Pay What You Want Sadface For Proun

Gamasutra note that Proun developer Joost van Dongen has taken some time to analyse the success (or lack thereof) of his Pay What You Want scheme for the quirky racing game. While he has made a healthy and pleasing $23,000 so far, he estimates that 40% (200k) of the installs of the game were pirate installs, despite the game being freely available from “official” sources.

Actual sales? 4,400 people paid an average of $5.23 for the game. Gamasutra explain what this means: “The prevalence of free players means the game has averaged just 9 cents of revenue per download, Van Dongen said, well below what he thinks a successful game with a traditional sales model would have made.” My thought? It’s well worth $5, go and buy it right now.


  1. Teronfel says:

    I paid $0.68.Good game.

  2. Tusque D'Ivoire says:

    I don’t know how much work went into this, and it looks beautiful. But this is exactly the argument of the big players in the industry. They focus on the numbers the game has been pirated (which they mostly can’t even know exactly). I’m asking myself: Is $23,000 really so little money? how much would he have made if he had asked for $5?

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      That’s precisely his implication, I think. That asking for $5 directly would have made more. WE WILL NEVER KNOW.

    • caddyB says:

      More than 23.000, I think.
      It is a good game, if a bit short.

    • sneetch says:

      “Is $23,000 really so little money?”

      That would depend entirely on how much effort it took to write and the costs incurred in doing so: Game devs tend to charge so they can make more games. If he can’t carry on making games (I don’t know if he can or can not) then I would say it’s too little.

    • Deano2099 says:

      I think he’s right that asking for $1 he’d have made more. What I’d love to know is how many people who paid $5+ initially got it for free.

      Because it’s a weird looking game, I can see someone paying nothing, playing it, liking it, then going back and paying what it’s worth.

      Pay what you want is a shit model for games that are ‘different’. Because you’re asking me to value it before I play it. If I give you $1 and then decide it’s actually worth $5, I’m not likely to go back and give you the difference. Nor, if I paid $5, and then decided it was worth $1, would I be asking you for the difference back.

    • zeroskill says:

      “$23,000 really so little money?” I guess that sum is alot for someone who doesnt have to pay a little thing called life.

    • caddyB says:

      “Because it’s a weird looking game, I can see someone paying nothing, playing it, liking it, then going back and paying what it’s worth.”

      While noble, I think this doesn’t work.

      Again and again we’re shown that people are willing to preorder games that will probably be crap as long as they have hope that it will be good but they won’t pay anything if they can get something for free, even if they play it for ages and like it.

      It rarely works though. Mostly on the niche markets where people who are interested in that kind of stuff know that they will lose their fun generator if they don’t support it.

    • Salt says:

      I’m more interested in the average price paid than his total earnings. An average of over $5 seems like something the developer should be pleased with.

      Wasn’t the Humble Indie Bundle #3 with its huge number of games still averaging only a little over $5?

      As has been said elsewhere in these comments, the “free players” are people who downloaded the free version with restricted content – what someone else might call a demo (or shareware version) – and decided not to buy it. That’s going to happen whatever your “monetization technique”.

    • Enikuo says:

      I wonder how many sales they would have lost from the folks that paid less than $5. I remember reading this article about how super low pricing for games was more profitable because it encourages gamers to dip into their non-gaming budgets. How much profit did he make off of people that paid something on the chance that they’d like it and might otherwise have skipped the game altogether?

    • Tams80 says:

      Well pay-what-you-want certainly makes me dip into my non-gaming budget. I even go into my food budget sometimes. The feeling of missing out on a great deal makes me almost have to buy it, when usually I wouldn’t, ever. I usually pay something I consider reasonable for the games and something that I consider fit for the budget I am taking from, as I perceive my budgets differently (mainly by what I consider an average spend would be).

    • wisnoskij says:

      This game is very polished and pretty fun but it is so short and a on rails racing game so really not worth buying imho.

      And also saying that every one who did not pay for it is basically stealing from his profits and charging $5 would greatly increase his profits is just stupid.
      If you factored in all the separate free demos of the games in the HIB then you would probably get a similar statistic.

      Lots and lots of people will download a free demo/version of a game to try it out and then never buy it because it is not worth it for them, that does not mean you can “well if I charged $1 for the demo then I would be rich”. Also there are many situations that would have a paying customer download the game a few times, and of course all of these are clumped together into the giant number of people who stole $5 from mr. Proun developer.

      This guy just went from being some awesome indie guy with a polished niche game and at least one customer that would put serious consideration into buying anything he produced in the future to a indie faker who thought that since he copied the HIB that he would be a millionaire.

    • MarkN says:

      @wisnoskij: He never says that people who played it for free are the same as pirates. He only ever suggests he might have made more money by not offering it for free, or by collecting credit card details from people obtaining the free download. He’s incredibly grateful for the money he has made.

      How you go from liking the guy to not wanting to buy anything from him again based on a post that’s largely pointing out how happy he is with what he’s earnt from his hobby project whilst also trying to help other Indie devs by sharing info beggars belief.

    • Nesetalis says:

      I got it for free from the site.. played it once, and put it aside.
      If I had pirated it, i wouldn’t have purchased it. I am not entirely sure what he expected from it, but there isn’t that much to the game. Its a basic racing game, little more.
      I wanted to pay for it first, but they refused my only method of payment at the time. So, he really only has himself to blame there :p I don’t imagine that many of those pirates kept playing, many probably downloaded, and 200k sounds like a decent number of downloads… but likely very few kept the game installed.

    • Zelius says:

      This is exactly the same problem I’m seeing in the Humble Bundles and similar “pay what you want” deals. When people have the chance to pay as little as possible, a lot of them will. In the case of the Humble Bundles, they actually need to make more than $1.00 per bundle sold, in order to at least break even (transaction costs and all that). Even if customers are aware of this simple fact, a significant portion of them still have the audacity to pay only a cent. Do they then set the minimum price as $1.00? No, because that would go against the image they’re trying to maintain.

      It’s likely that the developer of Proun suffered from the same loss of money, due to some people paying so little (as the first comment by Teronfel shows). Even if the developer did insist on making a free version available as an option, in combination with a minimum price for the paid version, that would have been more profitable than this.

      In short, pay what you want deals might be good for your image, but considering the nature of human beings, do yourself a favor and set a minimum price.

  3. Raymond Saint says:

    It’s not on Steam, no thnx.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Seriously? You want to give money to some larger distributor when you could buy direct from a developer? What is wrong with you?

    • wccrawford says:

      Steam’s system is awesome. Everything is integrated and you only need to go to 1 place if you want to redownload a game.

      With the dev’s personal site, who knows what you’ll get. Sometimes you’re lucky if the thing even installs.

    • EhsanKia says:

      I too think that the two main mistakes he did was 1. Not going for Steam, 2. Not joining something like the Humble Indie Bundle.

      These two would’ve highly increased the popularity of his offer/game, and would’ve substantially increased his sales.

      @Jim: Well, Steam does take a piece off, but like I said, it offers a huge audience for the game, and the advertisement the game gets is sure worth the cut they take. Not to mention that it’s also paying for the server usage of downloading the game. And the services Steam offers also highly increases the value of the game (Being able to download it anytime/anywhere, easy updates, one place with all games, etc).

      I personally would easily pay an extra 10-20% (which is half Steam’s cut) to have the same game on Steam, just because of these extra services I get.

    • psyk says:

      Devs need to move away from steam

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      “1. Not going for Steam, 2. Not joining something like the Humble Indie Bundle.”

      1. Yes, although that does not guarantee anything. Steam rejects plenty of games. Why shouldn’t devs sell direct.

      2. That is invitation based, not voluntary.

    • zeroskill says:

      “Devs need to move away from steam”

      and WHY? “Devs”, especially Indie game developers love Steam. Its exposure to over 30 million people and Valve is easy to work with, easier then lets say Microsoft anyway.

    • Unaco says:

      “Why shouldn’t devs sell direct.”

      Piece of mind for the customer, perhaps. Who knows how long this Developer will be around… if I were to buy the game from him, would it be available for download from his site in 3 years time? In 10 years? I’d much rather trust Steam to be around, and still providing downloads, in 10 years time.

    • Deano2099 says:

      To be fair Jim, he obliquely addressed the Steam point in the post. Paying $0 doesn’t require credit card details, which is what he thought put a lot of people off: it’s inconvenient. Steam already has those details, so it’s simple. Small thing, but if he’s right then being on Steam would have made a big difference.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      I’m as much of a supporter of Steam, Impulse and the like, as anyone, but to not buy a game because it’s not available on it is a bit odd, at least to the way I think.

      Steam is not perfect when it comes to reliably working – I’ve bought plenty of games which require tinkering with before they will even boot on my machine, and I’ve often thought that steam does not do an adequate job of warning you that a game is not designed for modern versions of windows.

      Buying directly from a dev, especially an indie dev tends, in my experience to give a far superior experience if you do require technical support. Sometimes you can get 1 on 1 time with the developer himself, which is amazing!

    • Starky says:

      It’s a convenience thing.

      If the game was on steam for $2, then it is 3 clicks to buy it pay for it and have it downloading. Instant, and impulsive.

      Oh his own website, it’s hassle and inconvenience, and entering all that payment information, then dealing with whatever else he might have thrown in.

      I played the free version (linked form an RPS article) and honestly might have dropped a few yank monies for it if the full game had enough content (it didn’t over the free version), and it had a simple, quick 1 click payment method.

    • LionsPhil says:

      I also trust Steam more as a payment processor than some other random. (For one thing I know they don’t try to force the abysmal anti-security blame-shifting trainwreck which is Verified by Visa on me.) And they’ll take PayPal if needed.

      That said I just went to the “buy” link on his site to see what the experience was like, and got a page with nothing but a picture of some balls and navigation links on. So. Um. Yeah. Steam’s cut is paying for payment processing which actually bloody works.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      They’re using FastSpring, which isn’t exactly some random unknown. You can select “PayPal Account” as a payment option.

      So, besides not necessarily sticking around for decades, what’s the problem?

    • apocraphyn says:

      Man, people are really jumping down Jim’s throat.


      If you can pay to the developer directly and they get 100% of the profit, surely this is better for them? Sure, they may get more publicity from Steam – sure, Steam advocates may benefit from having it added to their vast library of games – but this is not a mandatory thing. We play on PCs – we don’t play on Steam Boxes/Stations. (Clearly, it’s only a matter of time).

      As for people complaining about installing stuff from a random website as being “inconvenient”, I see being forced to load a piece of third party software in order to play certain games as being pretty damn “inconvenient”, myself. But that’s neither here nor there.

    • LionsPhil says:

      It’s not like it has to be either-or. Restricting people’s options is just restricting your market.

      (I’m kind of pleasantly surprised that Steam even allow stuff like the Frozen Synapse HiB sale which undercuts and then unlocks on their own platform—truly best of all worlds for the punter, too, since you get a DRM-free copy and a Steam-social one. I guess someone in Valve took a pragmatic “anything that gets people hooked on Steam is good” view?)

    • Unaco says:

      I don’t see anyone ‘jumping down Jim’s throat’, and I think your attempts to denigrate all of those who have responded, calmly and rationally, by characterising our responses as ‘BITCH YOU BETTER NOT…’ are, frankly, disgusting.

    • Craig Stern says:

      Most devs that sell “directly” actually use independent payment processors. I, for example, use BMT Micro. It’s extremely easy to re-download the game from them, and they look like they’re going to be around for a good long while. I can understand the OCD tendencies that might encourage one to keep all of one’s games organized in one place, but choosing to never play a game simply because it isn’t on Steam seems a little excessive to me.

    • Tams80 says:

      @ wccrawford

      I only need to go to one place on my computer. The folder called ‘games’ surprisingly, which Microsoft so kindly included with Windows.

    • Gizoku says:

      @ apocraphyn
      If Valve ever make a “Steam Console” it should blatantly be called the Steam Engine.

    • cliffski says:

      “Piece of mind for the customer, perhaps. Who knows how long this Developer will be around… ”

      FACT: My website has been selling my games longer than Valve and steam have existed.

      Oh what’s that? you lost your serial number for Asteroid Miner, my 1997 arcade game? Just email and I’ll reply within a day, likely within half that time.

      Buying a game from an indie dev really isn’t that risky.

    • Kefren says:

      I’ve bought loads of DRM-free games direct from devs. Osmos, World of Goo, The Path, Fatale, and Auralux (link to off the top of my head. They seem to be really grateful, and I’ve never had any problems. I just keep the installable .exe. In some ways that is a lot more secure than having it on Steam.

    • Starky says:

      Cliffski, that is great and all (not sarcasm, it is a real achievement), but you have to admit you’re fucking rare when it comes to indie devs in that regard, that you’re still around, still selling and making games that many years on.

      Hell I think you and Mr D. Smart may be the only 2 I can think of who’ve remained reasonably successful at a indie/niche level for so long.

    • wisnoskij says:

      “Seriously? You want to give money to some larger distributor when you could buy direct from a developer? What is wrong with you?”


    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      Jeff Vogel has been around for quite some time as well.

      As for the fly-by-night hobbyist types, well, as Linus Torvalds says:

      Only wimps use tape backup: real men just upload their important stuff on ftp, and let the rest of the world mirror it

      Assuming they’re just sending out a DRM-free installer, you can either 1) back it up yourself, or 2) in the very worst case scenario, download the exact same file from a pirate site. That’s really worst case though, and I’m not aware of any current situation involving a reasonably successful indie game where it would be necessary.

      The DRM’d downloads of unknown lifetime, on the other hand, are actually worth complaining about.

    • cliffski says:

      Theres also jeff, from spiderweb software. He’s been around longer than me :D

    • apocraphyn says:


      I duly apologise if you perceived the overtly capitalised section of my response as anything but a ridiculously large over-exaggeration of the general vibe I had accrued from witnessing the previous comments within this particular thread. (And within many other comments in many other threads in many other articles, for that matter). T’was not a personal attack upon you or those before you, believe me. I hope that grants you some peace of mind.


      Well, that should go without saying! I’d actually be rather offended if they didn’t name it that.

      Kinda agree with LionsPhil’s point in the end, that “it’s not like it has to be either-or”. It’s the fact that many games are forcibly on Steam these days that really gets my goat. But again, going off-topic. People shouldn’t be so obsessive compulsive that they have to have their whole game collection tied to Steam, it’s truly quite silly. This is concerning a game that could cost literally nothing, after all. But to each their own!

    • Dave Mongoose says:

      While I’d never ignore a game because it’s not on Steam, I do prefer it.

      Partly this is because I worry about losing the installer exe or having the developer shut down, but the sad truth is that I sometimes forget about games I own if I’ve not played them in a while, and having them in my Steam games list means I can be scrolling through it and go “Oh yea! I’d forgotten about that game!”.

      One example was Mount and Blade: I bought it relatively early while it was still in development, played it and loved it then forgot all about it until Warband was released.

    • El_Emmental says:

      @Jim Rossignol

      “2. That is invitation based, not voluntary.”

      For the “normal” Humble Indie Bundles, yes.

      However, the Humble Frozenbyte Bundle is the result of Frozenbyte initiative :

      Frozenbyte CEO Lauri Hyvärinen :

      “We also realized that while the Humble Indie Bundles were doing absolutely amazing in terms of sales and user satisfaction, there were many poorly executed pay-what-you-want campaigns, which failed to raise any significant attention.
      So, we thought to ask the Humble Bundle guys if they would be interested in cooperating with us, and John and Jeff over there were really enthusiastic about the idea.”

      Link : link to

      So Joost can still contact the guys at Humble Bundle Inc and tell them he would be happy to be part of one the next Humble Bundles (if they’re okay with it), and get a lower % deal so he doesn’t just piggyback on the Bundle and other indie games.

      Crayon Physics Deluxe rapid-game-prototype (HIB 3) and Cortex Command beta (HIB 2) could get in, Proun could be in a futur HIB without much problem imo.

      Humble Bundle Inc has the last word, sure.

  4. psyk says:

    Which is basiclly what I said the other day.

    People want to spend the least amount of money poss if that means waiting for a 30 quid game to come down to under 10 they will.

    “I paid $0.68.Good game.”

    Well done you ripped off the dev

    • nofing says:

      I totally agree, but I think it’s the fault of the big publishers, with their insanely fast price drops, they ruin the value of their and all other games.
      This said, I have to admit, I didn’t buy this game, I wanted to, but decided to try the free version first and after playing it for a few minutes, I came to the conclusion, that it makes me sick.
      Bummer, would’ve been a great game otherwise, but I just can’t play it.

    • Captchist says:

      Well on the other hand – there are a hell of a lot of free experiences out there. Did I enjoy the 30 min I spent on the game? Sure I suppose, I haven’t gone back to it.

      Is it worth money to me? I suppose, £1 isn’t much money.
      Have I had as much/more fun on freely available content? Yes.
      So does it motivate me to pull out my wallet, work out my card details etc? No, not really. Not because it’s worthless, but because it doesn’t motivate me beyond freely available content enough to pull out my wallet.

      Blaim me if you like, but overcoming people like me is what this sort of business model is going to have to deal with.
      I think the game isn’t worthless, but it’s not worth enough to motivate me to pay for this vs the zillion other opportunities to give my “patronage” to.

      Edit: I use the word “patronage” not to sound like a stuck up douche, but because I think that’s the sort of culture content creation is turning into. You put out content and look for enough individuals to pay for it vs the old model where you hoped to get picked up by a TV channel, Game publisher etc.y.

    • wu wei says:

      Well done you ripped off the dev

      How is that possible when it was the developer himself who set the “pay what you want” pricing model?

    • Carra says:

      That’s $0.68 more than the median.

    • Dave Mongoose says:

      @wu wei

      Well done you ripped off the dev

      How is that possible when it was the developer himself who set the “pay what you want” pricing model?

      In the same way that buying an antique vase from a charity shop for 50p when you know it’s worth £50 would be ripping off the shop. The price of the product and the value of the product are two different things.

    • Burning Man says:

      “In the same way that buying an antique vase from a charity shop for 50p when you know it’s worth £50 would be ripping off the shop. The price of the product and the value of the product are two different things.”

      It’s called a bargain, where you receive graciously, not ‘ripping off’, which would mean that someone was being taken advantage of. The developer set the payment scheme. If he wanted more money, he could have asked for it. He chose not to.

      Your analogy is also grossly overstating the value of the game itself, when it only offers entertainment for an hour at most, even if you compulsively and obsessively play all the tracks over and over. 5$ is way too much for that in comparison with other games. Alpha Protocol was 2$ in a recent sale.

  5. Terr says:

    That’s the reason why devs don’t give players as much freedom in general. Because people abuse that freedom as soon as possible.

    • EhsanKia says:

      Personally, I think it’s not so much about how many people got it for free, as the article keeps pointing out, but more about the total amount being too low. Who cares if 20,000 people got it for free. They could’ve easily pirated it if they wanted anyways, and they probably would have.

      The reason why there’s been so many PWYW is because at the end of the day, so many people end up buying the game that, even if they pay less, the total revenue is actually higher than what they would’ve had. Of course the cost of the servers does play a big role in the equation. But as you can see, Humble Indie Bundle is still coming back, showing that it’s actually successful.

      The main mistake here was that he did this on a non-popular game, all by himself, and he didn’t get enough advertisement. The think with Indie Bundle is that they bundle more popular games with new ones, so everyone gains from the popularity of everyone else and it’s a win-win situation for everyone.

  6. Gnoupi says:

    Paid 5$ for this. Played less than one hour. Forgot about it since.

    Nice looking game, nice feeling of speed on higher difficulty levels… But really not much content. And not that much replay value, as a matter of fact.

    The argument about free players not paying is not really the appropriate one. There was no demo for the game. The free version came with a limited content (with the amount of content you usually find in a demo). So what failed was transforming free players who tried the game into buyers. He would probably have had the same issues with a Steam release and a demo.

    • Starky says:

      Seconded, I downloaded the legitimate free version (due to a story here at RPS), played it for 5 mins, and decided it was a fine game, but not worth any more time or money than what that “demo” gave me.

      It was a slightly fancy looking flash game (I’m aware it is 3d, but it could have easily been done 2d and have the exact same gameplay).

      Hell I’d wager he’d have made 10 times what he made if he had made it flash and licensed it to some of the larger free portals.

    • Donjo says:

      Yeah.. I played it for a bit because it looks so nice but it got quite boring quickly…. maybe he would have made more money if he had created a slightly more interesting game? Crazy, I know!

    • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      I paid nothing for it, and played it for maybe 10 minutes. Then I uninstalled it. I was glad I hadn’t had to spend money on something I didn’t personally like.

    • Vartesz says:

      Didn’t pay anything for it, uninstalled after 5 minutes. This seems like whining that not all users of a demo bought the game.

      EDIT: I dind’t read the original (more positive) article and based the “whining” solely on the “Sadface” in the title. My mistake.

    • Noctre says:

      Agreed. Tried the official free version. The gameplay didn’t grip me for more than 15 minutes and there wasn’t much content. As a result, I didn’t pay anything and haven’t played since.

      Sort of like how I don’t buy games when I try the demo and don’t enjoy it.

    • MarkN says:

      @Vartesz: In what way is he whining? It’s a blog post to expose the sales figures to help other developers with analysis to point at where he thinks things went wrong. It’s riddled with sentences proclaiming it a successful hobby project, such as this:

      “So, has Proun been a success? Yes it has! Proun was made as a hobby project, for the fun of making something unique and showing it to the world. ”

      And rather honest statements like this in response to an IGN review:

      “Incredibly thin on content. That’s true. There is no lesson to be learned for me here, though: Proun is a hobby project and making a lot more content on my own would have cost too much time and would have become a boring crunch. I made Proun for the fun of it. If I had known then what I know now, I would still not have made it any larger.”

      How does exposing useful data, and admitting the shortcomings of his own game whilst proclaiming it a success in his own eyes add up to whining? I really don’t get how you can read that post and come to that conclusion.

    • Vartesz says:

      @MarkN: After reading the original article, you are definately right. I based the “whining” solely on the “Sadface” in the rps-article. My mistake.

    • bill says:

      Me too. I thought it looked great, and for a one-person homemade game it was really nice.
      But I can’t say I played it for more than 20 minutes… i think it might be still installed, but i forgot about it.
      There’ s no reason to be negative about the game or developer… but i don’t think you can expect everyone who downloads to buy it.

      Another question though, might be whether i’d have remembered to go back and pay for it if i had liked it. I’d like to think yes..

  7. wccrawford says:

    “despite the game being freely available from “official” sources.”

    Minimum $1, it says. So not ‘free’ at all. And honestly, I don’t think it’d be worth that. I’m just not impressed by the videos. He should thank his lucky stars he made $23k from it.

    • Deano2099 says:

      You may want to read the linked post.

    • Kaira- says:

      The minimum is now 1$, it used to have a free torrent-link.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Yeah, the trailers for this just made me think “so it’s that left-right flying down a narrow canyon game I typed in a listing for on my BBC Micro, with more 3D”. He seems to be whining that this didn’t make him richer because after all some people on the Internet said nice things about it.

      Um. The only thing going for it was that it was cheap, mate.

    • TotalBiscuit says:

      “He should thank his lucky stars he made $23k from it.”

      Statements like this make me want to punch PC gamers in the mouth over the internet. Oh yes, thank god he made about what he would have made working in McDonalds for a year, he is so fortunate, he is truly the 1%!

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      There are thousands of mediocre (or even good) authors and artists making next to nothing, struggling to survive. I fail to see why a PC game developer deserves special sympathy.

      He made a decent chunk of cash and got a ton of publicity. That’s a lot more than most. Sophie Houlden is attempting more interesting things and almost certainly making less.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Why not? It’s a absolutely cheap-and-nasty game with gameplay that would be primitive in the 8-bit era by what accounts I can tell (and he just removed the closest thing he had to a demo to disabuse me of that notion—although he would have called me a pirate or freeloader for doing so anyway, so fuck him). McDonalds is a rather fitting comparison, really.

      You want to make better money, make a better product.

    • Donjo says:

      @LionsPhil Yep, I concur, 23000 is far more than I take in a year (yeah, pretty much on the poverty line) it’s not to be sniffed at to be honest. For me it was a pretty mediocre game that looks quite nice… I’m not sure how relevant the pirate numbers are to anything really….

    • Deano2099 says:

      @TB with respect, the people making those comments may well work at McDonalds. And the idea of being able to do something they love as their job, and make as much money is in fact hugely aspirational.

      A hell of a lot of people work in McDonalds and I’m fairly sure none of them had it down as their dream-job when they were kids.

    • arccos says:


      He built a game with a rather niche appeal, created one avenue of income from it with a model he doesn’t quite seem to understand, and he didn’t advertise. He’s very fortunate it turned out the way it did. Without any press about the game, he would’ve been lucky to make a hundred bucks.

      There are so many ways he could have leveraged his press good will into income, but he either was unable to do so or chose not to do so. Hell, he still can try to get it on digital distribution platforms and probably afford to have someone port it to the portable OSes if he wanted to.

      Game production can be a business or a hobby. He treated it as a hobby and then complains that it didn’t make business-level money. It made way beyond the average hobby-level money, but he doesn’t seem to see it. Its sour grapes.

    • Donjo says:

      Crikey, reading parts of the analysis article, I’m getting more annoyed at this guy- The game was a succes! Great game made by me! It’s just a hobby! But the people were not a success :( Most people did not give me money for my amazing hobby game :(

    • Jabberwocky says:

      Financially speaking, you shouldn’t compare an indie dev to an artist or author who is “struggling to survive”. An indie developer, with professional programming skills, has a far higher earning potential. When they choose to build games, they are explicitly choosing NOT to follow a fairly lucrative job path.

      So an artist who makes $23k? Maybe he’s pretty happy, considering the usual compensation for his skills. A professional programmer? Not so much. S/he’s losing a LOT of money. Very few programmers would stick with building indie games for long at that wage.

  8. deanb says:

    I read his post yesterday and it’s a bit sad that he came to the conclusion to stop the free version completely. I’d wager in a parallel universe where there was only a “pay what you want” version he’d have had the average price about the same but much much less installs, free or other wise.

    While pretty and somewhat neat the game is desperately lacking in content. (requiring 3D max for making user tracks is a bit extreme too) I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what led to the low conversion rate to the paid version.

  9. Dozer says:

    I either played the demo, the beta, or PWYW £0, to discover that I can’t run it with the distance-blurring turned on on my archaic PC, and without a sense of distance the game’s stupidly hard to play.

  10. Teddy Leach says:

    I paid nothing, nor did I get it for free. It did not interest me.

    • psyk says:


    • jplayer01 says:

      I played a couple of levels. But I didn’t think it was particularly engaging, so I didn’t buy it. Frozen Synapse, on the other hand, is shaping up to be my best buy this year.

    • Josh W says:

      Exactly, I avoided buying it because I didn’t want to skew his stats and lower the averages, nor was I sure that what I wanted to pay would cover transaction costs.

      I’ve got so many good games at the moment of so many different types. I feel like I’d actually be happier playing audiosurf to my own music than playing this game. But even though it has no product niche for me, I could have just downloaded it for the freebee, but I somehow guessed this might throw him off. I’d rather pay the most I can budget for games I really want, at least until people start mentally categorising the bittorrent version as some kind of demo.

  11. Snuffy the Evil says:

    I paid either $5 or $10, I forgot. Either way it was well worth the money, and this makes me sad.

  12. Ultra-Humanite says:

    And yet another social experiment ends in tragedy for the idealists. How shocking.

    • rustybroomhandle says:

      That’s a piss-poor attitude you have there. :/

    • Jumwa says:

      The guy averaged–for a single game–the same price that the entire Humble Indie Bundle tends to take in on average for a whole pack of games.

      He did well, considering by all accounts I read here the game was not exactly massive and warranting more than your typical indie title included in the Humble Indie Bundle.

      The complaining about people not liking what amounts to a free demo and therefore not paying afterwards just seems a little unfair.

  13. Muzman says:

    Slack as it sounds, there is a point where I would probably pay $5-10 dollars for a game on steam and it’s downloading in three clicks no problem instead of having to go through yetanotherdamnsignuploginpasswordcardnumbersecuritycheckverificationemailyada rigmarole to pay what I like. (doesn’t have to be steam in the example).. I even find paypal friggin annoying.
    I’m probably not alone there.
    I’m not sure what to do about this for the true indie indie distro methods.

    • Nesetalis says:

      Indeed. If he attached it to the HiB, steam, maybe some other distribution service, and his own distribution he would have gotten alot more sales.
      Converts is what this article seems to be about though, lots of free players, but no one buying it? that means your demo hasn’t caught anyone’s eye. I have played many demos and then purchased the full game, this one i tried and didn’t purchase.

  14. Heliocentric says:

    I’m detecting discrepancies, and can the game be bought for £0. 00 or not? I quickly got the measure of this game and didn’t want it at any price.

    Pro tip for developers: don’t put a game out on PWYW and bitch you didn’t get enough money.

    • Enikuo says:

      In the Proun store, one of the radio buttons is for a “Minimum $1.00 donation,” but you can also select “Your Donation” and type in 0. I think that’s what causing the confusion.

    • MarkN says:

      Where exactly in his article does he bitch about anything?

      Seriously, I do not get quite how badly so many people have comprehended this post. He quotes sales and download figures. He says he’s happy with the returns for what was a hobby project. He thanks people for generous donations. He dares to suggest he could perhaps have earnt more by doing things differently. He’s not claiming to be perfect. And he’s offering stats and analysis that very few other folk do to help other Indie devs assess how to market their games, because he said he would when he released the game. How on Earth do you spin that to bitching?

  15. Crimsoneer says:

    I got the free version, and didn’t see anything I found worth paying for…sorry, but that’s kind of the issue with “Pay What you Want”. If you have a product people won’t pay for…well, they won’t.

    • Vinraith says:

      Ding ding ding.

      I downloaded it free to find out what I thought it was worth, fully expecting to pay at least $5 for it. I played it for perhaps 10 minutes, uninstalled, and never went back. There was just nothing there for me.

      I’m sorry the PWYW model didn’t work out better for the author, both because I think it’s a good model and because, while it may not have been my cup of tea, the game was well crafted and deserves better. Still, it’s worth considering how many of those “free downloads” had experiences just like mine. If he’d provided a free demo, then charged $5 for the game, I sincerely wonder if he wouldn’t have seen essentially the same figures.

    • sinelnic says:

      Agree, I did the same. It felt extremely short and interesting as a proof of concept, but barely felt like a proper game. I played it one full evening and another half afternoon, and that was that.

    • sinelnic says:

      Rock of Ages costs 10 bucks, has art, humour, some kind of story-based progression and a lot of maps.

    • Gnoupi says:

      I kinda wish I’d done that. But no, I rushed to throw my money as soon as it became available, and played for less than an hour.

      Meh, I’m an idiot.

    • Vinraith says:

      Now see, if I’d played it “one full evening and half an afternoon” that’d easily have been worth $5 to me, so I don’t understand where you’re coming from.

    • LionsPhil says:

      I would hypothesise that Vinraith is bang on the money.

    • sinelnic says:

      @Vinraith I see your point, I just don’t agree. I don’t judge a game’s value directly by playtime. I’ve spent more time with free web games so for me, to go ahead and pay, I need something else. See my example of Rock of Ages, which I’ve played *less time* than Prune.

    • Berzee says:

      I downloaded it for free and played through each level one time or so, but I knew I wouldn’t buy something like that purely because I don’t play racing games anymore. It’s on my desktop still, and I consider playing it for long enough to make paying some money seem appropriate, but I really just apparently don’t like racing games nowadays. =P

      So yes, I do think that perhaps a lot of the free downloads were people who demoed it but didn’t play it for very long. Would be interesting info to know.

  16. Nim says:

    What feelings does a Pay-what-you-want product give rise to?
    To me it says that if the producer cannot even bother to put a price tag on it, what else have that person or company not bothered with. It may be a good game or not, never heard of it, does not interest me one bit either but that’s beside the point I’m trying to make. The point is first impressions. A pay what you want gives the impression of mediocrity, desperation, of idealism, of lack of faith in one’s own product. If the tag had simply said 5$ it would imply that the producer feels the product to be worthy of 5$ and that the producer at least has some respect for the product.

    What about you?

  17. googoogjoob says:

    see so i read “The prevalence of free players means the game has averaged just 9 cents of revenue per download, Van Dongen said, well below what he thinks a successful game with a traditional sales model would have made.”

    and then i was unable to take the rest of the article seriously at all, because of how many absurd assumptions it makes

    grouping together pirates with people who legitimately got the game free, and then counting the whole group as lost sales

  18. Drake Sigar says:

    Aw come on man, don’t guilt me. I’d throw out the odd $10 to these indi developers if I didn’t have this unbelievably powerful mental block which prevents me from getting into online distribution. It’s physical copies or nothing at all!

  19. Dervish says:

    However, over 250,000 people played Proun. Reviewers loved Proun and the game got lots and lots of media attention.

    My criticism is that he seems to be severely underestimating the kind of cognitive dissonance at work in most indie game appraisals. You know, the sort of illogic that goes, “Game X is a fantastic breath of fresh air, beautiful and elegant in its design, and step forward for our medium. One of the top ten games of the year. But twenty dollars is just too much!”

    Priced at five dollars, maybe the reviews and news wouldn’t have been too different, but it’s a mistake to assume that the success/attention he mentions was all due to the quality of the game and not it’s unusual pricing or humble indie nature.

  20. leahcim says:

    I didn’t download buy it or play it.
    In fact, I wasn’t aware of this deal or method of selling it at all.

    I watched a video of it ages ago, thought it would have been interesting if it had generated tracks procedurally on the fly from mp3 files or similar like audiosurf et al.

    Trouble is, one bunch of guys can have a successful charity based pay what you want scheme. That works. Mainly because of the charity bit. Maybe 2 or more can. But clearly everyone can’t.

    The model breaks down because we can’t (or certainly won’t) give all our money to charity, and, charity is the main reason most of the money is given to humble bundle.

    Maybe I can play 5 noddy games for a bit or maybe one in 5 of those games is good enough to play for a longer time but I bet most of the games bought in the humble bundle are never downloaded, installed or played…and if a different developer turned up every week with a noddy game to buy for charity (or not) we’ll soon start to ignore them.

    Games generally are as good as the people, time and effort put into making them. So tiny titles written by one guy shouldn’t really be expected to do well.

    There are notable exceptions, but even then, a game like minecraft it’s really about the time and effort users have put in to the game being creative that has drawn ever more people to it, and the fact the company has grown in size and continue to update and make a better product.

  21. Buemba says:

    Paid $ 5.00 when it was released and certainly felt I got my money’s worth out of it, though it definitely falls under the category of indie games that let their visuals carry them instead of the gameplay.

  22. ix says:

    I’m thinking he probably should’ve had a demo. Making it slightly harder to get the game for free does sound like a good idea though. People might actually go through the effort to fill in their details.

    And some of you… if it’s pay what you want it’s pay what you want. If somebody decides they want to pay 1$ and the other decides they want to pay 100$, that doesn’t make the second person better than the first. You don’t want people to pay what they want? Don’t sell your game that way (and it is worth pointing out, the game creator is a lot more realistic about this than you guys).

  23. JFS says:

    I would be very happy if my band’s songs made me 23,000 $, were listened to by thousands of people and got coverage on sites like RPS (if they were a music site). Of course, it’s a hobby of mine, I’m not trying to make a living from that, but then again everyone’s mother told everyone that you shouldn’t rely on your favourite pastime securing your income.

    I think he shouldn’t be mad at other people, but rather try to reflect on himself and what he’s trying to achieve. It can only lead to improvement and perhaps another game (which might sell better).

  24. fuggles says:

    He should make a game that isn’t a worse version of ballistics, although that doesn’t invalidate his theory he would make more money, but then he would get fewer happy customers – I guess, you could have either a oneshot money pot or develop a fanbase (or neither).

  25. Brumisator says:

    there, paid 10 euros. Now quit making me feel guilty for humanity.

  26. rustybroomhandle says:

    This is one of those things that would have done a whole lot better had there been a hippie-PC-OS version of it.

  27. Navagon says:

    It’s good too. I played the free version and decided it was worth chucking a few quid at. I don’t regret that at all.

  28. gromit says:

    Why isn’t shareware more used for indie games? The full game is already installed when the free content is finished so pirating it takes more effort than buying it.

  29. Saxifrage says:

    I paid zero dollars for it, have played it for dozens of hours, felt guilty about not paying anything for it, and this report was just what I needed to chip in $5.

    There’s something kind of elemental about the game. To me it’s spiritually similar to the old Atari VCS game Night Driver, an equally stripped-down but compelling experience.

  30. Morph says:

    Jim seems more down on this than the guy who created it. Reading his analysis he’s actually fairly positive about the whole experience.

  31. nafe says:

    Thanks for the reminder, I had intended on buying this but for some reason when it came out with the “pay what you want” system, something turned me off about it. That’s despite the fact that I was actually looking forward to it pre-release. I’m quite disappointed it didn’t do all that well, though hopefully it’s still early days and it’ll earn more. Bought it for £5 because indie devs deserve money. Cos they’re lovely, ‘n stuff.

  32. sonofsanta says:

    As if I wasn’t happy enough that I paid for it at the time, particularly when I heard the soundtrack, knowing that I’m one of the few who Did The Right Thing makes me feel even nicer.

    I may not have been able to afford much, but it was undoubtedly worth the handful of Euros.

  33. DickSocrates says:

    Anyone that pirates an indie game should be drowned in a fresh vat of their mother’s piss. I don’t know how you’d obtain a vat’s worth of fresh urine from just one person, but that’s not my problem, I’ll let the technicians deal with the details. I’m more of an ideas man.

  34. Auspex says:

    I download the torrent version he put up (which was missing a level or something(?)) and have never played it. I will not have been the only one who did this. If something is free. especially if only temporarily, people will grab it just on the off chance they want to play it at a later date.

  35. Urthman says:

    When I look at the list of games I’ve bought from Steam for $5.00 or less, there’s no way this game is objectively worth $5. I might be willing to give the developer $5 as a sort of tip because I wanted to encourage him to make more stuff, but the game itself is much less fun than a lot of free flash games.

  36. Urthman says:

    Oh yes, thank god he made about what he would have made working in McDonalds for a year, he is so fortunate, he is truly the 1%!

    I really doubt he spent as many hours working on Proun as a McDonalds worker has to spend making hamburgers to earn that much money.

  37. MythArcana says:

    I’ve said this a million times already; if you don’t like grapes, stay out of the vat. Anything that can be digitized can and will be pirated. I saw two retail products that I worked on (for % no less) go straight to the 0-Day scene with no question. This happens to movies, eBooks, games, art materials, programs; everything and all things digital. If you can’t tolerate the thought of it, you are in the wrong business. Period.

  38. johnpeat says:

    What a game is “worth” to someone is highly subjective and boring to listen to – please stop telling us.

    What a developer sees as downloads and what he sees as sales is similarly subjective and boring – we really don’t care.

    End of the day, whether he could have done better going another route is academic – but there’s an old saying which most people should understand better

    “What costs nowt is worth nowt”

    It’s truer than you think – but I’d not be disappointed with 20,000 sales – in fact no-one should be disappointed with that really…

  39. LGM says:

    These “pay what you want” games are an interesting idea, but a failure overall. Just sell it on Steam already! I refuse to buy it if it’s not on Steam, and if it were on steam for 5 bux, I’m sure it would have already sold 5 times what it has.

    Seriously, to all you game devs out there, GET YOUR GAMES ON STEAM. I’m not buying your games through your paypal or moneybrokers links, TYVM.

    • Berzee says:

      Even if it’s on Steam though, I also like to see a direct download so I can buy a Steam-free version, since I don’t so much like it.

  40. Sweetz says:

    “Seriously? You want to give money to some larger distributor when you could buy direct from a developer? What is wrong with you?”

    You have the point of view that you’re a patron supporting a starving artist. Others may have the point of view that they’re a simply consumer and it’s the developer’s job to make them want to buy their product. Part of that is catering to where people like to shop.

    People like to buy games on Steam; it’s convenient and has organizational benefits. You also shouldn’t be so quick to assume that Steam is bad for developers. Why don’t you have a chat with Introversion (Darwinia guys) about what Steam did for them.

    Selling 100,000 copies at $1 net revenue is better than selling 4,000 at $5 net revenue…

    • alundra says:

      “”Selling 100,000 copies at $1 net revenue is better than selling 4,000 at $5 net revenue”

      This +1, don’t mean to be rude or something but, what was he expecting??? reaching humble indie like amounts? to be set for life with a single game?

      $25k+/- is an awesome amount to make for a single game, and it surely is more than what a mcdondald crew member earns working 40-50 hours a week at minum wage.

  41. zarcon6 says:

    damn i totally forgot about this game till now. just to make up for it i paid $10 for it

  42. alundra says:

    “Selling 100,000 copies at $1 net revenue is better than selling 4,000 at $5 net revenue”

    This +1, don’t mean to be a dick or something but, what was he expecting??? reaching an humble indie like amount?? to be set for life??

    $25k+ is an awesome sum for *a single indie game*, and surely way more than what a mc slave makes in year working 40-50 hours a week with a minimum wage.

  43. bill says:

    The 40% piracy thing is interesting.

    Since there was a free torrent available, all they really gained was the one extra track. I can’t see that many people saying “well i’d pay $1 for it, but i’m going to go and pirate it just for that extra track!”.

    Which implies, to me at least, that these 40% of people weren’t people who actively sought out the game, but rather regulars on some torrent site who download things that are available there.

    Which, in this case at least, might imply that those 40% were ADDITIONAL players, rather than players who would have heard of the game through other means and gone to find the download site. So its hard to characterize them as “evil”. It’s like the people who only know about and play games on Steam.

    So, in conclusion, I have concluded that:
    – most games have 80-90% piracy
    – this game had 40% “piracy”
    – that means 50% of pirates download to save money and 50% of pirates download because it’s their habit/regular source.

    • RegisteredUser says:

      Most people would not know that game exists had it not popped up in their pirate sites I bet, since that’s the only thing they see or check/read daily.

      It’s often overlooked that there are completely different awareness levels depending on title, hype, marketing etc.

  44. Juan Carlo says:

    This is only somewhat related, but the guy from Spiderweb games (who has been making indie games since the days of shareware in the mid 1990s) just did an interesting post on his blog about the changing nature of pricing in video games, why he decided to cut the prices on all his games, and why he also thinks such “pay practically nothing” models don’t work for niche indie games:

    link to

    It’s worth a read, as is his entire blog. He’s always been pretty candid about his pricing models and what not on there.

  45. G-Lord says:

    I’m really glad that I gave the good man 20$, otherwise I would feel pretty bad right now. This article will (hopefully) give a nice boost in sales though.

  46. BoZo says:

    He should have just released it on Steam.

  47. Tom4J says:

    i paid for this, I also show’d it to my friend whose doing interactive media, and she passed it on to her friends etc we all dropped about a fiver on it i think, so i’m surpised to read this. Even my skinflint sister dropped a quid and she’s a skanky student that needs to spend her money on drugs and alcohol.

    Unrealted, anyone know the font the “go!” is in the title image?

  48. amorpheous says:

    I see no Google Checkout, Amazon Payments, or even *shudder* PayPal option(s)

    I’m being asked for my address and debit/credit card details.

    So. Much. Effort!

    And he wonders why he’s not making much money?

    • El_Emmental says:

      “I see no Google Checkout, Amazon Payments, or even *shudder* PayPal option(s)
      I’m being asked for my address and debit/credit card details.
      So. Much. Effort!
      And he wonders why he’s not making much money?”

      I don’t think he made that much an effort to commercialize it, otherwise he would have made an XBL version and some achievements for Steam, and some planned free DLCs with few more levels/soundtracks.

      I think the project can be described like this :

      “If I set up a lemonade-stand on the Indie street in Internet-town, with a ‘small indie game here, pay wot you want!’ sign, how many people will stop by and drop a few coins ?
      How many people will tell their friends to stop by and try my game ?”

      With that in mind, I think Proun was a success.

      Joost said in his blog post :
      “I have not counted how many hours I actually worked on the game, but I estimate if I would have worked on it full-time, it would have taken me 9 months to make Proun. That makes an income of €1567 per month, which is definitely not high, but enough to live from.”

      NB: he built his own engine, he was alone for everything except soundtrack (usually 8% of a dev budget – he made 92% of the game alone in terms of budget) and took him 6 years for that hobby project.

      => if you take out the soundtrack cooperation slice, that’s around €1450 per work-month (which is almost exactly the legal minimum wages in Netherlands, 1,424.40 euros).

      With a better game (more content) and a better distribution (Steam + XBL), it could generate a decent stream of money for a freelancer : you can *survive* by making indie games, it is possible.

  49. El_Emmental says:

    I love how people are attacking and defending the Proun dev only basing their opinion on the RPS short article and its title (“Sadface”), not getting what Jim R meant nor how the Proun dev feels about that outcome.

    Read the blog post please, it’s miles away from what you think : link to

    Teal deer :
    Him = very happy
    PWYW for indie devs = not that good if not done properly

    The debate should be focusing on PWYW, not really on Proun.

    If you followed the Wolfire blog during the very first Humble Indie Bundle, you would have read that even with World of Goo, Aquaria, Gish, Penumbra: Overture , Lugaru and Samorost 2 (so it’s not “just a hobby project no worth opening your wallet”), around 1/4 pirated it directly from the HIB website. Then you have all the torrents/direct download piracy. Average price paid : 9 dollars.

    Wolfire still did HIB2, HIB Frozenbyte, HIB3…

    PWYW is not that “random”, what Joost van Dongen got from it is not really surprising given the very short game, low replayability and weak home-made e-marketing (despite excellent reviews from a few websites).

    Marwane Kalam-Alami’s comment on the Gamasutra article sums it up :
    “Well, the success of the “pay what you want” system relies on lots of various factors… It’s too simple to say people don’t value the developers work. I’d rather say that this distribution model implies that players are attached to the game and its developers, and here Proun failed at that.”

    I’m still surprised by the amount of people playing it for free though, 98.24% is impressive. I wonder how many would have dropped 50 cent or 1 dollar but couldn’t because they don’t have a Paypal account.

    The Proun guy should have made more content for it, or pay (with some of the 23k dollars) a dev to make more levels/powerups/gameplay dynamics. Leaving it in that “hobby project” state kinda doomed the game imo, gameplay-wise and financially-wise.

  50. El_Emmental says:

    I love how people are attacking and defending the Proun dev only basing their opinion the RPS short article and its title (“Sadface”), not getting what Jim R meant nor how the Proun dev feels about that outcome.

    Read the blog post please, it’s miles away from what you may think : link to

    ” Pay *Wot* You Want ! ” => +10% bonus with RPS readers

    If you followed the Wolfire blog during the very first Humble Indie Bundle, you would have read that even with World of Goo, Aquaria, Gish, Penumbra: Overture , Lugaru and Samorost 2 (so it’s not “just a hobby project no worth opening your wallet”), around 1/4 pirated it directly from the HIB website. Then you have all the torrents/direct download piracy. Average price paid : 9 dollars.

    Wolfire still did HIB2, HIB Frozenbyte, HIB3…

    PWYW is not that “random”, what Joost van Dongen got from it is not really surprising given the short game, repetitive gameplay, low replayability and weak home-made “e-marketing”. No matter how good is his lemonade, it’s still a simple lemonade stand selling lemonade juice to people walking in the street.

    In my opinion, the Proun guy should have made more content for it (getting help from other devs if needed, since he’s working in a game company too), leaving it in that “hobby project” state kinda doomed the game imo, gameplay-wise and financially-wise. Good try though :)