Forumwarz Episode 2: Why it will cost money
Note: If you just want to know the cost of Episode 2 and not our justification behind it, scroll to the bold part at the bottom.
Nothing seems to divide our users more than the issue of cost. Last week I put up a poll asking how much you would pay for Episode 2, and as of right now it’s split almost 50/50 between those who say $0 and those who picked a cost.
Since we’re getting close to the launch of Episode 2, I figured it’s as good of a time as any to talk about our rationale for charging money for game content.
First of all, Forumwarz costs money to run. I know this should seem obvious, but I have talked to many users who honestly seemed to think that websites cost nothing to run. That might be the case for your average GeoCities page (people still use GeoCities, right?) but not for a dedicated dot-com like your favorite online RPG — or even Forumwarz, for that matter!
Bandwidth and hosting: Every time you click on a page within Forumwarz, it costs us money. Right now we have a single high-end server serving up all the data. It has served 20GB on busy days, which is considered a lot.
Backups: We use expensive software to back up our database nightly without interrupting service. Then we pay to host those backup images in a different location, to cover our butts. It comes in handy when certain users (or their evil Bizarro World twins) manage to hack us and force us to turn back the clock.
Payments and Banking: We pay Paypal a fee on every transaction we make in order to provide online processing of bank transfers and credit cards. We also have to pay our bank for a business account.
Legal Fees: Because Forumwarz is a corporation, we have to pay legal fees in order to keep the government from breaking down our door. Also to cover our butts if something goes wrong in the legal department.
Etc: We also have to pay for domain names, SSL certificates and a bunch of smaller fees that seem insignificant on their own, but tend to add up over time. (Jalapeno insists that we mention his allergy medication here. He’s allergic to Evil Trout’s cat.)
While our operating costs are considerable, they’re nothing compared to the cost of developing new content for the game.
Artwork: Do you like those painted character cinematics we have for each class telling you your backstory? So do we. But we have to commission that art from professional artists, and they charge us for it.
Stock Photography: We use a lot of stock photography to make up the non-commissioned artwork in the game. As much as we’d like to just take images from Google Image search, the majority of the characters, items and avatars have to be licensed for commercial use. When we’re talking thousands of photographs, this adds up! We do use public domain images where possible, but if you want stuff that’s been shot with equipment newer than 1918, you have to cough up some cash.
Software: The server part of Forumwarz runs on (mostly) free software. However, we use commercial software on our personal computers such as Photoshop, Textmate and Navicat.
Ah, human resources. If we treated humans the same way we treat our natural resources, this would be a grim world indeed. Am I right?! But I digress. The nonsalaried person-hours that have gone into creating Forumwarz runs well into the thousands.
Programming: Coding Forumwarz is more than a full-time job. Right now, I’m responsible for everything in this department, and I typically work 6 days a week, at well over 8 hours on most days. Forumwarz is a complicated application that we are constantly upgrading. It is rare that more than a day goes by without some kind of fix or enhancement being pushed up. According to a salary survey, the average salary for a Ruby on Rails developer is $87,000/yr. That’s in Toronto, where the Crotch Zombie team resides. And while we recognize that times are tough everywhere, this happens to be an expensive city to live in.
Writing: I believe one of the biggest strengths of Forumwarz is the high quality of its writing. Jalapeno Bootyhole does the majority of the writing and all the editing. While it isn’t a full-time job for him, he spends most of his evenings and weekends contributing to the site and has taken several months of unpaid leave from work to finish writing new episodic content. A salary survey puts an average writing/editing job at $60,000/yr.
Etc: Other members of the Crotch Zombie team have spent hours of their personal time contributing to the site, and their time is worth as much to the improvement of Forumwarz in the future as the writing and programming! Bingebot, for instance, has put a great deal of free time into creative and technological consultation and site maintenance, and he’s a pretty busy ‘bot. Even such mundane tasks as Photoshopping avatars, calculating finances each month or even updating the blog take a great deal of time to do.
You might ask why I used salary surveys for the above positions. The truth is, right now Forumwarz isn’t paying anything close to those numbers! Since we’re in a new company start-up mode, we haven’t paid anything to ourselves in a year of operation. Any income we’ve spent has gone directly into maintaining and enhancing Forumwarz.
Why We Do It
Why are we doing this? It’s partially because all investments involve risk. We hope that this hard work won’t go unrewarded in the future and we will be able to recoup our invested money and time. A bigger motivator is that we LOVE the game and the community it has spawned. It feels really awesome to create something that resonates with people so strongly!
The good news is, financially, Forumwarz more than covers its current operating costs. There is no danger of us pulling the plug anytime soon on the game or our amazing community.
The bad news is, we can’t devote ourselves to developing new content forever without a solid financial justification to do so.
Why am I being so candid with this information? Because I want people to know that we aren’t being greedy bastards here! We would be more than happy to develop Forumwarz indefinitely if it just paid us a living wage and nothing else.
The Episode 2 Experiment
Right now we give you a lot of gameplay for free. Episode 1 gives you about 10-15 hours of single-player gameplay, depending on how experienced you are with RPGs, and how much you care to read and explore the universe. On top of that we have free endgame content like Domination, forumbuildr and INCIT.
We accept Brownie Points (BP) as a way to upgrade your experience. Largely the BP upgrades are not related to game content. They are more about customizing your experience with the game, enhancing your visibility within the community or playing the game again as a new character.
Many users have purchased Brownie Points, and we can’t express our gratitude enough! You guys are awesome. However, the vast majority of people who play and finish the single-player campaign do not purchase BP. Of course, it goes without saying that we appreciate our non-donating players as well, and hope that they enjoy playing and contributing to the community.
I use the metric of finishing the single-player campaign here because I think it’s valuable: To beat Episode 1, you have to come and play over many days. Presumably you are doing this because you enjoy the game. If not, why would you keep coming back?
Sure, it might take you 10 hours to decide that you don’t like the game, or at that point you might just be beating it out of some obsessive need to finish what you started, but I don’t think I’m crazy in assuming that the majority of the people who finished the game had fun and thought it was somewhat cool.
Because Episode 2 has taken us a lot of time and money to develop, we are looking to increase the percentage of people who throw us a few bucks by charging for the continuation of the single-player campaign. The idea is to create an economic system where people support the content that they play.
It’s very similar to the shareware system of the old id Software games (Wolfenstein 3D, anyone?), where you’d get the first part of a game free but would have to pay to continue. You could also compare it to the Xbox Live Arcade, where each game has a free demo but then you have to purchase the full version (although the Xbox Live demos are CONSIDERABLY shorter).
This business model has been proven to work for other platforms for years. The major difference is that we’re going to try it for a browser-based RPG. The single best way to make this work, in my opinion, is to make sure Episode 2 is especially awesome.
Part of the reason Episode 2 has taken so long to complete is that we want to make sure it’s worth the money. The game is bigger than Episode 1 in almost every way and the gameplay is more varied. Since it’s the middle episode, the story arc is far more interesting, and small bits of information you got in Episode 1 will start to make a lot more sense. We’ve also gotten enough feedback and contributions from our players to give us a better idea of what you like best about Forumwarz, and tried to maximize those aspects.
What Will Episode 2 Cost?
After much deliberation, we have decided that Episode 2 will cost 7 Brownie Points (that’s about the equivalent of $9.99 USD, if you buy the 7 BP package). You will also get one free avatar change OR a free non-anonymous avatar prank (per account) with your purchase, which you’ll be able to redeem later. It will be a one-time Brownie Point purchase, and will enable access to all Episode 2 content for every character attached to your account.
We wouldn’t be charging for it if we didn’t think it was worth it. You probably spend more money than that without thinking more often than you realize! A movie ticket costs the same and it’s over in 1.7 hours, and there’s always some tall jerk sitting in front of you. Or you could spend that much on a couple of beers at any bar, and have nothing to show for it at the end of the night but a pee-filled bladder. Episode 2 will offer you far more entertainment than any movie — actually, more entertainment than many downloadable games that cost much more — and will kill more of your brain cells than any beer ever could.
Will we be blocked from playing Episode 1 when Episode 2 comes out?
No way! Episode 1 — and all other Forumwarz features you currently have access to — will continue to be free, and some of the new Episode 2 features such as the Job Board and Hacker class will soon be available for free as well.
Why don’t you just use ads to pay for the site?
Ads don’t even come close to covering our costs. We’re not allowed to say how much revenue ads bring in, but I can say our income from our best month ever from ads is equivalent to our worst month ever from donations. Ads just don’t pay what they used to, especially when they’re as relatively non-invasive as ours.
But I don’t have a credit card!
Check out this article on our wiki for some suggestions! Right now, those are your best options if you’re interested in contributing to the War on Forumz.
Why don’t you accept SMS payments?
We can’t seem to find a provider that will allow us to charge more than a dollar or two to a phone. Also, apparently chargebacks are ridiculous on cell phones, because people make payments that weren’t truly “authorized.” If you know a good payment provider, please let us know!
But my favorite website doesn’t charge money!
Yes, but Forumwarz is a complex game, not some forum or blog using customized or off-the-shelf forum software. It has considerable development expenses, and it’s all out of our pockets. If you only wish to use Forumwarz as a forum, you will be able to continue doing so for free, since it’s part of the core game.
All large browser RPGs charge money in one way or another, whether it’s for items or gold or other enhancements.
The Forumwarz community is dying!
It’s less busy than it used to be, sure, but there are still thousands of core players and the forums are still quite active. Also, you can expect that many people will come back when Episode 2 is released. Countless people are itching to reactivate their accounts when new content is available, trust us! Finally, we expect that when the word gets out about Episode 2, Forumwarz will grow bigger than ever.
Not to mention, we’re talking about paying for a single-player experience here. Our awesome community is just a bonus!
I don’t believe in paying for web games!
That’s fine, and you have every right to choose what you pay for and what you don’t. We think Episode 2 is worth the money, but if you don’t think the quality of our content is up to your standards, feel free not to pay for anything beyond Episode 1.
To reiterate, Forumwarz costs money, and we can’t afford to produce content and gameplay without support from our users. If you don’t want to donate as a matter of principle, we can only suggest that there’s always exceptions to the rule. The web-based game economy is a relatively new thing, and we think Forumwarz can become a good example of a high-quality indie RPG sustained by user donations.
With some luck, and your continued support, we can make this work!