October 21, 2010 | Filed under: business0025
The title says it all. Recent discussion over the upcoming apple app-store triggered someone to tweet to me that a lot of devs probably are too scared to sell their games direct online, and just don’t know where to start. I’m going to tell you.
(The reason I know what I’m talking about is that I’ve sold tens of thousands of games direct online, since I started in 1998, I’ve used at least 6 different payment providers and 3 different webhosts, I’ve sold more than a dozen games myself, plus dealt with almost every online portal)
1) Sell separate demo and full versions.
You can make the full version bigger, and save bandwidth on the demo. Plus it’s harder to pirate this way. Just maintain 2 builds, it won’t kill you.
2) Don’t handle payments directly.
Do you REALLY want to take phone orders 24/7 365 days a year? Unless you REALLY know what you are doing, sign up to a payment provider like BMTMicro or Plimus or Fastspring. They will handle credit card payments, paypal, debit cards, cheques, orders by phone and fax… You will never have to worry about that stuff. they take a percentage of the sales price for all this. It IS worth it. You can set up an account with these services right now. Most have zero sign up fees, and it can be done almost instantly.
3) Get a proper domain, proper webhost, and proper mailing list provider.
This stuff is cheap, if you are serious. Hosting on some cheap shared virtual server, and hoping your email address never gets blacklisted is more hassle that it’s worth. I use hostgator for websites and use ymlp to handle mailing lists. Get a mailing list together, stick a sign up form on your website, it’s easy.(they give you the code to paste into your site). A lot of people use amazons cloud hosting stuff, which is apparently trivial to setup.
4) Don’t worry about product fulfilment or sales taxes etc
People sometimes stress about how they generate download links, time them out, work out what taxes to charge, handle currency conversions…. Forget it. A payment company like those listed handles ALL of this. They just credit your bank account each month with the money. It is no different to being on steam or impulse etc, the only difference is you get all of the customers details (except their payment details, and you don’t want them. That way you know they are secure). They even keep the customer database which you can manage with a web interface. You can set things up to populate your own database using xml posts from each sale, if you really want to.
5) Get the word out about your game.
You need to send press releases. Don’t panic, a service like ymlp can do this for you too. if you really don’t know who to send them to, you can use services like this. . They are also worth the money. This is the flipside. the benefit of portals is they have an audience sat there ready. This is the bit where you build your own audience. It takes ages, but anyone can do it if their game is any good.
6) Ignore the download sites.
Tucows, download.com… Who cares. These sites generate no visitors and no money. If you are really bored, make a PAD file and submit to them, but you will have to be very very bored.
A lot of people, clever, serious, capable and nice people, are terrified or very negative about selling direct online. They often say that the sales from steam or bigfishgames so massively dwarf their direct sales that they don’t see the point. Here is why this is short sighted:
1) You keep over 90% of the direct sales money. Not 70%, not 80% but 90%.
2) You get the customers email address. You can email them when you release a sequel, or a new game, or some DLC.
3) If the big portals remove your game, squeeze the royalty rate, or refuse to take your next game, you are still in business. If your business relies 100% on being on a specific portal, you are just one phone call away from flipping burgers for a living.
4) Direct sales grow over time. It took me maybe 5 years before I could live from my direct sales, and was able to quit my job. Are you prepared to make an investment now that will pay off in the long run? Are you not even prepared to put an hour or two a week into developing the direct sales part of your business? If the answer is no, make sure you have a good business case for that. Not an emotional one. Direct sales are an insurance policy.
If Gratuitous Space Battles had been turned down by every single portal, It would still have made more in direct sales than I earned in my last job. And those thousands of buyers are quite likely to buy my next game direct too. That helps me sleep at night.
You back up your files, so why don’t you have backup sales channels?