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Big Ideas: Can Penny Arcade last?

The guys at Penny Arcade hardly need any introduction, but because I'm a completist, I'll just run the basics down here. The Penny Arcade webcomic launched in 1998 on the now-defunct loonygames.com website. Since then, the brand has become a wildly successful website, spawning its own charity (Child's Play), gaming expo (Penny Arcade Expo, or PAX), and video game series (On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness).

Perhaps the best example of how to succeed on the Internet, Gabe and Tycho (as their real-life counterparts Michael Krahulik and Jerry Holkins) have accomplished the amazing feat of growing from tiny personal project into respected, influential gamer mainstay. Yet no matter how big they seem, they manage to keep their indie credentials, somehow representing the Everyman (or Everygamer) with no conflict. This begs the question: How long can they keep it up?

The Penny Arcade business entity seems to solely consist of Gabe and Tycho (founders and creators), Robert Khoo (Director of Business Development), and Kiko Villaseñor, Staff Graphic Designer. Though an exact figure has never been mentioned, revenue from the site and related merchandise sales is probably easily in the low six figures annually, if not higher. Loved nearly universally, the PA guys could probably get away with charging a monthly subscription to their site and no one would grumble. It wouldn't be too much of a stretch of the imagination to believe that game companies solicit their advice during game development, and it's been mentioned on their sporadically-appearing podcast that they get sent games to review. Despite their vast influence, they're still seen as just a couple of guys who do a regular webcomic.

So it seems that they have the perfect job. They get to say whatever they want through their comic (early dust-up with the American Greetings Corporation notwithstanding), play video games all day, rub shoulders with famous game, comics, and musical artists, and get paid to do it. They've had respectable success with their own video game, and put on PAX every year with plans to expand to Boston. They just keep getting bigger and bigger, and the sky's the limit. So, can it possibly last?

This sort of story tends to end badly, with the once-strong friendship degenerating into a squabbling, vindictive argument over who's more influential, and who needs the other less. Indeed, on many occasions the podcast has featured conversations between Jerry and Mike on that very topic, with Jerry mentioning that if Mike died, he'd just find a new artist and carry on. Mike, in his turn, has expressed more than once that he feels like he does all the work for the strip, going so far as to say that if he didn't initiate the creative process, it might never start. In interviews with outside press, the duo repeatedly make comments regarding their disdain for each other, and that they don't interact with each other outside of the time when they work together on the strip or on other projects. Now sure, it's probably all in good fun, but consider that they've been together now for over 10 years. Many successful partnerships have dissolved more quickly than that ...

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