Does “Pay What You Want” Work?

The collective internet mind vividly remembers the “Radiohead Experiment,” when the musical group Radiohead decided to put their new album on the internet for download, but with an odd twist. They let you value their product and pay the amount you desired. You could give them a hundred dollars or three cents.

I always though it was an interesting idea, and one that could really work in some cases. Independent game developer 2D Boy is one of those cases…

2D Boy makes World of Goo, an interesting and fun physics game that retails for $20. It’s also one of the most-pirated games on the internet, with a whopping 90% piracy rate. This is a game that’s rated very highly by most sources. (It’s also one of the few games that works cross-platform on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.)

So what did 2D Boy do? They ran a Radiohead-style special for a few weeks, letting you pay what you want to download the game. The results?

World of Goo sales

Out of more than 57,000 sales, about 68% of the downloaders paid $2 or less. And 16,852 buyers only paid one cent. 7,347 were in the $5.00-$5.99 range though.

The GameRiot blog has something to say about that:

$2!!! That is a tenth of the regular retail price!  That is like two tacos at Taco Bell compared to hours of enjoyment with an awesome game from a studio that deserves your money.  I guess it just really disgusts me that so few people paid next to nothing.  I realize the deal was there but how can you consciously pay a penny for any game that you would want to pay.  Almost 30% of the people were completely pathetic and paid a mere penny.

As cheap and “pathetic” as it may be, I’ll certainly agree that it’s not very nice to pay a single cent, it certainly is better than the big fat zero from someone downloading from BitTorrent.

Because the payments were processed through PayPal, 2D Boy didn’t even get those one-penny payments.

For all purchases of around 30 cents and under, we actually saw no money, PayPal took it all, but they probably ended up losing money on most of those transactions ($0.01) as well, they’re not the bad guy.

You can see the full post of results over at

So, does this “pay what you want” thing work? I would say yes, but not in every scenario. There are times when you can make some good money, and times where you won’t. People love it, because they can get a great product for a price they can afford, or a price they feel is reasonable. Some will put the minimum amount, yes, but that doesn’t mean everyone will. There are generally enough nice people to make up for some of the cheapskates.