Monday, August 14, 2017

Kevin Crawford (Stars Without Number) Did an AMA on Reddit - Interesting piece on Free vs PWYW

I'm an infrequent visitor to Reddit. I find it difficult to navigate and finding value is often a needle in a haystack route. Thankfully, someone else follows closer than me, and I found this link last week on Google Plus:


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...


  1. This may well make me sound like a dingus, but SWN is one of the few products I have bought in hardcopy after downloading the free pdf. Mostly because the description of the hard copy mentioned material not available in the free pdf, and I was very,very impressed by what I saw in free pdf, so I paid full price (well, softcover) for the hard copy.

    Why a dingus? Because I download tons of PWYW titles at $0.00, and the author never hears from me again if their work just didn't impress me. PWYW is just a tip jar, but it feels like a dick move because of the emotional transaction stuff that Kevin mentioned.

    Semi separate subject, Frog God totally impresses me with their levels of community support. Like, *A LOT*.

  2. Well, I don't recall the free version being the same as his full version either. I think we just got a bare bones, yet solid, write up of what his game could do. Plus, he is right. I would have never even given it a look if that look was not for free. Why? For the very reason he said. I already owned a metric ton of Traveller, I already owned several sci fi settings for Savage Worlds. I already owned Eclipse Phase, Cthulhu Tech, Starblazers, and others. So the only reason I gave him a look, and ended up playing in a campaign, and buying additional PDF's, as well as a print copy of the core book, was because of that free look he gave my group and I.

  3. Free also helps all players have the base rules. Hasn't it always been the GM saddled with buying the extra stuff?

  4. I never thought of it this way, probably because I am a heartless bastard who gladly pays zero for PWYW all the time, and I come back and pay real currency if print edition is made available (assuming I like it). That said....I think the first couple times I loaded PWYW I did feel a compulsion to pay something, but once I realized this was just another fancy way of saying, "if you're my mom, here's how to pay, and if you're not....download away, you effer" then I stopped distinguishing between the two.

    But yeah I suspect Kevin is totally right as not everyone is as heartless as I.

  5. Free rulesets including Lotfp, labyrinth lord and of course S&W are what brought me back to the hobby and served to guide me to the OSR. Free Barebones (no to low art,overview of character creation, basic overview of the product's selling points and or setting highlights) has sold me on several products in the past. Also if the base rules are available then I can direct my players to download them for their own use increasing the products reach even further.

  6. Free RPGs can work, but I've also had good results from offering the occasional free adventure.

  7. PWYW is fine and dandy by me. It let's me read something and pay afterward. It's like shareware in the olden days.


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