So I’ve been rocking Pay What You Want[1] on DriveThruRPG since June, when the option became available. What have I learned in that time?[2]

The Evidence

I’m not comfortable sharing direct amounts of money[3], so I apologise if you’re looking for that sort of thing but it ain’t going to happen. Each month, I sold around 20–25 products, mostly PDFs but a couple of print copies of BLACK SEVEN. This netted me $X (±10% each month).

In June, the first month of PWYW, that spiked to 240 copies – 10x my normal monthly sales figure. June’s takehome was about 5 * $X. Fair enough, lots of people checking things out for free, but also a massive surge in people paying because PWYW is new and funky. I saw a couple of people pay more than the list price of a product, and a few people picking $0.01.

Since June, sales have been betwen 75 and 110 products. My income is back to $X. Roughly four times as many people checking out my games, but only the original number paying (and much of that coming from BLACK SEVEN and ANIMUS, which aren’t PWYW).

DriveThru has a system where you can purchase a product multiple times, and with PWYW you can do so for different amounts. Hence, you can grab a book for free, decide that it’s worth some money, then come back and give the creator some cash. Because this is a little counterintuitive, I’ve set up emails mentioning this fact (in the style of an FYI rather than a begging letter) when people download a PWYW book. The number of people who have done that is about 1% over the course of 500 sales.

The Philosophy

I know I’m not the only publisher to see this phenomenon, and let’s be fair: it’s a little disheartening to discover that people don’t want to put a number in the PWYW box. But I think this colors my attitudes towards PWYW a little differently to others, because I see the role of games a little differently – at least, this goes for games I produce; things I create for other companies are naturlly guided by their philosophies.

The thing is, I have a not-insignificant number of friends who do not have the discretionary income to pay for games. I could give them free copies of what I make, but what about other people in the same position who don’t happen to know me? I could also just say “sucks to be you”, but I’m really not that kind of person. But at the same time, I want to see something in exchange for my work from people who can afford it. To that end, I released games as Creative Commons, allowing for free sharing and distribution, but I wanted to use PWYW as a driver to increase awareness. It’s increased downloads. I don’t think those are the same thing. The people who have mentioned playing my PWYW games have been people who’ve played my other games – those who have enjoyed BLACK SEVEN or who follow me on Twitter based on my work for Onyx Path.

Really, that comes from the limitations of “free”. I’m willing to believe that the vast majority of people who grab a PWYW product intend to read it and sling money the author’s way if they thing it’s deserved. But because people haven’t paid for it, the book doesn’t occupy the same mindspace as something they’ve dropped currency on[4], so it shuffles off to the back of the queue and becomes something they might look at in six months’ time, and by then it’s something they haven’t any impetus to pay for because their reading and enjoyment is sufficiently divorced from the acquisition that with the best will in the world they’re not going to remember to go back and pay for it.[5]

You can circumvent this by being a known publisher with an already-loyal following (e.g. Evil Hat). Then, PWYW can work for you – I don’t have access to their internals to know if they’ve seen the same results as me, but I’d suspect that they’ve got enough people that have faith and goodwill in them for PWYW to work better for them.

The Actions

With the current system as it is, here’s how I’m going to use DTRPG’s PWYW process in the future.

  • For any two-page games I make, like Beyond and Tales of the Space Marines, I’m going to put them up as PWYW. Philosophically, I can’t find a price point that I’m entirely happy with.
  • For any products that I would have made free, like Touched by Darkness for Æternal Legends, I’m making them PWYW. If people want to sling me a buck or two, I’m not about to complain.
  • I will also release older games, like Æternal Legends as PWYW once I feel they’ve run their course.
  • New games, and new releases for games like BLACK SEVEN, will be fixed-price.

The Change

What I’d like to see as a PWYW system combines pieces that have been implemented in a few places, but since DTRPG is the 800kg gorilla in the marketplace it would need to implement these changes for them to be useful to independent publishers like myself.

  • A way to give free stuff to people who pay more than a certain amount for a product. I’d like to be able to release a few for-pay supplements but offer them free to people who paid over what I’d otherwise set the PDF price at, or include some time-exclusive extras that others can only get later on.
  • The ability to show the average price excluding people who paid nothing on the product page, in place of a real price. The current DTRPG layout encourages people to treat PWYW as another way of saying “free”.
  • Ideally, also the ability to set an “initial” average – say 10 or 50 or howevermany purchases at an amount that I’d set the product at if it weren’t PWYW. If not, then just that price.
  • A minimum price, even if it’s merchant-specific and is just $1. People who pay $0.01 don’t do me any good and don’t do DTRPG any good (they’re paying less than the payment processing fees). I’m happy for people to get my books for free, but if you’re going to pay anything then a dollar is pretty much a minimum to not screw the merchant.

So yeah. That’s where I’m at.


  1. Herein “PWYW”.  ↩

  2. I apologise in advance if this is a bit choppy and stream-of-consciousness. I have my excuses but I’m aware that it’s not my best writing.  ↩

  3. I was brought up not to speak about direct amounts because it’s rude, due to a whole lot of things including the inherent class system that idiots in the middle and upper classes think doesn’t exist any more.  ↩

  4. You see a similar effect when people get even big-ticket games out of DTRPG charity mega-bundles.  ↩

  5. I would say “I’m sure you’re not like that”, but the figures above say that you are unless you’re one of five specific people. You have personal feelings about a hypothetical situation, I have evidence.  ↩

3 Responses to Pay What You Want and Me

  1. […] too can get $9,000 for offering something Pay What You Want on DriveThru, take a quick look at a dissenting opinion or two. Our success with PWYW is likely similar to our success with Kickstarter: driven very […]

  2. […] Back in September I wrote about my experiences during the first three months of Pay What You Want on DriveThruRPG. I went back to look at a longer span. […]

  3. I may be mistaken, but if you’re back to a similar amount of earnings, but with more downloads than before, doesn’t that suggest the awareness of your stuff will increase?

    In any case, your actions list seems very sensible. 🙂

    Not sure I agree that talking about specific numbers is rude per se, but not sure that’s a conversation worth having online in ‘public’.

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