World Of Goo 'Pay What You Want' Experiment A 'Huge Success'

For the one-year anniversary of 2D Boy's World of Goo, the studio held a pricing experiment that had customers paying whatever price they wanted for the game. [UPDATE: 2D Boy tells us about fairness and perception in pricing.]
For the one-year anniversary of 2D Boy's World of Goo, the studio held a pricing experiment that had customers paying whatever price they wanted for the game -- and the results are revealing. In a blog post this week, 2D Boy's Ron Carmel said there was a definite discrepancy between what people thought the game was worth, and what they were willing to pay for it. "Few people chose their price based on the perceived value of the game," Carmel wrote. "How much the person feels they can afford seems to play a much larger role in the decision than how much the game is worth." Out of about 2,300 people who took part in a post-purchase poll, when asked "Why did you choose that amount?", only 5.4 percent answered "That's what the game is worth to me." But 22.7 percent answered, "That's all I can afford right now." In all, Carmel said that the "Pay-What-You-Want" birthday experiment was a "huge success," drumming up total unit sales of 57,000 through 2D Boy's website. The reception was so strong that Carmel said 2D Boy would extend the "experiment" until October 25. So what prices were people willing to pay for charming physics-based puzzler World of Goo? The average price paid was $2.03, Carmel said. Most purchases, about 17,000, were made at the 1 cent mark. The second-largest pricing category was $1-$1.99 with nearly 16,000 buys. The game, a 2008 multi-award winner at the Independent Games Festival, normally retails on 2D Boy's website for $20. According to graphs released by 2D Boy, customers paid anywhere in the range of 1 cent to $50 -- the studio sold four copies of World of Goo at $50 during the week. Carmel said that the average selling price went up in the opening days of the program before eventually leveling off by day five. Carmel attributed the wide press coverage about the World of Goo "Pay-What-You-Want" experiment for its success. In the wake of that coverage, sales of the game -- "shockingly," according to Carmel -- rose dramatically on Valve Software's Steam digital distribution store. "Steam sales rose 40 percent relative to the previous week," he said. "Our Steam sales tend to fluctuate, and it’s not unheard of for there to be a 25 percent difference from one week to the next (up or down), but the 40 percent increase came after a week that saw a 25 percent increase. It has been several months since we’ve seen this number of sales in a single week on Steam." World of Goo is also available on WiiWare, where sales of the game rose 9 percent week-on-week. "Nine percent seems like it’s large enough to have not been entirely caused by normal fluctuations," Carmel said. [UPDATE: Carmel additionally told Gamasutra that he's not certain yet how this experiment's data is applicable to a real-world business model outside of limited-time promotions. But the wheels are turning. "I do get a sense ... that there is a lot of room for improvement in how games, and in fact, all digital products, are priced," he said in an email. "I think the optimal pricing strategy for any digital product is one in which every person pays what they feel is a fair price that they can afford, based on their economic situation, their perception of the value of the product, the balance of their bank account on that particular day, etc." "If a strategy that yields this result can be devised, I think the product creators would make more money AND people would feel better about their purchase (the latter being something that companies like Apple realize is extremely important)." Carmel added, "Neither fixed pricing nor pay-what-you-want even come close to achieving this, however. The answer is elsewhere, but this was our first step in exploring alternative pricing models, not sure what our next step might be yet."]

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