Pricing Models: pay what you want

Rock, Paper, Shotgun reports that Crayon Physics Deluxe has gone “Pay What You Want” which has apparently already worked relatively well for one of last year’s Gooey games and, of course, has been more famously done by big bands and big author names. (Note: this is a time-limited sale, not a permanent pricing model.)

The problem is, apparently, that most people only pay enough to stop making them feel guilty, or enough to get them a look at  the thing. Or nothing at all, if they can get away with it.

I’ve noticed this in MMOs when crafting: what I think something is worth is not what most customers think it’s worth. Many customers, in fact, think it should be free. In SWG I head this argument more times than I can count: “It’s not real stuff, why should I pay for it?” Well, for starters, it’s not real money either, so pony up you little shit.

But even away from the utterly stupid arguments and closer to the realm of the somewhat reasonable, I was often offended by people who’d say things like “You didn’t have to fight anything for it. It’s only crafting. Anyone can do it.” — all of which boils down to “MY time is more valuable than YOUR time, for which I can’t be arsed to pay you, so hand over the product and stop being a whiny gouging crafter.” To which I would invariably reply, “Then do it. Happy grinding to Master Weaponsmith. Byeeee!”

I’ve also noticed that when other people charge, it’s gouging. When it’s oneself doing the charging, it’s what the market will fairly bear.

Ah, humans. Hate em, can’t get rid of ‘em.

So anyway. Crayon Physics isn’t an MMO and presumably doesn’t require staff to keep stuff going, make up new stuff, put out new stuff, and deal with whiny customers. But even so. Consider for a moment what you might pay for a PWYW MMO. Say DDO, which is already free, decides to go PWYW. Would you pay anything?

The problem is, of course, that people will want to know what they get for their money. For the one-time purchase of a game it’s easy: cash = game. But for an ongoing MMO, what do you get if you pay $3 a month that you don’t get if you’re not paying that money? And what do you get if you pay $10, or $20? Should you get anything special at all?

We’ve become conditioned to thinking that if we pay for something, we should get more than if we don’t pay for something, and if we pay more then we should also get more. Of whatever it is.

Consider the radical notion that it doesn’t actually have to be that way. You could pay $5 a month because you think the game is worth it and it makes you feel good to contribute to paying game staff salaries. Does that really require you to get an in-game noncombat flatworm pet? You could pay $25 a month for the same reasons and because you’re a rich bastard with a bit of a conscience.

The upside of all this would be, if you’re enjoying the game, you pay. If you’re not, you can stop paying.

The downside, of course, would be that most people are lying, self-interested shits and wouldn’t pay anything, or would only pay a pittance. And that this is not a very predictable or secure revenue model for a game with monthly expenses on the creation side.

Still, it’s nice to be idealistic once in a while.

(In the interest of full disclosure I should add that I’m currently reading Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, which may be influencing my views on fat capitalist bastards.)

7 thoughts on “Pricing Models: pay what you want

  1. I’d like to think I’d pay a lesser amount at the start – just to see how the game plays for me and if I like it – and then stump up more cash down the line if I’m having fun. I’d be able to afford to dabble in a few games rather than to focus on one.

    The downside would be if I had an expensive month, I’d probably opt to pay nothing as “it’s only a game”, which wouldn’t do the people running the MMO much good.

    • Not really, because you’re paying for something specific (like content or perks as you put it). What I’m pondering is whether people would pay to get nothing specific — no perks — except access to the game. Like a sub, only you get to decide how much you pay.

      Like I said, idealistic. Certainly not realistic – most people would pay nothing and rationalise it by telling themselves that enough other people *would* pay to make it ok for them not to.

      • From a business point of view, I think the item pay/microtransactions model is the closest you’ll get in the MMO world. Yeah, you have to cough up money if you want something, but usually you’ll be paying that because you actually like the game. Why buy access to a new zone if you hate the game? The only group affected, really, is the group that likes the game but can’t/won’t pay. They don’t get free stuff, which is just being realistic, as you point out.

        It’s also important to note why there is this “pay what you want” trend in games. For example, note that Crayon Physics has been released for about a year at this point. I think this promotion is a good way for them to reach the people who just weren’t going to buy the game otherwise. It’s also a neat way for the developer to get a bit of extra PR; next time released can say “By the developer of Crayon Physics!” and have that mean something to more people. Not something that necessarily works as well for MMO games that aren’t turned out quite as fast as indie game with (literally!) crayon graphics. :)

        • I’m thinking of picking it up. I love the demo, but $20 was just too much. I won’t pick it up for free, though. It’s worth more than that. I’m a penny pinching jerk, though, so I’ll probably go with a nice $8 or so, akin to a decent Steam sale.

          Back to MMOs, though… Puzzle Pirates is one that I played for free for nearly six months before I decided to simply give them money. I *could* have sent them a bit of cash in the mail, but it was easier to buy some doubloons (microcurrency) via the billing website. I blew those doubs on a portrait with my wife’s pirate. It was totally unnecessary for me to enjoy the game, and the cost was highly disproportionate to what it probably cost the devs to put it together… but I was supporting the people I thought do great work. I’m cheap enough not to spend a lot of money, but when I find someone whose work I enjoy, I’ll usually find a way to reward that.

          Interestingly, I’ve given the Puzzle Pirates folk more money than I’ve given to Blizzard, simply because I was able to do it on my terms. In my terrible, nasty, tricksy Scrooge world, that’s significant.

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