This last months it's beginning to be obvious in the English-speaking role-playing environment the tendency of apply to games and modules in digital format (mainly in pdf format but sometimes also in epub) the Pay What You Want (PWYW) model, consisting in offering your products and give the chance to your buyers to pay the marked price, only a part, only a part or even not a cent.
Interested by the topic I began to investigate and the first reference I found through a Google search was this Wikipedia article which sees the evolution of this model applied to diverse areas, among those stands out the artist Keith Green and his album So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt (sold through mail-order in 1979), the Annalakshmi restaurants (that begin the "Pay What Your Heart Feels" in 1984) and more recently the Radiohead musical group and their album In Rainbows (publicly released through their website in October 2007).
Seeing those examples it may be deducted that those kind of initiatives are linked to actions where social consciousness clearly prevails, actions with a clearly advertising effect or actions to make easier to acquire said product independently of the amount the client can pay or want to pay.
To treat this experience applied to games I will take as a basis a few examples that can be found in RPGNOW and DriveThruRPG platforms, also opinions by Fred Hicks, James Raggi and Michael Tresca.
To begin I can talk about The Void, published by Wildfire, a futuristic science-fiction game where Humanity finds Cthulhu Mythos creatures at the beginning of solar system exploration. In this case the game is available under the Creative Commons by-nc-sa 3.0 license, a fact that allow players to create not commercial additions or game variants (furthermore the game creators doesn't matter about freely distributing the game).
Another science-fiction game, based in Fate and with a transhumanist background, that stands out is Nova Praxis by Void Star Studios. The authors offer it for sale with the PWYW model and ask for money contributions by players (even minimal) or if you like the game ask to buy the printed version or the augmented pdf, but if it isn't possible they also ask to raise awareness of the game in blogs and social networks and share the free pdf.
As I mentioned Fate I can also talk about the new edition carried out by Evil Hat Productions: Fate Core System and Fate Accelerated Edition and the strategy followed by Fred Hicks, saying openly that he is interested in making visible the game and cultivate the interest of players for this regarding the next line of supplements and other games based on this ruleset.
Another of the creators who has chosen to make available to players some of their products in the sales model PWYW has been James Raggi with the adventure Better Than Any Man for Lamentations of the Flame Princess (the completely free art-less ruleset can be downloaded from this link) and even got to test selling part of his stock of physical books in the UK Games Expo of this year, the results are quite compelling compared with those he had in last year Expo:
Gross income: + 65%
Units Sold: +95%
Number of Customers: +123%
Average £ value of purchase per customer: -26%
To end with this list of examples I can also include Book 0 of Shadows of Esteren by Agate RPG, the game of medieval fantasy with a touch of gothic horror, that although not explicitly for sale under the model PWYW perfectly fulfills part of the assumptions relevant to the question I'm dealing.
The conclusions that can be reached after reading the article I linked above and reviewing the examples I have proposed on the PWYW model are the following ones:
- This model can help small publishers and creators to promote their games (in fact I'm already doing it because I'm talking about them).
- At the same time it can simultaneously serve as a market study to formulate your strategy in the long term (especially if you plan to carry a product line of supplements or adventures).
- Part of the philosophy of how the PWYW model works can also be compared to the free software or shareware modality (understood as offering a product that can be used even though it hasn't all of its functions or features enabled).
If you're a game creator or work in a publishing house:
- Have you used the PWYW model for games you publish?
- If it was so, how it worked?, sales increased significantly?
- How was the overall experience?
- If you have not ever used it, you plan to do it sooner or later in the future?
- Do you think it could be a good selling and diffusion model given the current economic situation?
- Did you know about the PWYW model?
- You bought games or supplements under this model?
- Do you think there is a risk that buyers take advantage of this type of sale and purchase games for free without giving anything in return to creators and publishers? (and with that I also include the possibility of not writing any reviews or help publicize the game in exchange for it).
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