PWYW: Feeling Old

No idea who should be charging more — that’s the formal question — because I don’t actually do much with PWYW stuff. It’s a huge blind spot, I think.

I’ve been advised more than once to go this route for my various little design projects (and then put that money into paying a layout artist for the next ones I post up). I just…it’s very hard for me to see the upside, because blind spot.

I think I’ve paid what I wanted…twice? Once for a copy of Dream Askew (Avery asks for a $5 donation, so not precisely PWYW), and once for a big fundraiser Bundle of Holding, can’t remember what the cause was. That one filled my drivethrurpg.com library with so much crap I will never download or read and continues to fill my inbox with notifications and spam from those publishers. I liked donating, didn’t like the marketing bullshit afterward.

This is, I think, mostly a function of my age.

I get how Kickstarter works, but I’m also cynical about it being largely a preorder platform. Beyond that my understanding of the modern game publishing world drops off fast. I’ve also been advised to try a Patreon but I can’t make heads or tails of how to succeed at that. PWYW makes very little sense to me. A Payhip button or whatever, same thing. I think it’s because I think in strictly capitalistic terms like value proposition. I have no mental model in which people just give you money because they like what you’ve done. Even at the high point of my little three-week blast a few years ago with Tiny Dragons and folks were repeatedly asking how to give me money, I was like…why would you? I’ve posted it for free.

And because I’ve been fed a steady diet of capitalism, I immediately undervalue anything that doesn’t have a price. Including my own stuff, I’m sure. Of course the logical endgame of that is the dumbass “why should I pay for all this blank space” #shitgamerssay business.

Paying what you want intersects with the late capitalism idea that money is the only meaningful way of showing appreciation in some very strange and hypocritical ways.

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0 thoughts on “PWYW: Feeling Old”

  1. You can turn that spam off publisher by publisher. It’s sufficiently quick and easy that I do that instead of telling Gmail that it’s spam and having it vanish that way.

    I’ve downloaded tons of PWYW things for free and gone back and paid for some of it.

  2. I think the question begs discussion of the whole “RPG hobby” vs. “RPG industry” thing, and honestly brings to mind all of the discussion that came out of the early years of the Forge (no surprise there, I guess).

  3. The problem I have with PWYW is not that most people, the vast majority, don’t pay anything, but rather that the concept of it drives everyone into a downward pricing spiral because it’s very hard to compete with “free, if you want”. I think it creates conditions in which authors feel it is necessary to give their stuff away for free just because they feel they have no other choice. Because if you charge something, but no one buys it because they have access to multitudes of free stuff (or PWYW), then what’s the point if the result is you get 2 people downloading your product. Instead, the thinking goes, I’ll put it out there for nothing, and hope more people check it out, and this earns me a cool reputation and so when I put other stuff out… um … maybe I can charge later because people already like my stuff? And that, in fact, can work… like offering a free sample taste of cookies in the supermarket. But most of the time I think the result is 1 in 100 pay anything, and roughly the same number comment, and other than that, nothing much happens. Meanwhile, everyone else is also forced down that road.

    Maybe this is a general problem with self publishing overall. The easier it gets to publish, the more publishers there are, the more products there are, and the less people in the market will focus on any one thing, and so the rate of time vs benefit diminishes inevitably as a result. But I think that PWYW accelerates that trend significantly. Of course, I’m just speculating about this. I don’t have hard numbers to back up my supposition.

    Nor actually do I have a solution to offer. It may be that this trend of racing to the bottom in terms of price (and therefore profit) is inevitable. I hope not, because I suspect that the end result of that process is that people come to the conclusion that spending the time and effort to produce cool stuff isn’t worth it if what they produce must be given away for free. And I wonder what amazing things might have come along had there been the feasibility of being able to make something from the effort.

    On the other hand, it is also possible that the major factor in all of this is Quality. People who produce really quality goods may simply be able to charge, and people will buy it, because it’s good stuff. So that would lead me to ask myself … If I feel I have to push this out there under PWYW … am I really saying that it’s because I really haven’t really polished this or completed it enough so that people would normally pay something for it? And if that is the case, then PWYW is the equivalent of putting a “Amature Level” sign on it. Which may be ok for people who just want to throw things out there, and sometimes we all do, but … not for anything you really hope to make a profit from.

    ok… that was random. Sorry. :p I should probably polish this up. But I have work to do, and … gosh, I better get back to it. :p

  4. No, that was great and I feel the same way about this! It feels like the path is supposed to be “give away little things to build brand equity for later,” which strikes me as highly aspirational at best. Because pretty much nobody cares about free shit, because if it’s free it must not be worth anything. Etc etc.

  5. I am purposely overstating the case, but: I value free stuff more because the author is making the world better instead of being a money-grubbing fuckface. (I also get that this is an incredibly privileged position to take — but I support strong UBI so that it can be a reasonable position too.)

  6. There seems to be a producer perspective on this and a consumer perspective.

    As a consumer, whether something is free or not makes no difference to me.

  7. I think the implication of the question points straight at the Joker’s thing about never doing something for free if you’re good at it. But asking the consumer, like, what would you have paid full retail for? Which is nice and supportive but also completely reinforces the status quo.

  8. I will definitely support this when strong UBI actually happens. Until then, and while we live in a capitalist world where effort has to be paid for so long as we all have to pay our rent and buy groceries to survive … I can’t. I think when we drive the prices of our creative work to zero, we basically have built group-consensus on starving ourselves. Not great.

  9. Oh, hey, this seems like it’s related to my stance on piracy of intellectual property. Around 1990 I finally articulated how I feel about piracy and it’s still true for me: If a thing (software, usually, but music, whatever) is for sale at a price that I’d pay if that was the only way to get it, then I’m personally obligated to pay for it. If it’s priced such that I would just take a pass, then I’m free to acquire a copy of it however I want because I’m not hurting anyone. As a result, since leaving the embrace of university student-pricing, I’ve always pirated e.g. Adobe software. If I could have PWIW, then I would have. (In that particular case, I mostly use gimp these days instead of Photoshop, but the point stands.)

  10. Vb Wyrde But it depends on whether you view the RPG space as a hobby or an industry, doesn’t it? I mean, should I give away my time as a player or GM for free? It involves a lot of effort and investment on my part.

    Likewise, Paul obviously invest a lot of effort in his IGRC G+ posts, and those posts are arguably incredibly valuable to me as practitioner of the hobby. Should I pay him for it?

  11. Consumers always want the cheapest price possible and are perfectly fine with free. So yes, that goes without saying, I think. But for creators, there are living expenses to be considered, and time is money. If someone is producing as a hobby activity in their spare time after their day job, then sure, give it away for free. Why not, if you want to.

    But other creators actually hope/want/need to make a living from their craft. They work hard at it, spend many hours, and possibly pay up front costs for producing good materials that others enjoy. They hope/want/need to be paid for their efforts. But PWYW is something that puts many of them in a position of feeling that it’s hopeless to put products on the market at a price that would allow them to make a profit. It becomes “a thing”. And once that happens it becomes nigh on impossible to have any other expectation.

    I have a couple of friends who put a lot of effort into creating RPGs which they put up on DriveThruRPG as PWYW. The total effort between them came to something like 200 hours of design work, writing, play testing, editing, layout, art and posting on social media to advertise it. At $25 / hour (cheap) for this relatively minor effort it came to about $5000 on their part. The results were predictable. 2 people payed $1 each. 200 hundred people paid nothing. 1 person commented and said’ “cool”. The end.

    Was their game cool? Sure it was. Did they ever do that again? Absolutely not.

    Note: this is a semi-fictional story, loosely based on actual true stories of friends (who I don’t want to embarrass by saying their names), but fused into a fictional paraphrase to save time and space in this post. The essential facts are, however, true to what happened. I’m sure others have had similar experiences.

  12. Mark Delsing can’t agree more with “free or not makes no difference to me.”

    Free/PWYW induces impulse downloads. But the paid goods are generally affordable enough that whether I download them or not is determined solely by “will I enjoy this?” At least in the indie scene, where things tend to run 2$ – 15$ – I admit that 50$ books are a different matter.

  13. Vb Wyrde This is an interesting story, but I have to wonder what the sales are (or would be) like for these folks when they put something comparable up for sale at even a low price point. Those 200 free downloads are only “lost sales” if all those people would both hear about AND be willing to pay for the same game if it were priced higher…

  14. Vb Wyrde I get what you are saying (I work in design, so I know all about having my work devalued), but I guess I just want to point out this:

    But other creators actually hope/want/need to make a living from their craft.

    One of the points made back in the old Forge days was that no one should expect to make a living from creating RPGs, arguably because virtually no one ever has.

    So, I’m not saying RPGs aren’t worth paying for, I’m just saying they are in a weird space where it’s arguable that no one should expect they are worth paying for.

    Let me admit that I’m on the verge of Devil’s advocacy here, and am not trying to be a dick or anything. This whole question is just thorny, and the totally fucked-up-ness seen in the history of RPG publishing just makes it even worse.

  15. I think the alternative to Vb Wyrde’s PWYW story isn’t magically-granted wild success. Instead it’s that they started a Kickstarter and three people backed it before it failed. They probably spent most of the development time before that so the time was still wasted, but now it didn’t even get out to 200 people. Or worse, it’s twenty years ago, and they took out a second mortgage, had books made, went to GenCon and didn’t sell any.

  16. Well, I’m not sure that no one has made money publishing RPGs. Certainly some people have. But if we exclude the industry giants then yes, that may be the case, though even then, I think there are some independent publishers who are making a decent go of it. Evil Hat comes to mind. So when people say “you shouldn’t expect to make a living” I tend to agree, for most publishers that’s probably good general advice. However, some are making it, from what I understand, anyway. And I’m pretty sure that those who are do not put their products out as PWYW. Or if they do, those are teaser products that lead to others which cost a profit-making amount.

  17. It’s interesting to mention Evil Hat in this context as a company that makes money on RPGs, considering that their entire “Fate Worlds” line is PWYW. But then again, not ALL their works are PWYW. I am inclined to believe it’s a fine (perhaps even superior) pricing model for some kinds of products, but not necessarily ALL products.

    I’m not especially concerned about the “slippery slope” issue—like, “anybody doing PWYW makes EVERYONE feel like they need to do PWYW”—as it certainly doesn’t feel like the model has caught on so fast that it’s overtaking traditional sales in this or any other industry. It might be overtaking downloads, if not sales, on platforms like Drivethrurpg, which seems flooded with games that clearly were not edited, proofread, playtested, or carefully laid out, listed as PWYW. But I don’t think that’s inappropriate at all. “Nothing” is a perfectly valid answer to “how much do you want to pay me to read my rough ideas?” I download that stuff for free all the time just in case I find an unexpected gem, and then toss the creator some cash when I realize what I really have. The rest of it is no more or less valuable to me than reading someone’s random blog (or G+) post about their ideas on gaming, so “free” sounds like the right price to me.

  18. Yea, I’m not sure how I would have answered this. I can attest that basing a company on a free product can be successful since my paycheck comes from a Fortune 500 company doing so…

    I admit most of the PWYW things I’ve acquired have been for free, though I have paid the “average” for a few. I would probably pay more if I could justify a larger RPG budget, but many of them, it’s like, well, it might be useful and it doesn’t cost anything so why not… I have yet to go back and pay money for any of those. Probably because most were not that useful.

    On the other hand, I’m pissed about something similar, but in the software industry. Way back in the early 1990s, I bought a PC with a 1024×768 display, at a time when that was something brand new. The computer came with some 1024×768 images, but no program to display them. I hunted the BBSs (no internet access) and eventually found Paint Shop Pro shareware. After being wowed by a photo of a light house on a cliff, I sent them money, and upgraded over the years. Unfortunately, the last update I purchased won’t run on Windows 8. And it’s now a Corel product, and it’s no longer economical for me to purchase, and the test run I downloaded was not as easy to do the image conversion and re-sizing that I tended to use it for more recently. Sigh…

    Honestly these days, looking for RPG product is a lot less fun than back in the late 70s, when I would go to the hobby store every week, hoping something new might be in (or that I had saved up enough to buy something I had passed on before) (which this paragraph is really an answer of sorts to one of the earlier questions…).

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