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TIGSource ForumsDeveloperBusinessMaking money with open source games
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Author Topic: Making money with open source games  (Read 15324 times)
progrium
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« on: February 15, 2007, 05:56:39 pm »

Bedroom Coder's Business Model

Crosbie Fitch wrote this a few years back. I think I saw it in develop magazine. Anybody else catch it? Anybody else wish somebody would try it? Tongue

He also has a more in-depth essay on the more general concept of the digital art auction.
« Last Edit: February 19, 2007, 04:50:51 am by progrium » Logged

Jeff Lindsay
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« Reply #1 on: February 19, 2007, 04:50:24 am »

Nobody wants to risk it eh? At least any opinion on whether it would be neat if it worked?

Maybe nobody cares to read the article... I changed the thread title so you can get a better idea of what it's about.
« Last Edit: February 19, 2007, 04:51:56 am by progrium » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: February 19, 2007, 05:16:21 am »

Well I'm interested. I'm also interested in the donation-ware model. Which doesn't work for me to well yet Sad.
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« Reply #3 on: February 19, 2007, 05:19:08 am »

I did read the article at the time you posted it, but I didn't get too far with it. It seems too idealistic and doesn't factor in the lives of people with more (i.e. any) responsibility. I'd love to see it done but it's just not feasible for most people who are unprepared to give up their entire lifestyle just to make their own games. Perhaps 6 years ago before I was in full time work and had a pension and wife to think of etc.
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« Reply #4 on: February 19, 2007, 05:32:19 am »

Yeah, I didn't have the patience to read an article day 1. Grin

In a way, I'm living it.  But I suppose I'm a little more opportunistic/bitter to rely on the open source community to make something of my work, or an auction house.  It's a nice idea, but there are much safer bets that you can make while living the ideal, if you remembered to accumulate a good saving, and know who to and how to flaunt your experience.
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« Reply #5 on: February 19, 2007, 05:43:37 am »

My gut reaction to that article: "Bleh"

I think in the case of Blender it worked out to be a great thing for everyone, mostly because Blender is an amazing creative tool. But games are quite different.

Also the tone of the article is so flippant that its hard to take the underlying concept seriously.
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« Reply #6 on: February 19, 2007, 05:46:13 am »

Bonus points for subtlety.
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« Reply #7 on: February 19, 2007, 05:59:08 am »

Hmmm, you guys aren't too optimistic ;]. What about donation-based development? Let me note that we're not talking here about full-time work, but as side-work -- can it work? Any ideas?
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« Reply #8 on: February 19, 2007, 06:06:58 am »

From what I've seen of donation models, you need a lot of clout for it to work.  On IG, we've talked about conversion rate of some games being near 1% (1 purchase for every 100 downloads).  When it's optional, it's much much much lower.  The only person I know that's done well with donations isn't even involved with games.  TV and Podcasting personality Leo Laporte (TWIT, TechTV), but even his network has had to move to taking advertising, and he still does Radio and TV to pay the bills.
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« Reply #9 on: February 19, 2007, 06:17:36 am »

Part of our society: When people spend money, they expect to get something for it.

I think most developers that try out donations offer some incentive for donating. For example, the Natural Selection developers let the donators test the beta builds before anyone else, get little icons on their names when listed in the game etc.

I didn't donate to the free Blender fund, but I did buy a copy of the Elephant's Dream DVD because it was an actual object. It felt like I was paying for something that had tangible value.

If you say that you'll be able to work more if you get enough donations, that's not really convincing to an individual person either, because they're only going to donate once, and they have no idea if anyone else is donating. So in the worst case, they're throwing their money away on a false hope of seeing the game done sooner; rather than knowing that their money will bring them something.
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« Reply #10 on: February 19, 2007, 06:24:30 am »

From what I've seen of donation models, you need a lot of clout for it to work.  On IG, we've talked about conversion rate of some games being near 1% (1 purchase for every 100 downloads).  When it's optional, it's much much much lower.  The only person I know that's done well with donations isn't even involved with games.  TV and Podcasting personality Leo Laporte (TWIT, TechTV), but even his network has had to move to taking advertising, and he still does Radio and TV to pay the bills.
The way I see it, for a donation model to work the following is needed:

1) a strong and large community of active players
2) a reason to talk about the game in the community over and over
3) awarness in the community, how important the donations are to the project

I have know how to achieve 1 and 2, but I truly have problems with 3. At least to know how to walk the thin path between "raising awareness" and "being bitchy about money / begging for money"...

I think most developers that try out donations offer some incentive for donating. For example, the Natural Selection developers let the donators test the beta builds before anyone else, get little icons on their names when listed in the game etc.
Yeah, I came up with that idea too, unfortunately it's not enough :/.

I didn't donate to the free Blender fund, but I did buy a copy of the Elephant's Dream DVD because it was an actual object. It felt like I was paying for something that had tangible value.
To sell anything tangible you need to create a buisness model for which I truly don't have the resources.

If you say that you'll be able to work more if you get enough donations, that's not really convincing to an individual person either, because they're only going to donate once, and they have no idea if anyone else is donating. So in the worst case, they're throwing their money away on a false hope of seeing the game done sooner; rather than knowing that their money will bring them something.
Any ideas how to fix that? Except the obvious shareware route?
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« Reply #11 on: February 19, 2007, 06:25:01 am »

For me, the only argument for doing karmaware (or whatever you want to call it) over a commercial indie project is that I can ignore messages from idiots who can't get the game to run on their machines.

Honest to God, when I start making original games if I can't get a decent compatability rating I'll probably make 'em freeware just so I can avoid those few people who bought it without testing whether the demo worked on their machine first.
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« Reply #12 on: February 19, 2007, 06:40:22 am »

I didn't donate to the free Blender fund, but I did buy a copy of the Elephant's Dream DVD because it was an actual object. It felt like I was paying for something that had tangible value.
To sell anything tangible you need to create a buisness model for which I truly don't have the resources.

Yeah, I was more exploring why I don't think donation-ware could work in general. (btw... an interesting examination of cooperation vs. defection around 18:00 in this documentary)

Basically, I could risk by donating... maybe everyone else will donate too. Then you'll be rich and have lots of time to make DoomRL really awesome very quickly. But there's a chance that few others or nobody will donate, therefore my money will bring me no value. So its quite easy to chicken out of donating.

From the text on your donation page, I don't feel like I'd instantly gain something by donating. Maybe if there was an immediate change in status (access to a forum inner-circle?) or some other solid effect achieved instantly by paying, it would feel more enticing.

Otherwise, its really up to the community and how generous they are?
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« Reply #13 on: February 19, 2007, 07:07:19 am »

For me, the only argument for doing karmaware (or whatever you want to call it) over a commercial indie project is that I can ignore messages from idiots who can't get the game to run on their machines.
There is another point tough. If you go shareware you limit the number of people that will play your game in it's full glory. Commercial/famous companies can pay that price. But to be famous you need to get as much people to play your game. So the logical path (at least for me) is to remain free at least in the beginning.

Basically, I could risk by donating... maybe everyone else will donate too.

Lol, it's the reason why Socialism as a political system doesn't work -- why work hard if others wont and the effect will be the same ;].

Then you'll be rich and have lots of time to make DoomRL really awesome very quickly. But there's a chance that few others or nobody will donate, therefore my money will bring me no value. So its quite easy to chicken out of donating.

Sadly true Sad.

From the text on your donation page, I don't feel like I'd instantly gain something by donating. Maybe if there was an immediate change in status (access to a forum inner-circle?) or some other solid effect achieved instantly by paying, it would feel more enticing.
Seems as I need to update my donation page! Donating gives you immidate benefits:
1) a golden forum status
2) access to the DoomRL beta forums, AND access to beta versions (current beta has like 30-40% of features of the next release)
3) access to the Tavern of Chaos, where secret/unnanouces Chaosforge projects are being discussed and co-designed by the members.

Otherwise, its really up to the community and how generous they are?
True... maybe with the advent of my next big project (non-roguelike) or the next 7DRL (which I believe will generate a lot more interest than "Berserk!") the situation will get better Smiley.
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« Reply #14 on: February 19, 2007, 07:12:07 am »

Basically, I could risk by donating... maybe everyone else will donate too.

Lol, it's the reason why Socialism as a political system doesn't work -- why work hard if others wont and the effect will be the same ;].

Yeah, by "maybe everyone else will donate" I meant... they probably won't. Smiley

Another reason why the Free Blender Foundation worked was because they had a set amount of money as a goal, and an up-to-date graph about the current volume of donations. So you could see that your contribution was making an effect right away, and how much more money was needed. The community could band around seeing it grow, etc.
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« Reply #15 on: February 19, 2007, 07:23:07 am »

There is another point tough. If you go shareware you limit the number of people that will play your game in it's full glory. Commercial/famous companies can pay that price. But to be famous you need to get as much people to play your game. So the logical path (at least for me) is to remain free at least in the beginning.

Or say it'll be free all along and then BLAMMO! Bait and switch! Wink
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« Reply #16 on: February 19, 2007, 09:53:28 am »

I honestly wonder if that would work: releasing a kick ass demo, setting a donation target and then releasing your game as freeware once that target is reached.  I think you would still have to set up a "public broadcasting" method of offering some sort of gift for various donation levels, like t-shirts, mousepads, extra game content / ranking, etc.

Troma does this with their Tromadance film festival.  They set a donation target and if they reach it then the festival goes on, but it's a small amount like $7,000 US dollars.  That's not enough if you're trying to finance any sort of grown-up lifestyle as a game developer.

Could you raise enough donations to cover $20,000 - $50,000 for a game that took 6 months to 1 year to develop?  $100,000?  I think online gamers are too spoiled for choice to bother.  They're used to getting everything for free or dirt cheap online.

I seem to remember a company that was trying to pre-sell copies of their game to finance development.  I wonder how that worked out.
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progrium
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« Reply #17 on: February 21, 2007, 03:24:32 am »

Let me ping Crosbie and get him involved in this conversation...
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« Reply #18 on: February 21, 2007, 04:05:50 am »

The problem with 'donations' is that it tends to be synonymous with charity. And charitable giving is something you do for 'good' causes rather than paying for someone's college fees (or new car).

As many have alluded to, there's also the problem that no-one knows how significant their donation is, and whether or not it will actually result in any benefit for the donor (in terms of another game). After all, the donor has the goods, they're not really sure if they're paying for what they already have or helping towards the production of the next version - or simply saying "Thanks!" and getting a warm feeling.

So, back to my suggestion for funding copyleft games. As with all GPL software, anyone can charge for copies (tending to be freely downloadable anyway), but in order to fund further work the game developer invites people to pledge to pay for the next release (episode, upgrade, version, entirely new game, etc).

So, no-one actually pays anything until the release occurs - which means the developer doesn't get any money from anyone until they've done the work, and obviously no-one gets the release either.

So this is much more like a conventional purchase (a bargain), albeit like pre-ordering prior to release.

So, let's say there was a site called buck-a-game.com that let any game developer invite the people who played their games to effectively pre-order the next release at $1.

People know that what they have is free - already paid for by the developer's previous bunch of fans. And they  are invited (if they love the game and want more) to become a fan by pledging a weeny little dollar for the next release - which the developer only gets when they make that release (and a url to download the release is automatically e-mailed to the pledger).

Moreover, developer and fans can always see just how many pledging fans a developer has. The more fans, the more money. The poorer the release, the fewer fans they keep, the better the release, the more fans they get.

And each fan can have a little badge they put on their own site that means "I support dev X - you can too". Because if fans get more fans, the developer can afford to pay more developers to join them and produce games faster/better, etc.

Most importantly, the developer gets every penny of each dollar that fans pledge (except the commission that PayPal gets).
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progrium
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« Reply #19 on: February 21, 2007, 04:25:37 am »

The $1 pledge per game is one example of an implementation of this. I think the ideal implementation, which would require a bit of web app hackery and unfortunately a bit of thinking on the user part, is where we can determine a sort of "market value" for the release of a game.

In this system, everybody pledges up to a certain amount they think the game is worth to them. When the game is released, a market price is determined and only that amount is collected from people that pledged that amount or higher.

In this way, you can get the most out of your players while still releasing at a price completely dictated by their percieved value, a pretty fair deal.

How would the market price be determined? It would be the lowest price per pledger that brings in the most total income.

As a hypothetical example, say three people pledge $5, three people pledge $10, and three people pledge $15. The market value would be determined to be $10 because collecting that from the 6 people that pledged $10 or more would bring in $60. The 3 people that pledged $5 wouldn't have to pay anything. A market price of $5 or $15 would equally bring in only $45.

I'm not saying that this is ensured to work right now, though I think it's worth trying by an adventurous individual, but it seems like a nice ideal we can think about. Any time spent thinking about a better indie game industry is time well spent in my opinion.
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