Kevin has a lot to say. Heck, the whole thread makes for interesting reading. The piece that struck me is this:
I'm confident that SWN would've died in its crib if I hadn't released the base game for free.
When you're a small RPG publisher, your biggest enemy isn't production expense. It's not retail accessibility. It's simply being noticed. Between Amazon and OneBookShelf and Scribus and stock art, anybody with the price of a burger can get a game or a supplement onto the market. And anybody has. Your offering is struggling for notice in a sea of other games, and you haven't got the fanbase to spread word of what you're doing. Your only chance is to pique some casual reader's curiosity enough to get them to download your product and give it a glance.
It is much, much easier to do that when there's no price attached. From what I've seen, even Pay What You Want products lose downloads because people don't even like the implicit social contract of maybe theoretically having to pay if they like it. They don't want to deal with that, so they just don't download it. A completely-free, fully-playable product that shows what you can do is what a lot of small publishers need to convince readers that they're worth spending money on.
Of course, that then implies that there is something else they can spend money on. An open door isn't very helpful if there's nothing in the room beyond. And all too often, small publishers work like the devil to make their game and then don't do anything more to support it. It's perfectly fine if that's what they want to do, but if they want to make a modest business out of their work, they need to think beyond the present creation.I'm pretty sure Swords & Wizardry Light would not have received the same reception without being available for free in PDF and Print.
There is this ongoing discussion of Free vs Pay when it comes to RPGs. The community loves free. The community is willing to pay. How do you get the two to meet?
Kevin's idea of giving away the rules for free and charging for support material has merit. In some ways, its like PWYW with a higher incentive to try because there is no pressure to "buy"
I agree with Kevin that support is where this all comes together. You can offer the best ruleset in the world for free, but without support and follow up products you are leaving money on the table as well as disappointed fans. Might not be much, but something is better than nothing and if you did the right thing with your free rules you'll have a happy market for your not quite free follow up material.
Of course, this doesn't always apply to Frog God Games. I think there is more free support for SWL in PDF and Print in the immediate pipeline...