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Penny Arcade and Steam turn to crowdsourcing

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"The future belongs to crowds."  - Don DeLillo, Mao II

If the 20th century version of video game marketing is attempting to observe what customers wanted, than the 21st has become a time about flat-out asking them.

Steam, Valve's online gaming store and community hub, announced "Greenlight," a crowdsourcing-inspired move aimed at letting the users have more say in what games are available to buy and play on the service.

"The community should be deciding what gets released," Valve announced. "After all, it's the community that will ultimately be the ones deciding which release they spend their money on."

However, when users select or heavily influence a marketplace in such a direct way, there's a danger that pandering to the majority and populism will dilute what kinds of games actually end up on Steam.

How can users really decide whether a game should be made available just on its early assets and information? Certainly screenshots, short videos and bullet points can give a player a rough idea of what the game is, but ultimately it may be difficult to merge the democracy of crowdsourcing with the meritocracy that would allow for the best games to come to the forefront.

Penny Arcade, the micro empire built on the foundation of a gaming comic strip, has also recently launched a crowdsourced project on Kickstarter, but it's not for creating anything new.

In a move somewhat revolutionary for the format, Penny Arcade is asking for donations to remove ads from its site. Donators can "unlock" different levels of ad removal based on how far past their goal the total pot reaches. With about a month to go, the "Penny Arcade Sells Out" campaign has already eclipsed $200,000 in donations.

What Penny Arcade has done brings the spirit of the public television pledge drive into the realm of gaming and entertainment. Similar campaigns have been done in the past to alleviate the advertising burden both on the outlet and the consumer, but "Penny Arcade Sells Out" is an incredibly direct way to address the problem.

The reason it's so revolutionary is that if it works, it could open the floodgates for many different sites to try the same thing. If there is one thing everyone wrestles with when it comes to producing online media, it's trying to make money and keep content quality high and relevant.

An entertainment or news site that has a large following could potentially make their advertising quotas without having to worry about publishing content just to chase pageviews and subsequently ad dollars.

Just like everything else on Kickstarter though, the system is slanted toward products that already have some level of a following or are championed by a major influencer. but when the decision is left of to pure democracy, shockingly what's popular already often wins the popular vote.

The internet, and particularly the gaming community, has shown that it can use its collective forces for more than just harping and moaning. It is not a surprise that of the top four Kickstarter projects of all time, three are video games.

Kickstarter is a hot topic of discussion in the gaming world, but as far as crowdfunding goes most video games are small potatoes. Games projects (including board games, of which there are few) are just the 6th-most launched project type on the crowdfunding site, according to Kickstarter's own live stats.

The projects that create a stir in the community or have a known entity attached seem to have as limitless a ceiling as any type of crowdfunding project.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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