Stuart Spence Blog

Computer scientist and educator. Creator of ChessCraft. Scientific programmer at Environment Canada.

Sun 24 October 2021

Patronware

Posted by Stuart Spence in ChessCraft   

I like that the full ChessCraft game is free and ad-free, and yet it is monetized. It has been a challenge describing this monetization strategy succinctly. I wish there were a word for it. In this post I'll explore how words like "donationware", "freemium", and "nagware" aren't a good fit. I propose instead the word "patronware":

Patronware is software that is free, complete, and ad-free. People feel good about donating money to the project. The project is not supported by dark patterns and harmful psychology.

Categories

I've mostly used Wikipedia and years of my own experience to define these categories. Some of these categories overlap. Let's see how they relate to ChessCraft monetization.

Good to note: "Patron" is a ChessCraft feature, whereas "Patreon" is a website where you can donate to artists and creators. I mention both.

Freemium

Freemium is a portmanteau of the words "free" and "premium". The basic service is free, but you pay for more features.

This doesn't sound like ChessCraft because the full featured game is free. However occassionally, the game is interrupted for several seconds asking you to pay for the "Patron" version, which has no interruptions. You can choose to wait instead, then keep playing. So paying does not add features, instead it removes an unwanted feature.

Crippleware

Maybe that sounds like crippleware? Except crippleware is "crippled". Imagine for example Microsoft Office but without the ability to save documents. You get a good tour of the software but you truly cannot use it, it is crippled.

Freeware

Freeware is given to the user at no cost. Sometimes this encourages the user to pay for full software or other services.

ChessCraft is freeware. Unfortunately, freeware is such a big category that it doesn't help me describe what I'm trying to describe - my monetization strategy. It's also confusing to say "my 5$ game on Steam is freeware because it has a full featured demo".

Pay What You Want (PWYW)

Users of PWYW software can have the software for any price, even free. However ChessCraft only allows 0$ or 5$. I might have allowed PWYW if it were easier to setup as an IAP, but I didn't.

Why would someone pay more instead of less for software? Similarly, why would someone pay 5$ for ChessCraft Patron when it's hardly any different from the free version? In this way, ChessCraft is similar to PWYW software.

Shareware

Shareware has trials with limited use. However, in ChessCraft most users happily play indefinitely without Patron because the difference is so minor.

Donationware

Donationware supports a charity. ChessCraft is not donationware, although maybe it could be with its educational side-mission and below minimum wage revenue so far!

Free to Play

The Android version of ChessCraft and the upcoming Steam demo are both free to play. However like freeware, the term is too big to be useful here. Furthermore, free to play games are often plagued by advertisements and slot-machine-like IAP which abuse human psychology in toxic and predatory ways. The mobile game industry in 2021 is a nightmare to me. That's not the spirit of ChessCraft and in fact, this was a major motivator for me to make ChessCraft.

Nagware

Nagware (also known as begware, annoyware or a nagscreen) persistently annoys the user to buy the licensed version. Nagware is a negative word. It's a bit like calling buggy software "crapware", or calling Google Search "mind-poison-ware" because it's supported by ads. No creator wants to call their software nagware. Is it fair to protest this label?

Sometimes.

This is still the best label for ChessCraft so far. There's even a nagscreen. However when your favourite video content creator says "thanks to all my wonderful supporters for making this series possible" are they nagging us? This is just like a nagscreen - listeners have to wait a few seconds to hear about finances before we get to the real content. So is this annoyware, but for videos? I don't think so. Nagging is not the spirit of Patreon, nor would a creator on Patreon do well if they were nagging their community. So what's the difference?

People feel good about donating money to the project

ChessCraft is blessed with a great community:

  • Dozens of translators have proofread the game.
  • I've gotten hundreds of bug reports.
  • Community members also contribute art and music.

This was all free work, worth thousands of dollars.

I think people can tell that ChessCraft is a true passion project, not yet another soulless commercial mobile game pushing IAP, gambling, and advertisements. I've often promised that ChessCraft will never have ads - and there's enough purchases now that this holds some legal weight I'm sure. All my art is usable by everyone under a creative commons license. Community creations are public domain so nobody, not even my evil-twin, can hijack the community content for profit.

That's why "nagware" doesn't feel right. Am I just blind to the fact that my monetization model is nagware, I'm nagging people, and I'm no special snowflake? Maybe. But I choose not to describe ChessCraft as nagware because it communicates the wrong message. That's not what I've tried to build. ChessCraft is patronware!

chesscraft screenshot