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Pay What You Want as a Strategy – #RPGaDay 2017, Day 24

August is RPGaDay month. Yep, a month solid of RPG-related posts, answering these questions:

Today’s question is this:

Share a PWYW (Pay What You Want) publisher who should be charging more. 

I’ll confess, I don’t use a lot of Pay What You Want products. A few, here and there, but not many. I tend to find PWYW products are sometimes okay, but usually not so exciting that I want to go back and pay for their products, because I so rarely use them. (If I ever were to do so, I’d definitely go back and pay a fair price.)

That said, I think there are a few PWYW publisher who are worth pointing out.

One is Miguel Zavala, the creator of a whole line of free/PWYW printable miniature figurines for fantasy RPGs. You can get them free on Shapeways, or as PWYW on DriveThruRPG where the creator’s handle is mz4250. Going by the photos, they’re really high quality, and apparently he released them for free by agreement with Wizards of the Coast… but given how much money so many people have made off retrocloning the hell of out of TSR’s intellectual property 1Yeah, I know, specific monsters aren’t covered in the OGL, but some of these , I wish he were allowed to charge some reasonable amount of money for the miniatures. Then again, maybe he gets some money when people order printed minis on Shapeways? I don’t know, but I look forward to getting some minis printed off when my wife’s 3D printing skills are up to the task, someday. 

I also have to say that while a lot of PWYW products released for Free RPG Day tend to be reasonable in quality, I think the Lamentations of the Flame Princess PWYW books are really good quality. They’re indistinguishable from the the publisher’s other books, and they’re all fun and inspiring. While not having a print edition on hand may be a little disappointing, you can have these products in PDF form for a song… or even for nothing, but they are worth more than nothing, to be sure. 

I was going to point at Johnstone Metzger’s Metamorphica (which is PWYW at DTRPG), but I see there’s a revised edition available now that isn’t PWYW. I guess that’s a case of a publisher doing what I’m suggesting: charging more than PWYW. I’ve added the revised book it to my list, as it looks pretty fun. Same goes for Spirit of the Century, which is free on DTRPG but is probably worth a few bucks to people who like playing Fate-based games. 

Another is Knight Owl Games, who put out the trippy and ridiculous The Chaos Gods Come To Meatlandia—at a low price, not PWYW, but they have a number of fun little PWYW products as well. (Disclosure, my friend Ahimsa Kerp is one of the creators of this organization, and I’ll likely publish something with them, sooner or later. But Meatlandia is crazy and fun, and the PWYW stuff available from Knight Owl follows along those lines with weird, interesting ideas that are usable at the table.)

I also think Mutant Chiron Games’ attempt to retool Gumshoe to other applications—like “political” games—in the supplement Republic is interesting and worth a look. If they fleshed out the book a bit, I think it’d be something they could charge for.

That said, one thing I think here’s some interesting reading about the logic of PWYW. I think the author’s right on the, uh, money here:

PWYW is great as a strategy for an entity wanting to draw attention to more profitable offerings. It isn’t a good strategy for the typical Guild author.

Sales may increase over time, while the effort is already done. But, there is also a danger that the product will be lost in the sea of offerings and sales may really weaken over time.

That’s the thing: PWYW is what you do to get attention for other products, not in the hope that people will come back and pony up for something you’ve given them for free (because, realistically, they rarely do)… and yet, anyone sensible is hesitant to release a major piece of game writing that’s amazing and complete and took hours and hours of work as a PWYW offering, so instead you get little bits and pieces offered as PWYW, which don’t necessarily really advertise the quality of the regular sale offerings. There has to be a tax writeoff angle, or you need to have all the design skills yourself, or else this strategy might not be for you.  

By that logic, Pay What You Want publishers shouldn’t be charging more for the PWYW stuff, they should be making sure it’s free and of comparable quality to the regular offerings. To do otherwise would just sort of be failing to get the point of the whole strategy of putting Pay What You Want stuff out there. It’s a kind of loss-leader strategy, and I’m sure it pays off decently for those who can afford to do it will. After all, the last link above cites Fred Hicks, whose Spirit of the Century is one of the PWYW products I mentioned above. 

The onus, therefore, seems to be on up-and-coming designers who interested in going Indie to either save up their pennies to pay for proper editing and layout even on things that will be PWYW, or to study up and get good at these things themselves. (And yeah, I plan on getting a copy of InDesign from the server at work and practicing a bit while I have free access to the software, because it never hurts to have a few extra useful skills.)

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