Why sell a paper manual for a Web game?

posted by Chris on 2 Aug 2010

A very pertinent question. I admit it is a total anachronism– but I think it’s also an interesting experiment, too. My thought process began when we ran MochiAds during Where We Remain‘s load sequence. We had a really good experience using Mochi. Their API is pretty much plug-and-play, and the user interface for submitting games and checking up on revenue is very nice. But the money we were seeing out of Mochi was pretty underwhelming, perhaps because the ads were a bit… mistargeted. As Toups pointed out on the Select Button forums, “why did my browser start talking to me about dieting when I clicked the link.” I certainly saw more than my fair share of Clorox ads while testing things out, and I don’t think I have ever had a serious thought in my life about laundry detergent. Our CPM, the amount of money we got for every thousand impressions, was embarrassingly low. And on top of that, because we only had an ad-supported version on our own site, our number of impressions was pretty low, too.

So far as I know, there are two ways to increase your ad revenue: show more ads or increase your CPM. The latter was out of our control — I’m curious if there are actually things Flash games can do in that regard when they’re using a third-party ad network. So that left showing more ads. It was either dump our games into the wild world of Flash game portals to get more overall views, add more ads to our games, or both. I’ve already talked about my feelings about Flash portals elsewhere, and adding more ads seemed so, um, adversarial. Squeezing more cents out of people more or less against their will. I mean, why else would an ad blocker be the top extension in Google’s and Mozilla’s galleries?

Then the question becomes, how can you try to make money in a less annoying fashion? Rob Fearon asks people to pay what they want — once. Any donation gets you all of his games. Cactus put ten copies of Norrland up for auction; once they’re sold, he will release it for free online. Both these seem like interesting ways to go about the problem, though I feel weird about locking up my games entirely and I don’t think we’re famous enough to pull off an eBay auction.

So… donations, maybe? I have to admit, I don’t think I have ever just straight up donated money to anyone but a charity on the Internet. There’s always a dollars-for-stuff exchange. And Joel and I both love manuals, endangered species that they are. It was a fun project to put the Sanctuary 17 manual together, one I like to imagine we would do even if we weren’t putting it up for sale. I realize 12 pages for $10 feels like a strange economic proposition, but that’s not really the point. (And if we could have made it pay-what-you-want, we would have — but Lulu doesn’t offer that option.) We’d like it to be a way for, if you like our games, a way for you to support us and get something nice back.

If anything, I think that’s where we haven’t done things quite as successfully as we would want — I think people are seeing a pricetag and looking at it solely as a value proposition.

Oh, bonus question: why not offer a PDF version then? Because DRM sucks and in particular, PDF DRM is trivial to crack, and you wouldn’t even need a torrent to share the file– you could just email it. Why didn’t we throw the entire PDF up for free? That was a judgment call, and I think there are good arguments on both sides.

Later this week I’ll try to write up some notes for people who want to try out on-demand publishing, and in particular Lulu. There were a couple gotchas along the way.