A longer follow-up essay on why Shmeppy won't be freemium product

When people approach me regarding a freemium plan for Shmeppy they usually suggest what I laid out in A quick essay on why Shmeppy won't be a freemium product : adding features and placing them behind a pay wall.

I think my reasons for not doing this are fairly easy-to-grasp and uncontroversial.

But there is another way of doing freemium. @DaniBani and @anon79012725 mentioned this in that thread:

In other words: let GMs create games, but don’t let them invite players to them.

I’ve considered this version of freemium more seriously over the years. I want to touch on it directly in this post, because I think it’s been brought up enough times now to warrant some sharing.

Freemium by disallowing players to join game

I’m going to touch on a few of the biggest pros and cons in my mind. I’ll also talk about how I’ve evaluated the “uncertainty” or “error bars” in each.

Impact on growth rate for Subscribers

Shmeppy will get a lot more users: no doubt. Free stuff is great.

How many more “paying subscribers” Shmeppy gets though… that’s not so clear. There’s definitely a lot of uncertainty here and I don’t see a way to clear that uncertainty away.

My prediction is that the number of paying subscribers won’t be that much larger… Like 2x more (than what I’d have with my current non-freemium based plan) seems a huge stretch.

Honestly, I’m worried the number of paying subscribers I’d have would be less with a freemium model. But who knows :woman_shrugging:.

Growth is not as valuable to Shmeppy

Shmeppy is a one-person company, and I plan for it to stay that way.

The growth provided by freemium models is attractive for companies that want to grow infinitely because growth is an such a valued metric (more users = :tada:). Shmeppy is not a normal company though.

I have a target growth goal that does not need to be exceeded. I need to pay for my life, that’s it. Shmeppy’s growth just needs to match attrition.

So when measuring up the scales, a pro of “multiplies growth rate” isn’t as valuable to me as it would be for another company.

Creative user with free account vs subscriber account

Imagine a creative user. They’re using a free plan plus “View as Player” in one window that they’re screen casting to Google Hangouts. This is super close to being as good as the full Shmeppy experience. @DaniBani mentions this:

If this creative user “upgraded” by subscribing to Shmeppy, they wouldn’t get much that they didn’t already have. Just players moving tokens and players having individual control of their viewports. Not nearly enough value for Shmeppy’s $5 a month price tag.

Personally, I would stick with the free plan plus screen sharing (though I might pay for Shmeppy just cause I appreciate the creator :wink:).

It may be that any user who does this would never pay for Shmeppy anyways, but I’m not so sure about that. (Obviously I can try and prevent users from doing this but that’s pretty uncomfortable and tricky).

A free userbase isn’t free

A free userbase costs resources. “Equipment costs” (like server and image hosting), but also (at least) support time, dev time, design time, marketing time, marketing cash, and UX complexity.

Since I want Shmeppy to stay a one-person company, this con carries extra weight: I’ve got very limited human resources.

Changing my mind is easy in only one direction

Going from earliest access to a paid plan will shove many users off the platform. Moving to a freemium model won’t change that, it would only affect the percentage of users who leave the platform.

This is an uncomfortable thing to do. I warn that Shmeppy won’t be free forever all over the place to make this very uncomfortable action feel more comfortable to users.

If I transition to a freemium model, and decide it’s not working and want to switch to my fully-gated plan instead, I will need to again shove users off of Shmeppy. This time around, I won’t be able to set expectations quite as well and it will be even more uncomfortable than the first time.

But if I first transition to a fully-gated plan, and then decide to open it up to freemium afterwards, the second transition will be quite pleasant I’m sure.


The pro feels dinky. Of course the error bars are large, so it could be a much bigger pro than I’ve laid out here (like what if this affected the paying subscriber count by 10x or 100x), but who can really know.

The cons feel heavy.

It just doesn’t seem to make sense.

I hope this was interesting. Let me know if you enjoy this insight into more business-focused decision making and I’ll try and write more as it comes up.

Personal take: A DM-centric pricing model aligns best to my situation. I can personally take on a payment for a good product that benefits the group (i already pay for D&D beyond, boosted discord, and at the table i craft terrain and minis), but I don’t think I would be able to convince a majority of my players to sign up and pay any kind of monthly fee for a tool like Shmeppy. But as a DM, sure, I’d be happy to pay it for the benefit it brings to our games.

I had the same idea regarding screensharing (and did in fact use it for some players who didn’t have a computer. I screencast a Shmeppy window to Discord so they could watch it on their phones). As you stated, it’s not that far off from just one person paying and sharing to others for free, if there were some freemium barrier in place for players.

What about other ways to gate certain functionality of Shmeppy? Some features that I think could be reasonably be gated behind a freemium subscription could be:

  • Ability to save maps; or the number of maps you can save
  • Cosmetic features (change laser color, change measure tool)
  • Limit map size for free users (addresses the free-has-costs concern)

I’m definitely in the camp that thinks Shmeppy has value and people would pay for it, but I do think that you’re right when you think that the user base would shrink if everyone had to pay. I have 13 players playing bi-weekly games on Shmeppy now, but that would realistically only turn into one subscription.

Just some thoughts :slight_smile:

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Quick note: this is what I’m planning on doing. $5 a month for GMs, players don’t have to subscribe (or even have an account). Users can only try Shmeppy’s GM tools through some kind of trial period or promo.

The freemium models I talk about in this and the last post are alternate pricing schemes that offer users a “free tier” rather than some kind of trial period or promo.

But no matter the scheme, the only person who would subscribe is the GM. I would love the additional income I’d get if players paid as well (in fact I would have already surpassed my growth goals for Shmeppy), but I think it’s just infeasible.


While I would like it if you made some additional cash from player subscriptions, I wanted to say that the fact that you’re planning to have it be a GM subscription is what sold me on using Shmeppy for our online games (over say, buy a couple of copies of tabletop simulator for the few people who don’t have it in our group). It’s feasible for me to pay the subscription, it’s not for a lot of my players.

I think the GM-only pay option is pretty braggable compared to other table top providers. The fact that players don’t need to pay (or even make an account!) is a very unique feature and I’m sure people appreciate how seamless it is.

I mentioned this before in the Discord, but I hope the payment options are easy to use. The requirement of a credit card worried me, but if a digital service such as PayID/Googlepay/Applepay would be useful and more accessible.


I’m curious why a credit card is worrying? It is by far the safest way to pay for things online as you have massive amounts of buyer protection and control should (not foreseeing this happen at all) something go wrong, data get hacked, etc… I know some parts of the world are less credit friendly, but I think it is still pretty much the standard globally, followed maybe by paypal in popularity.