Art, Games, and Money

edited October 2009 in Story Games
Everyone seems to be discussing this in a bunch of various threads, so I wanted to bring it together and focus it into one discussion. Lately we've been talking about:

Games as monetized and free objects in various cultures
The issues with monetizing unfinished content
The perceived value of a monetized game vs. a free game
Whether having free and monetized versions of the same product is a good idea
Giving up control, actual or perceived, of your art/game in exchange for money

What I want to know, in this thread, is the following:

Do you sell your games, give them away, or both? Why? If both, why give away some games and charge for others?

Do you buy games, obtain free games, or both? If you do not do one of these things, how come? Do you do one less than another?

If you only give games away for free, what would have to change to get you to monetize them? If you only monetize games, what would have to change to make you give them away for free?

How does "artistic integrity" play into your decision to monetize or give away your games, or does it not have a place at all?



I'll answer a bit downthread in a new post. (Didn't want anyone to think I was setting a trap or anything, but also didn't want this to be all my answers, because I'm more interested in what others have to say.)

Comments

  • Do you sell your games, give them away, or both? Why?
    I charge for all of my finished games, including Murderland, which I only sell as a $5 PDF. I give away PDFs of my playtest documents because I don't feel comfortable charging for something that isn't finished, and because (hopefully) people will be paying me for my product in a non-monetized way: with feedback.

    Do you buy games, obtain free games, or both? If you do not do one of these things, how come? Do you do one less than another?
    I own one free game that was literally pressed into my hands. I only purchase games. I even purchased a copy of the Bliss Stage PDF, although I expect that Ben would have given me a copy. I like to pay for things in order to support people who are doing work I like. I also do weird things like always buy every CD from every muscial artist who's changed my life, even if later CDs are crap, as a form of patronage. I'd prefer to just paypal them, but most of them don't give me that opportunity. There are a couple free games I'd like to check out (Lady Blackbird), but I just keep forgetting to. If I have to spend money, I have to plan those expenditures, and it's more likely I remember.

    If you only monetize games, what would have to change to make you give them away for free?
    I'd have to stop doing nice layout and purchasing art, and it'd have to take up a lot less of my time. Or I'd have to be rich enough to not have to do much of anything.

    How does "artistic integrity" play into your decision to monetize or give away your games, or does it not have a place at all?
    It doesn't. I always work with an audience in mind, so I'm already writing for people who will hopefully give me money. If I wanted to write for just me, with no outside influences and no worries about whether anyone else would enjoy what I was doing, then I wouldn't be writing multiplayer games. As I've said elsewhere, I think the idea that you have to be broke and give away art for free is crap. Artists are known for starving, but I don't think most starving artists are broke from a lack of trying to sell.
  • edited October 2009
    Posted By: ElizabethDo you sell your games, give them away, or both?
    Both. I have about fifteen free games in PDF, and two games you can put money on (one for the PDF - the other is free-PDF, but pay for print).
    Posted By: Elizabeth Why? If both, why give away some games and charge for others?
    My baseline state of "free game" is there because I like giving away games.

    I have a profit on the lulu-printing of Hoard so that I can give that money to the artist. But I live with her, so that's not, like, some noble thing.

    I charge for Cog Wars so I can give money to the artist (primarily) and other people that pitched in (also); I bought the artist a case of beer (and had one myself), and a few of the writers have about twenty bucks coming their way in addition to what I paid them when they did their original writing. I also charge money to set the game apart as being more significant than my other games, because it's simply, flat-out, better.
    Posted By: ElizabethDo you buy games, obtain free games, or both? If you do not do one of these things, how come? Do you do one less than another?
    Both. I'm not particularly inclined in any direction.
    Posted By: ElizabethHow does "artistic integrity" play into your decision to monetize or give away your games, or does it not have a place at all?
    I'm not sure what this question means. The fact that I'm an artist is incidental, not central, to game design for me. So I'll go with "no place at all", I think.

    Any other questions, ask away.
  • I charge money for the games I design. I do it because value is gauged in money in my social circles. To take myself seriously, be taken seriously and not be considered a failure, I have to make an honest career out of whatever I do. As that happens to be games among other things, I try to make money out of them. This justifies the amount of time and effort I dedicate to them.

    Artistic integrity doesn't really play into this, due to how I don't actually need the money so much as to make sacrifices on that front - it's just a score-keeping device, and so far I haven't encountered any really compelling reason to compromise; the whole point of playing the money-making game for me is to see if I make it playing by my own rules. (I should note that I'm also pretty optimistic about compassionate art as a sales point - so I don't, for instance, believe that I could make any better money by writing mediocre D&D books or whatever.) I could see this happening if I were offered enough money for minuscule enough artistic sacrifice, but so far this hasn't surfaced, and thus I do whatever I please. A part of this is that I'm not only pretty unwilling to compromise artistically, but also rather non-comformist in other ways. So even if I were offered a stable and well-paying way of doing only the teeniest bit compromised art, but that required wearing a tie, I'd probably forsake the chance. So... real tough customer in that regard, me.

    I don't really see how to make me give my games away for free, except as a tactical point or a necessity of a project. So Zombie Cinema rules are mostly available for free because I hope that'll boost the sales of the boardgame (can't pirate game components), while Solar System and World of Near are available for free (well, the latter isn't in the Internet yet insofar as I know) because I wanted to respect Clinton's long-term publishing strategy for the game line. Apart from tactical considerations and necessities, though, the only way to make me publish for free is to provide me the same level of esteem in other ways. Asking for money is simply the best deal around.

    When it comes to games by others, I buy a lot of them, but only because I retail them. If I didn't, I would probably buy almost none - I very rarely buy a game if I'm not going to retail it as well. I don't go out of my way for free games, either - my interest in them is equal to commercial ones, so that I'm pretty much as likely to check a game out either way. It's just that if the game is commercial, then I'll have to either buy it (for retail), ask for a comp copy (I've done this for retail purposes when I've been uncertain of whether I'd want to retail a game), buy it regardless (this takes me literally years to get around to doing - for example, I'm now coming to decide that I want to get Anaxial's Roster years and years after it was published; I only seem to buy proven classics) or pirate it (which I've done with old out of print D&D stuff that I've been researching during the last couple of years).
  • 1) Sell, mostly. XXXXtreme STREET luge is available in a "download the file and cut it out so you can bind it yourself" format, but that's the exception, really, as it has different goals than the rest of my games.

    I give away playtest copies, physical or PDF, privately or publicly, depending on the game's needs and my time and energy. I would never charge money for a playtest because monetizing or publicizing the creative process while it's going on is entirely wrongheaded and deeply creatively harmful. This doesn't have to do with artistic integrity or anything, it's just that it's quite clear to me that it's harmful to the process.

    2) I buy games, basically once a year, at GenCon (I send Tony D to buy games for me, recently.) I play games I bought, or games that other people have that they're excited about playing. I can't remember the last time I played a free game. Oh wait! Yes. The Pool, a few years ago. I didn't like it.

    3) If I couldn't monetize games, I'd twiddle around with a few games for my friends or, most likely, move on to another creative pursuit, like fiction. But more importantly, if indie RPGs were non-monetizeable, I probably never would have found the Riddle of Steel, which means I would have stopped playing RPGs seven years ago.

    4) I believe in artistic integrity like hull integrity, rather than like moral integrity. It's the robustness of your artistic process, and the robustness of your art as it enters the world and encounters an audience. It plays into my decision not to design-in-public as an audience-directed spectacle, and likewise to avoid monetizing playtest work. Likewise, I sell my games as a demonstration of the integrity of my artistry (this is good enough to charge money for), a means of increasing the integrity of my art (the money I charge goes into making this good), and because charging money for something creates engagement with the art on both sides in a way that I've not seen easily replicated by anything else.

    yrs--
    --Ben
  • Posted By: ElizabethDo you sell your games, give them away, or both? Why? If both, why give away some games and charge for others?
    I will sell my LARP system book, but won't sell its core rules. Why: because I want it to be played, but the average player doesn't need to know all the "how to build abilities" and "how to host a LARP" stuff--they just need the base rules for verbals and effects. GMs, however, can and will use all the extras. With a sometimes 30- or 100-to-1 ratio of players to GMs, it's best if I provide core rules to the masses and focus sales (and support) on organizers and game-makers (i.e. folks who will use GLASS to create a whole game type).

    I do not, however, sell any of my Icehouse designs (yet; see below). That is partly cultural--Icehouse players don't charge for these simple games (except Andy Looney, of course)--and it's partly because of potential legal issues--I don't know if I *am permitted* to sell anything which requires pyramids to play. But there are still a couple of game designs for pyramids that I am considering monetizing if I can arrange permissions to reference "Treehouse," but what I'd be selling is the reference materials to play (i.e. so folks don't have to color print for themselves) and possibly additional play elements (e.g. cards, perhaps). So I'm not so much selling a protected IP as I'm selling a more-affordable play aide for a specific (generic RPG) Icehouse game.

    I do not try to sell incomplete systems or games (e.g. The Sea Worshippers; ASCII @HACK) because I have enough trouble getting play tests when I seek them that I wouldn't want any barrier to entry. I do not try to sell my "experimental" games (e.g. For Mature Audience, FYAYAH) because they are either too simple to memorize (i.e. no real need for the rules, once read) OR I doubt that anyone has the balls to play them, let alone PAY to play (I could be wrong) OR they're so derivative of other games that it doesn't feel right.
    Do you buy games, obtain free games, or both? If you do not do one of these things, how come? Do you do one less than another?
    I buy 99% of my games. I have a small handful of free games that struck me as fun (Donjon, when it could be had as HTML; Neverwhere) and I hope to play them... but I will print them out for use at the table (I'm not a game-with-laptop fan).

    The main reasons I buy are:
    * To support the artist. Number one reason, hands down. I want this culture to thrive and gain more and more penetration, so I can have all sorts of fellow gamers and con game options and fan-created content and such-like.
    * Because I appreciate a finely crafted artifact. This is in particular why I bought Burning Empires, even though I doubt that I'll ever play it (and the same will happen again soon with Mouse Guard). This is why I beg V. Baker to remake and reprint Mechaton about once a quarter (I feel like I bought an ashcan, though it IS totally playable as written).
    * Because I am a bit of a packrat collector, and so I sometimes get "completionist" with a particular author or game system (thank GOD I'm no longer into D&D, or I'd have sunk several hundred into 4E stuff alone!).
    * Because if I don't then no one else in my limited play group will, and so we'll never get to try it out.
    * Because I run a lot at cons, and I want folks to see the actual publication, should they go to seek it out afterwards.
    If you only give games away for free, what would have to change to get you to monetize them?
    I do both, so...
    I'd only monetize my freebies if (a) they were finished and included enough "meat" to justify a print run or for-sale PDF or (b) the only way to play the game easily is with play aides that are tricky or pricey to provide for oneself (i.e. "the board game approach").
    If you only monetize games, what would have to change to make you give them away for free?
    * Free server access for life, so I can keep the Game and Character Database online.
    * Retirement-level wealth, so that I needn't be compensated for what will (hopefully) become almost a part time job (support, promotion, even attending events to "tune" them or consult).
    * Ownership of or access to a significant-sized area of land, so that I could run playtests for expansions without paying hundreds for park rental.
    * A steady supply of computing equipment, applications, and free artwork, so that I could author high-quality supplements continuously (new laptops cost; new hard drives and memory cost... but, hey!, at least software is free!).

    In other words... without the money, I am volunteering a LOT of time and my own money, to even get the game off the ground, let alone support a (hoped-for) player base in the hundreds or even in the thousands.
    How does "artistic integrity" play into your decision to monetize or give away your games, or does it not have a place at all?
    Not really at all, I don't think. I think my ideas are worth something more than "thanks!" and I know that the system (GLASS) is sufficiently complex (in front-end implementation, not routine play) to justify a quality reference and procedural document. The final product will have been about five years and at least a few thousand hours in development, and I might only sell a couple of copies per hundred actual players... but you can BET more than 2% of players will want to use the database and forums!

    I needs to get paid, or GLASS will just be tossed out, support-less, and probably never accomplish its actual "artistic" goal: providing a universal system to convention and traveling LARP players, to support fast start-up and Living Worlds. Look at what The Camarilla has to spend and do to maintain their Living World... and they don't even have to author the system or support it! (That said, they SURE do tweak the piss out of it, to avoid the problems that crop up when you have a HUGE player base.)

    Beyond that... well, I hope to make a very beautiful artifact, in the final book, primarily to provide additional value add (and value appreciation). That work will be much more "artistic" than any design and testing work on the system... and, yeah, OK, maybe it will be worth something just as a visual and textual artifact, even if never implemented. It might even be an entertaining read! ;)

    SSL, but I am sort of in both camps, across two or three product categories, and so I can't take any sort of concise, absolutist stance. :)
  • edited October 2009
    Do you sell your games, give them away, or both? Why? If both, why give away some games and charge for others?
    In the case of PDFs, I give them away for free. In the case of print, I sell them at cost via lulu (so I don't make nor spend money on it). I have recently bought ten copies of my latest game and intend to sell them for the price of one hug at the next convention I'm going to.

    Edited to add: I make my own illustrations, layout and don't do editing (but get friends to proofread), so no cost to me there.

    Do you buy games, obtain free games, or both? If you do not do one of these things, how come? Do you do one less than another?
    If there's a free game I'm interested in, I certainly download and check it out. I might play it. If there's a non-free game I'm interested in, I might buy it. If I do I'm likely to play it. I have bought games at two occasions in the last few years.

    If you only give games away for free, what would have to change to get you to monetize them?
    I'd have to be able to make enough money on them to be able to make a living on it, or start doing something else that in combination with game design can earn me a living. However, I'm hesitant to do this as I don't particularly like the idea of designing for an audience.

    How does "artistic integrity" play into your decision to monetize or give away your games, or does it not have a place at all?
    I'm not sure what "artistic integrity" really means. Seems to me it's usually used in the "that guy doesn't have any" way.
  • Do you sell your games, give them away, or both? Why? If both, why give away some games and charge for others?
    I sell some things, mostly larger projects. Two of those are not-for-profit experiments, the content of which is also freely available. I give away a lot of things, too, primarily smaller projects. By and large, I give these away because they are supporting another person's game or they are not marketable or I am lazy.

    Do you buy games, obtain free games, or both? If you do not do one of these things, how come? Do you do one less than another?
    It's very rare for me to buy a game I haven't played and enjoyed already. The last game I bought was The Smoke Dream. I obtain free games all the time, either as finished things or as playtest drafts, and occasionally play them. The last free game I played was Archipelago II.

    How does "artistic integrity" play into your decision to monetize or give away your games, or does it not have a place at all?
    I view what we do as craft, so the question is dodgy, but I largely agree with Ben. Be proud of what you share, know how to act (in the southern idiom), don't charge money for something that isn't finished, or isn't of good quality and good value.
  • Do you sell your games, give them away, or both? Why? If both, why give away some games and charge for others?
    We sell our games. We give away some pieces of the game because they stand nearly alone (that is, alone enough) and they show off our strengths. We give away the game prior to "gatewaying" the text insofar as we design in public -- anyone can watch the text advance until we start typesetting.

    Do you buy games, obtain free games, or both? If you do not do one of these things, how come? Do you do one less than another?
    I buy games. I'm not interested in free games. Downloads sit on my drive and never play. Free paper lies around the house. Thoughtful, well-constructed books get read and shelved and re-read. They are things I like to own. If someone was giving away 200-page hardcovers with solid content, I'd probably get in line.

    If you only give games away for free, what would have to change to get you to monetize them? If you only monetize games, what would have to change to make you give them away for free?
    To get me to give away my games, customers would have to demonstrate the value of my product and at the same to me give me some equivalent to the marketing game that I enjoy when managing the game as a product. It'd be nice if my expenses were covered too, but that's secondary. Mostly I want proof that the work is valued (cash is good proof) and a meta-game to play after publication.

    How does "artistic integrity" play into your decision to monetize or give away your games, or does it not have a place at all?
    It's huge. The book we made is EXACTLY the artifact we wanted to create and selling it is exactly what we wanted to do with it. We have refused all compromise on this vision so far, and it is a largely artistic (maybe also academic) one.
  • edited October 2009
    Do you buy games, obtain free games, or both? If you do not do one of these things, how come? Do you do one less than another?

    I'll answer this one only, as I'm not a designer.

    I used to buy a lot of games and supplements. As is typical for many gamers, I got alot of enjoyment out of reading them, maybe a few neat ideas, but generally never used them much beyond that. After selling 95% of my trad gaming collection (Palladium, D&D, GURPS &c) occasionally I'll torrent a particular book as a reference (either for art or content) or for nostalgia's sake. The last physical game I bought was Changeling: the Lost, as my friend was running it, my partner and I decided to join his group. Recently, I've bought a PDF of Mouse Guard, ran it a few times but really didn't think it was all that great. Contrawise, after playing in 3:16 a game at Joe's Thursday Night Fight Night, er, Story Game Jamboree, I rushed home, bought the PDF and had a great time with it. Currently, I'm playtesting Apocalypse World and it's free and lots of fun. That about covers the last two years of gaming purchases. Less all the free PDFs that I download and generally never play; except Crow. Crow is fucking amazing. And Lady Blackbird. Lady Blackbird is fucking amazing.

    So, to answer you're question: free games way more often that not-free.

    This isn't because I'm too cheap to lay down ten or twenty bucks for a game (less than two tickets to the cinema). It's because I can't test drive all the games that looks cool or that everyone is raving about. Like, the Mouse Guard thing. Everyone thought it was really great, my buddy in Van thinks it's the shit but what it does, I was doing already. x10.

    I suppose that I'd be more inclined to buy games if their descriptions were richer. Instead of virginal Mormon cowboy paladins solve tough moral problems, something that also spelled out both the how and the what of play. Both in terms of mechanics but also play experience. Maybe one page of the basics of the mechanics and their effects and affects, and a synopsis of a typical play experience.

    Edit: to sound, like, less like, like, a valley girl.
  • Posted By: ElizabethDo you buy games, obtain free games, or both? If you do not do one of these things, how come? Do you do one less than another?
    I don't design games so the rest of the questions I don't answer. I both read and play free and purchased games. I can't really answer what I do "more" of due to my love for open-licensed games like D20 and FATE. When I play a D20 game with a purchased supplement, am I playing a free game (SRD, yo) or am I playing a purchased game? Nobody knows, it is a mystery.
  • Fair or not, "free game" to me is entirely synonymous with "crap game."

    I do, however, play the living hell out of free playtests of games that are intended to be published.
  • Do you buy games, obtain free games, or both? If you do not do one of these things, how come? Do you do one less than another?

    A mixture.
    I've played several games that I got for free and then later bought them, as a way of paying respect to the author (TSOY, for example, I played off the wiki rules several times before buying).

    Basically, I find that I'm passionately interested in having & playing certain games, and passionately disinterested in having & playing all other games. Thus, I'm interested in supporting the games that I like, even if that means forking over $30 when I could just get it for free. If I happen to be passionately interested in a free game, I'm just as eager for it as if it cost money. Usually, though, I'm interested in things with prices. Perhaps that's incidental, perhaps there's implied value there?

    You couldn't hand me a free copy of Riddle of Steel, or Inspectres, or Capes, or Universalis, or Active Exploits, or Song of Ice & Fire.
    Fred Hicks could have sold me Don't Rest Your Head at $40.

    This Is Not A Question You Asked But I Want To Talk About It.

    Hm, instead of answering this I'll say something I've been thinking for a while, in terms of game pricing:

    When I consider the value of a game, I consider the value of other pastimes I enjoy.
    I could buy Agon ($20) and probably play 1-2 sessions over the next year, or I could go see several punk shows.
    I could buy Agon ($20), or I could go watch a movie in theatres and buy popcorn and twizzlers.
    I could buy Agon ($20), or I could rent the entire third season of Dexter and watch it.

    I don't own Agon. I just finished the second disc of Dexter, Season Three. I'll rent the next disc soon.

    For myself, as a consumer, I've started to think about game prices in terms of what I could be doing with that money otherwise.
    Games are often priced higher than, say... the door price of going to a poetry slam ($5).
    Since I do performance poetry, I'm not losing out on that creative-participation-within-a-community-of-creators aspect.
    For me, a $40 game has to demonstrate itself to be more socially and creatively rewarding than 8 poetry slams.
    It also has to demonstrate itself to be more socially and emotionally rewarding than 4-8 concerts.
    It also has to demonstrate itself to be more entertaining than renting 13 movies from Applause Video, and watching 4 in theatres.

    That's something going through my head when I think about charging for my own games, and when I think about buying others' games.
  • Do you sell your games, give them away, or both? Why? If both, why give away some games and charge for others?
    I give 'em away. In fact, everything I've done so far is Creative Commons licensed, so at least those versions will always be available, and people can do with them as they please (so long as they give me credit). If I thought I could charge for them, I might, I don't know. I'll let you know when I have John Harper-style followings.

    Do you buy games, obtain free games, or both? If you do not do one of these things, how come? Do you do one less than another?
    Both. Even things I get for free I try to support in one way or another.

    If you only give games away for free, what would have to change to get you to monetize them? If you only monetize games, what would have to change to make you give them away for free?
    I'd monetize if I felt they were finished and I thought there was a paying audience.

    How does "artistic integrity" play into your decision to monetize or give away your games, or does it not have a place at all?
    Can't say I've really thought about it.
  • I pay for games if I want them. I'd like to be in a position to patronise people for their artistic worth, but I'm not one of the idle rich. There are a couple of games I've acquired for free that have seen as much or more use as some of the games I've paid for.
  • Joe, wouldn't thinking like that go through your head for ANY incidental purchase? Seriously: for all but the idly wealthy, spending money is limited; and only the most monomaniacal person has so few interests they they never spend all of their free cash. Right?

    As a brief aside, I use the Givens Principle in a LOT of how I spend:
    * If I do not enjoy doing it, and I can pay someone less than I earn to do it, then pay them and keep my free time for stuff I enjoy (or for earning at my income rate).

    In game terms, this means a LOT of "small" or "simple" games fail the Principle: I either end up memorizing it after a single play or demo, or I can build a similar-feeling game on my own (which I enjoy doing). This is why I don't try to monetize my Icehouse games, nor do I pay Andy for the couple he sells still: after a round or two, one knows how to play forever, and so what is being sold, really? Conversely, games like Hero Clix and Mage Knight hoover my money out of my wallet, because I can't even manage their shittier paint jobs (shaky hands) and the bases obviate the need for what otherwise would be a LOT of reference material (i.e. army lists, like in WH40K) and wasted time looking up said material. And they have utility in other games where the minis might get broken out (Mage Knight in particular, being multigenre).

    This is all aside from the Support The Community and Pack Rat drives that I have (and relates directly to the Artifact Attraction, I suppose upon reflection).
  • David, sure. But I am saying that categorically, games do not stand alone, and they are up against a lot of pretty cheap, very fun pastimes.

    I consider games as existing within the same realm as poetry, movies and concerts, in terms of my spending habits.

    They don't need to compete with food, shelter, travel, home goods, education or alcohol... at least, not in an immediate sense, because I don't contrast a game's value to any of those things consciously.

    I offer that data (what I contrast a game's worth to) because I don't think publishers consider it as often as they consider the insular rpg market.
  • I thought about this some more, and here's another thing that relates: I don't care whether my game gets played by strangers or not. I think there might be something to the notion that free games get played less, unless the designer is (micro-)famous. I know a lot of roleplayers, both through gaming and through forums. When I'm making a new game, I talk about it with them and play it with those who can and want to. Then I offer it to them. They already know, by then, a lot about the game and whether or not they want to play it. Then there are lots of roleplayers I don't know. They could play my game, or not. I could care less. I want to make fun games for me and my friends to play and I want to talk about game design with them. I also would much rather play a game designed by someone I know than one designed by someone I don't know (with know only through the internet as a place in the middle).
  • edited October 2009
    Moved.
  • edited October 2009
    Guys, can we stick to what I was talking about, please? Answer the questions. If you have your own questions, make your own thread. Even if you say it in bold.

    It's not like threads cost money.

    Edited to add: this means Joe, Simon, David. People choosing to answer some or all of the questions, instead of choosing, that's fine.
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