First, a disclaimer: I did not “invent” Community Copies. It was a feature that already existed in itch.io’s system, Matthew Balousek wrote a quick explanation about them, and then I gave the idea a “name” and wrote a longer, more in-depth tutorial for setting them up.
I don’t know that people still give me credit for Community Copies, but when the idea first became popular a lot of people said it was a thing I had come up with. I’m glad people find the model useful, but I didn’t invent them.
It’s an idea that’s become very popular in corner of the tabletop space I spend most of my time in: that if we’re going to charge money for our games, we should try to find ways to make our games accessible to folks with more limited budgets. It used to be that if you had a price on your game, you also had a note in your store that said people could email you or message you on Twitter to ask for a free copy.
What I heard from people who did this was that it was fine for a bit, but eventually the load of fielding requests for free content became a source of stress.
Matthew Balousek wrote a quick explanation of his solution: to use itch’s Rewards system to supply a limited pool of freely available copies that anyone could claim. No emails, no messages, just a field in the dashboard that could be updated manually when the pool ran out.
That was a lot more appealing to me, so I tried it out, and yup, way easier. At the bottom of this post you’ll find a quick step-through for how to set up Community Copies.
Should I do it?
I don’t know! If you put a price tag on your work, and you want to still make your work available to people who can’t afford that price tag, this might be one solution to that problem. It’s not the only way to do this, but so far it’s the best way I’ve found.
Can I charge money for it?
You can, but for me this model is about letting people access the thing I made even if they have no room in their budget.
You do what you want. But if you just want an optional discount, the Community Copies branding might confuse people.
Setting Up Community Copies
If you’re not publishing on itch.io, this guide probably won’t be very helpful. But if you are on itch, here’s how you do it:
- Open up your Dashboard, and click Edit on whatever product you’re updating.
- In the list of tabs across the top of the page (where it says “Edit Game”, “Devlog”, “Metadata”) find the option for “More”. Click on that, and then click Rewards.
- Click New Reward.
- Fill out the fields on the page that appears. Here are the important bits:
- Custom Noun is what the whole section at the bottom of the product page will be called. By default I think this is set to “Exclusive Rewards”, but you can call it whatever you want.
- Set Title to “Community Copies” if you want people to recognize them as that, or give them whatever name you want.
- Write a Description that explains why you’re doing community copies, and if you want people to adhere to any requirements before claiming one.
- Leave Minimum Price at 0.00. This is what makes the community copies free.
- Set Quantity to the number of community copies you want to be available. This is a total number, which means that as people claim them this number won’t be depleted. To add more, just increase the number in this field.
- Click Save.
And that’s it! If you need to update the pool, just change the Quantity in step 4 and click Save.
How do I settle on a size for the pool?
There are no rules. Do what makes sense for you. But if you need some strategies to choose from, here are three.
I won’t tell you which one to use. I’ve used all three at different points in the last year or two.
The Default Rule: 1 Sale, 1 Community Copy
Check the number of payments on the game. Set the quantity for the Community Copies pool to that number. That’s it.
The reason I do this is to keep myself thinking about my games as a thing of value that’s worth paying for. It’s also useful because I only need to update the pool when I get an itch notification.
The key is to set it up so that you are reminded to increase the pool. If you never look at your itch notifications, this might not be the right method for you.
Low Maintenance: Fill When Empty
Check the game’s product page. If it says “All copies claimed!” go increase the size of the pool. You can do a basic doubling if you like:
This method is good if you don’t like to check your itch notifications, or if improving financial accessibility is more important than making sales.
Set And Forget: The Really Big Number
When you set up the community copies, just set the quantity to some really big number, and then don’t worry about it. When the pool is empty, it’s empty. You can leave it that way, or switch to the Low Maintenance strategy above.
If you’re crowdfunding your project elsewhere (Kickstarter, for instance), you might be able to incorporate community copies into your pledge rewards.