Thursday, August 24, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #24

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

Share a PWYW publisher who should be charging more.

All of them.

Unless you're releasing some sort of "beta test" or art-free sample or promotional product (i.e. things that are usually given away for free), folks should be charging money for their work.

If you've taken the time to create and publish a finished project, you'd best be putting a price tag on it. Doesn't matter what price you decide on...if it looks really sucky, charge a dollar...but put some sort of value on it. Because if you don't value your own work, why should anyone else find value in it? And if you're not sure it's worth anything (because it's incomplete or has gaming flaws/holes), then you should probably polish it up to a point where you find it has value BEFORE you decide to publish it.

I am assuming this question refers to the many self-published independents out there putting electronic PDFs on DriveThruRPG, and similar sites. Those are the folks I'M talking about. I've picked up a couple or five of these "PWYW" products over the years and can you guess how much money I put in that little box?

Zero. Zilch. Nada. Every time.

If you won't value your work, why should I? Truthfully, I usually pass on anything marked PWYW, but sometimes I've heard something, or read some review, that piques my interest, and I'll download it (despite the quickly diminishing storage capacity on my laptop). And I never pay a thin dime. And I usually delete it from my hard drive, following a quick perusal. No skin off my nose, after all...I paid nothing, I lost nothing, and I have nothing invested in holding onto your work.

That's pretty f'ing terrible. If I pay for something, at least I'm likely to use it, to play it, at least once...if only to get my money's worth out of the thing. And don't you want your games to be played? Isn't that why you're writing them? Or is it really just sheer vanity as you live off you trust fund, futzing around on your desktop publishing program?

Because if THAT's the case, why don't you get off your ass and do something publish a newsletter organizing a grassroots movement to combat the bigotry and intolerance that exists in every American community, even now, in the 21st century.

Assuming you're NOT just writing "for shits & giggles," assuming you design games and game products because of a deep personal need to do so, and that you're publishing independently because you can't afford to not keep your "day job" due to having a mortgage or family or pet that needs supporting...then you should put a frigging value on your work. How long did it take you to write? A couple months? A couple years? How many hours of your precious, valuable time (remember, your days on this planet are numbered, you WILL die eventually, and every moment you're alive is a blessing) many hours did you put into your project? How much is your life, your creativity, worth on an hourly rate?

At least minimum wage for your locale, I'd hope.

Of course, I'm as guilty of undervaluing myself as anyone. My Five Ancient Kingdoms has only netted my about $1700 in net profit (since 2013) is, by far, my poorest selling product. In Washington State, at the time I wrote it, minimum wage was $9.19 per hour, but my own employer paid me substantially more than that. Did I work less than 184 hours on the thing? Probably...probably more like 100-120 hours. But there was more to it than just writing: researching (Middle East myth, folklore, history, and culture), play-testing, layout, finding (public domain) art, driving places (printers, shops), packaging the thing (a couple hours figuring out the shrink-wrap machine), marketing it (minimally...mainly blog posts), dealing with the post office...all those things take time. Plus all the stress, arguments, and headaches such a project can cause with the non-gamer spouse. All that adds up....and the $1700 profit I've made over costs (and that's a high estimate) has been recouped over four and a half years. Most businesses, I believe, would want to get paid within two years of an investment...but, for me, this is still more of a hobby than a business. As a hobby, I don't mind the trickle of sales that come over time.

But only about 45% of my money has come from PDF sales...if I'd made those e-books "PWYW" how far away from $1700 would I be? That $750 in e-sales is the price of a new, small print run for my B/X Companion. I lose that money and all of a sudden it's taking me a lot longer to bring my next "hobby project" to light.

So my answer to the question of the day is, "all of them;" if it's a sample or promo project, then offer it for free. If you need funding for your project, start a kickstarter. If the project is already complete: charge money. Something, anything. If no one buys it (because your price is too high) than reduce the price...but give your work some value.

It has value to you, doesn't it?


  1. So, you're saying that I undervalue my game wiki by charging nothing for it. 1,200 pages, easily more than 500 hours work committed on the project, all free. I've even encouraged others to steal from it. Am I undervaluing it?

    I feel that artists, on the whole, are in trouble. They've been taught to massively overvalue their time and the product of their time, because the 20th century fed that dragon and now that dragon has been slain by St. Internet. The music industry is collapsing. The television industry is collapsing. People in both insist that iTunes and Pay-sites are the future, but both are stumbling as more and more paysites go up in a pirate-driven economy. Let more of the oldest generation of users pass away and this "honesty" that says that its okay to hear music free in the park but not free on the net will crumble away. Not because its right or easy or the result of bad morality, but because the industries that created digital rendering shot themselves in the head forty years ago. They could have stayed with vinyl, but oh no, they needed a bigger overhead.

    Is it surprising that everyone is getting into the PWYW game? Online magazines are desperately looking around for a means of retaining the income they had in the 90s that's melting away and they're seeing kickstarter and Patreon and throwing their hat in. Not because they want to, but because they're slipping off the grid.

    And sites that talk about going behind a pay wall know what that's going to bring: systemic obscurity, through the same voting market that economists have been hanging their hat on as a justification for exploitation for two centuries.


  2. I get what you're saying, JB, that YOU don't give up a thin dime. But many do, and consistently, because they'd rather "friend" out their money than be told they have to cough it up. The argument you make, that people should charge for their goods, is the same argument the music industry made when they tried to tell artists back at the start of Napster that they "deserved" to be paid for their music, in a desperate attempt to win a majority over to the side of music industry moguls who had been stealing money from artists for decades. The appeal to artists who don't make any money anyway, to support artists that do, has been tried over and over and it always falls on deaf ears. Because (and not referring to you specifically), where was this solidarity when we were trying to get published/printed/sold/backed in the old days? When the door was slammed in my face.

    You've correctly identified your competition: artists, game designers, what have you, who are prepared to work for free. It's the true spirit of competition. And it sure hurts when you're the one overcharging.

    I let my wiki be free, despite the work, because I don't want to be paid for my work. True, I do sell some books. And the free wiki helps sell those books. Which is nice. But my future won't be in book sales, it will be in people wanting to buy a piece of ME. People who are concerned about me, who want me to do well, who want to help. From friendship. Not because I arbitrarily forced them to fork over. But because I gave them a reason to care.

    You didn't fork over a thin dime to any of those PWYW sites because you didn't care about those people. And that was there fault. But the future isn't in the old 20th century model. The future is in good old 15th century Patronism. Where people want to pay so that they're sure there are still great things in the world.

  3. @ Alexis:

    I hear what you're saying, man, but it may be that we're comparing apples to oranges. I see your wiki as something very different from an RPG product of the type I'm discussing.

    But then again, maybe you DO consider it such, just a new evolution of the old paradigm. Mm.

    As for the Napster comparison...jeez, dude. Am I The Man? Keeping folks down? My post wasn't really about competition...was it? I'll have to go back and read what I wrote, I guess.

    But I don't have time to do that (or write a measured response) at the moment; I just got my family home from the airport and I need to leave in six hours to catch another flight (with them). However, I will take the time to mull it over!

  4. When some egghead who isn't famous gives a special talk at a museum or university, he charges a nominal fee. Not to get rich; but to signal to potential audience members that this talk has value. So I agree, authors are wise to charge some nominal amount - if their art is a business.

    Like Alexis, I don't charge for anything I do*. Everything I "publish" is free PDFs. But that's because the value to me is the fun I have creating things. The process is the reward.

    *I do charge a little for a Lulu POD game book but thats because it costs money to make one.