Indie Game pricing pressures

May 08, 2011 | Filed under: business

Just looking at the last 10 new indie releases on steam:

  1. Fortix2  £5.39
  2. Beeo £5.39
  3. Dwarfs £7.19
  4. Universe Sandbox £6.99
  5. Capsized £5.99
  6. Your doodles are bugged £6.99
  7. The Tiny Bang Story £11.99
  8. Sanctum £9.99
  9. Anomaly £8.99
  10. Hoard £6.99

Thats scary there is only ONE game there over £10, and these are new release, presumably full price games. What will they be in a sale? £2? £1? £0.01? How on earth are these games expected to make a profit at these prices? In direct sales, 20% of it is probably payment costs. It’s insane. Plus, my next game is unsustainable at £10. I can’t make my money back at that price. It has to be more expensive. People who hate DLC will have to accept that it’s the only way devs can make money if the core game is sold at these prices. If you can sell portal 2 exclusively from your site with no discount, at £29.99, and have an item store on top, then things probably seem much better.

Artists, programmers, software are not getting cheaper each year.

There seems to be an unwritten rule developing that indie games must be under £10, preferably under $10. This is MAD. Harry Potter was written by ONE person. just ONE. It’s production costs were tiny. Does that mean you saw the harry potter books on sale for a third the price of other books? Of course not. Nobody slots books or plays into an ‘indie’ category and tries to get them cheap, ditto music. Do you pay less for an Adele album than a Queen album, because Queen had more members? That would be silly.

I speak to a lot of indie developers privately. They are overwhelmingly worried about the pressure being put on them to sell cheaper, cheaper cheaper. In the end, you get what you pay for. I know quite a few devs who are cutting back the ambition of their games, making them shorters, cheaper to make and mroe casual, because they fear that nobody will ‘allow’ them to sell for >$10.

Is there not a market for a $26 indie game? Should I stop saying I’m indie now?

More next-game clues soon…

47 Responses to “Indie Game pricing pressures”

  1. Pekuja says:

    Aren’t most novels written by single authors? Also, I think there’s plenty of variety in book prices. Short stories or novellas are usually cheaper than big novels, or they’re sold as collections. Sound familiar?

    I don’t really see why you think there’s no market for a $26 indie game just because somebody else is selling a game for $10. Can’t there be room for both? Don’t you think if people feel like Portal 2 is worth $50 even though there are games selling for $10, they could also see that a high-quality indie game would be worth $26?

  2. cliffski says:

    I’d love to think it is the case, but the continuous online rantings and frothings of teenagers drowining out all debate with their blanket “LOL, an indie game should be under $1”, must have some sort of subconcious effect on people who otherwise wouldn’t think that way.

    I’d hate to see that attitude become the accepted wisdom, but from what I read, we are already almost there :( Am I just reading it wrong? I sure hope so.

  3. Kdansky says:

    If you think books are made by a single person, you are about as far off as you can be.

    Charless Stross (a Sci-Fi writer who I can totally recommend) has a few things to say about that.
    http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/04/common-misconceptions-about-pu-1.html

  4. Stropp says:

    You can probably blame both Apple and Steam for this situation.

    Steam often has sales for the games that it lists with some of the games sold at very low prices. It also seems that many of those cheap Steam games are either indie developed, or older games that have been deemed as ‘bargain bin’ games.

    Apple though I think has done the most damage. The App store has created a buyer mentality that nothing should be more than five or six dollars. So if productivity apps are selling for that amount, how can game developers justify selling their games for more?

    The iPhone also gives developers the illusion that their indie game will be put in front of millions of eyeballs, and to an extent that is correct, but where it falls down is that only the best games get that sort of coverage. The average indie developer will never see that much coverage because they get buried in the swarm of other games. But the lure of millions of buyers makes the low prices much more palatable.

    Personally I think all this will eventually come out in the wash. Customers really don’t mind spending money on what they consider quality, and sometimes the low prices work against quality games making them seem cheap. Once the goldrush ends, the quality indies will be able to charge reasonable prices again.

  5. aigam says:

    Is true, but check also the production value of these games, almost all of them are really much cheap to produce that GSB. (anomaly is the only game that makes the difference).

    There are Indies and there are INDIES. Not all indie games are of the same quality. I understand the price of GSB, but I will not understand to see Dwarfs for example at the same price, currently the price of dwarfs (10 dollars) is correct for what he offers.

  6. jack_norton says:

    Simple, don’t use Steam :)
    By accepting your game distribution on Steam you enforce the thoughts in your buyers that sooner or later your game will be at $1. My games will never be at $1, I know that for sure.

  7. Alstein says:

    This may sound a little ecowankish, I apologize in advance.

    The issue is- people assume that indie games are higher risk.

    The most I’ve paid for an indy game is $25 for Din’s Curse (which was very much worth it and then some), then $12.50 for Shira Oka and GSB. (both on sales, both more then worth it)

    The real economic issue is glut of supply and elasticity of demand, both of which put extreme downward pressure on game prices. That said, gamers tend to be inelastic on their proven favorites. Given that elasticity, the risk premium is assumed by the producer, not the consumer, at least until the producer gets a fanbase that’s inelastic.

    This is why I think the real model is to hook them with a cheap game that’s good, then get them to spend more money on your future products. I’ll probably play full price for Soldak’s next game.

    As for the DLC model, I’m ok with it, provided the DLC is actually content. This isn’t the case with consoles and big-market games, but it tends to be the case with indies.

  8. Keith LaMothe says:

    There’s the expectation of a low list price (over $20 is hard to swing), but the stronger thing I’ve noticed on “what do we have to do to actually make money” is discount sales.

    I’ve only been involved on the production side for a bit less than a year and a half. I came in thinking that normal price sales were still, well, normal. At this point I just accept that the 80+% of total income comes from brief promotional sales of at least 50% off. Main game at $20. Expansion at $10. 2nd expansion at $4. 3rd expansion at $10. All obey that rule (the $4 only slightly less so, though I haven’t crunched the numbers).

    All that said, it’s actually worked pretty well except for the 3-4 months right after the other game we spent 7 months making totally bombed on revenue (despite great reviews, etc). The fact that we pulled through that at all showed that something was working right.

  9. Simon says:

    I’d have to agree that the massive Steam sales have devalued all games. I mean.. I can pick up Dead Space 2 for $24 dollars today .. and I know there will be another AAA title on sale tomorrow.

    I hear more and more people saying “I’ll just wait for it to come on sale on Steam (DD/GG/Impulse)” rather than buying on release day.

    One thing I think we’ll be seeing more of though, is people are getting used to iPhone apps having in-game ads and that’s going to have some bleed over to the pc market to help indies.

    But yeah.. at this point I’m terrified to even think of pricing my game over $15.

  10. Out of those 10 games I heard about 3 of them (Dwarfs, Sanctum, Anomaly) in other ways than seeing them on Steam and I’d say I do my best to stay on touch with the indie scene.

    Let’s put that “pressure” thing aside a bit. Are those prices just some kind of “lazy” marketing (that might not serve them well in the end)? I know getting attention is not easy and I’m wondering to which extent some devs just drop the price to get some visibility. And then the question would be does this additional visibility counter the drop of price?

    So far it seems that when I hear about an indie who dropped the price of his game the conclusion is “I made less money”. Does Steam pressure devs to drop the price of their games? If so I can imagine the dilemma as you know that just being on Steam means that a bunch of people will buy the game without ever playing it which they would have not done if you were only selling it on your website. But are those people enough to make for the loss of money?

    There are so many questions that beside what players may think about pricing (anyone that listens to players for business advice should change his career plan) I’d be really curious to read about the experience of devs that went with low pricing. Not just stories about big sellers like Braid but also about more modest success.

  11. The other issue is that barriers to entry into the indie market are lowering. It’s not easy to make a good game, not by any means. But it’s perhaps easier than it was 5 years ago -proliferation of cheap-ish game engines, higher level languages like Java, C#, ActionScript etc, and more and better options for distribution and payment.

    Let’s face it, the indie scene is burgeoning – why wouldn’t this cause downward price pressure? Digital distribution is allowing the AAA guys to charge less on PC (as you say, Portal 2 which is as AAA as it gets, was £29.99), which may be forcing smaller devs to price down accordingly.

    Then there’s the distorting effect of mobile games, which may well be contributing to a lessening in the perception of value (lower end games basically being seen as disposable entertainment).

    I do think that quality games aiming at niche markets can still charge premium prices – IF you’re making something that gamers really can’t get elsewhere. But if you’re making something quirky, not too deep and indie you are forced to compete at Steam indie price levels.

  12. hmm that £29.99 for Portal 2 was still 50 USD which is in the “normal” range for AAA… Sure they could have gone with 60 USD which is what we usually see but that leaves plenty of place for indie games at $20-$25 so I don’t see the pressure to go as low as $8 here.

  13. If you’re planning on making a living making games, and your market says games need to be <$10 to sell, then you better be figuring out how to take that valuable list of paying customers you're buying with the low initial sale price, and build additional products that you can market to them. Ideally with lower cost of development and direct sales so your margins are higher.

  14. Jaison Green says:

    Simple, make a better game. With 6 billion people on this planet, close to 2 billion people are online currently. All you need is 0.1% of those people to buy your game and you have made over a million. People simply need to stop churning out crap. If a $0.99 can succeed, then surely a $5.00 game can too.

  15. cliffski says:

    how many games have you made that have shifted a 200,000 copies?
    because its harder than you think it is…

    Plus advertising fails as a businrss model for sub $10 games entirely.

  16. BoB says:

    I think it is actually the growth of portable devices (smart phones & tablets) and this trend that “apps” and games for them are often $1 or less and the growth of “social networking games” (I hate this term as there is truly nothing social about these games) with the catchcry of social & casual and people expect to get it for free or pay next to nothing for it (most of the games are clones & rip each others ideas off too).

    I am a big indie game fan and often pre-purchase many indie games but it is disheartening to see studios that have a track record for creating great games forced to undervalue their creations so much. I suppose to some extent with a new IP if you sell it cheap you get massive exposure and maybe if it becomes popular you launch the next minecraft. I think there is 2 problems with this thinking:

    1) Not every new indie title is going to be the next minecraft or mount & blade.

    2) Setting low prices on your game doesnt so much set a low expectation for the quality of your game but rather I think sets an expectation that all your games will be low priced.

    A good recent example is Mount & Blade with Fire & Sword. Yes it has fairly dated graphics I suppose but the gameplay is excellent & the graphics serve their purpose perfectly and are quite realistic. This is also the third game in the mount & blade franchise albeit in a new setting. This game came out priced at $15 USD !!! I think that is insane, it is worth at leats twice that price however if they are uncomfortable with that maybe $20-$25USD would be ok also.

    I actually bought the store copy of Mount & Blade:Warband for $25USD which made it even more of a shock that the successor debuted at such a low price.

    That said there are a lot of games around that are simple clones of other games that really offer nothing new to the genre but instead undercut the pricing of the game they are based on which forces the original studio to drop their price and so it goes.

    It is a shame that at a time where Indie games have really sustained the PC gaming platform for the last few years we are at a crossroads where some indie studios will be forced to scale back or shut down due to all these issues which ultimately means less games for all of us.

  17. John Peat says:

    I’ve been thinking about this issue for a while now and my current belief is that there are FAR too many games out there (and by extension, games creating companies/individuals).

    For players, it’s a golden age the like of which we’ve never known. Most players talk about their ‘backlog’ or ‘pile of shame’ daily, BUT it cannot be sustainable??

    The idea that a 99c iPhone title will sell a tonne of copies and make money is lovely – but it’s also nonsense. 99.9% of iPhone titles will never get close to that number and the more who try – the less it’s likely to happen.

    It’s not just PC indies and iPhone developers suffering either – major console game sales are falling (down 23% over the last 2 years) – developers on XBLIG are giving-up because they can’t sell games at a decent price/volume amongst all the massage simulators and other shit (Luke over at Radian has blogged this in detail) and so on and so on.

    All you can do is try to forge your own niche and price your product at a level which ensures your game is a quality item at a fair price. Don’t pander to the fools who expect a AAA experience for 99c (enjoy it whilst it lasts), hold your ground and pray your ‘fans’ keep you in business

    End of the day, a lot of people will be forced into giving-up tho – we just have to hope that those who survive are those making great games (like cliffski) and not those shovelling shit (like Zynga and Rovio) – but let’s be honest, that’s not likely is it?

  18. John Peat says:

    p.s. to answer Cliff’s question, YES – I think you should stop calling yourself an Indie – seriously.

    Much as the term refers to a type of music rather than the status of the artists, “Indie” on the PC is more and more the label of the ‘cheap and cheerful’ games which space-out the Steam release lists.

    I think your games have a depth and polish which stands you above that – if I were you I’d position yourseld in the midground above the ‘cheap’ indie stuff, and I’d not worry about the stuff above you because it’s dying out anyway!

    As I said earlier, it’s about conquering a niche where the market can support you – you’ve clearly done that with GSB and you’d be wise to repeat that. I doubt you’re working on a Minecraft clone anyway? :)

  19. Stropp says:

    Yeah, the problem with labeling yourself as Indie is that it attracts a set of customer who a) don’t expect quality, and b) are after the lowest price.

    The downside to not calling yourself Indie is that the label also attracts customers who a) are looking for games that the AAA guys don’t make, and b) like to support independants.

    But John Peat does have a good point. You are at the point where you have the indie cred reputation now, and will probably be regarded as such if you continue labelling your self as an Indie or not. Not only that, but you have a reputation for creating quality polished games, and importantly providing support. That has to help more than an arbitrary label.

  20. Some Dude says:

    Cliffy, you are wrong on a few things and forgetting others entirely.

    “Nobody slots books or plays into an ‘indie’ category and tries to get them cheap, ditto music.”
    Wrong here. There’s a new breed of authors that write e-books (such as novels) and price them into $1 range to get readers. The idea is that once they get enough people liking their work, they can increase the price. Basically what amazon did when they sold stuff so cheap they weren’t even making money for the first few years of operation, they wanted market share.

    Same thing with indie music, as often as not, indie music is offered free, with requests for donations. They often make more on merchandise such as mugs and shirts than the actual music itself.

    The biggest problem an indie person (dev, author, artist, whatever) has is getting noticed. Consequently, they must price stuff low enough to attract people who are averse to the risk of buying something completely unknown. Paying less than $10 is going to get far more sales on an indie title than $25 or $30. Its not nearly as much of a deal to spend $10 on a totally unknown title, as it is to spend $30 on one. Heck, even portal 2 was available for $30 just a few weeks after release, and thats hardly an indie, and had far more people and money spent on it than any indie I know.
    Valve’s done talks on this, even with reducing the price, when sales are run, they make far more money in the volume than if they leave the price fixed high. So indies that price themselves up just might price themselves out of the market, unless they aren’t indies anymore.
    And $10 really isn’t nearly as bad as doing things for mobile phones. There the price points are expected to be more like $1 or $2.

    So anyway, once a indie is noticed and becomes known, then they can start increasing prices. Such as minecraft, notch has transitioned out of being an indie and acquired an office building, and hired staff, etc. And he’s raised his prices too.

    When a company gets to AAA status, there they start having huge budgets and huge marketing costs, things indies rarely have. MW2 was $50 million to make and $200 million to market. And it pulled in over $1 billion.
    http://www.wired.com/gamelife/2010/01/modern-warfare-2-sale/

    So, if you really can’t make your money back pricing at an indie price, its likely you aren’t an indie anymore. If you are hiring staff and having a marketing budget (or perhaps your ambitions for your next game are far steeper in terms of features and graphics), then perhaps you need to not be an indie anymore.

    Let me tell you, one of the biggest problems in small businesses (if they are any good at all) is too much sales. You know why? Because they have to start worrying about economies of scale. Can they scale the business up once they start selling product? When they suddenly have to order 100,000 parts shipped from china instead of being able to buy 5,000 parts from a local place that has quality, pricing, and service they like, will the product be the same? When the 1 guy running the business suddenly can’t do it all anymore, can he delegate and hire appropriate people to do the jobs he used to do, and give over control of the things he loved to do? Going from that $1,000 printer to a $500,000 printer that requires money they don’t have yet so they can satisfy the volume of customer orders for next month, will that work out? Committing to that loan for the equipment and office space (instead of in the house/garage) is a big step, if they don’t succeed they are going to get screwed. Will they kill their cash flow before they can finish scaling up? Before it wasn’t risking anything, they had a little cash in the bank, now they have to invest it all and potentially go bankrupt if they expand to fill the demand.
    So many many businesses fail trying to scale up in growth.

    You need to decide if you are going to remain where you are and lower your ambitions for future projects and lower company expansion so you can maintain your current profitability, OR scale it up and become an actual sizable company risking all you’ve made.

  21. Some Dude says:

    One final point.
    Look at the top 10 steam titles for last week:

    1.Portal 2
    2.BRINK
    3.Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword
    4.Mass Effect 2
    5.Crysis® Maximum Edition
    6.Dragon Age: Origins – Ultimate Edition
    7.Dead Space 2
    8.Mass Effect
    9.Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit
    10.Section 8: Prejudice™

    Wait, whats this? Could it be an indie title priced on sale at $13.49 in 3rd place best seller title? Vs the big sales all this past week for big EA AAA titles such as crysis, dragon age, mass effect, and even vs brink which is coming out tomorrow?

    I’m fairly sure they are well on their way to making up the production costs with that volume of orders even priced at $13.49 (if I remember right that sale was right before release so its a big chunk of pre-orders).

  22. Some Dude says:

    Actually I want to make one other sidenote.

    I purchased gratuitous space battles direct from you while it was in beta, based in part because of your stance against crazy DRM. Yes, that matters to some people.

    Then when steam offered it on sale (it may have been a package with some DLC, I don’t recall), I purchased a second copy. I purchased the 2nd copy because it was on sale offering additional content I wanted (I didn’t want the DLC enough to buy at full price sorry), and because it was on steam. The convenience of steam more than makes up for having to pay some more to buy a second copy. I think you got more than $26 out of me for that game.

  23. Hey Some Dude. Based on what you wrote I bet you have already released many successful games so I’ll assume that since I can’t tell who you are anyway … Or not I’m really not sure as it was so full of silly assumptions that I couldn’t tell. Where did you get your numbers already?

    If there’s one indie dev that managed to get noticed it’s definitely Cliff. He already said that his next game can’t be sold at £10. So what do have to to next? Please hilighten us with your wisdom as you clearly know what an indie like Cliff can do to make a living.

    Oh and please let us know on your definition of indie as it seems indie doesn’t mean anything these days. Really … someone making money isn’t indie anymore? Do you have to starve to death to be indie or what? Silly me I thought it was just meaning not receiving money from a publisher …

  24. My bad. 1 indie game in the top 10 clearly make a case for everything.

    I guess we can resume everything to “hey indies you all suck, make better games!”

  25. […] Cliffski’s Blog (Positech Games) — Indie Game pricing pressures “Just looking at the last 10 new indie releases on steam… Thats scary there is only ONE game there over £10, and these are new release, presumably full price games. What will they be in a sale? £2? £1? £0.01? How on earth are these games expected to make a profit at these prices?” […]

  26. Some Dude says:

    Dave,
    Where did I say I released games? Are you saying someone has to have released games to make comments on the industry?

    And what numbers are you upset about? I gave a source link to the MW2 numbers I mentioned, are you going to argue that AAA titles are cheap in marketing and developing costs? That would make lots of people really happy.
    The amount I spent on the game from cliff you are going to have to take my word on, I’m not showing you my credit card receipt. The $10 and $25/$30 price points I mentioned I chose because based on cliff himself was talking about, page up and you’ll see he mentions $10 and $26. That portal 2 price for $30 was from a number of places that had sales. I have to apologize though, I missed that amazon ran a sale making it the equivalent of $35 for pre-orders. Here’s a source search page for deals on that if for some reason you are interested in expired sales:
    http://slickdeals.net/sdsearch.php?&order=descending&sortby=lastpost&search=portal&mode=forum&perpage=20&pagenum=1&beforeafter=after&titleonly=1
    The $1-$2 price point I mentioned on mobile phone apps/games, I must admit I didn’t try to take any scientific averages or anything. However, I’m still pretty confidant though that the average selling price for mobile app sales is going to be less than the $10 that cliffy mentions for indie PC games. I welcome the correction if you want to get more accurate numbers, but I don’t think it changes my point there.

    I didn’t actually mention any numbers when I talked about valve discussions of sales, but I’ll link you to the source for that if you want to see exactly what valve said:
    http://www.bit-tech.net/news/gaming/2009/02/20/valve-steam-is-making-us-rich/1
    “By analysing the figures Valve’s been able to make some interesting predictions too. A 10 percent price reduction creates an average income increase (not just in sales) of 35 percent, while a 25 percent discount gives an increase of 245 percent. 50 percent discounts create average increases of 320 percent, while a price slash of 75 percent off will push income up by a staggering 1470 percent. ”

    Lets see, what other numbers did I mention…
    Oh, those numbers in the theoretical examples for a company scaling up. Yeah, I made some of those up, sorry. If you like I’ll remove them, they don’t change my point.

    Here’s that same paragraph with the bits with numbers removed (all but about mentioning the 1 guy, I think I can leave that in, many small businesses just start with 1 guy):
    Let me tell you, one of the biggest problems in small businesses (if they are any good at all) is too much sales. You know why? Because they have to start worrying about economies of scale. Can they scale the business up once they start selling product? When the 1 guy running the business suddenly can’t do it all anymore, can he delegate and hire appropriate people to do the jobs he used to do, and give over control of the things he loved to do? Committing to that loan for the equipment and office space (instead of in the house/garage) is a big step, if they don’t succeed they are going to get screwed. Will they kill their cash flow before they can finish scaling up? Before it wasn’t risking anything, they had a little cash in the bank, now they have to invest it all and potentially go bankrupt if they expand to fill the demand.
    So many many businesses fail trying to scale up in growth.

    As you can see it reads about the same without any numbers. I will elucidate about a couple of the numbers though, about the printer. Thats from a real life example of a print on demand company that does things for board and card games. They custom print card decks for instance. They were priced low enough to complete with the cheaper chinese options for low volumes. They started out taking most sales through a board game website, and corresponded with customers that way too. They had good customer service and tended to be able to deliver the product before deadlines of the customer. Everything was looking bright for them. Then they started getting more volume of sales than they could handle with their equipment. Demand was going up since they had good products for good competing prices with good services. So deliveries of orders fell behind deadlines, customers started asking for updates on orders since they were too busy to communicate satisfactorily. The next step up in scale for the company was literally to buy a large scale printing setup that would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and was a huge risk to this small company since that was going to take all of their profits they’d earned to that point plus a loan, and at a time when bad word of mouth was starting to spread from the decline of their customer service. All of this was publicly communicated to the community by them and the customers asking about stuff.

    I also never said anything like cliff isn’t noticed. I generalized and said indies tend to have that problem. Cliff may have had that problem in the past, but he’s been outspoken on enough issues to get a fair amount of game media attention, and selling his products on impulse and steam has gotten him more publicity.

    I also never said anything about can’t make money as an indie. I was talking about what SOME indies do. For instance, theres tons of websites out there where you can get great indie music legitimately for free because the artists have done that with their music. Many of them make money on donations and merchandise, but you know what? Some indies make money selling music in places like itunes and are successful at it.
    Heck, I even mentioned minecraft which is one of the most recent biggest indie successes in PC games.

    I noticed you didn’t argue specifically about any of my points except for some nebulous complaints about numbers, and trying to imply I said things I didn’t.

    Anyway, you asked what he has to do next. I already mentioned the two choices cliff has (assuming he’s correct about not being able to make money at a $10 price point, and presumably he knows best about that since he’s the one running things).
    1) Reduce his ambitions (for instance desired features and graphics) for his next game so that he CAN stay profitable at the lower price point, or
    2) Keep his ambitions high and, raise the price point to where he CAN make some money. Logically, this almost certainly involves expanding his business if he hasn’t already. If a dev wants higher end graphics, it typically takes more graphical artists. If a dev wants a longer feature list, it typically takes more staff like programmers. The alternative to that is to take longer to make the game to accomplish that same feature set. If it takes 10 people to make a game with a certain set of features and graphics in 1 year, logically its going to take 1 person at least 10 times longer to make the same game, so a 10 year development cycle.

    If you (or anyone else) can think of a 3rd alternative besides a) keeping price low for the next project, or b) raising the price for the next project, I’m certain cliff wants to know about it.
    I was about to post this and I thought of a 3rd one. Its basically a mix of these 2 options. Raise the price, but offer frequent sales such as 10% pre-order sale, a weekend steam sale a month or two after release, etc. Based on valves experience this should generate substantial increases in revenue.

    That 1 indie game I mentioned in the top 10 list was a recent example of a company breaking out and succeeding. Nowhere did I say anything about indies sucking. I simply mentioned the fact that indies have to work harder to get noticed and make sales. If that wasn’t the case, then all indies could charge $60 and be successful. I don’t think cliffs games have sucked, I’ve purchased some after all.

    My definition of an indie doesn’t much matter, people can break the mold of any assumed definition. Not everyone fits into the same category. I made a lot of generalizations in my post, and not all of them are going to apply to everyone. I didn’t even specifically apply all of them to cliff. I don’t know the exact details and hard numbers of his business plan. But I can logically examine what he’s told us of his position in this post, and logically draw conclusions.

  27. John Peat says:

    On the Steam Top 10 thing – I’m pretty sure they’ve said this but it’s certainly widely believed that their “Top 10″s are based on REVENUE and not unit sales.

    That means a $40 game will easily top that chart as it only needs to sell 1/4th of what a $10 does…

    In other words, only a higher-priced indie has a hope of appearing on the chart (or one which is at such a low price that it sells a tonne).

    On the topic of how reducing price sells more – this isn’t a new idea, PC games prices have always fallen over time. This ‘silly sale price’ thing that Steam started can only work by getting people to buy the game who would otherwise have not bought it at a higher price tho.

    It’s fair enough to say that making your $10 game $2 for a weekend will get you a chunk of sales – but if every one of those sales would eventually have bought it at $10 (or $7 or $5) then you made a booboo.

    The effect they’re NOT talking about is the reaction to many new games appearing – which is “hang on for a few months at most and it will be $3”. You can’t possibly measure that but it’s clearly not a positive thing for a new game to have people shunning it because they KNOW it will drop in price.

    As I said earlier – too many games, too many people expecting to make a living from games – too many people expecting a lot for very little – something has to give.

  28. Andrew says:

    1. Yes, stop calling yourself indie. It conjures the image of a hippie garage band, not a professional games developer. The guys who want to stick it to the man are not the ones who pay $25 for a game.

    2. I associate low cost with low quality, either due to poor design and production, or due to age. If a computer game is $10, I expect it to be either an old, good game (say Doom or Wolf3D), or a modern game that turned out so bad it went straight to the discount bin. I don’t go to Walmart looking for a good shirt or a good game.

    That’s just me talking – a middle-age married professional who likes to play games, but has limited time to play games and no interest in cheap crap. GSB was near-perfect for me, as it easy to pick up, quick to finish a level (I was never left seeking a save point), and deep enough to keep me coming back.

    Whether or not I represent any market, or your target market, is up to you. I hope it helps.

  29. Some Dude says:

    http://store.steampowered.com/feeds/weeklytopsellers.xml
    Says
    “The top selling games on Steam by revenue for the week, updated every Sunday”

    Just means its all the more impressive that the $13 indie mount & blade game came in 3rd.

  30. Keith LaMothe says:

    Is Mount and Blade still indie if it’s published (or co-published, at least, I think) by Paradox?

    Not saying that’s a bad thing, but my guess is that M&B has a whole ton of a lot more advertising budget behind it than anything Cliff or other established indies could manage. My guess could be wrong, of course.

  31. Some Dude says:

    I never saw any advertising about mount and blade from paradox or anyone else. I think most of the sales were because of past experience with mount & blade games, its becoming an established series albeit one with indie roots.

  32. John says:

    @Andrew,

    I really enjoy my games and have paid as much or as little, depending on my mood and what I wanted at any given time. However, you stated that:

    “I associate low cost with low quality, either due to poor design and production, or due to age.”

    It’s not a good idea to live by this assumption. I don’t want to change the subject but I think a comment like this deserves to be discussed. High Cost does not equal high quality. For example, think back 6 years ago when Xbox 360 was still relatively new. Microsoft sold some 30 Million units (between 2004 – 2007), of which 11% (eleven percent – 3.3 million) ended up getting RROD (Red Ring of Death), and that is just the amount that was reported – any other systems that were no longer under the 1-year warranty would not count toward the total number in the report of Xbox 360’s that had become defunct. That’s a huge number of recalls and a perfect example of High Cost / Low Quality.

    As for assuming a game is “Old” based on it’s lower price point, that is fair, but of a lower “quality”, that is not.

    Also, Cliff should be proud to call himself an “Indie”. I don’t think it’s about sticking it to “the man”. It’s more about not having to deal with “the man” so that you can go about your business matters in the way you want to “independently”.

    Don’t take this comment the wrong way though Andrew, it’s not meant as an attack or anything like that. Just a friendly response to your commented.

    As for the whole issue of – When is cheap too cheap?

    I honestly don’t know. Obviously, Cliff needs to get value back for his hard work. I don’t think and up-and-coming indie game developer could make it on their own if they had to charge as little as $5 dollars for their game (while paying percentages a distributor)… However, having your product sold and distributed through a popular service such as Steam might actually prove lucrative even if the selling price is low. I don’t know for sure though. Some of it would be based on word of mouth, timing, and a bit of luck. For a new indie game developer it might be just as important that they establish themselves as “good” game developers first though. This is where Cliff, and other long-time indie developers (such as Jeff Vogel) have an advantage and a large following of loyal fans (who aren’t afraid to tell them what they think when they don’t like something about one of their games). :-)

    I don’t have any answers unfortunately, but it’s definitely a valid topic for discussion and debate.

    While we’re on topic though, don’t developers like paying lower prices when and while they’re available?

  33. davey says:

    How to make a profit at these prices? Surely the cost of each individual copy is isnt the issue, it’s the total income across all games sold vs the cost of development that’s important. Surely if your costs of production per unit are (effectively) zero per game sold, then it makes no difference whether you sell 10,000 games at £20 or 20,000 games at £10. Your income is the same either way. Or am i missing some detail here?

    The tricky part is to find the optimum price point. Will dropping the price by 10% give me more than a 10% increase in sales? If i push the price up will i lose that ‘what the hell it’s only a tenner’ impulse purchase market? IMO this impulse purchase thing really works on steam – your CC details are already in there, you dont have to find your wallet or enter your home address again for the hundredth time – it’s literally a couple of clicks and the game is yours. Dangerous stuff for us poor weak-willed consumers, as my extensive list of unplayed games will attest, but surely good news for (particularly indie) developers.

    Speaking of which: one thing to say for steam is that if a game is available on steam then it’s one less place that has my credit card details sitting around for someone to steal – and hopefully their security is better than some other companies i could mention (cough-sony-cough). Not that i dont trust cliffsky, it’s just that the more servers that have my CC info on them the more likely it is to go walkabout.

  34. lazor says:

    “Speaking of which: one thing to say for steam is that if a game is available on steam then it’s one less place that has my credit card details sitting around for someone to steal – and hopefully their security is better than some other companies i could mention (cough-sony-cough). Not that i dont trust cliffsky, it’s just that the more servers that have my CC info on them the more likely it is to go walkabout.”

    your credit details aren’t supposed to be stored if you’re just purchasing something

    in Sony’s case, a lot of people have there credit card details linked to their account, so it’s a different story, but for a one off purchase, no storage should be happening.

  35. cliffski says:

    This is true. For example. I don’t have the credit card details of anyone who buys my games, so they can never be at risk.

  36. GDI says:

    This topic hits close to home. I’m currently making my first commercial game, and I’ve been going back and forth with other people asking what price is an appropriate price. Because that impacts directly on whether I hire the additional artist or not. I don’t mind not getting rich off games, but I need to at least break even, because otherwise not only would I be the only person on the team who worked for free on his own game, but even lost money on it.

    The immediate reason why starting at a low price seems appealing is because new indies hope that people will give them a chance. At the impulse purchase point, I was hoping a lot of people will take a risk on me and not be disappointed. Since I’m embarrassed about all my previous freeware releases I sweep them under a rug. It’s easier for people who made a name for themselves in freeware since they have enough of a fanbase to launch a kickstarter or find a publisher for a paid version.

    I think the best solution is if an established indie dev will help curate some of the newbie indies and take the best ones under their wing. Like what happened with Gemini Rue being published by Wadjet Eye Games. That is fresh young talent that was given a much needed leg-up. Perhaps Positech can function as a similar publishing role by curating fresh young talent in the space strategy genre. That way people will know the publisher and will pay the regular price rather than wondering whether to risk 5 bucks on an unknown.

    This won’t make games less indie… it’s just the stronger indies helping out the weaker instead of letting them flail around and clutter the market. Everybody wins if we just vouch for each other.

  37. Peter says:

    You could possibly argue the ‘games are too cheap’ line, and I might well agree having spent less than 15 quid on 5+ games via Steam/GOG.com in the last couple of weeks.

    Looking at your examples, the reason they’re not priced over 10 quid is because they’re not worth more than 10 quid with the possible exceptions of Universal Sandbox and the Tiny Bang Story. TBS has a unique art style, but is somewhat short so it can probably be compared to Machinarium – which is at the 12 quid price point. I’d personally have paid extra for Machinarium, because it really is unique (I have 3 copies, incidentally), but as they’ve set the price point – that’s where comparable price points should lie.

    Universal Sandbox might be worth more, but then it seems to be more of a simulation than a game. Schools would pay more for it, but gamers wouldn’t pick it up for casual fun at a higher price.

    The rest of them are yet more tower defense and strategy games, a slightly different twist on Lemmings and a pretty platformer with physics. All of those have a glut in the market. It may not be fair, but even big budget casual games like Plants vs Zombies started fairly low, and are now very cheap (I bought it for 2.50 – wouldn’t have bothered otherwise).

    Then again, I reckon some of them should have chanced their luck and at least tried the 10 quid price point for a while. You can reduce prices, but it’s tricky to increase them.

    Big budget games will always start at 30 quid or so, and some of them will be worth that (Oblivion, Portal etc). Indie games at that price point have to either have equivalent production values or something unique – if they don’t the maximum they can probably manage is say 15 quid (Portal 2 is available now for 25 quid). Jeff Vogel can get away with higher pricing because he targets a niche market with little competition. Machinarium succeeded because there was nothing comparable at the time. GSB – I’ve not played it (not a huge strategy fan), but it looks like you found a unique twist – congrats.

    Do I think indie games could be priced at 15 quid/25USD? Yes – and I’d buy them if I thought they were worth it. Will they sell at that point, given that the not as good indie games cost less? That’s for the market to decide. I suspect (but do not know) the answer will be different on Steam/PC and XBLA.

    If the ‘indie’ label is actively hurting sales, then don’t use it.

  38. Andrew says:

    Hi John.

    Indie has certain connotations, at least to me. Maybe it’s a regional thing – in my area (Ontario, Canada), Cliff’s operation would be called a small business, not an indie one. Also, “independent” is different from “indie”. Indies tend to be garage bands, aspiring film makers with no budget etc – they may have talent for days, but lack funding and experience. “Small business” is not negative – it means a small operation with limited staff, and these enterprises provide the majority of Canada’s employment opportunities.

    As to low cost equals low quality for new games, I am not arguing the reverse. It is possible to spend sickening amounts of money and produce a junk product, or no product at all (Duke Nukem Forever). However, it is rarely possible to produce a high-quality game with lengthy, deep gameplay for a limited audience and a $5 price tag.

    cheers,
    Andrew

  39. davey says:

    @Andrew, in my experience (UK), the ‘indie’ tag has usually been applied to people that arent funded by big publishing/distribution. It has nothing to do with levels of success or sizes of budgets, more to do with the artistic freedom afforded by not being in hock to EMI/EA. E.g. for years depeche mode were an ‘indie’ band because they were signed by an independent label (mute) despite the fact that they were one of the biggest bands in the country.

    Not quite so familiar with the film industry, but i believe it’s broadly the same: youre considered an independent if youre not funded by (and thus constrained by) a studio. Though in this case it’s more applied on a film by film basis, as directors can switch between studio/indie at any time.

    By that measure positech counts as indie regardless of cliffskis level of success, or how much the budgets are for his games (as long as he’s independently sourcing that budget). If EA were to offer him $$$$ to produce, say, a GSB sequel, cliff may or may not jump at the chance, but if he did then he’d (or rather positech) would no longer be indie, no longet 100% in control of its own destiny, or of what it produces.

  40. Fraser says:

    Stick to your guns – if you release a high quality game put it out at a price that makes sense to you. If people don’t buy it – discount it later.

    If coming out with an indie game at “full price” is so outlandish by the time you’re finished this one it’s then marketing to do so ;)

    (and you can always go down with your prices, much harder to go up…)

    Steam sales work so well because we’re wired to think “wow!” at £40 reduced to £5, if we just see £5 RRP, no discount, same game that pull isn’t there. They’re also time limited (unlike the bargain bucket in a games store) so that nagging voice says “ooh get it now before it goes”… and unlike the bargain bucket in a games store a steam sale isn’t a game graveyard for “failed games”.

  41. spillblood says:

    I think it’s absolutely justified to sell Indie games at higher prices when they have enough content, especially strategy games and other games that have deep gameplay and can keep you interested for longer times. Only the short, not very content rich and “casual” games should be cheaper.

  42. […] of the more contentious issues with… anything, really, is pricing. In the bad old days of haggling, sellers used to claim that they had to sell at a certain […]

  43. Anthony says:

    I don’t know how much it matters, but one thing to keep in mind if that a game is low enough in price, I don’t really mind buying some for my friends. When the GSB Deluxe Box thingie went on Steam sale, I not only bought the game, but I also bought one for a friend. I did the same thing with Magicka and with a couple of others. If my friends are into a game, it adds some enjoyment to the game, so I don’t mind paying a bit more to add to my enjoyment. If a game is priced below $12, there’s a good chance that my group of friends may pick it up if one of us is interested, whether its multiplayer or not, but if it’s $25 or more then it’s a lot harder to “sell” to friends.

    I have no problems with buying DLC, but the term is too broad to be useful because most of the time producers (Positech included) are not making DLC I’m willing to pay for. For me, DLC is a way of customizing my game, improving it, adding features I want and passing on things I don’t. Games that directly or indirectly punish me for not buying DLC, expand on features I already have, or are just new artwork are (usually) not interesting to me. Although if the basic game is lower priced, I don’t mind paying for DLC. Paying for DLC on a high-priced AAA game seems ridiculous. Positech, on the other hand, has a more reasonable pricing system, although I’m not too crazy about the content in some of the DLC.

    I should also note that games with demos, even short limited demos, are far more likely to get me into buying a mid-priced game. But Positech already has this nailed down nicely.

    btw, I’m still waiting for Democracy 2 to go on sale.

  44. Anthony says:

    Metacritic.com is also starting to be a major factor in my purchasing decisions after being disappointed with a few low cost Steam games… It didn’t used to, but I’m starting to give more thought before buying anything without at least an 85 rating…

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