Curious about the F2P model for VNs

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sbester
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Curious about the F2P model for VNs

#1 Post by sbester » Fri Dec 01, 2017 2:06 pm

I'm contemplating the risks of releasing visual novels as free to play on sites like Steam. Are the success stories too few and far between, or is this the best way to promote your VN? On the one hand, it seems that these games are more prone to getting positive reviews, as customers have nothing to lose by trying them out. On the negative, I'm somewhat worried that many people will see the free tag and automatically assume there is a lack of quality or content. What do you all think?

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Re: Curious about the F2P model for VNs

#2 Post by Kinjo » Sat Dec 02, 2017 12:22 am

As someone who released a visual novel for free on Steam earlier this year, now with over 100 reviews and a Very Positive rating, here's what I've learned.

Although you might think people would have nothing to lose by playing a free game, it's actually a double-edged sword. You're opening the floodgates so that anybody can play it and anybody can write their opinion on it. So people will still leave negative reviews if they find something to complain about. And that's fine, because not everybody has to like your game. A decent percentage of the negative reviews I have received criticized it for "not being a real game" and "too much reading" which is pretty understandable from the average Steam gamer's perspective. So it's absolutely not a ticket to "more positive reviews", as that will still entirely depend upon how good your game actually is. It's only a ticket to more reviews in general.

On the other hand, if you sell the game then there are two major risk factors: charging too much and scaring away potential fans who might have otherwise bought it, or charging too much and getting a negative review from someone who paid for the game but didn't think it was worth the price. There is definitely a market for games that are on the cheap side, just small enough so that people can afford them but a large enough experience that it feels worth the price. But then if you do that, your greatest obstacle would be finding an audience, which is something that a free game can easily do (many of my positive reviews mention looking forward to the sequel).

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Re: Curious about the F2P model for VNs

#3 Post by Zetsubou » Sat Dec 02, 2017 5:19 am

I think the answer to your question really depends on your motive for releasing your games for free.
Is it to monetize them in a different way? (eg. free game with paid DLC)
Is it to promote your commercial games?
Is it simply to have as many people as possible play your game? (with the intention of making commercial games once you have a following?)

Bear in mind that players are going to judge your game on the screenshots and description just as much as the price tag.
How many players see gorgeous artwork, read a literate, exciting, well-worded description, then decide not to play it because it's free?
With VNs in particular, success stories of free games like DDLC and Katawa Shoujo stick in players' minds.
I think as long as you present your game well, a price tag of "free" isn't going to turn anyone away.
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Re: Curious about the F2P model for VNs

#4 Post by YossarianIII » Sat Dec 02, 2017 2:41 pm

sbester wrote:
Fri Dec 01, 2017 2:06 pm
I'm contemplating the risks of releasing visual novels as free to play on sites like Steam. Are the success stories too few and far between, or is this the best way to promote your VN? On the one hand, it seems that these games are more prone to getting positive reviews, as customers have nothing to lose by trying them out. On the negative, I'm somewhat worried that many people will see the free tag and automatically assume there is a lack of quality or content. What do you all think?

I've been wondering about this myself. I've released multiple VNs, some as totally free, some as free with a PWYW option, and one paid. This is all anecdotal, but here's what I've found:

*Free obviously gets more downloads than paid. More interesting is that (for me at least) games that were totally free had a higher ratio of views to downloads than games that had a PWYW option. It could just be a quirk of my specific games, but I think even offering a PWYW option can discourage potential downloaders if maximum reach is your goal.

*I made some money selling a paid game as more or less a total unknown. Not much, but it was definitely more than I would've made releasing for free! :D Sales in particular seem to attract random people who'd otherwise not be interested. That said, this may not be the best long-term plan because it doesn't do much to grow your audience

*On the other hand, free games can generate a lot more engagement. If you release a game for free, there's always the chance some random YouTuber or journalist will find it on a slow day and check it out. (I know several other VN creators who never advertised their work but suddenly found a bunch of random videos of it online a few weeks later.) Hearing streamers read my stuff aloud was incredibly useful as a writer -- it's basically free beta-testing that you can watch in real-time.

*Free games can also be a platform for selling "bonuses." If you look at the top VNs on itch.io right now -- DDLC, Butterfly Soup, various games by nami, most of them are free and most of them have an option where if you pay a certain price, you get a bonus (i.e. some art, a soundtrack, merch, etc.). I don't know how profitable these extras are, but they seem like one way to get the benefits of releasing a free game while still encouraging payments.


So in conclusion, if you just want people to play the game, the answer is simple: just release it for free. No one will look down on the quality -- for better or worse, people expect great games to be free nowadays.

If you want to make money, then it gets a lot more complicated. There's no magic answer, and it'll depend a lot on what type of story you're trying to sell. I'm sure devs with actual commercial experience can probably provide more insight into this than I can.


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Re: Curious about the F2P model for VNs

#5 Post by sbester » Mon Dec 04, 2017 2:48 pm

Thanks so much for all your answers (and sorry it took me a couple days to get back to this)!

Kinjo, this is great firsthand experience, so thanks very much for sharing. It's true, that is one of my main worries is that a bunch of negative reviews will show up from people who only downloaded it because it was free and didn't know what to expect from a visual novel. However, the reach you describe seems to be what I am looking for. I think for what we're offering with our first VN, we could easily charge 5-7 bucks without many complaints while targeting a more specific audience, but really... because we're trying to build an audience for 5 sequels, it seems that free may be the best option for this first one.

Zetsubou, I think you're really nailing it on the head what questions I need to ask myself the most.

YossarionIII, thank you as well for your firsthand account of your varied experiences. I'm starting to lean more and more towards a F2P model for our first release, as I really do feel I need to reach as many people as possible with it.

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