Dan Marshall of Size Five Games has been giving away free copies of his latest game Gun Monkeys
to players who simply sit alone in the game's servers. It might sound a bit crazy, but as it turns out, the scheme is leading to boosted sales.
Marshall launched the concept last week
, in a bid to tackle "The Curse of the Indie Multiplayer Game." We've all seen it before -- you boot up a multiplayer-only online indie game, and find that it's completely dead, with zero opponents to pay against. At this point, sales can only decline rapidly.
Marshall has tried a couple of different tactics to combat this, including giving away two Steam keys with each purchase, but this latest idea has proven a lot more promising. Essentially, if a player has been sitting in an empty server for a few minutes with no opponents to play against, the game gives them free Steam keys to hand out to friends.
But has it worked? Marshall tells me, "Sales are way up. More people are finding out about the game and buying it."
"It keeps bums on seats in servers," he notes. "Before, people were logging in to empty servers, waiting an average of about four seconds, and logging off again in a huff. Then seconds later someone else would do the exact same thing, and they'd miss each other! The free keys system is at least keeping people logged into the server that little bit longer."
Notably, Marshall says that he always envisioned Gun Monkeys
as a title to play with friends, rather than one in which players jump into a server and play against random foes, so this system has the added effect of bringing that vision more into the limelight.
"I appreciate that design decision was stupidly naive of me," he adds, "but the game actually now seems to be gravitating that way a bit. That's then having a knock-on effect of more people hearing about the game and getting involved."
The act of giving away keys has also given Marshall huge peace of mind. "Instead of being all angsty about people not being able to get a game of Gun Monkeys
, I'm relaxed - they've got up to four free copies with their purchase, so they should be able to easily get their money's worth. The system is self-sustaining, so I don't have to be all pent up and feeling responsible."
There are a small number of players who are treating the system as a way to blag free copies -- there are even instances of players getting angry at others for joining them in a server! -- but in general, Marshall says that the move has been a success.
"I think it's a decent long-term solution to the game's core flaw of needing other players in order to play it," he says. "I'd like to see more indies try it, see how they get on."