Are you a potato or a rock band?

October 19, 2009 | Filed under: business

Games and game developers seem to be caught in a price war these days. I hear a lot of developers expressing despair over the fact that games are always on sale, or discounted, or sold in bundles, and that ‘big name publisher X’ has just released its new game for 10 dollars, or 1 dollar, or 99 cents, or free!

Understandably, indie devs sometimes worry about how they can possibly compete with this. They worry wrongly, because they are misunderstanding what it is they sell. You might think knowing what you sell is flipping obvious, but it’s not. My favourite quote from ‘what they never teach you at harvard business school’ is from the guy who ran rolex. He was asked about the watch business, and he replied “I have no idea about the watch business. I’m not in the watch business. I’m in the luxury business’. he is absolutely darned right.

Most people making indie games don’t get that. They think their games are commodities, competing against identical other ones, like a potato. But they aren’t. games aren’t potatoes, they are rock bands.
Check this out:

As a clue, the first one a potato. Unless you are some sort of potato fetishist, you don’t know the variety. It might be maris piper, but who the hell cares?  It’s a potato, and we buy them as cheap as we can find them. Now look at the next one. Your reaction is likely

“What a bunch of dorks” or…

“Behold the kings of metal! Real men play on ten!”

But your reaction will NOT be ‘well they are a rock band, and depending on the price of their music I may purchase it, or a Dire Straits / Killers / Police  / Whoever album instead”

In fact, it would seem weird to feel that way about music. And this is how people feel about GOOD, ORIGINAL games. Generic Match-3 games are potatoes, and they will inevitably get sold for the price of spuds. But decent games (look at the premium pricing for COD:MW 2) and original games can charge what they think they are truly worth. They are rock bands. The existence of other bands is irrelevant. There is only one Manowar and there is only one Little Big Planet.

Try to make less potato-like games.

18 Responses to “Are you a potato or a rock band?”

  1. PsySal says:

    Love it! And you are right. You aren’t competing with Call of Duty unless you’re making a game like Call of Duty, which really doesn’t make any sense, anyhow, since it’s already been done, but how! Actually I’ve never played CoD but it seems to be the most popular PC game whenever I talk to ordinaryish folks about PC games. Anyhow, good on you.

  2. CountVlad says:

    It’s good to be reminded of these things sometimes. It’s very easy to forget.
    Although I’m not a professional developer, I sometimes get a bit down about my current project and think “what’s the point? I can’t compete against the likes of The Elder Scrolls or Gothic”. I keep forgetting that because it’s free and 2D (and a zero budget and virtually a one-man effort) there’s no point in even trying to compete on the same level. Just make a game that people will enjoy! :)

    Oh yeah, and… “HAIL AND KILL!!!” :D

  3. Nathan says:

    Has Seth Godin rubbed off on your writing style a bit there? :D

    Good post to lift the spirits.

  4. Wouter Lievens says:

    Are you dissing at the Bottom Feeder here?
    Good post though.

  5. dude says:

    True. But indie games are indie rock bands. Some indie games are crummy indie rock bands, with poor vocals and a guitarist who only knows 3 chords. Those people charge high, because they think they’re worth it, and I’m not going to pay some annoying kids $20 for an album when I hear only one good hit. Then you have the mega-epic rock bands like Dwarf Fortress asking you pay only what you think it’s worth.

    Besides, even rock bands are selling tracks at the price of potatoes these days. And making millions. Good music lasts for about two weeks before it gets boring, so do good games.

  6. Simon says:

    Deep thoughts. Are we going to have some updates on GSB? – I’m still on the edge.

  7. cliffski says:

    I’m currently testing version 1.18 for release today or tomorrow morning

  8. Michael says:

    Great post man.

  9. Juuso says:

    Well said.

    The only thing contradicts me is that I like potatoes more than rock bands…

  10. [...] 20th, 2009 by Juuso Posted in Business Cliff Harris just tweeted about a blog post called Are you a potato or a rock band?. I think that has a valid point… No matter how you price your product, somebody will say [...]

  11. tycoon games says:

    Lol I can’t believe you know the manowar too!

  12. [...] Harris just tweeted about a blog post called Are you a potato or a rock band?. I think that has a valid point… No matter how you price your product, somebody will say [...]

  13. ed says:

    Hey, just bought your game! It looks great, nothing I like more than explosions in space. I agree with what you said. I buy a lot of the big name games but I usually grow bored and never finish them. I have been buying a lot of indies lately. Build the innovation and they will come. I’m still looking for “the” game that will supplant 1994′s X-Com.

  14. CountVlad says:

    I find the problem with finding really good indies on the internet is that it’s no good searching for them on search engines because they come up with the ones with the best marketing, not the best quality games. To a large extent you have to rely on word-of-mouth info to know which ones to go for. Any suggestions would be good! :)

  15. [...] But coming back to the hidden message, as I said I think it is good because it humanises their advertising. In the modern world of faceless corporate conglomerates I think gamers long for some personal connection to the people making the games they are so passionate about. And I honestly think that cultivating that human side of your business instead of fearing that it will reveal you as a flawed humans is one of the keys to surviving in a competition and piracy filled market. It helps to transform your product from a simple commodity to a unique experience which your fans can connect with on multiple levels. And ‘experiences’ are are much harder to replace with the nearest competitor’s title, a lesson everyone who has attempted to create a diablo clone has failed to realise . Cliffski wrote an excellent article about this a while back and it has stuck with me : Are you a Potato or a Rock Band? [...]

  16. unit says:

    short. succinct.. and spuddy..
    i liked it :)

  17. [...] Are You A Potato Or A Rock Star (positech Games) [...]