On Penny Arcade, Exploitation, and the Myth of the Do-Everything Rock Star
A couple of my friends pointed out this absurd LinkedIn post from the gentleman behind the actual monetary success of the popular webcomic Penny Arcade, Robert Khoo. Here it is in full — http://www.linkedin.com/jobs2/view/9887522?trk=job_nov — but allow me to summarize:
"We want someone who can code well in multiple front-end and back-end languages, maintain servers and other hardware including load balancing and database admin, do general office IT, manage your own projects, deal with the fact that one of our co-founders is a rampaging trans-phobic asshole, and be on call 24/7 though we hope not to bug you too much in the middle of the night.”
For this you get zero equity, a pathetic 401K match, “periodic bonuses”, and a salary described like this:
you should know up front we’re not a terribly money-motivated group. We’re more likely to spend less money on salary and invest that on making your day-to-day life at work better.
Now let’s be clear, here: Robert Khoo has built an entire career by being money-oriented. It’s because of his business acumen that Holkins and Krahulik have an empire, not a little webcomic that maybe pays their bills. Spending less on salary so they can “invest” that in the day-to-day working life? That’s being money-motivated. They will save twenty grand or more per employee that they convince with that line, and spend maybe a quarter of that per employee on “fun” office stuff each year … and even that much would surprise me.
Oh, and don’t forget this little gem:
We’re terrible at work-life balance. Although work is pretty much your life, we do our absolute best to make sure that work is as awesome as possible so you at least enjoy each and every day here.
I think the thing that frustrates me the most about it is: they’ll probably get a thousand applicants. A bunch of 25 year-old kids with a ton of talent and stars in their eyes are going to try to get this crap job for crap pay so they can work somewhere “cool” and feel like a part of something big. The Penny Arcade “machine” (their term) will roll on, making its millions of dollars while somehow retaining the “little guy” image that hasn’t been accurate for at least five years, and probably more. That’s one of Khoo’s many gifts — he has figured out exactly how to sell this company, even if the image they’re peddling is a load of horseshit.
This is a company that runs three massive trade shows a year, sells an incredible amount of merchandise, commands extremely competitive advertising rates, publishes multiple comic properties each week, runs their own gaming magazine, does paid story and illustration work for their ad clients, produces multiple web video shows, employs several other cartoonists, and has put out three video games.
They’re not hurting for cash, and they could surely pay four people to do the “four jobs” that this posting says the applicant must be able to do. They just don’t want to. They don’t even want to pay one guy a competitive rate to do those four jobs, because why bother? When you have an army of fans dying to work for you, why pay a realistic wage to a realistic number of people?
Let’s touch also on the other problem with that job advertisement: it’s complete nonsense.
I’m a “unicorn" … a designer who can code, and is actually good at both (and has been paid for both). In fact these days I’m more a coder who can design, but either way, the term "unicorn" makes it pretty evident that this is a rare thing. Some people hate the term, and that’s fine, it’s just here for reference. Anyway, you know what’s even more rare? A guy who can write excellent code in several disparate languages, manage multiple different server installs, administrate databases, and configure office firewalls. All while being motivated to do "tedious" work and manage his own projects while not caring about his work/life balance and being solely focused on the job.
That’s not a unicorn, it’s something more like a deity, and it doesn’t actually exist. There is no one out there who can realistically meet that job description. What they will get instead is a jack of all trades who has mastered very few or none of them, and who will have to scramble like crazy just to meet the base requirements of the job, let alone excel at them. You know why? Because as they readily admit, it’s a job that should require four people. You get what you pay for, guys.
I have met the original two Penny Arcade guys in real life. I worked with Mike Krahulik during his time at GameSpy, exchanged emails with him, went to Christmas parties with him. I’ve been to their trade shows, given thousands of dollars to their charity, and read every single one of their comics since the very first one, published in Loonygames, a publication for which I also wrote. Hell, I’ve been drawn by Krahulik multiple times (here and here among them). I do not “hate” Penny Arcade, or wish them ill.
But I’m offended by this job post and I sincerely hope people will avoid responding to it. You don’t want that job. There is no upside to taking it. You’ll be worked like a dog and paid like shit while you’re doing it, while Khoo, Krahulik, and Holkins continue cashing their trade show checks.
Robert Khoo is a brilliant businessman, and such businessmen excel by finding the sucker and exploiting him or her.
Don’t be that sucker.
If you’re that sucker, work there for a year then write a book about it.
But don’t be.
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