The Economics of Interstellar Crime, or How Vast & Starlit’s Pay-What-You-Want Scheme Is Getting Along

It’s been a little over a half a year since Vast & Starlit went Pay-What-You-Want, and I’m curious to see how this endeavor is panning out, aren’t you?

For now, DriveThruRPG and its sister sites are the only places you get your hands on the PDF. The other avenues currently available to me do not handle Pay-What-You-Want too terribly well. In a moment, I’ll talk about how this is less than optimal, but let’s look at the numbers we have, first.

I started offering the Vast & Starlit library as Pay-What-You-Want on the 26th of December, 2013. As of this post then there have been 455 downloads, 141 of which folks paid for. In fact, people have paid a total of $410.35 for the game. If you don’t count the free downloads, that means folks have paid, on average $2.91 a game. If you do count the free downloads (which would be nonsense, but we have the numbers, so why not?) folks have paid on average 90 cents a game. Most folks who paid (31 of the 141) paid $3. The most anyone paid for the game was $10.


Oh, look at that, a chart! I’m not going to have any insightful analysis to offer here, but I should be able to make up for that in charts.

For instance, note the “Less than $1” pie piece above. Clearly the chart does not include the 314 downloads that weren’t purchases. And it shouldn’t. We’re going to ignore those 314 from here on out. Those are folks who have either already paid for the game by purchasing a physical copy or folks who would never have bought the game. It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that these free downloads were lost revenue, but I firmly believe they are not. I am not at all curious about those 314. I am, however, deeply interested in these five:

Less-Than-a-DollarNot all sales were round numbers. There were some 1.99s and 2.99s and 3.05s and 3.13s and because I know nothing else about the purchases but how much folks paid, I’m curious about each and every one of them. But the single most interesting purchase to me is the pumpkin pie piece above: six cents. Is that a message? Is someone telling me that there’s a secret code just for me hidden in the movie Sixth Sense? Or are they just rounding a larger order up to the nearest dollar? And then I saw that it was made on January 16th. 6 on 16. 616. Coincidence?

Of that six cents, I only made four cents. DriveThruRPG takes a 35% chunk out of what they sell. That’s if you’re not exclusive with them. And while Vast & Starlit is exclusive with them, none of my other stuff is. So six cents becomes four cents and $410.35 becomes but $266.70 by the time it reaches my pocket. By way of comparison, had I made all these sales by PayPal . . . Well, that’s kind of complicated since PayPal fees differ depending on the where the buyer lives. However, had all these been U.S. sales, PayPal’s fees would have been 30 cents plus 2.9%, which means I would have landed about $90 more once all is said and done.

But all those sales were not domestic and all those customers did not show up to DriveThruRPG to buy Vast & Starlit. I suspect a significant number of them found the game while pouring through DriveThruRPG’s Pay-What-You-Want collection. I’m just including these sloppy PayPal projects because way back in December, when I had no data to work with and I was first considering going Pay-What-You-Want, PayPal’s flat fee scared me off. If someone paid less than 30 cents, I would have received no money. And I had no idea that over the next half year only three people would pay less than 30 cents.

Enough of this text! We need one last chart!


Those five short days at the end of December were far and away the most active time for Vast & Starlit. This, I believe, was a demonstration of what DriveThruRPG brought to the table. Just two days before, the PDF had just been delivered to just about 340 people as part of last years Epimas. If you had been paying attention to me at all, odds are you had a PDF of the game. So those downloads from December 26th to December 31st, 2013, are for the most part folks who haven’t been paying attention me.

So, perhaps predictably, December earned me the most at $84.64. Followed by January at $46.46. And then, surprisingly, last month was the third highest at $41.35. Counting only the six full months the PDF has been on sale, I’ve averaged $29.13. So far, July has been the most dismal sale for months, with Vast & Starlit putting only $7.48 in my pocket so far.

How does this compare to selling the physical product? It does not. By this time last year, the physical version of Vast & Starlit had been on the market for half the time, people had to jump through some hoops to get it, and it had made me about twice as much money. But I had to jump through many hoops myself to make that happen, and on the grand scheme of things, the amount of money we were talking about did not make for a sustainable hoop jumping endeavor. Pay-What-You-Want PDFs are particularly nice because I can focus on other projects, such as Worlds Without Master, and let them do their own thing.

I have no real conclusion from any of this. I’ve just been getting some questions from people about my experiences with Pay-What-You-Want and instead of answering those questions, I thought I’d daze them with a wall of numbers. All told, I’m quite happy with the way things are going and you can expect more Pay-What-You-Want products from me in the future. Assuming, of course, there is a future.


  1. Wilhelm · July 22, 2014

    Your ratio paid/free downloads is much nicer than mine. Before I abandoned the PWYW scheme I had nine free downloads for every paying one.

    I wonder what factors affect that ratio.

    • Epidiah · July 22, 2014

      That would be interesting to investigate.

      It is possible that because I put the entirety of the game in the preview, a number of folks who would have downloaded the game out of curiosity saw the preview and decided it wasn’t their thing.

  2. George Locke · July 22, 2014 😛

    (if you can give me ur data I’ll make a histogram)

  3. Tom · July 24, 2014

    I have had a similar experience to yours with the PWYW model for my game Against the Unknown.
    As an experiment, I fixed the price at $5 for a while. It didn’t much affect the total income, but of course the total downloads went down. So I switched back to PWYW because 1) I’d rather more people have the game and 2) more downloads would keep the game visible on the Hot Products list at DTRPG.

    “had I made all these sales by PayPal . . .”
    I’ve tried to work this out myself — I *think* that for me the benefits of DTRPG’s visibility outweigh the bigger cut they take of the proceeds. But I haven’t proved this with rigorous calculations.

    • Epidiah · July 24, 2014

      Definitely. I believe DriveThru is worth it for the visibility. Although, I’m now considering popping a PayPal link up on my own site as well, just to round things out.

  4. Paul · January 28, 2015

    Just played the game for the first time tonight and it was so much fun I came home and bought it (payed $5). Thanks for making great game, but for Pete’s sake those pie charts should be histograms!

    • Epidiah · January 28, 2015

      In the cold expanse of space, all is pie!

      (Which is to say, I’m glad you enjoyed the game and thank you very much for the purchase. If I had saved my work, I would have made histograms for you. But alas, we are stuck with this imperfect artifact.)

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