Free vs Paid Visual Novels

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Free vs Paid Visual Novels

#1 Post by tasteslikeciel » Sat Dec 05, 2020 1:46 pm

Hello! I'm currently working on a visual novel that I've always intended to make free. It's no small game and at the rate I've been writing, it will likely be around 200k in words by the end. I am by no means new to writing, but despite the growing word count and cost of actually having it be made (I've been keeping track of payments to my artists and such), I've still wanted to make it free. It is my first game, after all.

However, I've had others urge me to reconsider and charge money for my game instead. I've always been resistant to the idea, but lately I've been wondering if perhaps I should? Ultimately it's up to me, but I thought I'd do a survey and see what others thought about it.

Basically what I'm asking is: how do you view free vs paid games? Do free games immediately turn you off or does the price tag not matter at all to you?

Thank you in advance!

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Re: Free vs Paid Visual Novels

#2 Post by Elsa Kisiel » Sun Dec 06, 2020 6:43 am

Well, I have nothing against free video games. As long as it's really free and not full of micro-transaction !

However, I will need to be convinced that it's worth my time. The same way that a paid game too will have to convince me it's worth my time and money.

Also, I want to insist that it's not because it's your first game that it must be free.
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Re: Free vs Paid Visual Novels

#3 Post by puppetbomb » Sun Dec 06, 2020 5:13 pm

I would play a free VN over a paid one if it's easily accessible. Meaning if it's a browser-based game that only requires me to click on a button to start, it's more likely I will play it. On the flip side, I would pay for a game from a developer that has a track record of making games I enjoy. If it's a developer I've never heard of, I would consider paying for a game if it has a very specific thing I like that is hard to get anywhere else (in art or story).

My biggest concern in making you your VN commercial is if previously commissioned parties worked under the agreement that the VN would be free.

You can put out a demo first to see how many people will be interested in it. If people are sharing it organically enough that you feel encouraged to make the game commercial, contact the people you commissioned, ask if you can use their work for commercial purposes, and offer compensation. If they refuse, you can chose if you want to spend money to hire someone for commercial work or settle on making your game free.

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Re: Free vs Paid Visual Novels

#4 Post by felix » Mon Dec 07, 2020 4:44 am

Why not make it pay-what-you-want? That way people who can and want to support you will be able to, while everyone else can try your VN for free, and hopefully change their mind later.

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Re: Free vs Paid Visual Novels

#5 Post by Elfie » Mon Dec 07, 2020 9:34 am

tasteslikeciel wrote:
Sat Dec 05, 2020 1:46 pm
Basically what I'm asking is: how do you view free vs paid games? Do free games immediately turn you off or does the price tag not matter at all to you?
Free games *doesn't* turn people off - quite the contrary.

As of the depends on your goal - what do you want to achieve with your game? Promote yourself as an author? Make profits? Both? Or something else? Answer that to yourself and you will have your decision.

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Re: Free vs Paid Visual Novels

#6 Post by Mutive » Mon Dec 07, 2020 12:48 pm

I'm personally more likely to play a free game vs. a game I have to pay for. This is doubly true if the free game is from a developer I've never heard of and lacks reviews that make me think, "Oh, I need to play that!"

This is in large part because, with most games, I open them, play for maybe 15 minutes, think "nah", then close them and never play them again. In general, if I haven't heard of the dev and haven't read a review that makes me think this is the Game For Me, my assumption is that this game will provide a few minutes of entertainment before I think, "Not my game" and delete it from my hard drive. If we assume that I want my entertainment to cost no more than $10/hr, this means your average indie game is worth approximately $2.50 to me. (So *almost* nothing.) Cruel, I know. But it's hard to want to shell out any real amount of money when, odds are, I'm only going to play for a few minutes (before deciding said game is Not For Me).

If I read a trusted review and think, "WOAH, I NEED TO PLAY THAT GAME" (or it's from a developer that has put out quality work before, etc.) the equation changes. (I mean, I've paid well over $100 for a game and felt it well worth it. In fact, for some games - where I've invested hundreds of hours - I might even consider $100 a steal considering the entertainment value I've gotten for the cost!)
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Re: Free vs Paid Visual Novels

#7 Post by VimislikArt » Mon Dec 07, 2020 2:01 pm

Have you thought of offering a slice of your game for free, with options for players to pay more? There's a few ways to go about it that I've seen done successfully (like, VERY successfully), but you need to design your narrative around your monetization strategy.

1) Offer a Demo! Just enough of your story to get readers hooked, but satisfied. Anyone who likes your VN enough to keep reading will probably be willing to pay a reasonable amount to finish it.

IF YOU DO THAT: Make sure the beginning of your game is TIGHT. You need to leave the story off at a moment where a small self-contained plot is resolved, (so the reader feels like they got a full story), but leave at a moment where stakes are raised, or further, greater stories are promised.

2) Only Make One Route Free! If your game has multiple routes, maybe offer a SINGLE route version of the game for free, with a full version available for purchase.

IF YOU DO THAT: The central route of your story has to double up as a long advertisement for other story possibilities. If this is a dating sim, that's other romantic interests. If it's a survival game, it's better possibilities and options that are locked due to dead/unavailable characters. Kinetic novels are obviously not an option here.

3) Offer DLC! Give the game for free, but offer small improvements/cosmetic changes to the game for money. This is mostly for players who LOVE your game, and either want to play it over and over again, or just show their appreciation. If you have a custom soundtrack, offer this as DLC. This can be combined with the other two options if needed.

IF YOU DO THAT: You need to HUSTLE to build your community. If you have a bunch of people who love your game and want to support you, the free version of your game is a chance to let your army of fans spread it as far as they can, and buying DLC is how they'll show your appreciation.

4) Put Ads in your Game. Maybe automatic pop-ups, maybe let certain options be picked if you watch an ad, whatever. A free user becomes a user worth 1/10th of a cent per ad, which is nice.

IF YOU DO THAT: Haha wow good luck.

5) Kickstart your Free Game! Yes, this is an option, and I've seen it work before!

IF YOU DO THAT: You need to identify and establish a MINIMAL VIABLE PRODUCT. What is the SMALLEST amount of resources you would be happy and able to finish your game for? Single route? Photo BGs instead of painted? Fewer featured characters? If you already paid money for stuff, consider it money gone; how much more money do you need to finish it? Set stretch goals, but make sure the price point on them exceeds the cost to actually produce those goals. Offer rewards that don't add significantly to your development cost, with higher tiers letting backers determine the look of your game (let them collaboratively design a character, or name things).

If you can hustle, and get enough backers to release your minimal viable product or better, CONGRATS! If not, you're in the same position you're in before, but with a good idea of how well your game will do, which is good information.

Now, this isn't every option available to you, but are the easiest ones to work into something you might be working on already (Video Game Grants exist, and are totally worth pursuing!!!) Best of luck!
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Re: Free vs Paid Visual Novels

#8 Post by Chiagirl » Tue Dec 22, 2020 1:40 am

I've heard a few people say that charging for your game makes it more likely people will play it (as if it cost money it must be good, while something that's free must be poor quality) but I disagree with that completely. I am far more likely to play a free game as it won't cost me anything, whereas with paid games I am far more picky since I have very limited money to spend in that area. I'm willing to bet if popular free VNs like DDLC and Narcissu had to be purchased they wouldn't have become nearly as popular as they did. If you want to charge for your game you are of course encouraged to do so, but keep in mind that it will be competing with free games of commercial quality when setting your price point. offers a "pay what you want option" which still lets user pay nothing if they wish, as well as the option to pay after they've played depending on how much they liked it, which may be a good middle of the road option if you are unsure whether or not your game is worth charging for.

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Re: Free vs Paid Visual Novels

#9 Post by elixxxirium » Fri May 07, 2021 11:12 pm

I agree with Felix. Pay-For-What-You-Want seems to be the best of both worlds for you. offers that option for game devs.

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Re: Free vs Paid Visual Novels

#10 Post by tinysamm » Sat May 08, 2021 9:05 pm

It depends on accessibility versus what you're hoping to make back. If it's a game that you feel proud of and has the production value that you think is worth the price of admission (whether that's $1, $5, or even $40) then you should definitely put it up for that amount. On the other hand, you have to accept that as a barrier of entry that means fewer people will play the game in general. If you are ok with releasing the game for free but have an associated "tip" amount you think would be nice to receive from people who really liked the game, releasing it as pay-what-you-want with a suggested donation can be a good way to handle that :>

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