Studio Crossroads

In one way, this is the hardest posts I’ve ever been inclined to post. In another, it’s also the most logical, given our current situation.
Our studio is at a crossroads. We’ve taken all the new revenue from PWU Ep2 and invested into new things. That’s already done and is going to happen. On the other hand, my policy of releasing everything for free might not work out anymore. Before you rage, here me out.
I started this with nothing but an AIF game. My Patreon quickly grew to $400 in the first month. I convinced a programmer to join me for a percentage deal of that and whatever was to come, and to this day, he is still with me (smart guy, aye?). In fact, today we are 7 people working on our games. All thanks to Emily: Sister Attraction. Wow(!)
I said several years ago that our games will always be released for free, and until now, they have been. That was something that was very important to to me. When I started I was alone, I just wanted feedback on whatever I did, which mainly came from forums. 
On the one hand, I now have to look at our competitors that have Patreon exclusive content all over the place and even micro transactions in-game. On the other hand, I have to think of this as as a game studio (which it is) that needs to at least pay for the people working here and hopefully even get some new games down the pipeline. Not to even mention the vow I took. I swore all of our games would be free. And to this day, I’m proud we’ve realized that. Not many game studios our size have. The question is: 
Is it a sound business strategy? It certainly was when I was alone. But now, with 7 people involved, is it still?
Yes, I realize; releasing the games for free is basically what separates us from the other developers. And I don’t fucking break my promises easily. But let’s say we could monetize 5% of the content of PWU Ep2 and use that to create more games, isn’t that worth it? And in saying this, keep in mind an extremely small portion (something like 5%) of a game would be Patreon-only (nothing story-altering, basically).
I’m not going to bore you for too long so this is basically what it comes down to (seen from a business perspective): Do we earn more, as a game studio, by releasing our games for free (after a while of being Patreon exclusive). Or do we earn more by having extremely limited content in our games be Patreon only? And how do I make that call?
This post is open to anyone, whether you are a patron or not. I don’t care. But your feedback, as always, would be appreciated. As always, that has been my motivation factor to keep continuing making games all this time.
More info on actual game studio updates coming soon.

11 Comments on “Studio Crossroads

  1. G.host says:

    A lot of devs I follow on Patreon (most of which make adult RPG/Visual novel games) usually make a “friendlier” version on the side and sell it on Steam (http://store.steampowered.com/) while putting all the “lewd” content on a patch that can be installed once the game is bought and downloaded on their library.

    That seems like a good strategy (to me): Patreon for “exclusive” previews of scenes, HD images, etc, that will be released once the games is out (to incentivise patrons to keep donating) + Steam “friendly” releases.

    Regardless of what you choose to do I gotta say the games are awesome and I wish the best of luck to you and your team

  2. JulienJaden says:

    I don’t blame you for putting this up for discussion. A promise you made under completely different circumstances still isn’t one you should break easily but it should still be something you can discuss.

    Personally, I think that keeping that promise and releasing everything for free (eventually) is something that, while it may be hard to put into numbers, does a lot to give you and your studio positive PR: You made a promise and you’re keeping it, showing an integrity and dedication to what you are saying to your fans and supporters that few people can compete with. There is a chance that some people will unsubscribe and no longer support you if you change that policy because they feel betrayed, and some could look at that “broken promise” and decide not to buy your games because of that. I can’t really tell you how big of a percentage that would be, but it’s something to keep in mind.

    You could certainly monetize a small percentage of the game by making it exclusive, or make the game slightly more difficult to play (but not unbeatable) for people who are playing the free version, and I guess both are valid strategies.
    That said, my experiences with these business models in the form of paid Day-One DLC (the former) and The Last Man (the latter) have made me feel deeply uncomfortable with that; it’s not perfectly rational when the game is free and you are basically paying for a little more comfort or extra content, but it’s very easy to get the impression that the game was intentionally made harder or that something that makes it better/more complete was ripped out and put behind a paywall – again, something that can have fallout in terms of subscriptions and sales.

    Your current model of earlier releases to paying subscribers and free public releases after a certain period of time seems to be working fairly well, but that’s just my impression, of course – I don’t know if you are really able to cover your expenses and live on that income or if you’re barely making ends meet at the end of the month.
    Extending the time between release and free release, or adding different tiers of release (release to 3rd tier subscribers, two weeks later 2nd tier subcribers, two weeks later 1st tier, two weeks later public) might boost your income and, at the same time, you would still keep your promise. I’m sure this could turn some people off as well, though, and I don’t know if that would really be a better business strategy.

    Ultimately, the choice is yours to make, but it definitely won’t be an easy one and there is always the chance that the benefits of one will be all but neutralized by its drawbacks.

  3. Morpheas says:

    So….you made a promise to release all games for free, and now you feel bad that you realize that you might not be able to keep that promise?

    Do you realize that if you break that promise, all you can be accused of is “But you promised! waaaaaa QQ”

    I say: So what. You didnt sign a contract, you are not married to your fans, you dont owe them anything. The only people you owe something to, are the people that actually pay to receive a certain product.
    Those people you have to keep your promises to. Patreon perks should be delivered, and as long as you do that, you’re fine.

    I dont understand why you stress so much about that.

    In any case, my humble opinion is this:
    I dont mind if 1 game (say PWU for instance) isnt free.
    But if you end up making ALL of your games have limited-to-patreons content, then that would probably be disappointing.
    I say, have 1 game be limited to Patreons only, until the next one is released.
    For example: PWU Episode X = Patreons Only. But when PWU Episode Y is released, Ep X will become free.

    I dont know if this model will work as a business model, but I do know this: You cannot possibly ever keep everyone happy.
    All you can do is try to make yourself and as many people as you can happy.

    So, at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself this:
    Would I be okay if I was a fan of Palmer and he did things like that?
    If your answer is yes, then you’re doing it right.

  4. switters says:

    First off I’ll say I’m not a Patreon. At some point I will become a Patreon because I love your games and want to support all your hard work. Things are a bit tight right now but hopefully won’t be in a couple of months. Your new game you’re working on looks pretty damn sweet and I want to try it out.

    My current favorite developer is Chaotic from vdate. He doesn’t use Patreon as he started his site before all the Patreon craze. He uses a monthly subscription service and is happy with the revenue he brings in. Anyway, he releases a free game for everyone and then a game where you have to be a member to play/download. His free games are just as good (if not sometimes better) than his pay games. He does a weekly blog and keeps everyone updated on things like you do. Also does polls with his game ideas, voting on which new girl he has created people want to see next, etc. He’s only a single developer (except for a couple of members who also make great games and he releases them on his site) so his releases do take some time but man are they worth it. His work has really gotten better and better. With 7 employees I’m sure you can crank out content much faster so maybe something like this could work for you. Hell you could make one free game to two Patreon only games or something like that. You’re still releasing games for free but bringing in money to pay the bills.

    Or just extend the time before releasing a game for free. Those who want to play the game immediately can become a Patreon and those who don’t/can’t afford it can wait however long you decide before releasing the game for free. Those who pay are paying for early access and those who don’t can’t really complain because they are getting it for free at some point. If you were still making games solo I could see people saying you were going back on your word but with now having 7 employees the money to pay expenses has to come from somewhere. More employees equals more content faster which is a great thing.

    I also like Morpheas’ idea. I guess it kinda depends on how fast your releasing games though. It’s great to try and please everyone but at the end of the day the Patreon members are the ones paying the bills. Without $ to pay costs you’ll be back to doing games by yourself which will greatly increase the time between game releases.

    I really loved the entire PWU game. I thought the girls were some of the hottest I’d seen in a game and I really hope to see new content added to it in the future. Thank you and your team again for your hard work on PWU and for releasing it for free. I hope you get everything figured out and are able to keep releasing awesome games.

  5. Deus Odio says:

    No one faults you for choosing what is best for the livelihood of yourself and the staff. Being self employed myself, I get it more than many others might. I have months during my busiest season where I can make as much as $15,000-20,000. I have slow months where I may see $1,000 come in. It’s the risky side of being your own boss, but dammit I love not having to answering to anyone but my customers, lol. At the end of the day though, you have to do what’s best for taking care of yourself and your team. It’s a class act move on your part to even have this dilemma, as it shows you care about keeping your word. Trusting in the respect and integrity of others is no small testament to one’s own character. Anyone that doesn’t understand and respect that has some things to learn about the world.

    I suggest an amalgamation of a few ideas expressed combined with what you currently do. You can keep new chapters Patreon exclusive until the subsequent chapter is ready, as you have been, but also, for those that might not have the stability to sub, or those that just prefer one title, you can allow them the ability to buy early access through your website. You could even offer them a DLC Pass to where they buy the game for a fixed price and it serves as a prepayment for all subsequent chapters.

    There’s a lot of flexibility in scaling a store front for your games so you can allow folks to continue to pay for early access for the titles they want early access to if they choose not to be a Patreon sub. You can even make cheats into a micro transaction, or add bonus scenes for Patreon/purchase only. It still allows you to monetize the games, yet provide the finished game free later on. I think plenty of your fans, myself included, that might not be able to sub consistently, but will have no problem purchasing access to the titles we like most on release date instead of waiting 1-3 months.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I honestly have to say as a non-patreon that your first thoughts have to be with what is best for you and the team which is ultimately ensuring that those that are subscribing to you get the best content. Situations change all the time in ways we cannot foresee. As others have said, it is one thing when it is just your time and livelihood but it is something completely different when it is the time and livelihood of employees/friends. Have you spoken with all of them, what was their opinion? (rhetorical question, not actually asking you to tell us their opinion 🙂 )

    I like the ideas that have been posted above and the idea of being able to purchase specific content at the sametime as subscribers (or slightly later if they were giving you grief for that idea) is definately something I would go for. You could even sell things like the walkthroughs for the game with a disclaimer advising that if the walkthough ended up on a public forum legal action could be taken to protect your best interests.

    Then for those who dont want to pay you go with the idea of release a game free to the public when the next game or episode is released. Again as previously stated it wont keep everyone happy but the majority of people who would be unhappy are the ones who are not helping you at the end of the day and honestly their negativaty is not something you need to worry about.

    I hope you come up with an answer that is best suited to you and the team. Keep up the amazing work and try not to lose sleep over this (because I know you dont get enough as it is)

    • JayS says:

      I agree with this statement; “Then for those who dont want to pay you go with the idea of release a game free to the public when the next game or episode is released.”
      Or even wait several episodes before the free one is released, like if its a 5 part series the first episode comes out around the time the 4th or the 5th is released and then only release the next episodes free once every quarter or so. Then it could take a whole year to get the full free version (Even if the game is not episodic your team is probably brilliant enough to make the free version as such so you can always follow the quarterly release model).
      Either way by that time you already on to the next game and it might entice people to buy instead of having to wait the whole year.
      This way you still keep your promise and you still bring in more patreons.

  7. Chauvelier says:

    Hey, I wish I could be a patron for your games, but I can’t due to the fact that a dollar is worth a lot of our currency in our country,

    Here’s my ideas for you, since I am very concerned of the situation, along with the news I’ve been hearing that patreon is going to remove adult content from their site.

    The fact that you promised that the games would be free, brought a lot of attention to me, and maybe for the others to subscribe for your content, probably a good marketing strategy to attract more audience or patrons.
    But you should use patreon on it’s potentials, like the ideas that other comments above.
    The thing is, I would agree to make walkthroughs, or Cheat Codes as Patreon Exclusive. But it kinda hurts me to see some game content not available for free, since I can’t afford it anyways.
    I know that my opinion wouldn’t matter for you, since I don’t pay you at all, and I get the beautiful stuff you made for free. But one thing is for sure, your games would be less likely be pirated by others, where some certain majority would prefer to get your stuff for free than to pay you.
    I’ve loved your games, I’ve always had. As long you keep doing what’s right, try to experiment a little or change some stuff.
    Too bad that I can’t support your games since it’s hard to earn a dollar in my country.

    – Regards from Asia

  8. Palmer says:

    Thanks to all of you for your detailed and well thought out comments. I truly appreciate it. All of it will naturally be taken under advisement when we decide how to move forward from here.

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