We interviewed Earthtongue creator Eric Hornby to discuss his game’s unique Pay by Art system and how alternate ways to buy video games are changing the relationship between creator and consumer.
The old system of developers working for publishers who put video games on store shelves is a tried-and-true model, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. While some companies are exploring free-to-play and embracing new ways to buy video games, select independent developers are shaking things up even further. Eric Hornby, creator of Earthtongue, started offering up copies of his game in exchange for original art, and learned that alternative payment models can yield both success and buzz for indie projects.
Pay By Art Lets Players Exchange Art for Games
‘Pay by Art’ is a system created by Colin Northway, one of the developers of indie game Deep Under the Sky. Inspired by the unique payment model, Hornby took a chance on implementing it for his own game, allowing players to pay $4 or exchange a work of art for a key to the game.
There are some rules—the piece of art must take at least a half hour to create and must be an original work that includes the word ‘Earthtongue’ somewhere in it. Any art form is an acceptable trade, and Hornby has gotten visual art, poetry, music, and even a couple of games as payment for Earthtongue.
‘Pay By Art’ Combines Payment and Marketing to Everyone’s Benefit
Rather than relying on reviews and sales figures as an indication of how players are responding to a game, a system like Pay By Art allows developers to have a direct relationship with the people buying their games. And thanks to itch.io’s dev- and gamer-friendly policies, which don’t take a cut of sales unless the developers enable that option, everybody comes out of the transactions feeling pleased. It’s an incredible symbiosis, and when you throw ‘Pay By Art’ into the mix, the relationship between creator and consumer becomes a lot thinner.
“I really do feel like it makes [the relationship] feel a lot more personal,” said Earthtongue developer Eric Hornby in an interview. “It’s nice to see all this kind of appreciation from fans. I think that a lot of people would normally kind of keep it to themselves, I guess. But because of the Pay By Art model, a lot of people … have a good excuse to send the creator something that they’ve made. And it’s honestly really, really touching and inspiring to me, frequently getting these things.”
But more than that, promotion is no longer about a PR team or the dev continuously promoting their game. Instead, you get situations like Hornby’s.
“There’s a lot of people who say, ‘Oh, you know, I’m going to buy it by art, but I also want to support the game so I’m buying it,'” he said. This means that exchanging the game for art isn’t necessarily a lost sale, especially when, as Hornby points out, that interaction can lead to other sales.
“I will say that any time that anybody does do Pay By Art, because people usually post it on their social media, I usually get a real sale or two at least from the pay by art,” Hornby said. “So even from a commercial standpoint, it’s pretty worthwhile.”
Hornby exchanges the game for original artwork, but sees sales anyway. Everyone benefits—artists get their work seen on Earthtongue‘s tumblr page, they get a game in exchange, and the extra promotion helps Hornby make a sale. This system of trading and the game’s low price mean that nobody feels exploited in the transaction.
And while it might seem like people are more inclined to get something for free, Hornby says that’s not the case. “There are more people who buy the game normally than there are people who providing art to buy the game,” he said. People like to buy video games when they believe the product is worth their money.
‘Pay By Art’ Transforms Creator/Consumer Relationship
The Pay By Art model keeps price low and encourages a closer relationship with game developers, transforming what started off as a creator/consumer relationship to something a lot more interesting. Paying by art makes the consumer a creator as well, and that makes buying video games more feel more like supporting a growing community than oiling the corporate machine.
Pay By Art isn’t the right method for every game, but for developers like Hornby, who create and release their games by themselves, the boost in promotion and sales that come from having a unique payment model can a huge benefit. And, through the relationship that Pay By Art encourages, indie devs can help build a loyal following that will continue to support their games in the future.