Penny Arcade (PA) is a media company that started 20 years ago as a web comic. They have a sizable community, both online and offline, including the super popular PAX (Penny Arcade Expo) game convention. Known as the largest consumer gaming event in North America, PAX is held at five different locations annually: Boston, Melbuourne, Seattle, Philadelphia and San Antonio.
In 2011, the Penny Arcade community was booming, however they didn’t have the tools or resources required to keep up with the large amount of maintenance the platform required.
The migration was no small feat, however Vanilla was able to successfully migrate a community that had approximately 30 million posts per year without any errors.
Security, the ability to scale, a large range of community features and a positive working relationship were a priority for Penny Arcade, which led them straight to Vanilla.
Penny Arcade has seen astounding community results even to this day, nearly 10 years later. Their community is incredibly engaged, with a 15k boost in PAX page views per month
Let’s take a quick look back at 2011—back when Penny Arcade (PA) and their journey with Vanilla Forums had just begun.
By 2011, PA and their online community forum could be described as nothing short of explosive. Their popular PAX event, which had begun in 2004, had been growing at an overwhelming rate. By 2010, the attendance at these events was reaching anywhere between 60,000-70,000 people, and the PA online community was the go-to-place to discuss all things PAX related. While this engagement and hype over the PAX events was exactly what PA wanted, the up-keep required to maintain such a booming community was becoming extremely time consuming.
In fact, the PA team would have to dedicate so much time administering and fixing the community software, that in any given month, it could cost the team anywhere between 30-300 hours.As Robert Khoo, the President of PA, noted, “our forum saw about 30 million posts per year and several million page views each month, and our previous solution just wasn’t architected for this kind of scale.” He continued, “newer versions of the software presented security vulnerabilities, [and] so we started on a very thorough selection process to find a replacement.”
Penny Arcade wasn’t satisfied with the newer versions of the community software they were using since they knew it presented security vulnerabilities.
The Penny Arcade community was seeing about 30 million posts per year and several million page views each month, and their current solution wasn’t able to keep pace.
When PA began the selection process for their new community vendor, they had a number of key items to consider. They not only wanted a secure community with tons of feature possibilities so that the community could be scalable as PA continued to grow, but they also wanted a strong working relationship with their vendor—a partnership of sorts.
Additionally, PA knew that they needed a vendor who could be trusted to move such an active community to a new platform; that being said, technical expertise was an absolute must. After taking the time to consider the array of community forum vendors out there, PA set their sights on Vanilla, who was able to deliver on everything they needed.
As Robert stated, “we spent a long time kicking the tires of several providers but, in the end, Vanilla was the clear choice.” He continued, “we felt that they were the only ones who understood the nuances of our community and would provide us with the level of service that we needed to pull this off.”
The decision was final—Vanilla Forums would be the platform that would host the PA community and subsequently all things PAX related.
“One of the most important things to us is security, and the security that Vanilla provided not only made us comfortable, but also confident that we’d made the right choice.”
“We came early to Vanilla and throughout the years, we’ve seen the software really grow with us.”
“We always look for constructive feedback from the community, which we then pull together to identify trends…[Vanilla’s] forum is perfect for this.”
“[With Vanilla Q&A] the forums are a source of ticket deflection, [and we can therefore] keep the telephone and email support lines for the most serious issues.”
The migration was especially scary for the team at PA because of how very active the community was at all times. But as the team at Vanilla led the way and kept in constant communication with the team at PA, the migration was easier than expected.
As Robert states, “I’m ridiculously happy with how the migration went and with the relationship [that we’ve built] with Vanilla.”
The most immediate result that PA witnessed was a massive reduction in the amount of maintenance required by the team to ensure its upkeep. If you recall, the team at PA would spend anywhere from 30-300 hours a month on community maintenance. Now, with Vanilla, their team was spending roughly 2 to 3 hours a month—that accounts for an approximate 98% decrease!
Robert goes on to explain, “not only does our membership appreciate the modern and stable discussion forum, but from the operational side, my tech team is now spending at most 2 to 3 hours a month on forum related issues.”When reflecting on the long-term benefits that PA has seen with Vanilla, we had the opportunity to hear from the Communications Supervisor and Community Lead, Patrick Groome.
Patrick describes the PAX events section of the community as ground zero for building excitement around the event, and as the most active part of the forum, members had begun to leverage the community to organize their own side events during PAX.
Patrick explains this phenomenon, “for example, on the forums, they organize a Harry Potter themed pub-crawl every year, or the forum members create meetups around the PAX shows that end up being streamed on Twitch [and these events] all tend to start on the forums.” He continues, “for many, these events are as big as a PAX [itself], and even though we’re not involved, they create some of the best stories and memories for those who participate.” Which of course, are then shared in the community.
“To this day, the Penny Arcade forum remains our town square, the best place to connect and get the full experience of our online community.”
Another benefit that Patrick notes is their ability to better collect, analyze and act on member feedback. This is especially important when it comes to ensuring that the PAX events keep improving. “The forum is perfect for this because people can write long form, and they’re not trying to squeeze things into 280 characters or writing for their audience on social media.” Further, through Vanilla ideation, members can comment or vote on ideas, which provides a more accurate picture of community sentiments.
Last but certainly not least, Patrick shares an example of how Vanilla has provided PA with all the tools they need to continue growing. The Pinny Arcade, which was an additional section of the PA community, was introduced in 2012 to support the buying, selling and trading of pins.As Patrick told us, “this really shows us how the [community] excels—we have people talking about trades and organizing meetups to go about getting the pins.” He continues, “it’s great, because it [not only] builds excitement for the fans and connects them on a deeper level to the event, but it also helps our exhibitors get traffic to their booths.”
At the end of the day, nearly 10 years later, it’s clear to PA that Vanilla was the type of community vendor that they could not only grow with, but also thrive on. As Patrick concludes, “people come back and share their stories of what they saw and did at PAX; they post photos and they tell us what they loved and what went wrong. It’s a hugely important aspect for us in building the community.”
With a community as popular as PA’s was before the migration to Vanilla, it’s easy to see how it could be a challenging decision to implement something new when your existing community is already seeing incredible engagement and traffic. But PA didn’t have the tools necessary to keep up and knew that their communities’ continued prosperity was depending on a more solid and scalable solution. Close to 10 years later, the PA community has continued to grow and excel while also being incredibly easy to manage. Sufficient to say, Vanilla has what it takes to be a successful, scalable, long-term solution. If you’re looking for a community that’ll set you up for life, don’t be afraid to reach out—we’d love to chat!