There's a restaurant near to where I live in Sydney which asks patrons to pay whatever they feel their meal was worth.

Thinking about the Pay by Donation Model

It’s a surprisingly effective business model for them, but is it sustainable model for indie developers working in the anonymous digital download space lacking in the social pressure to pay up?

For one, Jordan Trudgett, creator of Ardentryst, it was a way of keeping the game free and simply accepting a few dollars for what was created more as a hobby than for the money.

For another, Mez Breeze Design and Dreaming Methods, creators of #PRISOM(pictured), it’s because of the freeform way in which players interact with their game-space means that different players will get different things out of the experience.

"Originally, the work was going to be much more open-ended," says Breeze, "with my online writing style called mezangelle intended to feature heavily as strings of interactive text placed around the world. [But] when we got word of the commission to produce the work for the Symposium Exhibition, we decided to focus the narrative and create a more cohesive gameworld."

"The subversive nature of the game makes the pay-by-donation model a more reasonable choice than a universal fee."

Jason Rohrer, US-based creator of such experimental indie games as Passage, Sleep is Death and The Castle Doctrine, had many titles upon which he relied for his donations (although he moved to paid games after 2008).

"For me," he explains, "the income has been pretty consistent, though extremely minimal. I’ve been getting a few hundred dollars a month at most, and that amount seems independent of what’s going on. Reliable, but reliably insufficient."

On the journalism side of the fence, the burgeoning Patreon service allows for transparency of donations and subscription donation schemes ultimately more suited to larger bodies of work.

Brendan Keogh, Australian game critic, speaks of it as the ‘digital equivalent of busking’.

"It’s a tip jar," he says. "I do a thing I would do anyway, and I get some money for it if people want to. Though I’d definitely consider trying to use it in the future for a more sustainable income."

Breeze describes her experience on #PRISOM as enduring peaks and troughs.

"A spike in donations often comes when we’re more concentrated on #PRISOM promotion, or when the game has been shortlisted for an award and/or is being showcased at an Event," she says.

"If you’re after a consistent revenue stream, the pay-by-donation model isn’t the one to choose, but if you’re able to absorb staggered payment then we’ve found that it can be viable."

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