When Daniel Solis and Greg Stolze invented a game called "Meatbot Massacre," they weren't quite sure how to market it. So they decided to hold it ransom. When potential gamers had sent a total of $600 to the creators, the game was released to anyone who wanted to play it. Solis and Stolze explain their novel business model to Bob.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. All right, let's say you were the inventor of a board game and you wanted to have it published. The hardest way would be to sell it to a major gamemaker like Hasbro. Another would be to self publish and market it independently through gamer channels. A third would be to give it away for no remuneration whatsoever. But there is a fourth path as well. The developers of a new board game called Meatbot Massacre have financed their enterprise online using what they call the ransom method. A game author named Greg Stolze came up with Meatbot Massacre which caught the attention of game designer Daniel Solis, who joins us now. We'll get to Greg in a moment, but first Dan, welcome to On the Media.
DANIEL SOLIS: Hi, it's a pleasure to be here.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay now, first of all, Meatbot Massacre? What kind of game is this?
DANIEL SOLIS: Mostly it's just all about giant monsters beating the crap out of each other.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] Okay. Now, this is Greg's idea. How did you come across it?
DANIEL SOLIS: He posted the initial concept and the title on his mailing list, and I thought the idea was very cool, and I had approached him about possibly taking it over, since he hadn't really done any development on it since posing the initial idea. And he offered to instead partner up and develop it together.
BOB GARFIELD: Well let's bring Greg Stolze into the conversation now. I [LAUGHS] understand that up to this point your partnership has taken place over two years without you ever actually having spoken to one another. So I guess we have a little bit of a moment here.
GREG STOLZE: This is true.
BOB GARFIELD: Greg, welcome to On the Media, and allow me to introduce you to Daniel Solis. Daniel, Greg; Greg, Daniel.
GREG STOLZE: Hi Daniel.
BOB GARFIELD: Greg, tell me if you wanted to go to, I don't know, Parker Brothers or something, the mechanics of getting a game funded, developed and ultimately published.
GREG STOLZE: Well, Parker Brothers, Hasbro--none of the big companies would touch a game like this. It's a very simple dice war game. It's got a pretty limited hobby audience. I knew that going into this. It's been said that if you came up with the rules for chess today you couldn't get it published by Hasbro because it doesn't have a gimmick. So I had this idea but I didn't think that anyone would want to publish it because they wouldn't be able to turn a profit on it.
BOB GARFIELD: So that led you to another funding mechanism called the ransom method. [LAUGHS] Tell me about the ransom method.
GREG STOLZE: Well, it was sort of a reaction to what I perceived as the difficulties of publishing it on the Internet. I'd done a self-published novel that I sold pretty much through word of mouth on the Internet, and I made marginal profits, and that was okay. But fulfillment was a lot of work. I had to get the books printed, which meant an initial investment. I had to stuff the envelopes, rustle up sales, take everything to the post office, deal with labels falling off. And I didn't think that this game would make enough money to be worth that much hassle. So I thought about releasing it as a PDF file. But the two problems with that are one, it immediately ends up in Morpheus or on Kaaza or on some other IP brothel of the week where people can just download it for free. The other problem, from my point of view, is that I would have had to set up some elaborate website with a store function. I'm on a dial-up connection. I wouldn't have been able to do it very easily. So I thought what would be great would be if everyone gave me the money first, and then I just made the game free, which seems on the fact of it to be a very silly idea, but in fact, it worked.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] Well, no wonder it worked because the amount of ransom that you demanded, or else you weren't going to make Meatbot Massacre available was 600 dollars.
GREG STOLZE: Yeah, I thought that was pretty reasonable. And the way I came up with 600 dollars was, you know, I asked Daniel how much he wanted for laying it out and setting up the website, and took that. I added on the cost of getting the cover painted. I got a sweetheart deal on that because I'd helped the artist. And then I just charged about 4 cents a word for what I'd written. That's the low end standard for publishing in the hobby games industry.
BOB GARFIELD: Daniel, how long did it take to raise the full ransom? And how many people have downloaded the game since it was released to the public?
DANIEL SOLIS: About 1500 people downloading it, and 42 people actually paid the ransom. So it was kind of an interesting correlation there. We had set a deadline for one year, and within five months we got the full ransom. The conditions for the ransom were that if we did not get the full amount, the amount that had been donated would be donated to a local homeless shelter in Greg's hometown.
BOB GARFIELD: Greg, where did you get this idea, to hold your game hostage until the money came in from the gamer community?
GREG STOLZE: It didn't seem like that radical of a notion to me. I had a product that wasn't earning me anything sitting on my hard drive. And, like any vendor, I thought okay, if you give me the money I will give you the product. I just, you know, re-envisioned my customer as a collective, instead of as a single person. Apparently, it's not all that unique. There's been something around called the street performer protocol, which is used for the release of software. It's similar. It's not exactly the same.
BOB GARFIELD: And it actually bears a certain resemblance to the financing methods of another organization I'm familiar with, which three times a year goes on the air [LAUGHS] telling people that they better pony up because otherwise their fine public radio programming will not be available to them.
GREG STOLZE: This is one way that I've--presented the model, is that now you can donate to public art, just like the Chubb Group, only in this case it's big nasty robots wailing on each other.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] Gentlemen, thank you very much.
GREG STOLZE: Thank you. It's been a pleasure being with you.
DANIEL SOLIS: Thank you very much.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Greg Stolze is game creator and founder of the ransom method. Daniel Solis is a designer. You can find Meatbot Massacre and more on the ransom method at his website, www.danielsolis, S-O-L-I-S.com. (MUSIC)