouTube are silly, which led to this bizarre industry-wide mindset that 10,000 viewers wasn't worth anything. It was grim, I hated it, and I wanted to see if I could prove that it was wrong.”
Not everyone is a fan, though. When the Kinda Funny staff left IGN, there were vocal critics on Twitter about the move. And other journalists have faced similar scorn.
Some people get angry about the amount of money you make, as if everybody is paying that amount rather than a few dollars here and there,” Sterling says.
This is the free market working at its most efficient. It's very much a case of ‘I have made this product, it can only exist if there's a need for it and people are willing to pay the money to show that demand'.”
Right now, Kinda Funny and The Jimquisition are making huge amounts of money from Patreon. At the time of writing, Sterling has 3,041 patrons donating a total of $9,908 a month, while Kinda Funny has 3,628 backers and $18,400 in donations per month, and Kinda Funny Games has 3,967 fans providing $21,000 each month. But consumers have a finite pot of money, so common sense dictates this money will quickly fall away. And Miller is already looking to a time when Patreon won't be Kinda Funny's main source of income.
There have been people saying Patreon isn't sustainable, and that we are in for a rude awakening. They are right, if that was our only revenue stream,” he says.
Patreon is the biggest source of income for Kinda Funny now, and that's great. These people are investing in us right now as a seedling. They're nurturing us now so that we can grow into the mighty Deku Tree. At some point the switch is going to flip when the revenue we are bringing in from ads is outpacing what we make
on Patreon. We don't want the lion's share of support to be on our fans forever.”
But Sterling is more bullish, and feels more secure in his job than ever before thanks to Patreon.
I see it as no less a potentially sustainable business than what I was doing before,” he says.
When we talk about the finite pot of money, that's true of Defy Media who own The Escapist, it's true of CBS who owns GameSpot and Giant Bomb, it's true of Ziff Davis, who owns IGN.
I feel more secure with Patreon currently than I have done up until now in my career. The internet is full of people willing to support things they care about.”
"People have been saying that Patreon isn't
sustainable and that we're in for a rude awakening. They are
right, if it was our only revenue stream."
Greg Miller, Kinda Funny
And along with the change in funding, going independent and not being affiliated with any gaming site begs the question whether these people are journalists, or media personalities. Lees is unsure about his position within the media.
Trying to work out where I fit in the games media venn diagram is probably my biggest headache. I'm not a journalist - yet sometimes I behave like one,” he says.
Mostly I focus on comedy and entertainment, and even though I started off trying to just be a really good critic I'd be lying to myself if I claimed things hadn't changed. People follow you because they like your work, and then they just end up liking you. When you realise that you can upload a video of you explaining how to cook an omelette - and that's just deemed to be a really cool thing - it's impossible to resist the allure of just doing whatever the hell you want.”
But Sterling doesn't think this distinction matters anymore.
I never considered myself a games journalist to beg