In terms of Things That Make Money, indie tabletop RPGs rank somewhere between Free Hugs and the lemonade stands of extremely enterprising children. The problems are numerous:
- There’s a small market to begin with.
- In order to even get their games out, designers have to sell their works for low prices that don’t reflect the work and care that’s gone into them.
- Only one person in a game group has to own the game in order for everyone to play it.
- Once a game’s been bought, that’s it—the designer receives no additional money whether the buyer plays it once, ten times, or a hundred.
These problems aren’t unique to tabletop RPGs. Video game designers have been moving away from split-screen co-op to online multiplayer games, so that all players will need to purchase a copy. And more and more games are moving into subscription models, microtransactions, and DLCs to keep players paying even after they’ve bought the game.
Indie tabletop games can use some of the same strategies to encourage players to give a little extra.
How to make money without being a jerk
I strongly feel that games should be for everybody. Designers are artists, and want to see their work being enjoyed by as many people as possible. Few would support a “solution” that resulted in less people playing games overall.
A post on Google+ by Jamie Fristrom (via John Harper) gave me a concept for how to monetize games without excluding people who can’t afford much or turning off newcomers with a high price barrier. The idea is to give people a new, more convenient way to tip a designer while they’re enjoying a game. It has to be social, fun, and above all, convenient. Clinkity: I like the sound of it.
“Enjoy the game? Don’t forget to tip your designer!”
Imagine those words floating on the screen as you load up a Roll20 game. The name of the game you’re playing and the designer who created it has already been filled in for you, and a radial button is selecting a reasonable donation—less than a good cup of coffee. Do nothing, and the notice will evaporate in ten seconds or so, just like a normal ad. Hit “OK,” and a new tab will open into a PayPal checkout screen. Click one more time to finalize the transaction.
People take the path of least resistance. Two clicks and less than a minute to say, “Thank you for making this game.”
But that’s not all. Kickstarter and related sites are successful because they’re social. After you’ve paid, you’re brought to a screen where you can share on Twitter, Facebook, all those bragging sites. Create an account at our service (I’m calling it Clinkity*, the sound of money falling into a tip jar) and you can see graphically how much you’ve given, and to whom, over time.
Once you have a Clinkity account, you can tip a designer anytime. Not just when you’re playing a game over Roll20, but face-to-face games too. You can even do it from your smartphone. The interface is easy to use, and when you start typing, the game and its designer pop up quickly. You can also find your game by browsing your own history. And when you tip, you can include a note: “Everyone at our table chipped in a dollar!” “Even my spouse will play this with me!” Etc.
Inspired by the “micropayments” model
Now imagine you’re a designer.
You’ve heard about Clinkity, so you register yourself and your games. It takes a couple of days for Clinkity to verify you, and then you’re given an ID. You can install a Clinkity Tip Jar on your website, and people can send you money in a few clicks. Nothing difficult to set up on your own. You can withdraw your Clinkity payments to your Paypal whenever you like, and Clinkity takes just a small percentage, negligible considering that you’re making more with Clinkity than by trying to go your own way.
In your future PDF releases, you start including your Clinkity address. Now, whenever a fan checks the rulebook or plays your game over Roll20, they’re reminded that if they enjoyed it, they can donate with no fuss. Every time they donate, they tweet about your game. They might even include an encouraging message. Maybe tonight you’ll order dessert.
Flawless execution is a must
Word of warning: this will not work unless the technical execution and visual design is perfect.
This whole model is built on ease-of-use and seamless transition between multiple sites. If it’s slow, if it requires too much clicking, or if it’s an eyesore, no one will use this service.
A pretty tall order, as “slow, half-broken eyesore” pretty much sums up my opinion of Roll20. (Not to bash on the Roll20 team. I’m sure they’re doing the best they can on their budget.) Clinkity’s success would require not only Roll20’s partnership but also a willingness to cooperate. For instance, Clinkity would work better if GMs were able to select a specific indie title when creating a Roll20 game, not just a general “story game” or the like. Perhaps if Clinkity gave Roll20 a few bucks here and there, a beautiful friendship could be born.
The best thing about Clinkity, I think, is that it allows designers to be paid more without actually raising the price of games. Games can still be for everybody, and designers can still eat. Doesn’t that sound like a win-win?
Do you think Clinkity would work? Would you donate a buck to support your favorite game, if all it took was two clicks and thirty seconds? What else should Clinkity include? Shape the future of game funding in the comments.
*If this actually happens, and it actually gets called Clinkity, everyone involved owes me a dollar.