Thanks for all the thoughtful discussion everyone! My real goal was to raise awareness in the value of game content, which maybe this discussion has done.
I plan to post a follow up on my blog (http://cumbersome.blogspot.com
) - my latest thought after this discussion is that consumers cannot be asked to pay more upfront on the publisher or designer's word that the game is "good" for them. One way I've thought of for players to show how much they value the game content of the games they play might be unfeasible, but imagine there were a Tip Jar for each game out there. As players play games that resonate with them, games they really like, games that turned out to be a really good value for the price they had paid (which again, is mainly covering manufacturing, artwork, and shipping, with a small royalty for content creation)... as players find they're getting good value from the game content and wanted to show it, they could simply add a tip to the Tip Jar, which would go directly to the content creators. In that way, people buying games would pay up front for the material components, the box, the art, and all the usual stuff (the stuff they can see), and only when they find good value in the content would they pay extra (and then only if they wanted to).
In my mind this would be a good measure of whether people actually do value game content, and how much they value it - would they tip a game that their group fell in love with, vs a game that didn't go over well? But of course, it still has some issues. Getting people to pay something for nothing (and convincing people that a good experience from pieces they've already paid for isn't "nothing") could prove a herculean task. And it leads to the next can of worms... when you find game content you like, who exactly is responsible for that? Sometimes it's obvious, but when there's a developer involved it may not be. Presumably, whoever sets up the tip jar would distribute the tips equitably amongst the content creators.
One thing that has cropped up which sort of approximates this Tip Jar idea is the "Pay what you want" format on Kickstarter. This is not useful for games that are already in print, but for games on kickstarter which have had print and play available, or which are maybe expansions to games that are already in print. TMG is running 2 such projects right now, one for a Dungeon Roll promo pack (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/michaelmindes/dungeon-roll-winter-promo-pack-0
) and one for a new game by Michael himself called Templar Intrigue (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/michaelmindes/templar-intrigue-a-werewolf-type-game-by-tastymins
). The Dungeon Roll promo could possibly be used to gauge how much Dungeon Roll fans value content (just look at the average pledge per copy relative to the minimum). Templar Intrigue is not as useful, since most people haven't played it yet.