Creating a free game vs. having a $1-2 price

What are people’s thoughts/experiences of both? Pros and cons? I’m thinking that my first interactive story should be free to play because I don’t want to limit how many people have access to my game, but I don’t think $1-2 dollars for hundreds of hours of work is too much to ask either, so I’m conflicted. Are there people that genuinely can’t afford $1-2 dollars? How do you decide what your game is worth?

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Can confirm, 1-2 dollars can often be too much of a splurge, especially with current events.

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I think that it’s very generous to offer a free game. If I were to do something like that I may choose to publish my work on a platform where readers are given the choice to donate money if they do feel like it.

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This is very presumptuous of me to comment, as I’m nowhere near having a finished publishable game, but I have often thought about this.

One angle I want to highlight, that I keep coming back to, is that of the impact on the global value of IF, and the work of this community, as a whole.

In other words, whilst I might sit here and think “I can afford and am happy to give this away for free, or peanuts”, we should also consider what the impact of that will be on other authors and publishing* companies like CoG. What are my prices (or lack of) going to do to the market? Once consumers get stuff cheaper, or for free, it can start setting expectations. That might not be a problem for me personally, but for those who need or rely on that income… Well, suffice to say there’s more to consider here than just the author and consumer!
Not to discourage you from giving away free stuff. I love it as much as the next person, but it doesn’t hurt to keep the above in mind!

*Note there is a non-zero cost in publishing even a Hosted Game. At the very least you have to submit it to the app stores. But there’s also ongoing support and maintenance costs as well, for both author and publisher.

tl;dr It’s important that IF and ChoiceScript games as a whole are valued by consumers. Giving too much away for free/cheap can damage that.

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By giving a game away for free, you will (almost certainly) guarantee that more people play/read your game. The more people who play/read the game, the more who will become fans, who will in turn lay down the few £’s to purchase your future endeavours.

The free demo is the halfway house here, and is pretty good. But a fully free game will always net more value here.

For every X increase in price, you lose Y number of customers, and that is likely to be massively skewed at the lower price points (free - £1 will lose you more customers than £6 - £7).

From a purely business point of view, it’s a weighing up between a broader readership and profit. Things to consider are: Do you need the money? How long did it take to write? How long will it take to write the next one?
The golden question is: Is your work good enough to generate a loyal enough following that the free game actually hooks them in to pay money for the next game? Or do they take the free game and never come back?

@CJW has a good point - but I think that is only likely to be a real problem if the majority of ‘high quality’ games come out for free. Which they won’t, because someone like Havenstone isn’t going to throw years of work out there for free. I suspect that any one author is likely to, at most, throw out one medium length game for free.

A counter thought would be if a small collection of decent quality, free games draw people in and make them general fans of IF, so much so that they will purchase games

Though, do free games generate a downward force on IF prices? Hard to say.

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Very good point. I should clarify that I definitely wasn’t saying don’t release free/cheap games, it isn’t a definitive thing. It may work out quite well, in fact. The important takeaway from my post above is to consider the impact of your price point on the value of your work.

Again, as you mention, the quality of title ties into that as well. Very often the expectation is that cheap/free means not that good. That isn’t always the case, of course.

All in all this is a complicated question with no right answer, but I do think it’s something healthy to discuss. Although keep in mind, unless you’re self-publishing, you will have to agree pricing with your publisher too.

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Would you mind answering a few questions for me? Regarding support/maintenance/publishing cost, if the game is free, will it have to come out of pocket? Are you able to publish free games on Hosted Games? And if not, could you supplement the extra costs with ads?

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You can always share your demo, then polish it with betas and good commenters who will give you good insights and help find bugs or typos. Its a demo. That means you will not have a ready to be sold product. But in the fortuitous event that you do have a product polished and shined, you submit it to the Hosted Games label and see what happens! Good luck buddy!

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I don’t work for CoG, so can’t answer those questions I’m afraid.

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I think it’s likely the case that the existence of a paywall will be more of a deterrent than how high that paywall is. From what I can glean from PlayStore comments and general online discussion, a pretty significant portion of COG’s player base are unwilling or unable to shell out money for a full game, and others yet are highly selective in the titles that they do purchase. Making your game free captures these players in a way that a paid title, even one that’s priced at $1, might not.

Which is to say: from what I can tell, that initial jump from $0 to $1 will phase out more players than any further increments (i.e. $1 to $2), so if your priority is for as many people to play your game as possible, there’s that to think about.

That being said, depending on how well your game sells, even a $1 game could generate a fair amount of revenue. I do think that the amount of time work that goes into writing a game is no joke, and having financial compensation in the mix personally goes a long way in keeping me writing when passion alone would no longer do.

I guess it depends on what function releasing a free game serves for you. If having your work be read by as many people as possible is the end rather than the means, then making it free will likely boost that aspect by a disproportionate amount. Lynnea Glasser’s paid game The Sea Eternal (2016) has 10k+ downloads and 415 (generally critical) reviews on the Google Play Store; meanwhile, the author’s free game Creatures Such as We (2013) has 100k+ downloads and 12k (overwhelmingly positive) reviews. Of course, quality plays a big factor as well, but I personally liked The Sea Eternal a fair bit better.

(Choice of the Vampire has an even more staggering ratio at 500k+ downloads vs. 10k+ for the sequel, though I can’t really comment on that as I’ve never played the games myself. I think the first game is free, while the second one is commercial? Not too sure myself, but there’s that).

This case study also kind of gives you something to think about if you seek to publish a free game as a means of marketing, because there’s evidence to suggest that popularity doesn’t necessarily transfer very well over games by the same writer. The counter to that, of course, is the works of Zachary Sergi. I don’t have the data necessary to make broad generalizations here, but I can at least speak for myself in saying that the biggest reason I bought the Versus books and Redemption Season is the author’s name recognition.

(Then again, Heroes Rise isn’t a free series, so for Zachary it was only a matter of taking ‘premium’ readers with them into the next game. The task for yours, if it does get released for free, is to convert F2P readers into premium ones–which is a fair bit harder.)

TL;DR, my recommendations are these: if you care mostly about the amount of readership, releasing the game for free is probably the best choice. Personally, I feel that any other benefit from releasing a free game is too uncertain to be relied upon; if readership isn’t an overwhelmingly large concern in comparison to other criteria, I would go for an appropriately-priced commercial release instead.

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my own opinion on this,

we need to find the balance between all those efforts spent to make the IF,
and the market penetration, which can be a dilemma if not taken seriously.

set the game free will boost market penetration, and some authors need that kind of recognition, the joy of seeing your product start getting download counts, before minding the profit.

I personally will set my first IF as low as possible because I think it’s important to get fans before profit.

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HG is a company, not a charity, so if you choose to release the story for ‘free’ there will still be ads and an option to buy the story in order to enjoy it ad-free. Some free games, albeit not many, actually make decent money. The Great Tournament in particular has likely outgrossed well over half of all the paid games out there between its ad revenue and purchases, based on its insane amount of downloads and reviews. It might even be in the top 20 or top 10 most successful HGs of all. But all free games will make the author, and HG, at least some money. So if a person wanted to retain their amateur status, possibly to qualify for the Author Olympics, the only option would be to leave it on Dashingdon indefinitely.

Ad revenue tends to be small here (TPS makes a few bucks a month, NPT a few cents), though I imagine for a free game it would be at least somewhat larger since those ad revenues would be based on a full game instead of a few free chapters. If any authors of free HG or CoG games are interested in sharing their info, I imagine they could shed some more light on what to expect here.

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My experience as a writer is limited to academic papers, so it might not be what you want. Free means more exposure, more people reading-citing-sharing etc… It might be beneficial if you make your name first, then go for the profit. People are much more likely to pay attention to what you wrote if you have articles with high number of citations and more willing to pay for ypur next work. I might be horribly wrong though. It might not be the same for interactive fiction.

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Worth is tricky. To who, over what period of time, and in what currency: time, visibility, dollars and cents? To me, the only real data is a what person did pay, retroactively. Even then, you only know their willingness to pay was at least that. At that time. I can say more if I’m not being tedious.

That’s mostly true. Sometimes the X increase is more valuable, even with a loss in Y. The revenue-maximizing price is the one where you can charge the most people the most most money. To either side of that, you will lose money. Either from charging less or selling to fewer people.

I’m curious what the data funnel looks like. A download is not a complete read. I’m betting there’s a higher incidence of downloads without play time with free games since there’s no cost associated. I mention this because, if you make your game free hoping more people will read it, more people downloading it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve accomplished your goal.

I’m also interested in the psychological effect of a free game. “Free” can become associated with “cheap.” What does that do to expectation, especially at the purchase point. I wonder if people are inclined to think less of a work offered for free. Is the author desperate? Not confident anyone would pay? God, is this going to be ad-ridden? Are there going to micro-transactions after I’m hooked?

Yeah, I’m not sure the fixed-price model is the best one, either for readership or revenue. It probably is best in terms of ease of execution. I was playing with the concept with the book giveaway. Your donation idea or a Patreon, like Paravir and some others have, allow differentiation between readers. I think the main difficulty in pricing is the disparity in reader demos: age, income, . . . Not only in general, but between books and genres. (e.g. hard sci-fi tends to have a smaller readership of higher-than-average-income readers) So a variable model, would allow people to pay differently. i.e. free books with supporters on Patreon, a recommended donation model, or the opportunity for a reader to buy copies for others at checkout.

I think this is one of the more valuable things that’s been said. Things will change with change. Readers. Hosting companies. If pricing models move to author Patreon, CoG will need to adapt to stay profitable. Entertainment is tricky because you compete across platforms. I think the main metric is the quality or quantity of time entertained. This scares me some since I see such emphasis in the IF community on total word count. I’ve read a lot of overwritten word-padded stories, perhaps consciously or subconsciously playing to that expectation. (Not just HG, but Tales, Zoomob . . . ) IF writers simply cannot compete with streaming services regarding quantity. Sometimes quality too, given Oscar-worthy backlog. Netflix has achieved THE economy of scale. IF can only (I think) lean into our unique value proposition. The role-playing participatory aspect. The LGBTQ+ and non-binary romance option. The stories which are unfeasible in terms of production budget with other platforms. Not just “too big for TV” but “too small for TV” as well.

TL;DR: What, if anything, should we charge? IMO, minimum profitability for the hosting platform, at least. However, if CoG/HG became wildly more profitable, they could improve their reach and services which, in turn, could improve author payout. So, I think we should charge as much as we can, but give readers stories which make it so they are happy to have spent that much, and offer alternative procurement routes for people who can’t afford to pay. Ultimately, a sibling non-profit tax-funnel company (literacy advocacy?) that legally skirts the technical definition of self-dealing. Based in Delaware. :upside_down_face:

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It’d be cool if someone made a game for free but had an option to donate if you could

Or, charged for the game, but made it clear that all revenue from it went to a charity/good cause.
That might help maintain value, whilst still tempting in customers (not as much as if it were free, of course).

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As Hustler points out, there is very little ad revenue due to us being locked out of AdSense.

The reason there are ads in the games–especially the free ones–is not to make money from ads, but to be just annoying enough that users decide paying a few dollars to turn off the ads is a better use of their time than enduring the ads.

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Not gonna lie, but I always find that MO kind of scummy to be perfectly honest, yet works pretty well, only if the author/developer don’t shove ads right at your face every single time they can or taking a lot of screen space, but that just my opinion, and the few times I played with ads, are kinda tolerable, compared with others.

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Free game lowers expectations. Don’t like it/Find a better game? Hit uninstall and you’re done. Many occasions people don’t care to leave bad reviews.

Paying, however, means your hard earned money is invested in something, and even if it’s few cents, it better be good.
budget planner

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If you want to put a game out for free, don’t publish it. Plain and simple. If it’s IF, use inkle or dashingdon or ren’py. Advertise on tumbr, wattpad, Facebook, forums like this, etc.

You won’t get as big of an audience, but it also won’t cost you anything. You’ll get amazing feedback, generate a fan base, and be able to know you’ll have people willing to purchase a game that costs $3-4 (my personal maximum on any app I purchase. I will not spend more on a phone game).

Keep in mind, most people who purchase are going to do so on their phones. Mobile apps have a very cheaply skewed price point. A game my dad bought me for $40 in 2005 has an improved mobile port that costs $10 on Google play. I’ve never seen an app more expensive than $15. Those $15 apps have graphics, intense coding, and a lot more work than a text-based IF. Skewing your price lower is going to ultimately bring in more income.

ETA: by skewing lower, I mean in the sub-$5 range. Sorry, guys, but the $7 IF games with only 100k words just don’t cut it for me. I give up to a dollar per 50k words, if the demo was incredible. (And yes, this may be an exaggeration, but I’ve seen higher prices for shorter works for a couple of years, now)

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