Stop People Stealing – Get Them To Pay What They Can Afford?

With piracy becoming a hot issue again (the legislation to combat it especially), it seems that some companies are trying to fight this by giving the pirate no excuse. They’re allowing them to pay what they can afford or even better. Games for free.

It seems to be that there are two ways to tackle people not paying for your stuff. DRM the hell out of your game (this upsets people it turns out) or you can make it easier on them to access it legally by reducing the price or even making it free.

‘Pay What You Can Afford’, ‘Pay What You Want’, whatever you want to call it, it’s been around for a while. There have been albums, films and even stand up comedian’s performances that have used this sales method and it seems to have worked for them. The most well known example of this ‘Pay What You Want’ price scheme within games is (arguably)  ‘The Humble Indie Bundle’. Now, this is a charity focused effort, so its relevance on commercial products aimed at making a profit may be skewed, but it’s important to see that these games come with no DRM and that people will often pay above the minimum required. This is a win for the developers on two counts as they receive a cut of the money and get their name out there, increasing their potential future sales with publicity that they could never afford on their own. This charity focused product is not the only example though. There are plenty of others.

This being said, it seems that ‘Pay What You Want’ is better at drumming up publicity and getting games into people’s hands rather than actually making a profit. Actual figures can be somewhat hard to come by but thankfully, one particularly successful and relatively well known project called ‘Proun’ has revealed all.

“…Didn’t I make a lot of money with Proun? More than ten thousand euros, isn’t that a lot of money? Yes and no. To me personally, Proun did incredibly well. That is a lot of money to make with a side-project, and since I get to keep most of it myself… wow!

However, over 250,000 people played Proun… Through Ronimo and through my connections to indie developers all over the world, I know what kind of money a game that achieves that kind of success can make. If I would not have done the Pay What You Want model and would have done a fixed price on Steam instead, I think I may have made 5 to 10 times as much money. That is while even taking into consideration that without the Pay What You Want model, the game would have generated a lot less buzz and much fewer people would have played it.”

So, from Proun’s example, you’d think that PWYW (this is what I’m calling it now) is a great marketing tool, but not an entirely reliable or feasible way to make a profit, which is ultimately the bottom line. If a game that can be bought for a $1 is getting pirated, how do full priced games stand a chance? Even with all sorts of initiatives set up, it still seems that piracy is rampant. Arguably, there are some reports of certain types of piracy falling but the very nature of piracy means it’s extremely difficult to find out exact figures.


It seems to be clear that in the battle against piracy, PWYW isn’t the answer. It’s a great tool and I really do enjoy seeing studios take the plunge and put faith in their product by choosing to sell their work through this method. This article manages to summarise pretty well how I feel about PWYW;

“Though I don’t doubt that indie studios’ pricing experiments are better for the consumer, I have lingering concerns as to whether they are better for the studios themselves.

I’m less likely to buy indie games at full price, because I know that there’s a good chance that I’ll be able to pay what I want for it shortly down the line. The Humble Bundle folks, which used to rarely release bundles, have put out three bundles in the past six months. Between the cutthroat pricing of iOS games and the pay-what-you-want sales of PC games, indie studios might find their work being valued less and less.”

In conclusion, you’d have to say that PYWY is a great ‘buzz’ generator and, especially in the case of ‘The Humble Indie Bundle’, a fantastic incentive and method for people to donate what they can afford to charity. In the battle against piracy though, it’s not really making a dent. Is this because of the very nature of PWYW, or is it because no major publisher has dared to try it? We won’t really know until that happens. So. Who’s first?





2 thoughts on “Stop People Stealing – Get Them To Pay What They Can Afford?

  1. Interesting post and I think you’re asking the right questions about the direction of pay what you want. I don’t know that major studios will ever go that path. They are too locked in a traditional marketing system with a commercial force that is expensive. Smaller developers can’t such a marketing approach so pwyw can be a great tool for them as you’ve said to develop buzz, but that doesn’t mean that it happens without a great investment in communications.

    It’s all about findability. How visible is your product and I think pay what you want makes you more visible and more accessible too as the price barrier is not there. My company has introduced this business model within the online publishing sector for english language learning and we’re really excited to be the first to put it out there. If curious, more info here:

    Thanks for the post. Cheers, Brad

  2. Glad you liked my post.

    It’s kind of odd, but the business behind games is what interests me most. From a ‘writing about it’ perspective anyway. Glad there are others out there interested in this also.

    I think investing in communicating is hugely important, you’re right there. I may be slightly exaggerating, but I feel a company without a twitter account or a Facebook page, forums or a blog, might as well not exist. People want to feel ‘connected’ to these companies. It’s this connection that often secures sales. No one wants to hurt or damage something they feel invested in, which is important with the easy access to pirated versions of what these companies sell.

    Perhaps this increased ‘connection’ and investment could go someway to explain the whole ‘fanboy’ phenomenon?

    I think with the transition gaming is going through (onLive, ‘Freemium, PWYW), business models, pricing models and business practices are going to become bigger ‘news’ in gaming media.

    Anyway, keep checking in and thanks for reading.

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