About selling merch

So the idea about selling Thrive merch to raise more money for development has been around for a while. There’s been some investigation into ways to make it work, but no full solution has really come up with anyone pushing it really forward. I looked into the findings of earlier attempts today and again failed to find a solution, but I’ll document my findings here so maybe someone who knows more can pitch in.

The first trouble is that we need products to sell, to solve this we basically have two choices:

  • Commission an artist (either currently on the team or some random freelancer) to make custom artwork for the merch that is Thrive related. Hiring existing freelancers is legally speaking a clearer situation as they are used to handling freelancing contracts and taking on the tax burden themselves (they are basically a company selling their services), whereas if we did a commission contract with a Thrive artist who is not doing freelancing currently, it might not really be worth it for them to figure out how to pay taxes on their income. Additionally if the freelancer is in EU or Finland there’s VAT to worry about. I didn’t find any concrete guidance on how a freelancer outside Finland should be handled properly.
  • Use existing art, technically much of the Thrive art, though not all as not all historic artists have signed the CLA, could be turned into merch, but in this case we wouldn’t have any means to stop someone else from also releasing the exact same merch. Because of that I don’t think this is a really good approach.

With paying the artist we can either do what I stated above and pay upfront, or we could maybe use some kind of royalties-based licensing scheme where we would only pay the artist based on sales. So in that case we’d move the risk from us to the artist and this is probably tax-wise a completely different thing and the artist would need to continuously handle their tax situation as they keep getting paid.

The only really clear situation seems to be if the freelancer is in Finland, then we can do things my Finnish employment laws (and probably get by just the 20€ or so our accounting company charges for employee payment tax calculations). Page about this (in Finnish): Freelancer verotuksessa - vero.fi

A different situation is where the freelancer is considered another company (even in Finland this can apply) in which case the buyer of services is only responsible for taxes and the other party is responsible all the employee fees and taxes. This page (again, in Finnish) describes the difference between an employee and just paying a freelancer for their work: Palkka ja työkorvaus verotuksessa - vero.fi

A found some templates, in Finnish, on this page: Toimeksiantosopimukset - Akavan Erityisalat which can probably be used (after translating to English) to make sure the freelancer is not considered an employee.

Not entirely related but I found a page describing how to handle taxes for a fully foreign employee hired by a Finnish company (page in Finnish again): Ulkomaisten työntekijöiden verotus - vero.fi which basically boils down to that the employee is not taxed in Finland but the company needs to figure out the tax situation in the country the employee is in and pay taxes and fees there. I doubt our accounting company has experience with random countries so if we hire an employee outside Finland we probably need to get an accounting agency or a lawyer in the target country to help us out…

Hiring a freelancer through a site like https://www.upwork.com is actually not that simple. This is because upwork isn’t a party to the agreement between the client and the freelancer. Instead they just do escrow, payment services. So the only benefit to using a site like that is to find existing freelancers and being able to gauge the reputation of the freelancer. We still have all of the tax law things to figure out, though experienced freelancers probably already know how to handle their taxes so outside the EU-based freelancer could be very easy to deal with.

After figuring out how to get the art for the merch, comes the harder part: making an online store to sell it in.

For this there are actually a couple of seemingly good print-on-demand and shipping services:

Both of these are free to start off with and only charge for the printing and shipping services (unless we go on printify to the higher service tier which is a fixed monthly cost). Both of these services can integrate with various online fronts but none of the ones I looked at handle sales taxes. Which is a huge problem!

Here’s some popular storefronts that don’t handle (but provide some tools to set things up) taxes:

  • https://www.shopify.com/
  • Etsy (this handles taxes but requires items to be handmade by us, so I don’t think we can sell there)
  • Woocommerce

There’s actually sites that handle taxes:

But those don’t have integrations to any on-demand printing service I looked at, so we’d need to either manually copy orders or write custom software to forward the orders.

I found this page listing some online serving services that handle VAT: Digital sales in the EU: Which e-commerce platforms comply with VAT? - Quaderno

There’s seemingly one saving grace which is that Stripe supports automatic taxes handling: https://stripe.com/en-fi/tax That handles collecting all the tax payments and forwarding them, but still needs to manually submit tax reports in all countries taxes where collected in. They have some filing partner services but I doubt those are free.

It seems to be possible to use, for example, Shopify with Stripe payments so it might be possible to enable that option there. Of course the hardcode option is to make a custom storefront that integrates with Stripe and one of those printing services’ API, which is not as bad as it sounds because the storefront just needs to display products, have cart, and then send that info to Stripe and then handle the payment success info coming from Stripe to forward it. That’s kind of similar to using one of those storefronts that don’t integrate with the on demand printing services automatically.

Anyway my conclusion is that selling merch would be a huge pain to setup, and would cost quite a lot in overheads. Thus sales volume would be pretty important to make sure that any significant profit could be made. To me it seems maybe better to try to push the Patreon harder. Or maybe donations? But then again doing the donations last time was a bit of a mess and for next time we’d need to prepare better by maybe getting some separate accounting for the non-profit donations side of things, but that might cost extra and I kind of want to consult a legal expert on how to set that up, so a new donation campaign would need to earn at least 50% as much as the first one to really bring in any money…

Next, I think we need to somehow research how many sales we would actually get per month (and how much profit based on how high we can price our shirts and other merch), before putting in the effort to trying to find out how the taxes and selling could work.

Does anyone have any thoughts, or better yet someone who knows how to do this right?

I’m no expert in this area, but I think you are wise to be cautious here. My brain hears physical merch sales and thinks, “won’t turn profit until you move X units.” Keep in mind that that cost isn’t just monetary, as your time is also the resource with which further development of Thrive happens, either via directly developing or reviewing other PRs.

I’d be curious who’s the smallest internet figure who made merch and didn’t regret it, and ask if we’re at least as popular as them. Not sure if it’s worth the time to investigate though…

1 Like

eBay was brought up as one thing I didn’t notice, which has:


  • Still probably might need to process some tax reports manually and send them off. And eBay might not be handling all of the countries in the world in terms of taxes. They say on their taxes page that sellers are ultimately responsible for paying the taxes, but eBay handles taxes for quite many countries.
  • “New eBay users have a limit of 10 product variants within a listing and a total of $500 in retail value.”
  • Someone needs to very carefully determine that selling as a business on eBay is a good idea (so far I’ve only really known eBay for consumers selling to each other in small volumes)

Aren’t there businesses specifically designed for selling merch? The kind where you bring them an audience and some designs and they do the rest? They take a large cut of profits, but it’s no loss.

Another thing. Etsy allows for print-on-demand as long as you make the designs. And they have full integration with a bunch of “production partners” (Including printful and many more.)

Shopify is expensive, but it also has those integrations.

The print on demand services @Buckly digged up and I looked at, all worked so that you needed a different store front that would then send the orders to the print on demand service. If you know some of these “full service” places, please share what they are.

What’s your source on that? I was reading Etsy’s terms of service and it was very heavily focused on everything being handmade or crafts supplies.

It seems their price is just about 24€ per month, which seems pretty inconsequential?

Also, you can look up using printful with Etsy

Fair enough. Shopify also wants you to pay for it as well, so like 50$ a month. (this is wrong, Shopify just has a deceptive pricing page.) I’m more used to other open-source projects where the budget is really tight (Basically whative they can get on Patreon or what people are willing to spend on their own, so like 100$ a month max). I will say it’s more expensive comparatively but is probably the best option overall.

Reading this page: Richtlinie für Handgefertigtes - Unser Verhaltenskodex | Etsy

Etsy defines a designer like this:

A designer is a seller who has come up with an original design, pattern, sketch, template, prototype, or plan to be produced by in-house shop members or a production partner. Simple customization, such as selecting colors, shapes, or choosing from ready-made options is not considered design on Etsy.

So I don’t think commissioning designs would really count. Unless someone who really knows Etsy says otherwise, I think what we want to do goes at least against the spirit of what Etsy tries to be with their policy.

How is it the best option when they don’t have any VAT or sales tax help, meaning someone needs to do all of that on our side?

That makes sense. They would probably have to be from our designers then (And part of the Association?) Etsy has other problems anyway. (See below)

It was mostly talking about between Shopify and Etsy (And some of Etsy’s pitfalls apply to eBay as well). I’ve never even heard of Woocommerce tbh. Etsy is closer to an amazon than a single store page for merch. Something like Shopify with a single store we link to would be better. Shopify’s integrations might end up saving us time as well.

Also, all of this is referring to a scenario in which we want to make merch. With print-on-demand, it would be hard to not turn a profit, but it is a time-sink and I have no clue how big that profit would actually be. I’m not sure if it would be worth it or not. Might be worth it to do polls in the community discord. Who would buy merch and at what price / quality? (Printful offers a range of different quality in shirts, all at varying prices.)

Though quaderno.io link I posted earlier says that Etsy is VAT compliant and do-it-for-you whereas Shopify is a do it yourself type of VAT handling. So if we were able to use Etsy, it would be much easier and simpler. So to me that makes Etsy multiple times better than shopify.

That’s why I closed off my first post on this topic with wanting to know how much we could expect in profit, as that’s a huge determining factor in how much we can spend money and effort on merch.

I agree. Do you have an opinion on doing those polls?

I think it would give us some numbers, though I don’t think they’d be the world’s most accurate thing. After all most fans of a thing are casual fans who don’t seek out and join the discord or the forums.

As to how to really know I don’t really have that good ideas. Then again I guess I would be a highly paid market research consultant if I knew how to do that easily…

I feel, for the most part, the fans that would seek out the discord or the forums are the ones most likely to buy merch anyway. While I’m sure there will be some, I doubt a large number of sales would come from outside that group anyway. As far as merch goes we should treat those people as our entire fanbase, as they will be the ones buying it.

1 Like

I think we could tastefully include the option to open the page to buy merch in the game itself, I think (having not confirmed that it is allowed by Steam, but off the top of my head it’s probably not banned).

That would expose a lot bigger audience to the suggestion that they could buy merch to further support Thrive development. And this is why I think the numbers from just the hardcore fans don’t tell the entire story.

My hunch would be that players who didn’t bother checking out the forums are probably not that interested in buying merch. Furthermore, keep in mind the impression this might give to the casual player who sees RG try to wring more money out of them inside a game that isn’t even close to done.


That’s fair. And in fact we can make it so that only the free version shows the merch being available option with the store versions suppressing that GUI element.

Well now it just sounds like you put adds on the free version :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:

In case you didn’t notice, the launcher already hides the donation and patreon links in it if you play it through Steam. And people in general have also not noticed. This might be a bit more noticeable but not that much more especially once we move the social media (including patreon) to the game proper, and the development feeds.

1 Like