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Liquid gold

Placing a price for a product might be a complicated task. Especially when the product is a computer game with 20 years of development time behind it. Should the price be based on amount of time spent on making the game? Or should the price be based on demand - like, the more people like the game, the more money they are ready to pay for it? Or, should the price be based on the amount of enjoyable playing hours the game offers (If a ticket to a 2 hour movie costs about 10 euros, then should a 100 hours of gameplay be worth of 500 euros?) Well, be it complicated or not, but in the modern market we just need a fixed price for a product, don't we?

But luckily enough in the field of indie games it is not necessary to stay with the established forms of business and market. If we create new games the way we like, we might as well also create new forms of economy. So, a good while ago Sami decided to drop fixed-price licensing system of The UnReal World RPG and go donation-based. The game is free to play with no restrictions, and the development is funded by voluntary donations made by people who like the game.

Philosophically speaking, there are some things I pretty much like in the concept of donation-based development. Abandoning a fixed-price system gives more freedom (and responsibility) to individuals. Anybody can choose to donate or not to. No donation is too small to make - anybody is also free to pick a sum which suits their situation the best. So, instead of judging their decisions against some ready-made standards, people are free to judge according to their own inner feelings, values, decisions and resources. No external pressure is placed on players; and I guess this is where the strenght of individual's moral reasoning is measured - about anybody can follow rules when forced to do so, but how do you choose when there is no threat of sanctions and no lures of extra rewards affecting your reasoning? Well, of course in the case of URW you know that if nobody donates, then the development will be halted - but that is not an arbitrary sanction, it is just a consequence of the sum of individual decisions. Luckily enough it seems that URW has an extremely fine fan-base, as the flow of voluntary donations has kept Sami fed and warm, allowing him to enjoy developing the game.

This brings us to another philosophical aspect. As, to me it seems that dropping a ready-made system also encourages people to use their own imagination. To take initiative, to offer their personal contribution to the collective cause of supporting the game development. One way to participate in the game development is to send a suitable portrait picture to be used in the game. And then one of our players decided to set up a small competition - you can win a $35 worth of lifetime membership by submitting a valid picture. Now this a great idea! It encourages people to be creative and to send pictures, it creates this innovative atmosphere of placing donations in a personal way, and it helps to keep Sami going - all in one go. I believe this shows the power of voluntary participation, freedom, good-will and the way internet connects people.

Another nice example came recently. Partly inspired by a mid-December blog entry one of our veteran players decided to place a donation in pure gold - in liquid gold =) A bottle of vintage rum! The bottle was delivered by DHL. It was one monday morning, I was some 100 kilometres away from my home working with massage, and I received a phone call from a DHL guy. He asked if I'm at home so that he can deliver the package. I asked if it is OK for someone else to sign the delivery receipt - yes it is. So I asked him to deliver the package to a milling company near my home. The mill is run by my friends, I called them and explained the situation. I love the way how our countryside neighbourhood works - just a phone call and things get arranged.

In my mind I visualize all this a movement from one-directional hierarchies towards a reciprocal sharing in a network of connections. The indie developer might be coding alone by his computer, and the players might be scattered all around the globe. It is the developer and the players together which creates the game as a living artistical experience. All the good energies exhanged in this network makes the whole project prosper, for the benefit of everybody involved.

Happy indie developers who received a donation in liquid gold
Happy indie developers who received a donation in liquid gold
El Dorado Special Reserve
El Dorado Special Reserve
tags: 
diary
philosophy
programming
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Comments

You guys look like your having fun :3

Mewseph :3

ahoy ahoy!

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