Community Accessibility on itch.io

I implemented a suspended-coffee style Community Copy program on itch.io — the intention being to lower the barrier to entry for people to play my games, while at the same time fostering a sense of community and good will. Here’s what it looks like — in both cases if there are copies available or not:

Here’s how to do it… in short, this is created using itch.io’s reward system, and a little bit of manual elbow grease. It’s not strictly automatic, but it’s not too bad.

Step 1: Find the Reward System. It’s perhaps not immediately apparent, but it’s under the advanced More menu in each product’s Edit Game page

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Step 2 (optional): Set your pricing to fit a Community Copy model. My method is to have a minimum price for those who just need a little bit of financial help, and then a recommended price for those that can afford it. Anyone who purchase at or above the recommended price will unlock a community copy.

As an alternative, I’ve also seen people offer a scaling contribution — that is, for every $5 above the price, unlock a community copy (so, for a $5 title, a generous purchase of $20 would unlock 3 community copies). That works well if you prefer a pricing scheme without the minimum/recommended split.

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Step 3: Community Rewards. This is the meat of the work. You’ll need to create two Rewards. One is the free product itself, the other is the Donation Reward. Set the quantity high on the Donation Reward. We effectively want it unlimited (probably?). I use 99 here, but it can be increased later with no problem. The free product starts at a 0 quantity until a Donation is made (or you can start it off with 1 if you want to prime the tank, so to speak).

A side note: itch.io likes to reset 0 quantity rewards to a blank field, so you have to repeatedly type 0 into the quantity field to get it to save the first time if you want to start on empty.

3_Community_Rewards.png

Step 4: When a Donation Reward is purchased, increase the Community Copy pool count (as shown in Step 3). This is the manual step. When someone purchases a Community Copy Donation reward, it goes into the reward system. This is a feature that itch.io uses to track things that have to be granted, like t-shirts, swag, additional content for an individual, etc. This tracking comes in handy, though. There’s a nice little checkbox that we can flag to keep track of which Donations have been added to the pool already. Use that to keep track.

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Step 5 (optional): Donation Bonuses. I haven’t actually done this with Real Content yet, just a thank-you note, but with itch, you are able to automatically give out content at specific price points. With this feature, we can set up a mechanism to, for example, give some additional artwork, or some extra bonus content to people who have purchased a Donation.

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One last thing, giving thanks to Dee Pennyway and Matthew R.F. Balousek. This concept is not wholly my own, and it came out of collaborative discussions between the three of us. Make sure to check out their itch pages too!

Phase Prototyping

I'm sure this is not unique, but this is a prototyping model that I've developed, and very much works for me.

The key is that all ideas live in a Phase continuum all the time. Every single one of my (hundreds of) ideas moves around between these phases, and sometimes an idea gets stuck in a phase. That's ok. Disinterest and apathy about a particular idea is normal. If it passes, the idea might change phases and progress. Or it might stay stuck in a phase. Let it go, and move on to other concepts. When/if you return to it, the disinterest might have moved on, and so can the idea.

With that said, let's talk about the phases. An idea visits each phase in turn, but may jump back to a previous phase. Note that, in the following, I use idea/prototype/product pretty much interchangeably. They're simply terms for the same thing at different phases.

Phase 1: Conception - each idea begins as just that, an idea. A single sentence is enough. All ideas are written down, good or bad. To some degree, if I thought of it enough to consider it, there's some value in there. It gets written down in a big list. I just use a flat markdown-formatted text file, because I like simple tools.

Phase 2: Elaboration - after some time, I go back to an idea and add content, explanation, additional subconcepts, etc, etc. This is the first value checkpoint. If I can't think of more to add to an idea, it stays in Phase 1. This is, again, just a simple text file.

Phase 3: Actualization - this is the point that I make a draft, proof-of-concept, physical prototype or mockup. It rapidly becomes apparent whether something is going to work or not. I use various rapid prototyping tools for this, depending on what I'm building.

Phase 4: Consideration - this phase is typically when I sit back and actually attempt to use the product. This may involve playtesting, printing, listening, watching, demoing, or just posting on the net somewhere. The goal is to gather additional information about the prototype to see if an introduction of information changes it for good or bad.

Phase 5: Production - I take the prototype to a full production product at this point. It's generally in a usable state (though may not be complete), and it's had enough 'grab' that I feel like the product has some viability, though it may well be niche.

Phase 6: Introduction - a viable product is made into a release that is put out for consumption. As I mostly make digital products, this means posting it on the internet somewhere -- App Store, Play Store, web store, streaming site, etc. Occasionally, I do make physical products, but my inclination is to use on-demand manufacturing to essentially transform physical products into conceptually digital ones from my point of view. At the point of release, the market takes over and it becomes, to some degree, a marketing problem. That's a post for another day.

And there you have it. From idea to market. It's a little rambling. I've only had half a coffee so far this morning.

Storytime: Meat Cookies

When growing up, we used to get factory seconds from a cookie factory. It was great! Slightly misshapen, but usually tasted just fine. They came in a big box, within a sealed bag. The box was so large, us kids would just leave it in the freezer, half-opened, and take out a cold cookie or two or eight (don't tell Mom) when we wanted some.

The trouble started when my mom bought a few roasts from the butcher, wrapped in butcher paper, and crammed them into the freezer, not knowing that us kids had unsealed the box of cookies. The unsealed cookies quickly took on the flavour of pork roast. You HAVEN'T LIVED until you've had sugar cookies that tasted like soggy cardboard and raw pork.

We used to dare each other to eat the Meat Cookies. In hindsight, not the smartest thing.

Nobody got sick. I think. Pretty sure.

Pungeons & Flagons: The Story

This weekend, I published my first tabletop game, Pungeons & Flagons. It's a classic indie RPG, in the same genre as various story-heavy games, like The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen and A Penny for My Thoughts. Like Munchausen and it's sibling game, Once Upon a TimeP&F is a competitive storytelling game: the various players compete for control of the story... by interrupting each other with puns.

But every good storytelling game needs a good story.

It was a dark and stormy night. The rum and ginger beer had run out, so I had to explore other alternatives. The keg was dry, and so were the other steakhouses, so I went up the lane to my favourite tavern, The Banned Bandit's Band Band. While The Band wasn't playing (they were banned), the Band was packed. There was a new contest at the Band. I had hopes that the new contest was not a no contest like the old contest contested. I was pleasantly surprised. By the contest; the overly hopped beer at the Band was a bitter disappointment. From that day forward, I told the story of Pungeons & Flagons. But sometimes backwards.