#RPGaDay 24: Pay what you want

“Share a PWYW RPG publisher who should be charging more”*

I’m not going to presume to advise any publisher upon their business model. But if a mate came an asked me how to go about pricing their first RPG thing, I don’t think I’d suggest Pay What You Want.

One publisher that uses the model, and apparently with some success, is Evil Hat. They have been pretty open about their results in the past, blogging quarterly sales reports until the middle of last year. Looking at the one I linked to, they made almost $200 dollars that quarter out of PWYW sales of Secrets of Cats, a game which I downloaded, paying what I wanted (nothing). I chose to pay nothing because I wanted to preview the game. I thought it might be something my daughter wanted to play. It turned out is wasn’t, or rather, though she expressed an interest in it, we never found the time to play until her interest waned. So I paid the right price, it seems. We never made use of the game.

Conversely, I paid a little over the odds on PWYW for Fate Accelerated. I did that because I’d previously downloaded Fate Core for free, and like it enough that I subsequently bought a print version. I knew though that I’d be happy with the PDF of Accelerated, so I paid something like £5 for it. Which is more than the print version might have cost me.

I can’t speak to Evil Hat’s PWYW strategy, but it must be informed by a few things like:

  • They made more than they expected on the Fate Core Kickstarter (over $400,000, against a $3000 target)
  • Their plan was surely to get Fate into enough hands to make it “mainstream” (with in the RPG niche)
  • Most of the development had already been done during Fate’s time as an online System Reference Document.
  • They would also be selling printed versions through traditional channels.

In short, they offer PWYW because they could afford it. So, if I had worked on an RPG product of some sort and wanted to release it. I’d do one of two things:

  • give a PDF away for free, because I work on it in my spare time, it’s fun and I have a salaried job to support my family. Also I’ll take (limited, I admit) game and glory over cash.
  • sell a PDF for what I think my time was worth via DriveThru, because I want to test the market enough to see if I can give up my day-job eventually. If I discover I’ve priced it too high I can always discount it or lower the price more permanently.

In reality, I like my job well enough, and I like eating every day, so I’d be more likely to go for the first option. In the unlikely event that what I gave away made me famous enough that loads of people wanted to pay me for things, I’d look to platforms like Patreon and Kickstarter to put food on my table.

*edit – the more I reflect on this question, the more annoyed I get. I think that it’s wrong-headed and perpetuates a dangerous misconception: it presumes that publishers offering PWYW are not confident in the value of what they are offering. I don’t think Evil Hat would agree.

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