Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The frustration of releasing your work for free

Make a product and sell it, and one thing you're very likely to get is feedback, more than you want, in fact. Whether it's great or it sucks, people will say so, volubly.

Now make something and give it away free, and not only do you not get the income (which you gave up voluntarily), you, very frustratingly, also give up all the feedback. All the praise, which is always nice to get but especially when it's the only thing left since you're not asking to be paid. All the criticisms that you might better your work with. All the contributions of ideas. All the insight into what people do and don't like about it. All the flaming... well, that part isn't bad, but still.

I've been releasing software into the freeware market for almost two decades now. Some of my stuff is damned good. For instance, Prism Dice is as good as any other dice program out there and better than most, and it's free, but after tens of thousands of downloads, I've gotten maybe five emails. If I'd asked for $5 I probably would have gotten a hundred registrations at least, but all I ask is an email and I get a half-dozen.

The same is true and even more so for roleplaying games. I don't expect a lot of response to something like Prism; it's a very niche market it would appeal to, it's decidedly hard to "dive into", and the version on the web is a decade out of date.

But RealTime, for example, is just the sort of thing that RPG players in online communities like RPGnet should find interesting. Innovative, if I do say so myself; doing something that appeals to a lot of people yet in a way that hasn't been done before. Distinctive, yet with a broad base of appeal. And well done. I dare say well presented, too; no production values naturally since I can't draw, but for all text, an attractive and readable PDF, well organized and well written.

Now, I realize that, as a free release by someone who's never had anything published by one of the major game companies, RealTime dwells in the same pit as thousands of other works, most of which are pretty awful. I accept that that alone means the vast majority of people will never even consider it because it's not worth their time to separate wheat from chaff. Fine, no problem.

But that still leaves room for there to be some people downloading it. And in fact, I have reason to think there have been at least hundreds, probably thousands, of downloads. Maybe half never got read, but even so, hundreds of times someone has read RealTime. How many times do you think that means someone took the time to pop me a quick email or comment about RealTime somewhere, which was literally all I asked? The actual answer: not counting one member of my own group who helped playtest RealTime, the total count of responses to, comments about, or even flames about RealTime: zero.

I am not counting the review because that only came about because I pestered someone to do it, and then reluctantly. And the review, and few messages that got posted in response to it, didn't strike me as being really considering of the game. They mostly hung on the same point that's puzzled me ever since, the idea that "this just isn't possible", which plainly it is, since I've done it. And yet, that's the complete sum total of all the response RealTime has gotten in the whole world.

I look at something like Dogs In The Vineyard and ask, why is this getting dozens of threads in the RPGnet forums and tons of chat and consideration? It's not even as innovative, and its niche is even narrower. What does it have that RealTime doesn't? A glossy cover and a price tag, I can't help but think. I'm almost tempted to slap a price tag on my work and then give the money to a charity (works for Marcus Rowland!) just to get someone to take a look at it.

I just find the paradox annoying: ask for less and people won't even give you that. I don't want to make money off my RPG or freeware work. I don't even want to be famous. I would just like to have some chance of having my work taken seriously and considered and commented on.

1 comment:

HawthornThistleberry said...

This post got a little more "ranty" than I intended. I was trying for a more general statement of a paradox, rather than a complaint about my personal experience with it. And using my own case as an example. But it ended up kind of shrill and too personal, for which I'm sorry.