Pay What You Want (But Please Pay Something!)

DriveThruRPG has the option to offer products for no set fee, but rather Pay What You Want (PWYW), in which customers pay whatever they think is appropriate for the product. The concept isn't new; PWYW has been around since performers have busked on street corners. But when it comes to role-playing games, certain PYWY strategies work better than others.


When PWYW Fails
PWYW seems like a supremely confident strategy in one's product; if it's worth something, someone will feel obligated to pay for it. That's not quite true, as restaurants have found out. Vegetarian restaurant chain Lentil as Anything took a $4,000 hit in one day after customers took advantage of its PWYW pricing strategy. Likewise, a new restaurant in Guiyang China decided to try out PWYW...and lost $15,000 in the experiment. Another restaurant in China lost over $37,000 using the same strategy.

It's easy to look at these failures and assume PWYW is not a viable strategy. But in certain cases and certain circumstances it can work.

Then There's Radiohead
PWYW rocketed into the spotlight when when Radiohead released their seventh album, In Rainbows, through the band's website as a digital download using a PWYW system. The band was between labels, so the PWYW strategy was as much a reaction to market forces as it was a marketing tactic. And the results were undeniable:
The Pay What You Want strategy (PWYW) was a good decision for Radiohead because it cut out the middle man and increased its profit margin. With traditional sales tactics, Radiohead would have only earned 15% of total sales (or around $2.24/album). By cutting out the middle man, it's profit margin has dramatically increased as the average album sold (accounting for fans who downloaded it for free) $2..25 which shows a slightly better margina on a per album basis. Assuming high sales volume, Radiohead's profit was even better than traditional sales tactics due to the popularity of the concept.
Since most role-playing game designers are not Radiohead, it's worth looking at another major publisher who has used PWYW successfully.

A Tip of the Hat
Fred Hicks of Evil Hat Productions explained how the PWYW strategy worked for his company:
For Fate, we’ve been building an audience for a decade. Our fans are pretty damned dedicated, and the audience has grown to a very respectable size. The Fate Core Kickstarter is one way we’ve managed to tap into that. Our PWYW release of Fate Core and Fate Accelerated is another way. Over on DriveThruRPG, Core and FAE both went up on the 5th of this month. We’re 5 days later and we’ve grossed $2000 between the two of them (before DriveThru’s cut). Core itself has seen just shy of 300 paying customers, averaging a little more than $5 per purchase. These are folks paying $5 because they want to, not because they have to. Pretty incredible, and definitely something we’ll use to improve the Fate Core line.
I've released products using the PWYW strategy and they have not nearly been as successful. The one key element to all of the previous examples is that well-known brands benefit from the good will they generate. Start up game designers do not have that good will to begin with.

So When Does PWYW Make Sense?
There are some circumstances where PWYW works. As mentioned above, a previous relationship with the customer is critical -- new customers have no emotional attachment or commitment to pay. But conversely, there's something to be said for giving away something without giving it away for free. This creates the illusion of value. As Fred puts it:
You do this because you want more folks, even the folks who couldn’t or wouldn’t normally afford the item at the price you’d set for it, to acquire your work, engage with it, become aware of it. That “better chance of a payment” side-effect can pay dividends to this goal, of course: if folks are paying even a little for a “free” item, there’s a greater incentive to regard the item as having value, which can increase engagement. Engagement drives to the heart of the marketing strategy, of course, so that’s a positive feedback loop in the mix.
This strategy also works when you're trying to sell excess or fill capacity -- a tactic that works for hotels and airlines but not digital products. Because digital products don't usually expire, they stay "on the shelf" theoretically forever and thus aren't nearly as relevant to PWYW.

But there is a strategy that definitely works for PWYW, and that's giving to charity:
In a 2010 paper in Science, a team of researchers led by Ayelet Gneezy conducted a field experiment selling souvenir photos after a roller-coaster ride using PWYW. Some customers were told half the money collected would go to charity, others were told nothing. Without the charity explanation, customers only paid $.92 for their picture. In the charity condition, however, people paid $5.33. For context, the normal price was $12.95.
One of the better known models of this version of PWYW that has been applied to tabletop RPGs is the Humble Bundle:
Humble Bundle, Inc. is a digital storefront for video games, which grew out of its original offering of Humble Bundles, collections of games sold at a price determined by the purchaser and with a portion of the price going towards charity and the rest split between the game developers. Humble Bundle continues to offer these limited-time bundles, but have expanded to include a greater and more persistent storefront. The Humble Bundle concept was initially run by Wolfire Games in 2010, but by its second bundle, the Humble Bundle company was spun out to manage the promotion, payments, and distribution of the bundles. In October 2017, the company was acquired by Ziff Davis through its IGN Entertainment subsidiary, though operates as a separate subsidiary.
So can the Pay What You Want work for you? Maybe, if you're a well-known game designer, you're giving the funds to charity, or you want to gain more visibility for your product without making a profit on each sale. But for those designers who can't afford to depend on the charity of strangers, a set price might make more sense.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
Michael Tresca

Comments

BrokenTwin

Explorer
Outside of Humble Bundles, I'm not sure I've ever bought anything under the PWYW model.
I think the model works for established producers who already have a dedicated following, but there's little incentive to pay for a product by an unknown who hasn't 'proven' themselves.
If Sine Nomine released a PWYW product that I was interested in, I would gladly throw $5-10 bucks towards them for it. But if person-I've-never-heard-of releases a PWYW product that interests me, I'm much more likely to not pay for it, simply because I have no indication that the product is worth my money.
And if it is, I would like to think that I would go back and put money towards it, but... people are by and large lazy, and I'm no different.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
Please put a value on your products. It demonstrates that you stand behind your product and that you believe it is worth spending money on.
As a consumer, if I'm not already familiar with the publisher, then my only estimation as to the value of a product is based on what the publisher is confident in asking. If they're confident in asking for $5, then I assume it's actually worth $5, and may choose to purchase it at that price.

PWYW tells me that the publisher has zero confidence in their product, so I (naturally) assume it's worthless, because that's all the information I have to go on.
 

AriochQ

Adventurer
I did some research on this when dmsguild first started. The common wisdom that 1 out of every 50 will pay for a PWYW product.

I opted to offer some of my stuff for free and charge .99 for most of the others. I make more than enough on dmsguild to pay for my purchases there.
 
I have been able to do OK on PWYW, but I needed to add something extra. Here is what I did:

The first products I offered were Fantasy Grounds conversions of the "standard" 5e pregenerated characters. If you are running online convention games or one shots or have a new player join and you need a quick character, sets of characters from level 1-10 are good. They also teach you how to code some abilities in Fantasy Grounds. Since I was relying on forums help and this was a conversion, I made it PWYW. Over the past few years enough people (over 50) have paid for a couple and they are now "copper" best sellers. I advertise them in the FG forums, usually right during the prep time for the semi-annual online FG-Con.


I also, at one point, was running the WoTC Dragon Heist campaign and I converted the good Waterdeep Encounters book over. Since I do the occasional conversion for sale, I did it at high quality. Unfortunately the DMs Guild rules don't allow for a second listing for Adept work, so I sent over the file to Will Doyle for free. Here is the listing:


The secret to making more money here is advertising with an affiliate link. In the links above, I included my affiliate link. I have not quite made $200 from people paying for the character conversions, but I have made over $1K in affiliate links as once people are looking at my product, they tend to get others. Because I am offering a "free" service, I don't get complaints about the affiliate link.
 

Tallifer

Adventurer
As a customer I really appreciate the DMs Guild PWYW, because I can sample a dozen potentially interesting products every month, and then in the future when I see other work with a price put out by a publisher whose work I have already enjoyed, I can feel confident to buy it sight unseen. Basically, advertising.
 

Sabathius42

Adventurer
Those days are dying.

I quit using anything but pdfs years ago. It's just how things go.
THREAD SIDETRACK!!!

To each their own....

We have two players at my table that use tablet/phone versions of character sheets or spell cards and its an endless stream of this...

GM: Bill, make an insight roll.
Bill: picks up tablet and presses power button.....unlocks tablet.....clicks on some icons.....scrolls around a bit....picks up a die.....rolls...."17"....puts tablet down

minutes pass

GM: Bill, the Giant Asp bites you and you take 10 piercing and an additional 18 poison damage if you fail a CON save.
Bill: picks up tablet and presses power button.....unlocks tablet.....clicks on some icons.....scrolls around a bit....picks up a die.....rolls...."17"....puts tablet down
GM: You failed to hit the DC so you take 28 total damage.
Bill: clicks on some icons.....scrolls around a bit...."i'm resistant to poison so I take 19 instead"

minutes pass

GM: Bill, your companions are lying on the ground dying from the poison. You can make a Medicine check to stabilize each one.
Bill: picks up tablet and presses power button.....unlocks tablet.....clicks on some icons.....scrolls around a bit...."Can I cast Restoration to save them?"
GM: I'm not sure it works on poison, what does the spell say exactly?
Bill: clicks on some icons.....scrolls around a bit....it doesn't mention poison.
GM: Then no, just medicine checks for each companion.
Bill: clicks on some icons.....scrolls around a bit....picks up a die.....rolls...."17, 8, and 24"....puts tablet down

Not only do I like paper because everything is immediately accessible, I like paper because you tend to learn and memorize a lot of the details of you character when you are writing it down.

BACK ON TRACK (but related to my thoughts above)!!!!!

3e had such poorly playtested and balanced 3rd party product that nowadays I just discount it all as being garbage (even when i'm sure a lot of it isn't). The only 3rd party content I consider as having been somewhat vetted for play is, ironically, anything that someone has put up the money to get physically published and that I can purchase a physical product of. Thus I never get my RPG material in a PWYW fashion because you would be clinically insane to do that with printed material.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
As a customer I really appreciate the DMs Guild PWYW, because I can sample a dozen potentially interesting products every month, and then in the future when I see other work with a price put out by a publisher whose work I have already enjoyed, I can feel confident to buy it sight unseen. Basically, advertising.
Oh, we know customers appreciate PWYW. That's a given. What's not to like? Free stuff, and pay for it if you want. This conversation is more about the publishers and how to make it work. :)
 

Jd Smith1

Explorer
THREAD SIDETRACK!!!

To each their own....

We have two players at my table that use tablet/phone versions of character sheets or spell cards and its an endless stream of this...

GM: Bill, make an insight roll.
Bill: picks up tablet and presses power button.....unlocks tablet.....clicks on some icons.....scrolls around a bit....picks up a die.....rolls...."17"....puts tablet down

minutes pass


GM: Bill, the Giant Asp bites you and you take 10 piercing and an additional 18 poison damage if you fail a CON save.
Bill: picks up tablet and presses power button.....unlocks tablet.....clicks on some icons.....scrolls around a bit....picks up a die.....rolls...."17"....puts tablet down
GM: You failed to hit the DC so you take 28 total damage.
Bill: clicks on some icons.....scrolls around a bit...."i'm resistant to poison so I take 19 instead"

minutes pass


GM: Bill, your companions are lying on the ground dying from the poison. You can make a Medicine check to stabilize each one.
Bill: picks up tablet and presses power button.....unlocks tablet.....clicks on some icons.....scrolls around a bit...."Can I cast Restoration to save them?"
GM: I'm not sure it works on poison, what does the spell say exactly?
Bill: clicks on some icons.....scrolls around a bit....it doesn't mention poison.
GM: Then no, just medicine checks for each companion.
Bill: clicks on some icons.....scrolls around a bit....picks up a die.....rolls...."17, 8, and 24"....puts tablet down

Not only do I like paper because everything is immediately accessible, I like paper because you tend to learn and memorize a lot of the details of you character when you are writing it down.

BACK ON TRACK (but related to my thoughts above)!!!!!

3e had such poorly playtested and balanced 3rd party product that nowadays I just discount it all as being garbage (even when i'm sure a lot of it isn't). The only 3rd party content I consider as having been somewhat vetted for play is, ironically, anything that someone has put up the money to get physically published and that I can purchase a physical product of. Thus I never get my RPG material in a PWYW fashion because you would be clinically insane to do that with printed material.
Everyone at my table uses laptops (for the VTT). I use a iPad as well; half my players use electronic PC sheets. With bookmarked PDFs finding things is incredibly fast (or you just google the question).

As opposed to:
Pick up PHB
Thumb through book
Consult index or table of contents.
Thumb through some more....
 

Henry

Autoexreginated
THREAD SIDETRACK!!!

To each their own....

We have two players at my table that use tablet/phone versions of character sheets or spell cards and its an endless stream of this...

GM: Bill, make an insight roll.
Bill: picks up tablet and presses power button.....unlocks tablet.....clicks on some icons.....scrolls around a bit....picks up a die.....rolls...."17"....puts tablet down

minutes pass


GM: Bill, the Giant Asp bites you and you take 10 piercing and an additional 18 poison damage if you fail a CON save.
Bill: picks up tablet and presses power button.....unlocks tablet.....clicks on some icons.....scrolls around a bit....picks up a die.....rolls...."17"....puts tablet down
GM: You failed to hit the DC so you take 28 total damage.
Bill: clicks on some icons.....scrolls around a bit...."i'm resistant to poison so I take 19 instead"

minutes pass


GM: Bill, your companions are lying on the ground dying from the poison. You can make a Medicine check to stabilize each one.
Bill: picks up tablet and presses power button.....unlocks tablet.....clicks on some icons.....scrolls around a bit...."Can I cast Restoration to save them?"
GM: I'm not sure it works on poison, what does the spell say exactly?
Bill: clicks on some icons.....scrolls around a bit....it doesn't mention poison.
GM: Then no, just medicine checks for each companion.
Bill: clicks on some icons.....scrolls around a bit....picks up a die.....rolls...."17, 8, and 24"....puts tablet down

Not only do I like paper because everything is immediately accessible, I like paper because you tend to learn and memorize a lot of the details of you character when you are writing it down.

BACK ON TRACK (but related to my thoughts above)!!!!!

3e had such poorly playtested and balanced 3rd party product that nowadays I just discount it all as being garbage (even when i'm sure a lot of it isn't). The only 3rd party content I consider as having been somewhat vetted for play is, ironically, anything that someone has put up the money to get physically published and that I can purchase a physical product of. Thus I never get my RPG material in a PWYW fashion because you would be clinically insane to do that with printed material.
Yeah, I’d be upset if my players always packed up their character sheets and books and returned them to their backpacks when it wasn’t their turn, too. :) it doesn’t sound like a problem with use of tablets or laptops so much as the player not being prepared when it’s their turn or being in the middle of the action. The majority of our players at the table use tablets (in our case with D&D Beyond) and haven’t experienced this phenomenon - but then we don’t put our tablets to sleep unless combat’s over and we’re in a more story-focused moment. We also have strict table rules about use of apps that aren’t directly related to the game at hand, because we used to have a problem with e-device distraction until we had a serious group discussion about it.
 

WolfhillRPG

Explorer
Out of the 13 products I sell on Drivethrurpg, 4 are PWYW. Together these products have been downloaded 435 and only one person has donated for the work (Thank you for the $0.11...I am not kidding when I say it was actually appreciated). To be fair, I never felt that the quality of these specific products warranted a price greater than $0.50, which is why they were listed as PWYW. While this is just my personal example, I think if something is free people will take it and not consider paying even if it is something they enjoyed.
 

ChaosOS

Explorer
I've got half a dozen dmsguild items that are PWYW and half of them have hit Copper. I'm happy with what they are, they're mostly just me writing down my fanon Eberron in a coherent fashion for other people to use the ideas of. By contrast, the one thing I have that's fully paid was something I contributed on and that's made me a ton relatively speaking.
 

Jd Smith1

Explorer
Out of the 13 products I sell on Drivethrurpg, 4 are PWYW. Together these products have been downloaded 435 and only one person has donated for the work (Thank you for the $0.11...I am not kidding when I say it was actually appreciated). To be fair, I never felt that the quality of these specific products warranted a price greater than $0.50, which is why they were listed as PWYW. While this is just my personal example, I think if something is free people will take it and not consider paying even if it is something they enjoyed.
Thank you. I always pay, but I will admit I've paid a dollar or less on occasions. Don't know if I got anything of yours.
 

WolfhillRPG

Explorer
Don't get me wrong, I like the idea behind PWYW. Drivethrurpg minimum list price is $0.50. I completely understand why they do that, but it forces creators to use the PWYW or free designators in place of a lower price. Most people will download the product but never go back and donate if they appreciate the content. I jokingly ask customers to donate a few silver towards the daily coffee fund. Luckily for me, fantastic customers are willing to spend on other Wolfhill products so I still get to drink my daily coffee!

So users of PWYW, even if you donate couple of cents on products you use, independent producers of content will be encouraged to create more.
 

Longspeak

Explorer
As a consumer, I have used PWYW as a "try it before you buy it" a lot. Something interests me, I think I might be able to use it, I grab it for 0. Why not? But when I like something... I always agonize over what to pay. Like... what's "fair?" This bugs me every time. I don't want to undervalue something I like. I usually err on the side of going high, I think, compared to similar works. Like once I paid $5 for a thing that was a single class and fleshed out subclasses, where similar concepts were listing for $1.99 or $2.99, I think.

But more often I read the thing, then never use it. Actually... that's true of stuff I pay for in advance, too.
 

GreyLord

Adventurer
My experiments with PWYW have all been pretty much disastrous (Except Patreon, where I have a minimum). That tracks with other publishers I’ve spoken to. Most people say they often come back to pay later, but that isn’t bourne out by the evidence. It’s not a model I use any more.
I think it depends on how much profit you are looking to get. I have had some decent success with PWYW. If you put out a product people enjoy at least a few seem to pay money (it may be only 1 in 10 or 1 in 100 to be honest, so the numbers really do count on how many see the product). If you are not after a major windfall and are happy to make only a few hundred (if that) than PWYW can be a completely satisfying way to go.

I find that it puts you out there to find what people REALLY think of the product. If they like it and wish to support the matter, they'll pay, and if they do not, well...they are free to do as they wish.

If it is more a labor of love for me, it will be more likely to be a PWYW as the product is because I WANT to share something I love with others. I'd rather have them see it then not look at it at all.

On the otherhand if it is going to be a pure commercial product which I could care less on, but I've invested the time and effort into it...I'll charge $50 for it. I have to cover higher art costs and many other factors that go into such a project.

BECAUSE the projects are things that I absolutely love and do on my own time, when I do a PWYW, I have never considered it a loss. That said, I've always made a profit overall with PWYW, even if it has been a minimal profit. Sometimes I haven't been as happy with the art, but I've managed to pay the artists and others who were part of the project.

On the otherhand, I cannot say the same with other products. Some make money (some a couple thousand), others I have actually lost money. I tend to have a hard time with some of the editors occasionally (had one who injected grammar problems into the book rather than actually help, which was infuriating) and other aspects as well...so normally not as satisfying.

At the end of the day I think it depends ON THE REASONS you are writing the material and putting it out there. If it is a labor of love I think one will love feedback and love to at least hear other people seeing their ideas...whereas with some of the more professional items at times it's not so much a matter of loving it, as much as it actually being work and the daily grind.
 
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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
At the end of the day I think it depends ON THE REASONS you are writing the material and putting it out there. If it is a labor of love I think one will love feedback and love to at least hear other people seeing their ideas...whereas with some of the more professional items at times it's not so much a matter of loving it, as much as it actually being work and the daily grind.
I run a publishing company. We publish products to pay people for their work. :)
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
I run a publishing company. We publish products to pay people for their work. :)
And not all producers of electronic content are publishing companies. Many are hobbyists, who just happen to be willing to offer their material for, essentially, tips.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
And not all producers of electronic content are publishing companies. Many are hobbyists, who just happen to be willing to offer their material for, essentially, tips.
Yes. I was answering the question about my own reasons for producing content.
 

Malrex

Explorer
I have 2 products as PWYW and the rest I have set a price. My first attempt at PWYW was near the beginning and it hasn't done that well with donations--in fact, after 3 years, I'm still in the hole from creating it. I cringe when I look at it though as I have learned a lot more about layout, etc. Since it bothers me, I plan to take it down in a few months to rework it. See my last paragraph why.

My second PWYW did pretty well comparative to my other products. I attribute to that to being extremely lucky with someone asking a hardcore reviewer to review it and he seemed to like it. When my email was blowing up I had to scour the internet to see what the heck was going on and stumbled upon the review. It has made more profit than some of my products that I have a price on.

I have conflicted thoughts about PWYW. I agree with the person above that you should do it as a labor of love and that you do it to share to others....but I also agree with some of the others that say be confident about your work and set a price. When people don't put a value on something, they may not even read it. It's also frustrating by trying to do something 'nice' and giveback to the community by putting something up as a PWYW, and people throw down 1 cent for it. Seriously? Geeze.

A PWYW item, more than likely, is not going to make you a profit in my opinion. Instead I view it as more as a advertising tool (since I HATE advertising) in that it gives a bigger example of your finished work. I want to take down my first PWYW item because it could use some improvement on the layout and currently, isn't a very good advertising tool or a best example of my work--so it makes sense for me to do so. PWYW COULD be a strategic tool in that you get a lot of people to download your product, BUT...that's hard to fathom because you may get a crapload of downloads, but how many of those people are actually reading it? Aha!! but you had people download your product and now you can build up your audience for when you send out a shout out for your next new product that has a cost!!!!....except....a lot of people have that feature blocked and don't want emails....so it's a toss up if PWYW is a useful tool for a publisher or not--I've started to lean towards 'not'.. I agree with the above that if you are well known and people enjoy your work, PWYW may work out for you but I wouldn't know.
 

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