So, I haven’t been around these parts much lately — Kris and I have been busy launching Astrek Association, our Firefall fansite and blog. I’ll have more to say about Firefall later, but for now, I wanted to talk about a very interesting Kickstarter.
A couple of weeks ago, Greenheart Games was all over the news for their indie tycoon game, Game Dev Tycoon. In order to prove a point about piracy, Greenheart’s Patrick Klug seeded a cracked version of the game to various torrent sites, with a twist: the cracked version became unplayable after a certain amount of time, thanks to in-game piracy destroying your revenue. Cute, but ultimately it felt like a bitter stunt instead of a genuine opportunity — it was just an opportunity to lecture people about piracy, instead of looking for a way to convert pirates into customers.
I much prefer the approach taken by Posthuman Studios, publishers of the hit pen-and-paper RPG Eclipse Phase. I’ve talked about Eclipse Phase before, as a setting I’d love to see as an MMO, but it’s also a fantastic (and award-winning) tabletop game. Eclipse Phase is set in a high-tech post-apocalyptic future where humanity has abandoned Earth and spread throughout the solar system, and it covers everything from transhumanism, horror and conspiracy to straight-up sci-fi adventure.
And what makes Eclipse Phase really special, IMO, is Posthuman’s approach to its customers and fans. Eclipse Phase is licensed under Creative Commons, which means that fans can freely hack the game, modify it, post their work online, and even share the entire game with anyone they think might like it. Hell, Posthuman themselves even seeded the full core book to various file-sharing and torrent sites.
And it’s worked. Despite being available for free, with no stigma of piracy and active publisher encouragement to share copies of the PDF, players and fans of the game have been happily handing over their money both for PDF and hardcopy books ever since Eclipse Phase first launched. In the words of Adam Jury, a Posthuman Studios founder,
[N]o publishing company can successfully fight piracy. The RIAA hasn’t, the MPAA hasn’t. Piracy is going to happen unless we say “nope, you can’t pirate our stuff, cuz we’ll just let you give it out!” — and that makes the file-sharers like us and buy from us. I don’t think pirates are evil and immoral people. I know many people who pirate many things and these people also buy many things. They just tend to buy only things they already like. So, of course, giving away your material will only work if your material is good quality!
I’d much rather have someone read our game for free and not like it than buy our game and not like it. In the first case, they’re only out their time. In the second case, they’re out time and money and are more likely to resent us and/or not buy any other games we may release.
Furthermore, Creative Commons isn’t just about “downloading for free;” it’s about giving fans permission to hack our content and distribute those hacks. Permission to do the things that gamers naturally do, without fear of lawsuits or complex legalese or requiring our approval. Our fans have built and distributed complex character generation spreadsheets, customized GM Screens, converted our books into ePub/mobi format, and all sorts of neat things. When they do things like this, that gives us guidance as to what we should be doing: because fans aren’t just saying they want something, they’re putting their time where their mouth is … a strong indication that they and other fans would be willing to pay for those things if we produced them.
This has always struck me as both a smart business decision and a humane one, and Eclipse Phase’s success has proved that it’s the right way to go. Treat people with respect, and it pays off. There is no need for gamers to pay for Eclipse Phase, but they do, because people are willing to pay for what they like.
And this point is proved with Transhuman, the Eclipse Phase Player’s Guide (and next EP release). This is the first Eclipse Phase Kickstarter and it’s been handled with Posthuman’s typical approach to operating their business. Transhuman is in Open Playtesting, so Kickstarter customers can check out the book before they pledge. The pledge rewards packages are generous and well-considered bundles. And one of the early Stretch Goals was to give Transhuman’s freelance contributors a 15% pay raise – a very humane and generous offer in an industry where freelancers (and most creators) earn very little for their work.
It probably comes as no surprise that Transhuman reached its funding goal in twelve hours and is at 530% of its goal as I write this. The success of Eclipse Phase’s business model is a counterpoint to – and lesson for – publishers in any industry. Treat your customers with respect, don’t assume they’re going to rip you off, don’t try to wring every cent out of them, and sell them a quality product: your customers will become fans, and they’ll throw money at you.
As a postscript, I encourage you all to check out the Transhuman Kickstarter. If you’re interested in pen-and-paper games or simply good science fiction, a twenty dollar pledge will net you the Eclipse Phase RPG and the Transhuman Player’s Guide in PDF format, and there are a range of other pledge rewards offering more of the Eclipse Phase product line as well. Frankly, I’d have given them money even if I weren’t a fan of Eclipse Phase, because I strongly believe that their approach to business is the right one, and I think that deserves my support. And the more success enjoyed by Eclipse Phase and other games like it, the more likely other publishers are to sit up and take notice, and accept that you don’t have to treat your customers like criminals to make money.
Note: There’s just over four days left on the Transhuman Kickstarter as I write this, so if you’re interested, don’t forget to check it out this weekend!