Does Pay-What-You-Want Pay off for Mobile Game Developers?

Developer Stories

October 20, 2016


min read

Mobile gaming is a competitive business, and sometimes it pays to try something new. But not many developers are brave enough to give away their work, letting players pay what they want for it?even if that means paying nothing.The concept of paying what you think something's worth is what's driven street performances for thousands of years. Known today as pay-what-you-want (PWYW), this monetization method has been used in restaurants, theaters and by writers and musicians. Digital video game storefront, Humble Bundle, started an entire business around the concept, allowing users to pay as little as one cent for "bundles" of downloadable games and digital books.But does this pricing strategy have a place in the mobile game world? Indie app developer, Philipp Stollenmayer, decided to test the viability of PWYW with his iOS and Android puzzler Okay? , and the experiment worked out surprisingly well.

The generosity of strangers

Stollenmayer certainly wasn't the first developer to release a donation-based mobile game?he points to 2012's Space Team as another early example?but he brought a fresh approach to the concept of PWYW.Instead of having a donation button sit in the menu, Okay? asks the player just once if they want to donate. ?The question is, 'What is the game worth to you?' and not, 'What do you want to pay?'" Stollenmayer explains. ?I think that makes a huge difference in the mind of the player."[caption id="attachment_21167" align="aligncenter" width="1341"]

Philipp Stollenmayer Okay? mobile game

Image via Philipp Stollenmayer[/caption]And if they don't want to pay, players are asked to leave a review of the game, resulting in a slew of five-star ratings and positive comments (check out how to build the perfect app rating dialogue for your mobile game here). It's a win-win situation, Stollenmayer explains.?The player saves their money and has the feeling that they helped me promote my game," he says. ?And I get a big number of reviews and stars, attracting more players."

The numbers

Stollenmayer released another, entirely ad-supported mobile game called Pancake at the same time as Okay?. And while Pancake generated more revenue?with similar download numbers?in the first three months, Okay? has had a much more stable revenue curve over time. ?I think the concept gives the app a good 'karma' because of the many nice reviews and recommendations," Stollenmayer says.And what percentage of players actually choose to pay? Well, for Okay? it's actually around one in fifty. Of those, around two-thirds choose the lowest payment option of $1, one-fifth pay $2 and around one percent pay the highest amount?which sits at around $8.?That doesn't sound like too much, but it is remarkable when you consider that this is absolutely voluntary, not resulting in any benefits," Stollenmayer says.[caption id="attachment_21168" align="aligncenter" width="1280"]

Mobile game pay what you want monetization model

Image via Eric Heath/Flickr[/caption]

The expert view

PWYW is a revenue model that can work, but only in the right circumstances, according to Ethan Levy, monetization and design consultant at Famous Aspect, who's recently been working on Legendary ? Game of Heroes at mobile studio N3twork.Levy points to successes and failures with PWYW across different entertainment media. ?If you look to similar experiments in music," he says, "although an optional pay system was a huge success for Radiohead's In Rainbows, the Trent Reznor/Saul Williams collaboration produced results the Nine Inch Nails front man called 'disheartening.'"Levy advises devs consider two key factors: whether they have a strong enough relationship with their fan base and what their revenue needs are.?I think that this model works best when gamers feel like they have a strong, personal connection to the developers," he says. If players dig a game and the work the dev is doing, they're more likely to want to donate.For devs trying sustain a large development team working for 18 months in San Francisco (like the guys at N3twork), well, PWYW probably isn't a viable monetization model. But it could be an ?excellent fit" for a two-person indie team working out of a low-cost city, Levy reckons.