Recently the developers behind Deep Under The Sky (a very pretty game where you zoom about as an incredibly fertile Venusian jellyfish) came up with a scheme to allow excited potential players to get a free copy of the game. It's called Art To Play.
The idea is that instead of paying £6.99 you make an artwork relating to the game which has taken at least half an hour to create and send it to the developers. In exchange you get a copy of the game. The scheme has been open to submissions for a while now so I got in touch with Colin Northway, who made the game with Rich Edwards, to ask what the response has been like.
"Art-to-Play went GREAT for us! I mean, not commercially, obviously, but emotionally. We've gotten about twenty pieces so far."
Deep Under The Sky has struggled financially, Northway tells me, but the Art to Play project has been helpful in dealing with that. "Rich and I are very proud of the game and players love it but for some reason it's just not selling very many copies. Like most game makers I'm emotionally fragile when it comes to my games and it's easy to get depressed about poor sales. The Art to Play submissions have been a real ray of light for me."
When explaining the reasoning behind the scheme Northway says, "Everyone who has released a pay game has gotten impassioned pleas from people who can't afford it or can't pay over the internet." He adds that while living in Thailand in 2006 he encountered a situation where in order to buy a game he would have to submit a copy of his passport. He encountered other difficulties trying to buy games in the Philippines and Honduras.
In terms of the requirements for these artworks-as-payment, you have to spend at least half an hour working on it (which really means it has to show you put effort in rather than being an exact measure of time), it has to be about Deep Under The Sky and it has to feature the title of the game somewhere on it.
"We're very clear to not demand a certain level of talent or skill. Just spend a focused half-hour on something about Deep Under the Sky and I'll send you a key," says Northway. "Initially we were worried that people wouldn't respond in good-faith, that we would get stolen art and people riding the line on what is 'enough effort'. It hasn't been that way at all. Every single piece we've gotten has been original and thoughtful."
"You make and release a paid game for two reasons," he finishes. "One of those reasons is to pay rent, everyone has to pay rent. The other is the real reason we're all here: to plant a wonderful experience in another human being's head. Watching a number in a bank account go up feels good, I'm incredibly, unendingly grateful to everyone who has ever supported us. But getting a piece of art or even a nice email from a player is the real drug, that's what stirs the human heart."