Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

How Much Should an Indie Game Cost… Revisited

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 24, 2010

Jeff Vogel puts his $0.02 in, again… which I guess makes it $0.04, total:

Indie Games Should Be Too Cheap or Too Expensive

It’s a curious situation. Generally speaking, “niche” products tend to cost more than those with broad markets. This is for exactly the same reasons Vogel mentions:  “Suppose the market for my retro RPGs is ten thousand people. If I charge each of them one or three dollars for a game, I go bankrupt in one year.

In games (with the exception of some very specific “simulations” – which aren’t really games but more training products), and I guess some other entertainment products, this doesn’t hold. First of all, there’s the perception that indie games are inferior. And if you judge strictly by scope and production value, you are probably not wrong if you do. There’s no way to go head-to-head like that on 1/100th (or less) of the budget! Which is exactly why indie games need to go after underserved niches.

XBLA, iPhone, and the casual game portals have definitely exerted some downward pressure on game pricing. Though in the larger scheme of things, what they’ve really done is exerted some downward pressure on the size and scope of the kinds of games they sell. (Although many have noted that the casual portals are now backing off and letting prices rise after their bloody price war of the last couple of years). Initially, they fit the price to match the game and the market, but eventually they fit the game to the price & market. That’s why you don’t find many huge, epic RPGs on the iPhone selling for $0.99 each.

I don’t know the answer. It could be that if Vogel cut his prices in half, he might triple the sales. Though in general, within indie game pricing, that rarely pans out. Temporary sales work, but permanent price drops don’t. Of course, as a consumer, I want high-quality games that are all ultra-cheap or free. As a game developer and affiliate, I want to sell hundreds of thousands of games for $100 a pop (Hey, it worked for the early Ultimas, if you adjust for inflation…). 🙂  Neither’s gonna happen. There’s a realistic and happy medium in there somewhere, but it’s a fluid and moving target involving lots of variables.

If you have an easy answer, please let us know.

Filed Under: Biz - Comments: 5 Comments to Read

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    Perhaps you break a game down into chunks, and charge a small amount for each? (4x5hr games rather than 1x20hr game?)

    Shorter games but more of them, so that you can spread the cost. ($9 a chapter)

    Of course then you allow people to buy the whole lot in one go, with a discount on the total price ($9×4=$36, but sell for $30).

    I mean, that’s the idea behind episodic content right? No reason it can’t work for indie devs.

    Of course this works for certain types of games more than others, but I imagine it could work quite well for RPG games, and it certainly works for adventure games.

    Flight sims, strategy and so on might require a slightly different model, based on a base unit plus expansions (such as the way Gratuitous Space Battles has been sold).

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    That’s my approach with Frayed Knights, since it’s grown so out-of-control. We’ll see how successful it is.

    The trick is, I have it on good authority that a recent effort to do just that wasn’t a big success. I won’t name names, and I don’t have numbers, and the experiment is ongoing so officially “the jury is still out.” And there could be other explanations for why sales dropped with each successive release.

    But that is definitely one way to break it up. If you break a big game into three pieces at 1/3rd of the cost of the full game, will each game sell more than the original would have at the higher price point?

    We’ll see. I can hope, but we have at least one data-point that suggests it will not.

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    I suppose it depends on how many people want to buy your game, and how many enjoy it enough to buy the expansions/further episodes.

    Different sorts of people play their part, such as those that will buy episode 1 but never buy the rest (potential loss if they would have bought the complete game), those that wait until all episodes are released together (potential loss if that product isn’t available or is priced at below the price for the episodes combined), and so on.

    There are too many factors in games sales to find a magic way of making money. I suppose that’s what those well-paid people in sales/marketing at big publishers spend their days trying to figure out. Even then they often get it wrong.

  • McTeddy said,

    One of the problems with certain episodic content is that they use the same format every time.

    Buying a game is like going to a restaurant for food. When you get there, you have a hungry for some old school RPG so you are willing to spend 19.99 on said game. But instead you buy the $5 plate and while waiting for the next one… you realize that you are now full. Unless that food was absolutely amazing, you probably aren’t going to want to pay for more for the same thing.

    The key is that the next small release cannot be more of the same. You need to add features to the future games so that the taste doesn’t get old and cut the delay between them so that people don’t have time to realize they are full (Easier said than done, I know…)

    The last thing to remember is that people don’t buy episode 2 unless they have played episode 1. This means that every game will have a smaller group. Even if you lose 10% each release… it adds up quickly.

    One thing to remember in Sam and Max… every episode can be run standalone. The first one I played was Abe Lincoln must die… while I missed certain minor story pieces I could still enjoy the experience. Now, I own 2 seasons, but that came from me not realizing it was mid season when I downloaded it.

    Episodic content CAN work, it just doesn’t work the same as standard dev. It’s just a matter of time until someone finds the right formula for success… I mean other than Telltale.

  • WCG said,

    I think Vogel has the right idea with his “too cheap or too expensive.” It really depends on the game.

    For the right game, as a practical matter, the price doesn’t matter to me. Heck, my biggest cost – by far – is the computer I need to play it. The game itself is inconsequential.

    And so, for a game like Dwarf Fortress, which is given away for free, I’ve donated $90 – far more than I’ve ever actually paid for a game. But that’s because the game suits me so well.

    I just bought Minecraft, even before I knew I’d have time to play it, but that cost me $13.66. I was still pretty sure I’d like it, though I don’t know how long it will hold my interest. But for that price, it was certainly worth it.

    What I’m saying is that I’ll pay plenty for a game that’s JUST what I want. I might need a demo first, but if it’s perfect for me, the cost really doesn’t matter.

    On the other hand, I might be tempted into buying a game, just for a quick play and then forget, if it’s really, really cheap. Something light and entertaining, without any kind of learning curve, would be perfect for that.

    Games that are priced in between these two extremes don’t fare so well. There are a LOT of games out there, so I won’t spend much on a game that doesn’t perfectly suit me. It has to be really cheap for that. And if it DOES really suit me, the developer would be better off charging a premium.

    And I agree with McTeddy about episodic content. If the gameplay is substantially the same, I doubt if I’d ever buy more than the first episode. Well, I almost never complete an RPG anyway. I generally only play the first “episode” and then look for something new. But most developers wisely get all of my money up front.