Cheap Is Death: Rohrer’s Pay Whatever

They’re all at it! All of them! It’s a conspiracy! They’re going to subvert global finance! They’re going to make a fortune without paying a gigantic tithe to price-fixing publishers! It’s wrong! It suggests traditional models of capitalism are outdated and near-sighted! We’re doomed! I’m worried not even a single sentence of this post won’t end with an exclamation mark!

Oh, there you go. Yes, the latest indie game to jump aboard the high-speed pay-what-you-what bandwagon is Jason Rohrer’s splendid 2-play storytelling game Sleep Is Death. He’s set a minimum spend of $1.75, but apart from that, lob him whatever you think the game’s worth in return for two copies of the splendid thing. The RPS Hivemind will have to decide how frequently we cover these sort of deals if we’re to avoid every other post documenting bargains, but as this one is so soon after the game’s release, it’s definitely An Awesome Thing. Get to it.


  1. Rich says:

    $1.75 minimum presumably stops anyone from actually costing him money in payment processing fees. It’s fair enough.

    • Jimbo says:

      They won’t subvert global finance, because as soon as the novelty wears off for you guys, they’ll be back out in the cold. Where the product – and not the business model – has to do the talking. This one isn’t even a genuine example, because $1.75 is undoubtedly a profit on the sale.

      I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that the ‘outdated’ and ‘near-sighted’ traditional models of capitalism will comfortably out-last this fad. The massive amount of free advertising it (currently) generates is the lynch pin of the whole model – meaning this can go one of two ways: these sales remain rare enough to still warrant coverage, or everybody piles on and the coverage dries up completely. There is no glorious future for the model either way.

    • Jimbo says:

      (That honestly wasn’t an attempt to abuse the Reply system btw, I was initially going to comment on how it was only ‘fair enough’, so long as they don’t advertise it as ‘Pay What You Want’.)

    • Rich says:

      You’re right though. What this boils down to is a promotional offer.
      Stump up a bit of support where it would otherwise wane.

      If costs have already been covered though, it does represent a fairly quick way of squeezing out the last few sales before dropping the product and/or making it open source e.g. Humble Indie Bundle.

    • BillsterJ says:


      The game was open source since day one and shipped with no DRM. So yeah, this isn’t some kind of money making scheme. Considering, the guy and his family live on less han 15k a year, I would give him the benefit of the doubt.

  2. Heliocentric says:

    Okay, what was the original price, $15?

  3. CLD says:

    Pay Whatever*

    *not really.

  4. Tom OBedlam says:

    Excellent stuff. I’ve had my copy of Sleep is Death for a fortnight now and still haven’t managed to get a game yet. With any luck this offer will get more people online to play with, that can only be a good thing!

    Now… if only someone can persuade the Plain Sight guys to do the same. A month after release and the only people playing are the completely hopeless like me and the truly hardcore :( Everytime I start playing I end up ragequitting because I can’t even work out whats happening before I get squinched. More rubbish people say I.

    • Lack_26 says:

      I know the feeling, I’ve had more problems with finding the time to make the game I want to as a GM though.

    • Tom OBedlam says:

      I’m in dissertation mode at the moment so I’m having to keep to eat/sleep/procrastinate/write/dwarffortress (ascending priority). If I get started fiddling with SiD I know I’m going to waste huge amounts of time :(

    • jonfitt says:

      I can’t help feeling that there are going to be too many hungry people and not enough cooks for this game to work.
      It would be awesome to have a talented GM to run games with me, but is that included in the download?

    • AndrewC says:

      It took me 3 turns on a test game just to draw some wee on some trousers. The time limit REALLY amplifies the more esoteric parts of the controller’s control scheme – different sub menus without keyboard shortcuts to navigate? I get confused!

      I’d love to be involved, but need a support group.

  5. BigJonno says:

    It’ll be interesting to see if this kind of thing is sustainable. I snapped this up, as well as the Humble Indie Bundle, and in both cases I paid a lot less than the original asking price, but well above the minimum. However in both cases I was partially motivated by the “Grab it while it’s cheap” factor. I’m wondering what would happen if a lot of indie games went with this model on release and permanently. Would the results be as impressive as they were for the HIB?

    • Tom OBedlam says:

      I’m not sure it’s sustainable as a complete model. There’s too many cheap fucks who wouldn’t pay a fair deal, but if indies were to have a usual price for their games but do an offer like this every six months or so then the results could only be positive.
      This sort of offer totally brings people around. I used to pirate the indy games because, at the time, I didn’t think it was justifiable to ask me to spend £20 on a game I’ll complete in 5 hours. Then I played World of Goo and loved it, utterly. I paid £10 for it when 2D Boy did the first one of these, then gifted my copy of it from the HIB which I paid £30 for the lot. As a strategy, I think this will do so much for the indie studios, even those not involved.

    • HexagonalBolts says:

      A lot of gamers are students, and we have no money! I’d love to shower them with it if I had it… Hopefully the indie community will still be just as thriving when my English Literature degree from Manchester undoubtedly earns me millions.

    • Tom OBedlam says:

      Next year is going to be tight gamewise for me, if I get on my masters course. genuinely going to have to decided between eating and new games…

    • Thermal Ions says:

      Isn’t this just a case of moving an old (as in previously released) game to “Donationware” – not a new concept by any means, just one that’s been recently revived after it dwindled away in the 80/90’s.

  6. robrob says:

    This is just awful, terrible news. How could he be so inconsiderate? I have deadlines all next week.

  7. IdleHands says:

    The only thing I dislike about these “pay what you want” deals (which are still awesome no matter my minor whining) is I find it near impossible to fairly price a game I’ve never played. I’d only know it’s worth after playing it, a catch-22. I know I could put in a generally fair amount and be done, but if I turn out to love the game I’d like to see do well and chatise myself for paying so little.

    • Rich says:

      Demo followed by “pay what you want” for the full game then.
      You’d know which games aren’t going to be worth much, because they won’t put out a demo.

    • Phill Cameron says:

      You could always pay the minimum, play the game, then go back and buy another copy for a higher price that you think it’s worth.

      Of course, I only advocate such a tactic if you actually go back and pay for it the second time. Obv. Natch. Etc.

  8. HexagonalBolts says:

    rather than complaining about “play what you want”, does anyone fancy a game?

    • Tom OBedlam says:

      If you fancy GMing definately!

    • BigJonno says:

      I’ll echo Tom’s sentiment. If anyone wants to run a game, I’d love to play. I just don’t have a clue what I’d do if I ran game myself and I simply don’t have the time for the next month.

    • HexagonalBolts says:

      You can watch video tutorials here:

      link to

      and you can run the game in a window while you watch them

      Maybe I’ll be ready a bit later!

    • Daffs says:

      I’ve got something up my sleeve, but tomorrow is exam day.
      If I come back here on Sunday with the want to offer, where will relevant eyes be?

    • HexagonalBolts says:

      on the forum

  9. Bioptic says:

    Yess – I pre-ordered this, but then had difficulty persuading anyone it was worth £12 to play with me. Think I’ll pick up a stack of licenses, so I can keep a decent number of people able to legally play it.

    It’s slightly odd, though, in that you’d think people willing to actually go out and create content would be more than willing to pay full-price. Presumably we’ll see a large boost to the playerbase, but disproportionately weighted against controllers.

  10. oceanclub says:

    For the same reason – lack of someone that would possible play this, most of my late-30s friends at the baby stage and therefore barely have time for console-lite games – I didn’t buy it full-price, but am willing to pay half-price just to play around with it a bit.


    • Risingson says:

      “most of my late-30s friends at the baby stage and therefore barely have time for console-lite games ”

      A well-known tragedy, this one. Solution: make new friends, single friends, peter pan-style friends.

    • oceanclub says:

      “peter pan-style friends”

      This guy?

      link to


  11. Tei says:

    On-topic question:

    What happends if the Tardis teleport inside the Tardis?

    • Tom OBedlam says:

      Can’t the Tardis go anywhere except in its own time-line?

  12. RLacey says:

    And now I regret buying this last week (given that I’m not able to play it until next week)…

    I know, I’m needlessly bitter about other people’s generosity.

    People should buy this.

  13. James says:

    The source code is apparently public domain, so you’re basically paying for him to compile it for Windows and Mac :P

    • robrob says:

      What fools we have been.

    • Tei says:

      A more accurate would be: you pay for a download. A better reply would be: You pay him to play his game, and help then make more awesome games.
      Is moot point, because most people don’t even know what source code is, or how to compile things in mingw.

    • TRS-80 says:

      @Tei: all of those things are true, but I glossed over them for comedic effect. More seriously, I don’t know whether the art assets are freely licensed, so paying for them may still be required.

    • Harlander says:

      Man, do you know how much of a pain in the ass it is to get SiD to compile? It’s worth a bit of cash

  14. sebmojo says:

    For what it’s worth I had a sudden urge to give him like $30, reading that. I mean why the hell not? This man has devoted his life to our joy.

  15. sfury says:

    Oh man, I have this since it was in pre-order and I still haven’t gotten around to play it… :(

    btw does anyone have a link (or can upload it somewhere) to that documentary I missed with Jason Rohrer and Chris Crawford? I bet it’s fascinating stuff but I only found trailers and an unseeded torrent

  16. RogB says:

    As much as i’d like an excuse to do some more pixel pushing, the concept of this game has no interest to me whatsoever. I just dont ‘get it’. I’m just old fashioned.

  17. planet xxx says:

    infinite regression – see ‘Logopolis’ or ‘The Five Doctors’.

  18. planet xxx says:

    er sorry, the above was a reply to the question about the tardis landing inside the tardis.

  19. cjlr says:

    Why, graphics and artificial time barriers. Duh.

  20. cjlr says:

    Although really if pressed I’d say it’s a matter of many people working better within a loose frameword than with no framework in place. Averting choice paralysis, as it were, by limiting the scope of possible actions. Further, the time limit forces you to do something before it runs out (usually), which is generally truer to life in that you don’t get to put things on hold to deliberate an action right in the middle of carrying it out.

  21. Sam says:

    It does feel different. The time limit gives it qualities of theatrical improv to keep things lively (or chaotic, if you prefer), and the layers the graphical interface and lack of direct chat put on the experience means the player and controller are somewhat removed, leaving the interaction and “story” itself behind. It’s almost like playing an instrument. If that sounds a little wanky, you have no argument from me, but it is a singular experience.

  22. passingtramp says:

    RPS is my favourite site in the whole wide world, ever, period, full stop. I’m even a subscriber! But I wish you would steer clear of political/economic comment.

    • Tom OBedlam says:

      I think the over use of exclamation marks sort of implies a joking skepticism.

    • Auspex says:

      RPS is going to take down those big bad corporations from…the outside!

  23. Tim says:

    If I paid him the full $14 just two days ago, will he throw in a proper matchmaking system so that the game can quickly start? Teaching my buddy how to open up a port on his router and find his IP is hard.

  24. Tom OBedlam says:

    Crikey, sidtubes current games list is full! this bodes well!

  25. InternetGuy says:

    This game is for closet LARPers. Be real menz and go out and do the real thing.

    • Auspex says:

      (I had to google that)

      Outside! With real people! Are you quite mad?!

    • Tom OBedlam says:

      The only thing that recommends LARPing is a legitimate reason to own a suit of armour.

    • BigJonno says:

      You also have to go camping, run around in a field and often spend entire weekends engaged in physically demanding activities! There is usually a copious amount of alcohol involved, but I guess everything has its downsides, right? ;)

      I guess it’s why I don’t find the idea of full-body motion control video gaming as horrifying as most. I don’t see at as video games you have to jump around for, I see it as LARPing that you can do indoors, on your own and whenever you want to.

  26. Jad says:

    I mean, whats the point of doing dice rolls and having stats in a D&D session? When the DM tells you that you are faced with three trolls why doesn’t the game let you just say “I hit each of them with my sword. All hits connect, and the trolls die instantly. Okay, next?”

    Having rule-based limitations on a role-playing session can focus the communal story-telling of the group and make it more fun and game-like. Sleep is Death has fewer limitations than D&D, but more than just a IM free-for-all.

  27. CuriousJorge says:

    So how many SiD games actually end up like this? (possibly NSFW)

    • Tei says:

      Based on my experience, none of the about 600 games of talk about penis.
      It seems the group of people obsessed with penis (a group of USA people) and the group of people interested in a storytelling game, have no intersection.

  28. Mo says:

    I reckon I got pretty lucky with the timing of my sale … the Humble Indie Sale happened at the tail end of the Smiley sale, followed in quick succession by Portal being free, and now this. Man, things would have gone a lot worse if I procrastinated for a week. :)

  29. Sagan says:

    How does this work if I don’t have someone to play with?

    Can I just go online and find people?

    Because the main reason I didn’t buy it wasn’t the price, but because I don’t think I’m going to play it. Pay what you want hasn’t changed that.

  30. Suggeztion says:

    This thing would be da bomb if it also had a mutual dice rolling screen.

  31. Sev says:

    Amazing how many of these, especially SUCCESSFUL ONES, there have been lately. And please do keep posting about these! It helps all our wallets.

  32. Spooner says:

    link to is not a bad place to find people willing to play it. Just don’t come in demanding a controller and go off in a huff if one doesn’t immediately leap up to spend an hour working hard being a controller for you. Controllers always welcome, though :)

    As people have said, controlling is hard work in 30s, so just increase that to 45s or 60s and you’ll have a whale of a time. More than a minute, however, ends up making the game much too long, in my experience.

  33. Wes says:

    Sonuva! I pre-ordered this and still haven’t had time to play around with it.

  34. Demaith says:

    Great deal, will definitely have to find fellow SiD players the hard way through the aforementioned forums etc. That was what stopped me from buying it before, but these Pay Whatever conspiracies can lower the psychological threshold for just about anyone, I guess…

  35. JohnDoe says:

    Pay Whatever with a minimum is not Pay Whatever. If it was solely to cover transaction costs (~30 cents) then I could understand, but I find this a far more cynical sale than the Humble Indie Bundle or the World of Goo Sale.

    • lesslucid says:

      Why do you assume his transaction costs are so much lower than he says they are?

  36. malkav11 says:

    Well, as I said last time this game came up, I don’t really see the point and I have my doubts that I’d get anything out of it. But I suppose I’m willing to drop $5 ($2.50 a copy) on it and give it a whirl.

  37. lesslucid says:

    I find this “pay whatever” interesting as a concept because it basically allows the seller to capture the entirety of the value under the surplus curve, *if* people are honest about paying what they really think something is worth. It’s what cinemas are trying to do, for example, by charging less to students and people who come in on a tuesday; offer lower prices to people who will only buy at the lower price, without cannibalising their sales at higher prices to people who would be willing and able to pay more for the same product. To the extent that people are honest about paying what is their genuine “tipping point” (rather than just paying the minimum without thinking about it) then you’d expect it to be hugely more profitable for the developer than any “normal” pricing scheme. I’d be really interested to see how the numbers work out. (Of course, it’s true that the free publicity that goes with these promotions skews the numbers a bit – but it’s not as thought Rohrer doesn’t get any free publicity for his stuff in the first place, since he’s so well known for doing interesting and experimental work.)

  38. MadMatty says:

    ah i get it- looks fun