Why Aren’t More RPGs Released for Free

Last week Theron (These Dice Look Funny) asked the question of what it took to run his own game company.  One of the first pieces of advice I offered was that if you weren’t interested in running your own business go freelance.  Viz (White Haired Man) chimed in with a response article musing on why he needed a game company instead of releasing his adventures for free, citing Greg Christopher (whom I’ve now just discovered) as an excellent free RPG resource.  As a side note, it’s worth pointing out that Christopher is doing some really neat things with RPG Maps.  So why do we do this as a business instead of just doing it for the love of the game?

Paying Gives a Sense of Value

Consider this, there is a lot of excellent free material online, but how much of it is really used by the population at large?  Out of all the games you play, tabletop or otherwise, how many of them were designed to be free? In most games I play the simple act of paying for a game causes me to value the game more.  I would speculate that because I have had to “earn” the game I hold it in a higher regard.  A free game on the other hand holds no initial value to us.  While we might come to value the free material highly its far more likely that we’ll use it then discard; after all its only free.

Paying Creates Consistency

Free can forgo any minimums, our expectations are minimal. My expectations of a free product are low; low production value, no art, and little to no editing being done on the product.  Honestly, who can expect much out of a free product?  However, I have an expectation of what I am getting out a paying product.  I’m giving the publisher my money, therefore I’m expecting the product delivered will meet a minimum bar.  In a paid product I’m expecting art, if I wanted loads of block text I would have bought a novel. I’m expecting an easy to read layout, maps, and preferably handouts.  I’m paying for help to create my game and I expect the paid product to deliver.

Free with an asterisk

Chris Anderson wrote in Free: The Future in Radical Price a story about the Gillette Shaving company in the early 1900s.  Gillette had the brilliant idea of giving away free disposable razors and handles.  Use the razor until it was dull then get rid of it, leaving the handle.  Want to continue to use our product with your now useless handle?  Buy more razors.  The Wikipedia article on King Camp Gillette notes, “Gillette’s razor retailed for a substantial $5 (about $134 in 2006 dollars) — half the average working man’s weekly pay — yet sold by the millions.”  To me this is free, give me the handle and first razor for free, and make me pay for the next hit. That’s not to say this is bad, we’ve used this ploy ourselves, as does almost every game company we cover on Savage Mondays.  The market is inundated with free products, almost all marketing ploys to get people to buy the books.

So while we can release our games for free, there is the expectation that it’s going to lead to something more, that we’re going to pay for anyway.  So why not take the small amount of cash that’s generated and apply it to the next book so more people play your game?  It’s just good business.

Photo credit: uploaded to Flickr by HowiePoon

  • http://errantgame.blogspot.com Greg Christopher

    I knew you would discover me sooner or later! :)

    Thanks for the links. I actually just released a demo version of that interactive module concept as a $0.99 PDF. So I am now not totally free.

    However, I think that more RPGs aren’t released for free because art and layout are not free. If they were, I think a lot more people would release free RPGs. I benefit from knowing how to do layout, so all I needed to do was cajole artists into giving me art to use, which is based on my being non-commercial.

    • http://www.apathygames.com Tyson J. Hayes

      You’ve listed the main reasons we charged for our product; as much as we begged we couldn’t get free artists. At least not in the quality we wanted. I’m more then happy to draw some stick figures, but Hillary wasn’t having it.

  • http://errantgame.blogspot.com Greg Christopher

    Have you seen the art in my games? I am able to secure some pretty solid art with the caveat of being non-commercial

    • http://www.apathygames.com Tyson J. Hayes

      I have not, as of yet. I’ll try to check it out later this evening. How do you typically find your artists? Do you have a network that you’ve culled over the years or do you have a forum you visit?

  • http://errantgame.blogspot.com Greg Christopher

    I use a variety of ways to find them, but the secret is to be really open and honest. And once I could cite past work as proof of my ability, that accelerated everything. It is much easier to acquire now.

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  • Scott Duff

    In the early days of the Internet there were dozens of websites offering free content. More content than you could actually ever use. Then comes along OGL many many years later. Most of the free sites disappear. Then I see a lot of the same themes and ideas in the paid content that use to be free, but no increase in quality.

    I am a huge supporter of paying for content and material. Simply for the fact it gives the consumer power. Though I have no illusions that paying for something makes it better.

    • http://www.apathygames.com Tyson J. Hayes

      I was more referring to the psychological effect of paying.  Because I’ve paid for something it becomes worth more to me then when if I paid nothing for it.

      You mention giving the consumer power, what power do you see it giving the consumer?  I agree it gives the consumer power to shape the next release, but I’m curious if you have other thoughts.