Arcane Game Lore

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An Experiment in Publishing

Chemistry apparatus for an experiementI’m conducting an experiment.  I hadn’t originally planned on conducting an experiment but after a discussion on Twitter with @AkeishaRoberts and @RPGKitchen, I decided that it might be interesting to do.  But let’s back up.  What are we talking about here?

As I have mentioned in a previous post, I launched my Two Sheet Location products last month with the release of Mr. M’s Equipment Emporium (which I original presented as  a blog post in December).  (I think that wins for my most links in a single sentence on the blog.)  It is a “pay what you want” (PWYW) product with a suggested price of free.  I’ll get to the whys and wherefores in a moment but after having it up for a few days, I got to thinking, “Is there a psychological barrier to PWYW over simply free?”

So I posted that very question on Twitter.   Well, what I actually posted was

Does a product listed as “pay what you want” with a suggested price of $0 make you less likely to get it than it just being free? – @dagorym

(I would have embedded the tweet here but Twitter won’t give me the embed code for some reason.)  Here’s a link to the actual tweet if you want to see the entire conversation that ensued between @AkeishaRoberts, @RPGKitchen, and me.  The basic consensus was that there was a barrier and that people might feel bad taking it for free even though that was perfectly allowed by the model.

So I wondered if there was a way to quantify this.  I mean, I’m a scientist, I should be able to do some sort of experiment to test the idea.  Which brings me to the present plan.  But first let’s start with the original plan and see what changed.

My Original Plan

My original thinking for the Two Sheet Location project (which was originally called Two Page Locations, hence that logo appearing on the Mr. M product) was to release the first two to four locations as free/pay what you want and then assign a $0.99 price to the later ones.  The idea was to make the first few free to generate exposure and audience and to provide “free samples” of the items to come.  I also wanted to get some practice in on producing them and gauging interest.  The later ones would have a price attached to them in order to generate a little bit of revenue.

To that end, I released Mr. M’s Equipment Emporium first here on the blog and then as a PWYW product with no set price.  The idea was that people could download it for free but, if they wanted to, could throw a little bit of money my way.  This would also help me answer the question of what people thought something like this was worth.  Maybe I should have explicitly set a price of $0 and called out in the product description that I expected people to take it for free and the PWYW model was just there if they wanted to contribute.  But I didn’t.  It is just PWYW with no recommended price.

I’ll admit that the download count was smaller than I expected.  Or maybe just smaller than what I was hoping for.  It wasn’t actually that bad but I had hoped for a bit more.  Which is what started my musings on the impact of the PWYW model.

To get the news out about the product I did a few things.  First I e-mailed everyone that had downloaded my book, Discovery, or my card game, Star Clash, from DriveThruRPG.  While this wasn’t the same target audience, it at least was a base of over 1,000 people that might be interested and looking at a free offering.  Additionally, I timed the release of the product so that it made the “Newest Free Products” list on the weekly newsletter from DriveThruRPG.  And then I posted about it here on the blog and on Twitter, but those have much smaller reaches.  Finally, I wrote up the stats for Mr. M and a specific background for him in the Star Frontiers setting as a short one page article that appeared in issue #15 of the Frontier Explorer which came out a week after I released Mr. M’s Equipment Emporium on DriveThruRPG.

The Test Plan

So after the Twitter discussion, I hatched a plan to do some ad hoc testing of the impact of the PWYW model.  The plan was simple.  Do the next product as simply free instead of PWYW and look how the downloads are different.  You’re probably thinking “but wait, you’ve already got a little bit of audience from the first one so the results will be skewed.”  And you’d be right.  Which is why this isn’t a rigorous test by any stretch of the imagination.  But we can get an approximate feel for the impact.

Cover of Two Sheet Location #2 - Blue Pearl Grotto

There’s a bit of a complication, however.  The first location was science fiction themed (although easily adaptable to fantasy).  The second location, the Blue Pearl Grotto, which just went out yesterday, is more of a fantasy location.  And trying to compare a fantasy location to a sci-fi one is definitely comparing apples to oranges.  Or apples to beets.  The audience for fantasy is much larger than that for sci-fi.

So the Blue Pearl Grotto is going out under the exact same settings as Mr. M’s Equipment Emporium did.  It will be PWYW with no recommended price.  Instead of sending an e-mail to my entire customer base (I promised I would only do that for the first location) I only sent an announcement e-mail to those who had downloaded location #1.  The Thursday DriveThruRPG newsletter hasn’t come out yet as I’m writing this but I’m hopeful I’ll make the “Newest Free Products” list again.  That will control as best I can the variables of promotion.  It will be interesting to see if the sci-fi vs. fantasy makes any difference.

The next step is to do the free with no PWYW option.  This will be locations 3 & 4.  Location 3, for March, is mostly done.  I just need to finish the map (by far the longest part of these locations for me).  It is a sci-fi location, but again easily adaptable to a fantasy setting.  I have a 4th location started but it too is a sci-fi location so I’ll need to bump it and pick another fantasy related one.  These two will be released completely free to see if that has any impact on the number of downloads.

There are lots of uncontrolled variables in this experiment.  Things ranging from the topic of the location, the map styles, a building customer base as more people find them, etc.  Plus there’s the possibility that someone might really like one of the locations and post about it where it get’s more publicity then I can generate on my own (This is a problem I’d like to have).   I’ll do the best I can to filter these things out when looking at the numbers.

A Look at Some Numbers

I’m not going to go into this in any detail here as this is the topic for a future post.  However, for Mr M’s Equipment Emporium, I had 19 downloads the first day, 57 the second, and a total of 153 the first week.  With the exception of two days, there as been at least one download of that location every day since it was released.

In the less than a day since releasing the Blue Pearl Grotto, there have been 43 downloads of that location (plus 3 more of Mr. M’s).  These are almost assuredly repeat customers as the only advertising I’ve done is the e-mail to those that downloaded Mr. M’s.  We’ll have to see how it plays out in the coming week or so.

Last Thoughts

I’m quite excited to see how this goes.  I suspect I know what the outcome will be based on something I did for the Frontier Explorer (which I’ll cover when I go over the numbers) but it will be interesting to see how this plays out for this particular product line.

Have you ever done an experiment like this?  What were the results?  Do you have predictions on the outcome?  Is there a location you’d like to see me do for location #4 (or a future one beyond that)?  Let me know in the comments below.


Categorised as: Publishing


One Comment

  1. [...] in February, I posted about running a little experiment looking at pay-what-you-want (PWYW) verses free products.  This is the promised follow up post [...]

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