If something provides value, it’s worth paying for. I’ve talked before about follow-the-money problems, and one of the key things to remember is that nothing is free to create. If you’re not paying any money for something, there’s a reason. If something costs more than you think it should, it’s worth looking into why that is. Sometimes there’s a very good reason.


Possibly it’s cynical, but TANSTAAFL is one of those resonant concepts for me. It stands for “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch”, and comes from Heinlein, as a sci-fi slang word. If you’re getting something for free, it’s because the cost is being taken from somewhere other than your wallet. Sometimes it’s some other obligation you have (buying lunch next time), sometimes it’s some other inconvenience (sitting through ads), sometimes it’s coming out of someone else’s wallet. The one that always gets me is “free to play” games. Yep, you can absolutely install and play in some capacity for free. Pretty much every monetization effectiveness study out there shows that players who do actually pay money wind up paying rather more on average in a free-to-play game than in an equivalent game that uses a box sale, or a subscription, or what have you.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, there are a ton of creators who sell their goods for a pittance, way less than they’re worth, and that skews the system rather badly. The rise of predatory free-to-play games came from the slew of early indie game devs who gave their work out for free just for “exposure”, and you can see the same kind of thing in other creative industries. By undercharging for a good or service, the overall availability and quality of that good or service drops– people who paint minis for a dollar or two per model work out to usually less than a dollar an hour of work, making professional services that charge a more reasonable amount (even at a minimum wage of $7.50/hour, an individual mini can take 2-5 hours of work; $15-30/mini is entirely reasonable, cost-wise) look outrageous by comparison.


I’d actually be interested in chasing down studies on how the hobbyist market that’s arisen in the last 5-10 years impacts traditional economics models– I suspect it’s incredibly disruptive to the usual models and throws everything off. It’s certainly the case with a lot of creative industries where independent creators can get a foothold– the increased volatility and wildly changing pricing schemes for video games showcases that quite nicely, even as hobbyist shop centers like Etsy put items on the market that probably wouldn’t have existed before.

We’ve shifted from a society where value is dictated by the seller to one where value is negotiable, like the barter systems of old. It creates a situation where value is a moving target, and different people put different values on things. At the same time, we’re so accustomed to the idea of “fairness” that the idea of different people being charged differently based on how much they value the good or service is anathema. The idea that one person might play a video game for five dollars while someone else pays a hundred to play it at the same time would make a lot of people angry, but it’s a reality of the negotiable value proposition. The only difference is we’re very good at masking it– we look at games that are “free”, but behind the scenes people are looking at the ‘whales’ and seeing how best to keep them around. Who is willing to pay more for something and how are they convinced to stick around?


We can’t have it both ways, though. If you’re willing to accept that you can talk a price down when commissioning an artist, you have to be willing to accept that a chef might talk your meal price up for your favorite dish. In the meantime, if you’ve gotten some fun out of a game that you didn’t pay for, kick a few bucks to the developers. Try to pay what something is worth to you, not just the cheapest amount you can get away with. It’ll make the stuff you’re able to get that much better in the long run.

Source: Digital Initiative

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